Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic-10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.
Ed. Note – This week’s check-in does not include Tuesday night’s action.
Rick Majerus Retires – To those who saw the 25-year veteran head coach at the Atlantic-10 (or NCAA) tournaments last spring knew he was struggling. The only surprise last August, made public after an extended stay and evaluation at a California facility were disappointing, was that the coach, anticipating a recovery, had applied for a medical leave of absence. Saint Louis Athletic Director Chris May dropped the other shoe on Friday – Rick Majerus will not return to the Chaifetz Arena sidelines. The coach is retiring for the second, and presumably final, time. Though the course Majerus charted for a Saint Louis resurgence on the hardcourt seemed at times to be a maddeningly uneven two-step, and though he was entering the final year of his contract, it was a chronic heart condition, one that forced a complex seven bypass procedure in the late 1980s and the insertion of a stint during the 2011 offseason, that forced the 64 year old into retirement. Interim Coach Jim Crews, who took over in August, will coach the Billikens through the end of the season.
Saint Louis will be without head coach Rick Majerus this season – this time probably for good (AP)
The Very Early (Invitational Tournament) Returns Are In – Dayton, Duquesne, Fordham, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph’s and Saint Louis kicked off the 2012-13 season with (very) early season invitational tournament appearances. Read the rest of this entry »
The Best Basketball (Only) Conference in the NCAA? You Bet– With the departure of Temple (to the Big East) and Charlotte (to CUSA), A-10 fans knew the conference would not “make due” with a 12-team configuration. The question was which candidates would match best with the conference profile and mission and not in the chase for football money? The A-10 could afford to focus on candidates with high quality basketball programs, thereby offering regional rivalries to the Midwestern and Washington D.C. metro area members. Virginia Commonwealth and Butler were the logical choices as both have had recent Final Four appearances, are high quality programs, and boast two of the hottest young coaching names in Division I. Both schools accepted and the existing circumstances of member departures and arrivals means that the A-10, with 16 members and an 18-game conference slate, will have a superconference look and feel this season.
Veteran St. Joseph’s Coach Phil Martelli Has Garnered Plenty Of Media Attention Over The Years. Now Thanks To A New TV Deal, The Entire Atlantic-10 is Going to Get a Dose Of Camera Time (AP)
The New TV Deal – The conference announced an eight-year partnership with ESPN, the CBS Sports Network and the NBC Sports Network, worth an estimated $40 million dollars ($5 million per year) to run from 2013-14 through 2021-22. The three media outlets will televise 64 regular season men’s games (CBS and NBC Sports Network will televise 25 apiece and the ESPN outlets will televise 14). These three outlets will divvy the responsibilities for the conference tournament with NBC televising the men’s (and women’s) quarterfinals, CBS televising the men’s (and women’s) semifinal games, and ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU televising the men’s championship game. Though financial details were not disclosed, the conference’s 14 members are expected to collect about $400,000 apiece each season.
Brooklyn, Here We Come – A quiet affirmation that the move to lock up the Barclays Center in Brooklyn came with Hurricane Sandy. The superstorm swamped Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the Boardwalk Hall, previous site of the conference’s championship tournament. The Barclays Center has garnered positive reviews for its architecture, facilities and amenities. The brand-new facility will work out the kinks with a number of invitational tournaments (Barclays Center Classic, Coaches vs. Cancer, Legends Classic, Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival and Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational) and be ready to host the conference tournament next March.
Reader’s Take I
Predicted Order of Finish
Signs that the A-10 is in for a wild ride this season are everywhere. CBS Sports’ five basketball experts (Jeff Goodman, Doug Gottlieb, Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello) tabbed four different schools (Butler, Massachusetts, Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth) to take the regular season crown. The A-10 coaches named a fifth school – Saint Joseph’s – at the conference’s Media Day earlier this month. Note that nobody in that group is named Temple or Xavier – the two schools which have passed the regular season crown back-and-forth for the last five seasons.
