Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on March 5th, 2014

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 @vtbnblog.

If the Season Ended Today

Table01140305

The conference standings are ordered by winning percentage (in conference play through Tuesday) using the rules to determine conference tournament seeding applied to order those with identical marks. The efficiency differences are used here to identify those teams that might be under- or over-seeded for the conference tournament. Virginia Commonwealth closed out a 4-3 February by beating conference leader Saint Louis by 11 to open March, If this run continues, the Rams might be peaking at exactly the right time. Saint Louis’ two-game losing streak (to Duquesne by seven AT THE CHAIFETZ! and to Virginia Commonwealth by 11) will not jeopardize its conference standing. The Billikens hold a tie-breaker over Saint Joseph’s should they drop one of their two remaining games. The damage, beyond their pride, was taken by their projected NCAA Tournament seed line. Touted as a #3 for much of February, many bracketologists moved Saint Louis down to the #4 or #5 seed line as a result. Dropping their last two games would be problematic for head coach Jim Crews’ squad. The highlighted teams (Virginia Commonwealth and George Washington) have the highest conference efficiency differences of any team grouped in their respective side of the latest version of the conference tournament brackets (see below), yet neither holds the #1 or the #2 seed. The brackets below show how the conference tournament would be seeded if the season ended on Tuesday. Read the rest of this entry »

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Who Won the Week? Tyler Ennis, Wisconsin, Grambling State & More…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 14th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. This week’s main event? Watching INCREDIBLY LARGE MAN Sim Bhullar and New Mexico State get upset by an Idaho team that was just 1-6 in its home dome at that point.

WINNER: Tyler Ennis

When you save your team’s undefeated season by making a buzzer-beating three-pointer to knock off a Top 25 team on the road, you’ve got the best week imaginable. Syracuse’s freshman point guard earned top honors this week thanks to that. Tyler Ennis’ 13-point, five-assist performance in Wednesday’s 58-56 win at Pittsburgh, including that last shot, pushed the Orange’s record to 24-0 and 11-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. OK, sure, maybe they won’t make it through consecutive road games at Duke, Maryland and Virginia in the next couple of weeks, but for another few nights, the magic lives on thanks to a phenomenal shot from a freshman phenom.

Tyler Ennis certainly had a week to remember. (Getty)

Tyler Ennis certainly had a week to remember. (Getty)

(Related winners: Syracuse, who also beat Clemson 57-44 on Sunday; Wichita State, which gets to avoid the singular spotlight of being the nation’s only undefeated team. Related losers: Pittsburgh, but thanks for setting the stage for a star.)

LOSER: Everybody involved in the Marcus Smart fiasco

One of last year’s phenom freshman point guards hasn’t exactly had the same season in his second try. Marcus Smart’s frustration seemed encapsulated last Saturday when the Oklahoma State sophomore pushed Texas Tech purported “superfan” Jeff Orr in the stands during the Cowboys’ eventual 65-61 loss in Lubbock. Nobody wins in this. Smart rightfully earned a three-game suspension for his actions. Orr, who has been caught making obscene gestures to other players, won’t attend a Texas Tech game for the rest of the season. The Pokes’ losing streak extended to five after following their loss at the Red Raiders with an 87-68 loss Tuesday at Texas. We’ll never know what Orr actually said to provoke Smart. We’ll never know what went through Smart’s mind. But we know that his team has slipped to 16-8 and 4-7 in Big 12 play. He’ll certainly have a lot of work to do upon his return, both on the basketball court and with his reputation.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 23rd, 2014

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 @vtbnblog.

Bid Talk: 3? 4? 5!?

Two weeks of conference play has scrambled the conference’s NCAA bid picture. Going into conference play, the Atlantic 10 had five teams in the postseason conversation, increasingly a “normal” situation for the A-10. However, five conference games has shuffled the New Year’s pecking order of Massachusetts, Saint Louis, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton (last eight in). The Minutemen picked up their second loss of the season (58-55 at Richmond) after a couple of close calls (with St. Bonaventure and George Mason), as the Billikens edge closer to UMass in the hearts and minds of bracketologists — if not the poll voters (compliments of a strong opening run).

The Saint Louis faithful is gearing up for another run at post season play. (Saint Louis athletics)

The Saint Louis faithful is gearing up for another run at post season play. (Saint Louis athletics)

With the losses of Temple, Xavier, and Butler to other leagues, more than a few publications predicted a step back for the conference’s overall postseason prospects. At this point the conference offers four candidates that will need consistent conference play to maintain their chances. How many bids can the conference get (maximum), and was the non-conference showing strong enough to boost any of the outlier programs into postseason contention (should any of the front runner fade)? Massachusetts (#13 in the January 20 AP poll; #12 in the USA Today/Coaches poll) and St. Louis (#19 AP, #20 in the USA Today/Coaches) are legitimate “High Fliers” that should contend for the conference title and draw NCAA bids with their consistently solid play. The non-conference resumes for George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton are good enough, but their conference work could move them out of contention. GW is among those “also receiving votes” from voters in both polls. Note that Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin, the RPI and ESPN (the BPI) all rank five conference teams among their top 60 — see the below table of the consensus top eight conference teams below. Read the rest of this entry »

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UMass’ Stumble at Richmond Exhibits Reliance on Chaz Williams

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 23rd, 2014

When a team has four players averaging  double-figures on the season, it’s easy to assume that an opponent can take any one player away without assurance of success. Massachusetts, one of the media darlings of the first half of the college basketball season, boasts a roster with several multifaceted scoring options. But if anything can be taken away from the Minutemen’s tough 58-55 loss to Richmond on Wednesday night, it’s that they have one indispensable player on the offensive end: Chaz Williams.

Chaz williams

As Chaz Williams goes, so too does the UMass offense and hopes of being serious contenders in the season’s second half (credit: sports.yahoo.com)

Fresh off of a selection to the 25-player midseason Wooden Award watch list, Williams struggled mightily against the Spiders’ defense on this night. While UMass has shown that it can play well at different tempos, the frenetic style of this game exhibited why their point guard is of the utmost importance. The size of Richmond’s Cedrick Lindsay and the other taller perimeter defenders bothered the diminutive Williams — there were no forays into the paint or open shots for the A-10 Player of the Year favorite, and the Minutemen suffered as a result. He seemed to be trying to do too much as Richmond’s defense smothered UMass’ every pass, and he was frequently out of control in trying to make up for an early deficit. Williams finished the night contributing only eight points on 2-of-11 shooting, along with four turnovers.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 9th, 2014

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 @vtbnblog.

The Atlantic 10 Versus the World (the rest of Division I actually):

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Note: conference teams had no games versus team from the Atlantic Sun, the Sun Belt and the SWAC. Those conferences are not shown in the table.

With conference play starting this week, the Atlantic 10 has only four non-conference games left on the composite schedule. A look at the table shows conference teams have won 70 percent of their games against other Division I teams. While the winning percentage looks good overall, it masks a disappointing 36.5 percent (19-33) mark versus the power conferences (defined here as the five BCS conferences — the ACC, B1G, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — plus the AAC and Big East) that should trouble those fans who anticipate four or more NCAA bids in March. Chances to close that win deficit, with a single power conference game outstanding, are virtually nil. Scheduling nearly 60 percent of its games with opponents from the lower 23 conferences placed a ceiling on the highest ranking the conference could achieve. Several teams such as Massachusetts and George Washington have solid RPIs (Ken Pomeroy would also count St. Louis and Virginia Commonwealth among the “solid showing” group), and should help those considered more “bubble” than “in” over the next month with conference games.

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O26 Mid-Season Awards: Gregg Marshall, Chaz Williams, Jon Severe and Others…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 9th, 2014

With non-conference action all but wrapped up and league play already going in earnest, it‘s time now to pass out some mid-season superlatives to deserving players and coaches across the O26 world. A few of these guys will probably do enough to earn some national honors by season’s end, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on over the next two months.