The fickle nature of college hoops owes itself to a number of different factors. Every year there are a handful of teams that underperform or overperform versus expectations for various reasons, from team chemistry to coaching philosophy to collective work ethic. Perhaps the most uncontrollable element of a team’s performance is injury, the sudden and often catastrophic medical ailments that – in the blink of one single cut to the hoop, defensive rotation or hard sprint down the court – dramatically alter teams’ seasons and programs’ trajectories. Last season we saw several injuries to key players, some more impactful than others, fundamentally shift the competitive balance in various leagues. For those players, the situational outlook was bleak: not playing competitively with the team you’ve spent all summer practicing with just plain stinks. But for the most part, their departures faded into the periphery as the season wore on, players began furiously rehabbing their various injuries, teams adapted and college hoops rolled along with minimal fuss.
If Mbakwe can return to form, the Gophers could be poised for an NCAA Tournament berth (Photo credit: Tom Olmscheid/AP Photo)
There was a strikingly large proportion of one particular injury last season, or at least it seemed that way for several of the sport’s most influential medical breakdowns. It’s known as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, and it’s one of the most common and oft-repeated of all athletic detriments. A complete recovery normally requires major surgery, between six and nine months worth of substantial rehabilitation and a cautious return to athletic activity. I’ve identified six instrumental players who experienced this very process after tearing their ACLs last season and all of them are expected to return – rehabbed and ready to go – for a redeeming 2012-13 campaign. Each player is rejoining their teams (or in some cases, new teams) under slightly different circumstances from which he left, with situational and rotational specifics dictating the terms of their returns. I’ve tried to dig into some of the circumstantial elements playing into these players’ comeback seasons and how you should expect them to fare this season. Here are the results of my research, a full-fledged breakdown of college hoops’ big-name torn ACL-returnees. Enjoy… and try your best to avoid a similar fate.
Trevor Mbakwe (sixth-year senior, Minnesota)
This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Mbakwe. Way back when he still played for Marquette – the same year (2007-08) Mario Chalmers’ legendary three-point shot KO’d a high-powered Derrick Rose-led Memphis team in the national finals – Mbakwe missed the majority of the season with a knee injury. He recovered, packed his bags and moved on to Miami Dade Community College, where he averaged a modest 16.3 PPG/13.2 RPG double-double while earning Southern Conference Player of the Year Honors. When he eventually made his way to Minnesota, after sitting out the 2009-10 season while awaiting trial for a felony assault charge, Mbakwe unleashed the ferocious rebounding and inside scoring touch he demonstrated in the JuCo ranks on Big Ten forwards. Much to the chagrin of Tubby Smith’s middling program, Mbawke had only played one full season and six full games last year before going down with an ACL tear.
In just the last three days, the Atlantic 10 has added Butler, the Mountain West has eviscerated the WAC with its additions of San Jose State and Utah State, and now Conference USA has finished it off as a major conference by grabbing Louisiana Tech to go along with the A-10′s Charlotte and the Sun Belt’s North Texas and FIU. There will be a quiz on all of these moves in mid-August. What does this mean from a college basketball perspective? Probably not much. Neither Charlotte nor Louisiana Tech have been relevant in a long time, and although North Texas made the NCAA Tournament in 2007 and 2010, winning in the Sun Belt is less challenging than it will be dealing with UTEP, Tulsa, Southern Miss, and UAB in a revamped Conference USA.
Illinois fans caught a glimpse into the mind of one of their incoming transfers when Sam McLaurin, a senior at Coastal Carolina who will take advantage of the one-year graduate school exception, announced (via Twitter, of course) “F— it im going to Illinois #illinination” on Thursday afternoon. McLaurin, a 6’10″ power forward who averaged 10/8 last season, will provide some additional frontcourt depth in the wake of Meyers Leonard’s departure to the NBA. He later apologized for his choice of words (“Hey everyone sorry about my language last night. I was just extremely excited to be apart of #illinination”), but we doubt anyone from Waukegan to Carbondale will care much so long as he can bring his numbers every night next season.
In one of the stupider bits of news to come out of our game this offseason (and there are plenty of candidates), Kentucky and Indianahave apparently decided to not renew its annual rivalry that dates back a half-century. The crux of the issue appears to be that UK wanted to move the series back to a rotating neutral site arrangement (likely splitting time between Indianapolis and Louisville, as it did from 1991-2005), while IU insisted on keeping the home-and-home series that had been in effect for the last seven years (and, of course, prior to 1991). If you read the tea leaves, and Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart suggests as much, it was John Calipari not “thrilled about going back to Bloomington” that appears to be driving this ridiculous decision. Look — we understand that a national championship coach typically gets what he wants when he wants it, but as Andy Glockner argues very well in this piece, that doesn’t mean that he’s right for wanting it. College basketball loses when rivalries like these end, and this is especially true now that IU under Tom Crean appears to finally be coming back around. Fix it.