O26 Midseason Coach of the Year

Gregg Marshall has Wichita State off to a 15-0 start this season. (Jamie Green/MCT)

Gregg Marshall has Wichita State off to a 15-0 start this season. (Jamie Green/MCT)

Gregg Marshall – Wichita State. Could the Shockers actually outdo themselves from a year ago? Even with expectations high coming into 2013-14, very few could have predicted the kind of start Wichita State has had to this season, fresh off its Final Four run last March. Monumental success of that type often breeds sluggish beginnings or even major letdowns the year after, which is what makes Marshall’s coaching job so impressive — his team has not missed a beat. The Shockers have jumped out to a 16-0 record that includes wins over BYU, Tennessee, Saint Louis and Alabama, the latter two coming on the road and all of them despite losing key seniors Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead to graduation. Together with preseason MVC Player of the Year Cleanthony Early and NCAA Tournament hero Ron Baker, Marshall has inserted Fred Van Vleet and Tekele Cotton into the lineup — complementary pieces a season ago — along with JuCo transfer forward Darius Carter to create a starting five arguably more efficient and consistent than last year’s group. They are balanced (four players average in double figures), deep, and rarely lack focus from night to night. And while the early winning has generated a lot of buzz about Wichita State possibly going undefeated in the regular season, its coach won’t let the commotion deter his team’s one-step-at-a-time approach. Marshall recently said, “I’ve always said you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Right now, we’re not thinking about eating the entire elephant. We’re thinking about our next meal.” That mentality has earned Marshall our award for mid-season O26 Coach of the Year.

Honorable MentionsSteve Fisher – San Diego State, Derek Kellogg – Massachusetts, Tod Kowalczyk – Toledo, Mitch Henderson – Princeton

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Award Tour: Four New Players Enter the NPOY Discussion

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 3rd, 2014

AwardTour

Jameson Fleming is an RTC columnist who also works for CBSSports.com as the site’s social media editor. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesonFleming.

College basketball is chock-full of star players on the verge of making these Player of the Year rankings. Wichita State’s Ron Baker and North Carolina’s Marcus Paige dropped out, but not by their own faults. Michigan State’s Keith Appling and Florida’s Casey Prather have simply had better seasons to this point. Massachusetts point guard Chaz Williams was once as high as No. 4 in the rankings, but several poor performances have dropped him straight out of the top 10. Meanwhile, Kansas has two players, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, who could go No. 1 in the NBA Draft, but neither has yet to crack the list. The Pac-12 may have only one elite team this season, but it is loaded with top players like Arizona’s Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, and UCLA’s duo of Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams – none of whom are on this week’s list either. So who made it? Let’s get to this week’s post-holiday list.

Player of the Year

10. Keith Appling – Michigan State. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 15.8 PPG, 4.8 APG, 121.9 oRTG

Keith Appling Breaks Into the NPOY Discussion This Week.

Keith Appling Breaks Into the NPOY Discussion This Week.

NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster put together a handy little chart comparing all of the nation’s elite point guards. What did he find? Under these parameters, Keith Appling is the No. 1 high-profile point guard in the country.

via NBCSports.com

You can see the rest of the chart here. When you factor in the points Appling scores per possession and the points he creates per assist, he ranks better than Tyler Ennis, Shabazz Napier, Chaz Williams, Marcus Smart and Russ Smith. The biggest knock against Appling remains his inconsistency in Michigan State’s biggest games.

9. Casey Prather – Florida. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 17.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 121.9 oRTG

After three seasons without much of a role at Florida, Casey Prather has developed into one of the best players in the SEC. He’s nearly tripled his point production (6.2 PPG to 17.8 PPG) thanks to an increase in minutes (33 percent to 74 percent of Florida’s game time) and usage (19.5 percent to 28.1 percent).

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 1st, 2014

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.

All-Conference — Midseason Edition

First Team

With about a third of the 2013-14 season in the books and conference play coming next week, it is time to review the strongest candidates for a midseason All-Conference Team. Some of the same players show up a second year in a row. Chaz Williams, for example, is doing what everyone thought he would… just better. Other names (Cady Lalanne and Cedrick Lindsay) might be new to the list, but fans of the Minutemen and Spiders know who they are.

The RTC pre-A10 first team consists on a eclectic group of standouts.

The RTC “Pre-A10 season” first team consists on an eclectic group of standouts.

  • Guard — Chaz Williams, Massachusetts. With the resurgence of the Minutemen program, Williams stands an excellent chance to take Player of the Year honors at season’s end. The senior guard leads the conference in total assists (82) and assists per game (7.8),and leads Massachusetts in scoring (173) and points per game (15.7).
  • Guard — Cedrick Lindsay, Richmond. The junior point guard leads the Spiders in points scored (205), points per game (18.6), assists (54) and minutes played (378). Given Chris Mooney’s preference for a deep rotation, the last statistic is especially impressive as it represents 76.3 percent of the available minutes at Richmond’s point guard spot. With three games left before they start conference play — two of them very winnable — the chances are good that Richmond will start conference play with at least 10 wins in the book.
  • Guard — Treveon Graham, VCU. The 6′ 6″ off guard leads Shaka Smart’s squad in scoring (203) and points per game (15.6) and is second in rebounding (85).
  • Forward — Dwayne Evans, St. Louis. Evans was named to the preseason All-Conference First Team along with Chaz Williams, and like his UMass rival, Evans has not disappointed. The 6’6″ senior forward leads the Billikens in points scored (207) and has been a crucial piece in their 11-2 season.
  • Center — Cady Lalanne, Massachusetts. The 6’10″ center might be Williams’ teammate but also his biggest competitor for Player of the Year honors. Lalanne and Williams have both been named Player of the Week twice. The junior has started all 11 games for UMass, averages a double-double (14.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG), and leads the conference in blocked shots (32).

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on December 19th, 2013

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.

Dealing With Expectations

Forgive me if six weeks and 10 games (more or less) into this season I am a little dizzy from all the twists and turns. Most understood Massachusetts would be good, especially with Chaz Williams’ decision to take his last season of eligibility in Amherst, but undefeated? VCU would be nicked in the non-conference schedule — that much was a given — but three losses that include a 14-point loss to Florida State on a neutral court and a loss to Northern Iowa? That is a surprise.

What's new? UMass standout Chaz Williams is having another great season. (AP)

What’s new? UMass standout Chaz Williams is having another great season. (AP)

First Team

  • Chaz Williams (Massachusetts) — It may be hard to believe, but the unanimous pick has actually exceeded expectations. Williams has led the Minutemen to a 10-0 undefeated start and a #22 ranking in AP’s Top 25. UMass is the only conference representative.
  • Dwayne Evans (Saint Louis) — The Billikens’ slashing forward’s sluggish offensive numbers mirror the larger problems facing St. Louis this season. Evans can score inside as his 51 percent two-point completion rate attests, but absent a consistent long-range scorer, opposing teams find it very easy to stop the Bills — pack the lane and wait for Evans (or guard Jordair Jett) to drive. The stingy defense lives on, Saint Louis is ranked #3 defensively by Ken Pomeroy, but a team-wide three-point drought (Jake Barnett excepted) leaves Jim Crews’ squad with a one-dimensional offense.
  • Tyreek Duren (La Salle) — Hobbled by a troublesome plantar fasciitis condition that dates back to last May, the point guard has to adjust his energy to manage the Explorers’ offense rather than create it through his typical to-the-basket drives. There are many reasons the Explorers are struggling this season and with a better start Dureen’s inability to move laterally and plant for a jumper would be a footnote.
  • Treveon Graham (Virginia Commonwealth) — Graham continues the domination that established him as a first teamer last season. He leads the Rams in scoring (196 points, 16.3 PPG) and combines prolific scoring with efficient scoring, earning a 117.9 offensive rating from Ken Pomeroy. Questions on how to get VCU back on track should not start with Graham. He is on pace to accumulate last season’s numbers, and has improved his defensive rebounding to boot.
  • Juvonte Reddic (Virginia Commonwealth) — VCU’s second leading scorer (140 points, 11.7 points per game, 110.1) and leading rebounder (30-56-86) has stepped back slightly in offensive efficiency, but has improved in block and steal rates and in getting to the line. If his contributions hold steady through the season, Reddic should be in the thick of an All-Conference conversation come March.