What’s this, a MAY version of Luke Winn‘s Power Rankings? That’s right, now that the NBA Draft deadline has passed and we have a better sense of where the top recruits are headed next season, Winn put together a list of 16 teams that mimics the RTC Top 25 (released Tuesday) at the very top, but has some significant differences with respect to where we ranked schools such as Syracuse, Michigan State, and Arizona. As always, you’ll learn quite a few things that you didn’t already know about people, places and things surrounding the game, so make sure to check it out before you head into the weekend.
The biggest non-Amare Stoudemire basketball news on Tuesday was that the Atlantic 10′s courtship of Butler appears to have finally resulted in a match. ESPN.com reported last night that Butler will formally accept an offer today to join the league in 2013-14, replacing Temple in all sports. As one of the few truly elite mid-major basketball programs unaffiliated with a top 10 conference, this represents a major coup for the A-10 going forward regardless of whether the league is also able to also poach VCU and George Mason from the CAA. Butler’s admission helps to bolster the midwestern footprint of the conference, along with existing members Xavier, St. Louis and Dayton, and it will allow Brad Stevens an entree into the fertile recruiting grounds of the mid-Atlantic with multiple trips to the East Coast cities of New York, Philadelphia, Washington each year.
The other conference realignment news that shook out on Tuesday related to another Atlantic 10 school, Charlotte, and whether that school will be on the move in coming days or weeks as well. The school rejected an offer to join the Sun Belt on Tuesday and reportedly did so because it anticipates an opportunity to join Conference USA after it adds a football program next year. Where this would leave C-USA is really anybody’s guess, as the conference is slowly but surely maneuvering toward an incomprehensible 30+ team behemoth (with the eventual pairing of the Mountain West). Whoever wrote the law of unintended consequences when all of this conference realignment stuff (re)started a couple of years ago could not have predicted this morass.
Tuesday was a busy day in the world of comings and goings, but the most disheartening news is that college basketball will not get another year of Tim Abromaitis at Notre Dame. Abromaitis had petitioned for a sixth year of eligibility because he tore his ACL in November after playing only two games last season — he also had taken a redshirt year in 2008-09, meaning that he ultimately only suited up in South Bend for three full seasons. In other news, Tennessee’s Renaldo Woolridge (aka SwiperBoy) will spend his last year of eligibility at USC, no doubt spending his free time outside the gym over on the Sunset Strip pitching his audio wares.
It was 10 months ago when Michigan recruit Austin Hatch lost his family, his dog and very nearly his own life in a horrific plane crash that left him with a severe brain injury and the possibility of a very restricted way of life. The Detroit Free-Pressrevisited his story on Tuesday and found that although there are still many steps to go, Hatch’s doctors say that his rehabilitation has been “as successful as anyone they have seen.” Hatch still plans on attending Michigan in a little over a year, and says that he keeps in touch with head coach John Beilein a couple of times a month. He hasn’t yet been cleared to play basketball, but he has the spirit and will to believe that he’ll get back on the court eventually. Considering how far he’s already come and with 17 months before his first collegiate practice in Ann Arbor, it’s hard to believe that he won’t get there and become one of the best stories in all of amateur athletics.
Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
We are going to mix it up a bit for the final three days of the season. There are so many good games on the schedule that it wouldn’t do them justice to leave them unmentioned, not to mention the games with an impact for bubble teams. Here are some quick hitters on all the games you need to be following.
West Virginia @ South Florida – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (****)
The Bulls notched a huge win over Louisville earlier this week, but many feel they still have to win this game to ensure their spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers are hanging on by a thread but could really enhance their chances with a nice road victory in Tampa. This game has Big East Tournament implications as well, but both teams need it more for their NCAA chances. As a member of the Big East, South Florida has beaten 14 of the 15 other teams in the league. West Virginia is the only team they have yet to knock off. This would be one heck of a time to grab that win in West Virginia’s last regular season game as a member of the Big East. Pretty much everything is on the line in this game.
Can West Virginia Win A Big One On The Road?
#11 Georgetown @ #8 Marquette – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (****)
Both teams are obviously in the NCAA Tournament so this game is about seeding more than anything. A win over the Golden Eagles would be Georgetown’s ninth against the RPI top 50 and fifth against the top 25. Marquette has just one RPI top 25 win (Wisconsin) so adding another could really help Marquette’s seeding when the NCAA committee debates next Sunday in Indianapolis. The winner of this game will grab the #2 seed in next week’s Big East Tournament. The contrast of styles in this game will be fascinating as Marquette looks to run at home against a disciplined Georgetown defensive unit.
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the A-10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @(vbtnBlog)
The Week That Was:
Points per Possession Margins Through February 12
Temple and Saint Louis continue to “walk away” from the rest of the conference, leaving the next four teams in the upper division (Xavier, Massachusetts, La Salle and Saint Bonaventure) clustered on the “plus side” of the points per possession margin. Though nine of the conference’s 14 teams have .500 or better records, only those six (and Saint Joseph’s with a 0.000 margin) have offenses that scored more points per possession that their defenses yielded, suggesting that some of those .500 or better teams suffered one or more blowouts in conference games this season.
Though Fordham and Rhode Island have firm holds on the bottom two spots in the conference standings, their negative points per possession margin is still not large enough to suggest they are uncompetitive with their conference mates. The gap between top-ranked Temple and bottom-ranked Fordham remains at about 1/3 of a point (0.337), well below the half-point gap last season. With nearly 37% of the conference games still to be played this season these margins can shift.
Conference Realignment: Does the Road to the Big East Go Through Irvine, Texas?
The Big East filled out their dance card for the 2013 football season last week and Temple, one of two schools who have vigorously lobbied for a spot in the power conference over the past four seasons, was passed over for the other long-term applicant, the University of Memphis. The conference negotiated a 20 million dollar early exit fee from West Virginia, and promptly invited C-USA member Memphis to join for 2013-14 season.
Passed over for the second time since last October, Memphis is the fourth C-USA school to accept a Big East invitation in 2011-12 and the ninth C-USA member to be invited since 2004-05. CBS Sports writer Brett McMurphy reported that Temple had been contacted by C-USA officials about possible membership. The membership is rumored to be for all sports, and with the proposed C-USA merger with the Mountain West Conference and a planned two round playoff system for the conference championship (that would, I assume, culminate with a BCS bowl bid). Though the Owls have a 55 year relationship with fellow Big 5 and A-10 members La Salle and Saint Joseph’s, the prospects (and money?) may be too good to pass on.
Despite Consistently Producing Quality Teams and Players Such as Ramone Moore, Temple Was Passed Over For A Spot in The Big East (AP)
Massachusetts is expected to join Temple in the MAC – like the Owls for football only – when the Minutemen move up to the Bowl Division in football. Temple signed an agreement to continue play in the MAC just last summer. No details concerning an exit fee were disclosed at the time of the signing.
Temple continues to roll through their conference schedule but has yet to regain a spot in the AP or USA Today Top 25. Saint Louis and Massachusetts continue to nip at the Owls heels, while five others (Xavier, La Salle, Saint Bonaventure, and Duquesne) battle for the conference’s last bye seed. Most bracketology sites put either two or three teams in the field (Temple, Saint Louis plus one other…), so games played between Xavier, La Salle, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s, Massachusetts, and Dayton will carry extra-conference implications.
Temple (19-5, 8-2) – Temple continued their run with another 2-0 week, beating George Washington by just enough, then answering the bell against Xavier on Saturday night. Ramone Moore again earned conference recognition, in no small part from his game versus the Musketeers. The strength of schedule (table above) may suggest an easier path than most for Coach Fran Dunphy’s charges, but even with the Xavier hurdle cleared, the Owls still have rematches with city rivals: a road game with Saint Bonaventure and a tilt with Massachusetts. If the Owls keep winning, no one can catch them.Temple takes a mid-winter road trip to one of the least hospitable stops in the conference on Wednesday — Saint Bonaventure in a western New York winter. They return to Philadelphia for a home game with Duquesne on Saturday (2/18). Read the rest of this entry »
Danny Spewak is an RTC correspondent. You can follow him @dspewak on Twitter. He filed this report following Temple’s victory at Saint Louis on Wednesday.
Saint Louis looked nothing like one of the Atlantic 10′s top defensive teams on Wednesday. Exploiting a mismatch with its four-guard attack, Temple overcame a sluggish effort from senior point guard Juan Fernandez to knock off the Billikens 72-67 at Chaifetz Arena, avoiding an 0-2 start and leaving the A-10 standings as messy as ever. SLU (13-4, 1-2 A-10) could not handle the physicality of the Owls’ guards, especially Khalif Wyatt. The junior led all scorers with 22 points, and his team shredded Rick Majerus‘ man-to-man defense all night to score 44 points in the paint. Temple (11-4, 1-1 A-10) shot 59% in the second half and 56.6% overall, marking just the second time this season Saint Louis could not hold an opponent to less than 50% shooting. And it all happened without normal production from Fernandez, who scored just two points on a 1-8 effort from the field.
Saint Louis Drew Its Second Largest Crowd of the Year
The Billikens never led in the second half, though they did cut Temple’s lead to a single point on two occasions. Even with an animated home crowd behind it — the 8,760 fans marked its second-highest attendance of the season — Saint Louis could not get the defensive stop it needed in the final two minutes. After Kwamain Mitchell‘s three-pointer pulled SLU to within 62-61 with 2:14 remaining, Aaron Brown immediately responded with a three-point play. Then, a turnover led to a thunderous alley-oop in transition by Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, sealing the Billikens’ first home loss of the season. “You have to buck up and gets stops,” senior forward Brian Conklin said. “And we’re not doing that right now.”
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @(vbtnBlog)
The Week That Was
No A-10 Teams in the Top 25, Again: The latest round of the AP and Coaches polls (January 2) show no Atlantic 10 team that gathered enough support nationally to be ranked … for the second consecutive week. Saint Louis missed a good opportunity to impress when the Billikens dropped a four-point decision to New Mexico on Saturday, picking up their second loss in the process. With the next six teams showing three or four losses, the conference is out of the Top 25 conversation for the next few weeks. The other name brands, Xavier and Temple, did not help their causes this past week. Xavier dropped their third game in the last four, this time to Gonzaga in what might have been a good “comparison” game for the Selection Committee. Temple won their third straight, but the last two have not been especially impressive. The Owls may get the conference’s last good chance for some noise when they host #3 Duke tonight.
Conference Comparisons: Nearly 90% of the out-of-conference games are on the books and the Atlantic 10 has posted a 62.6% winning percentage:
Against the six power conferences, the conference has logged a respectable 22-26 (0.458) record. Highlights include .500 or better records against the ACC (7-6, 0.538 – note Temple hosts Duke tonighit, see below), the Big Ten (4-4, 0.500) and the SEC (4-1, 0.800). Conference members logged their strongest numbers against the teams within the conference footprint – those traditional opponents during the out-of-conference portion of the schedule, posting a 63.8% (30-17) winning record against teams located throughout New England, the Middle Atlantic and upper Midwest regions. Against those conferences most likely to compete for the at-large bids not allocated to the power conference teams, the A-10 posted a strong – but deceptive – 23-12 (0.657) record, largely at the expense of the CAA (15-5, 0.750) and C-USA (4-3, 0.571); both show improvement over the 2010-11 season when, through the end of December, the A-10 went 7-10 versus the CAA and 2-5 with C-USA.
Conference Play Commences: The conference maintains their traditional “opening night” tipoff with five conference games and a sixth game to be played on Thursday night. Saturday will feature six conference games with the seventh game to be played on Sunday. By next Monday, every member will have logged at least one conference game.
Despite A Tough Start, Tu Holloway And Xavier Will Be A Major Challenger For The A-10 Crown (AP)
With only a few games scheduled, and those yielding mixed results for the teams at the top of last week’s power ranking, the conference appears to be sliding sideways. Massachusetts disposes of their last out of conference opponents fairly easily to move up a spot, while Temple finishes the month 6-1 and Fordham upsets a ranked team.
Saint Louis (12-2) – The Billikens ended the week 1-1 — the loss coming at the hands of New Mexico (WAC) at the notorious Pit, UNM’s homecourt. Rick Majerus’ crew smothered Texas Southern with defense in a 71-39 win on 12/27, limiting the Tigers to a paltry 0.57 points per possession (or PPP, with 68 possessions per team calculated), about half a point per possession, just over half of the Division I average. Saint Louis’ own 1.04 point per possession hints at the ongoing point production problem with Saint Louis, but when a defense holds an opponent under 0.6 PPP, the team does not need a very efficient offense to win. Brian Conklin earned an Honorable Mention for his 35-point performance over the two games which yielded an average of 17.5 points per game with an eFG% of 68.4%. Very impressive numbers indeed. The Lobos were a different matter, as the Billikens were down two at the half, and gave up another two points in the second half.Saint Louis opens conference play at Dayton Wednesday, then returns home to host George Washington on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter (@vbtnBlog)
Ed. Note – This post was written prior to Wednesday night’s action.
The Week That Was
No A-10 Teams in the Top 25: The release of the AP and Coaches polls on Mon., December 26 showed no Atlantic 10 conference member for the first time in 12 weeks (going back to January 31, 2011 – week #13). A Xavier three-game losing streak, coming on the heels of the bench clearing brawl in the “Crosstown Shootout” dropped the Musketeers from #15 in the December 19 poll right out of the Top 25. Saint Louis’ own five-game winning streak includes a win over Division II Illinois-Springfield, Alabama State and Arkansas State — not a slate of opponents that will wow the voters.
Early Season Invitational Tournaments – Final Tally: The only good news out of the Diamond Head Classic was that the Musketeers finally broke their three-game losing streak with a win over Southern Illinois in the invitational tournament’s seventh place game. Invitational tournament formats frequently match A-10 teams with power conference opponents on neutral courts, giving the conference their best opportunity for quality wins. Results for the 2011-12 season:
At the end of the first cycle, the conference held a promising 21-13 (0.600) margin with six first and third place finishes, suggesting the team either swept the field or won the first two games (before dropping the final). The brightest lights were Dayton (winner of the Old Spice Classic) and Saint Louis (who beat three power conference schools on their way to the championship in the 76 Classic). Temple may have disappointed slightly, but the Owls, along with Richmond, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s, posted very respectable results in their tournaments.
Free Todd O’Brien? Attention to the resurgence of the Saint Joseph’s program was diverted two days after the Hawks’ best win of the season, a 16-point drubbing of Big 5 rival Villanova, when Sports Illustrated released fifth year senior Todd O’Brien’s side of his attempt to take his post season eligibility at Alabama-Birmingham instead of Saint Joseph’s. Buzz about Phil Martelli’s squad notching 10 wins before the start of conference play (virtually certain given their last two out of conference opponents) was pushed aside with the details of the Todd O’Brien imbroglio. The fifth year senior, a transfer from Bucknell who started 28 games in the 2009-10 season and was a serviceable rotation player last season, completed his undergraduate course work over the summer and enrolled in one of Alabama-Birmingham’s MBA programs and play for Mike Davis in his last season of eligibility. Saint Joseph’s, however, denied O’Brien’s application for a Graduate Student Transfer Exception (a release from his athletic scholarship) with no explanation given. O’Brien went public with his version of events, and so far, Saint Joseph’s, and specifically Martelli, has cited student confidentiality as the reason for not responding.
Fordham (Dereck Whittenburg and Jio Fontan), Providence (Keno Davis and Joseph Young) and Siena (Fran McCaffery and Kojo Mensah) were warning signs that Saint Joseph’s ignored. Though Martelli, as did McCaffrey, Davis and Whittenberg before him, may feel justified in denying O’Brien his release (fans and “program insiders” floated three variations of “Todd O’Brien is a bad boy” in the first 24-48 hours after the story was released), the veteran coach has to understand that the notion of a coach and program were gamed by a scholarship athlete never gets much traction with the public, and the university’s strategy of not talking about it gives O’Brien all of the air time on this issue.
Todd O'Brien (right) and Phil Martelli (left) Have Been Caught In A Verbal Tug-Of-War
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @(vbtnBlog)
The Week That Was
Rivalry Week – the Out of Conference Edition: Throughout the East, in the years before the rise of the conferences, the season was the warm-up for the season ending finales – games with the local rivals. The conferences changed that dynamic, as teams from the same media markets found themselves locked in races for conference titles that increasingly translated into NCAA postseason bids. And local rivals find their matches relocated to the earliest parts of the season. As the fall semester (or quarter) winds into final examinations, the weeks leading in have become the non-conference equivalent of “Rivals Week,” and had ESPN looked at the A-10 schedule, they would have found over one-third of conference members squaring off with their most-often faced local opponents.
Brawl City: Xavier and Cincinnati have played 79 times, meeting annually since 1947, in what has become known as the “Cross Town Shootout”. Though Xavier won three of the last four meetings, last season’s 66-46 Bearcat rout at Fifth Third must have gone to Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick’s head. In what will no doubt become a teaching point for future Mick Cronin teams, Kilpatrick, in the run-up to the game, opined on local radio that Xavier’s All-American candidate, senior guard Tu Holloway, was probably not good enough to start on the Cincinnati team. Bad move, Sean. The 2011 A-10 Player of the Year responded with a stellar 17-point performance that include going 5-for-10 (1-of-5 three-pointers, 4-of-5 two-pointers) from the field and a perfect 6-for-6 from the line to go with a game-high six dimes. In the post game press conference the clearly agitated Holloway told the assembled scribes that “you do your talking after the game, not before…”. If only Holloway had followed his own advice. With less than 30 seconds to play, during what most likely would have been Cincinnati’s last possession of the game, the obviously incensed Holloway, still in the game for reasons unknown, passed by the Cincinnati bench (the 1:30 mark in the video below), and taunted the Bearcat bench with, “this is MY CITY”.
Additionally: As Cincinnati freshman guard Ge’Lawn Guyn, Holloway’s defensive assignment, put himself between Holloway and the bench, the two went chest-to-chest and Holloway raised his arms as if to strike Guyn. Xavier freshman forward Dezmine Wells, however, beat him to it, throwing the first punch in a bench clearing brawl that has to be the low point in this season. Xavier senior center Kenny Frease suffered a black eye (and no doubt a ripping headache the day after), the result of a sucker punch from Cincinnati forward Yancy Gates and a kick to the head delivered by Cincinnati center Cheikh Mbodj. Both Cincinnati players were suspended for six games. Cronin and the Cincinnati AD also suspended freshman forward Octavius Ellis for four games, and Guyn for one game. Xavier doled out suspensions to Wells (four games), Landen Amos (four games), junior guard Mark Lyons (two games) and Holloway (one game). Cincinnati holds a 58-41 edge in the series. The other four rivalry games may have been every bit as intense, but no centers were harmed in the playing of the games. Read the rest of this entry »
Early Season Performances – The Oooh Aaaah Variety (Teams & Individuals)
The A-10 evened the record versus the six power conferences again last week, largely on the strength of performances by Xavier and Richmond. Xavier needed overtime to beat Vanderbilt in Nashville. Down by two with just under four minutes in regulation, Xavier held Vanderbilt scoreless and managed to tie on a Mark Lyons jumper with six seconds remaining in regulation. In overtime the Musketeers took the lead for good 68-66 on two Dezmine Wells free throws and Tu Holloway put a large enough margin between the teams (about eight points) when he hit two threes in successive possessions to absorb a Commodore mini-run. Vanderbilt chipped the Musketeers’ lead down to four, but could get no closer. Forced to foul, Holloway and Travis Taylor went a perfect 6 for 6 from the line to stretch the lead to 10 and suck the life out of the Commodore comeback.
Hosting Purdue five days later, Xavier again went down early, allowing Purdue to take the lead at the 18:49 mark of the first half and hold it for the next 37 minutes of play. The Boilermakers took an 11-point lead into the intermission and stretched it to 15 in the first 6:30 of the second half. Over the next 12:24 Xavier outscored Purdue 29-13 to take the lead for only the second time in the game. Once in control, the Musketeers did not let the Boilermakers back in, pushing their lead out to three in the last minute of the game.
Those numbers are more interesting, however, when you break up the game. For example, with 3:30 left in overtime against Vanderbilt, Holloway had just 14 points on 4-17 shooting. That stat line looks much more impressive after he hit back-to-back threes on the next two possessions and four straight free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Likewise, against Purdue, Holloway had just 10 points and six turnovers in the first 38 minutes of the game, but in the final two minutes he hit a three on three consecutive possessions (video of the last two below) and followed that up with two free throws, completing the most impressive comeback of the young season…in the final three minutes against Vanderbilt and the last two minutes against Purdue, Holloway had 21 points, went 5-6 from beyond the arc and knocked down all six of his free throws attempts.
The Richmond squad had to replace 59% of their minutes and 68.6% of their scoring from the squad that won the A-10 conference tournament and ran to the Sweet Sixteen last March. Freshman point guard Kendall Anthony, three times designated Rookie of the Week by the conference, has picked up a load of time and scoring responsibilities for the Spiders so far. Richmond leaned heavily on Anthony along with sophomores Cedrick Lindsay and Derrick Williams for offense. Both chipped in double digit points to complement Anthony’s production. Lindsay was a serviceable back-up to senior point guard Kevin Anderson last season, but Williams, who has started all eight games for the Spiders, saw very little action as a freshman.
Overlooked Temple off guard Aaron Brown turned heads the summer before coming to North Broad, but had few opportunities to show Temple fans and the A-10 what he could do. Brown scored 21 points in 22 minutes in a display during Temple’s 86-74 win over Central Michigan. Ken Pomeroy would find hard to ignore his performance, as he hit 7-11 (4-7 from three point land, 3-4 from inside the arc) shots from the floor while getting to the line for five free throws, of which he hit three. That computes to an 81.8% eFG% with a 1.57 points per weighted shot, an outstanding outing for the sophomore, who was pressed into action due to the injury-depleted squad.
Early Season Performances – The What the !@#!@@!# Variety (Teams & Individuals)
After winning their early season invitational tournaments, beating four power conference opponents (two each) during the tournament, both Dayton and Saint Louis stumbled in post tournament games. The losses are puzzling because for both teams, the games were winnable. Saint Louis took an “and-one” game with Loyola Marymount of the West Coast Conference, losing by seven with a performance that had team observers scratching their heads. Dayton compounded the first post tournament loss (by 29 to Buffalo of the MAC) with a second loss, this one by 17, to Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference. The opponents were beatable, making the scoring margins downright consternating. Dayton was pegged to finish in the middle of the conference, but the two unexpected losses (albeit the Racers will most likely contend for the OVC title this season) could damage the Flyers chances for a post season NIT bid. Other inexplicable losses go to Saint Bonaventure’s home loss to Arkansas State of the Sun Belt Conference, a 3-4 team no one expects to make noise this season. The Bonnies were not helped by a lackluster six-point, nine-rebound effort from Andrew Nicholson.
The Power Rankings are shuffled again this week in response to the Ooohs, Aaaahs and What the heck games listed above. For the Atlantic-10 the post season margin for error is exceedingly slim. Three losses going into the first or second week of December can take a school off the RPI short list pretty quickly.
1. Xavier (6-0) #8 AP – Xavier took down two more power conference programs last week in fashion impressive enough to climb three more spots in the AP poll. I listed many of the impressive details in the impressive performances section above, but in addition to the video link below that shows two of Tu Holloway’s three “last two minute” three point field goals below (h/t to Dana & Victory Blog for the link). I should also mention that in Nashville Mark Lyons (19 points) and Travis Taylor (11 points) chipped in more than 10 apiece to go with Holloway’s 24 point performance, while Antoine Walker collected 14 rebounds in his return to Vanderbilt where he played for three years. Versus Purdue three Musketeers, Lyons (14 points), Walker (10 points) and Kenny Fraese (10 points) chipped in double digit points to complement Holloway’s 21 point outburst.
Xavier will travel to Indianapolis Wednesday for a game with Butler, then return home to host this season’s Crosstown Shootout versus Cincinnati on Saturday. Win these next two and Chris Mack’s squad deserves something special, like Christmas in Hawaii…wait.
2. Saint Louis (7-1) –Their top 25 ranking proved surprisingly short, the penalty for stumbling against the Lions last Tuesday. St. Louis recovered to beat another WCC team, Portland by 20, 73-53 at the Chaifetz. The Billikens’ defense limited Portland to 0.90 points per possession, much as they had Boston College and Oklahoma. Scoring centered on Brian Conklin and Cody Ellis, with Kyle Cassidy and Mike McCall providing efficient long-range scoring. They will host Vermont on Wednesday and Division II Illinois-Springfield on Saturday.