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Award Tour: Randle Dropping, Parker and Napier Still at the Top…

Posted by Jameson Fleming on December 16th, 2013

AwardTour

Jameson Fleming is an RTC columnist who also works for CBSSports.com as the site’s social media editor. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesonFleming.

We haven’t been doing rankings for Freshman of the Year mostly because this freshmen class is so class loaded that you’ll see two or more freshmen in the top 10 of the National Player of the Year rankings all season. One player who has been noticeably absent or toward the bottom of rankings from all across the web (NBCSports.com, CBSSports.com, Cleveland.com) is Andrew Wiggins. The Kansas freshman was a preseason All-American, but he has struggled to crack those rankings (including this one). Despite his “struggles,” he’s closer than you think. In fact, Wiggins hasn’t really struggled at all. He’s only played poorly in one of Kansas’ three losses, a 10-point performance against Villanova, but has played well otherwise, scoring 15.9 points per game and averaging 20 per game against Kansas’ top four opponents: Duke, Villanova, Colorado and Florida. If Wiggins’ supporting cast gets backs on track like they did against New Mexico on Saturday, you’ll see him in the Player of the Year rankings eventually. He hasn’t been as dominant as expected one month into the season, but it’s way too early to say he’s a disappointment.

Andrew Wiggins is Likely to Find Himself on the NPOY List Sooner or Later

Andrew Wiggins is Likely to Find Himself on the NPOY List Sooner or Later

Player of the Year

10. Roberto Nelson – Oregon State
2013-14 stats: 25.5 PPG, 5.0 APG, 121.5 oRTG

The Beavers’ star continued to excel with 26 points on 16 shots against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Once Pac-12 play begins in a couple weeks, we’ll be able to get a better read on whether Nelson can keep up his elite scoring pace.

9. Jahii Carson – Arizona State
2013-14 stats: 19.9 PPG, 5.2 APG, 114.2 oRTG

Jahaii Carson is struggling through a bum ankle, but that didn’t slow him down much against DePaul. He dropped 23 points on 15 shots, grabbed eight rebounds, and had five assists. Carson’s Sun Devils likely won’t be tested again until an early January date with UCLA. Read the rest of this entry »

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Who Won The Week? Florida, Chaz Williams, and Jalen James…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 13th, 2013

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.

WINNER: Florida

Billy Donovan and Florida had a week to remember. (AP)

Billy Donovan and Florida had a week to remember. (Getty)

The Gators bounced back in a huge way from its last-second loss to Connecticut a week and a half ago, knocking off Kansas Tuesday, winning 67-61 in Gainesville. The win was especially impressive given how Florida (7-2) took the lead early in the first half and never relinquished it, but also for the play of point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who was expected to be out for weeks with a sprained ankle suffered against the Huskies. Instead, Wilbekin started and led his team in points (18), assists (six), steals (four) and minutes (36). Between the presence of Wilbekin and fellow point guard Kasey Hill, who was also expected to miss this game with an ankle injury, Jayhawks’ point guards Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason combined for more turnovers (nine) than the Gators had as a team (eight). With Wilbekin and Hill healthy and coach Billy Donovan’s tight seven-man rotation intact and led by breakout senior forward Casey Prather, the Gators have the look of a team that could go very deep in the NCAA Tournament, and beating one of the nation’s marquee basketball programs certainly speaks to that potential.

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UMass in Great NCAA Tourney Position With Its Early Resume

Posted by Nicholas Patrick on December 12th, 2013

Derek Kellogg’s UMass team was picked to finish fourth in the new-look Atlantic 10 this season, which would seem to position the Minutemen squarely on the bubble in pursuit of their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998. In recent years, UMass has missed nearly every key opportunity to strengthen its non-conference resume (losing to Boston College, Seton Hall, Florida State, North Carolina State, Tennessee, and Miami twice), but this squad has garnered national attention by passing every tough test. Through eight games, UMass remains perfect, collecting wins over four power-conference teams (Boston College, LSU, Nebraska, and Clemson), along with high-mids New Mexico and BYU, and earning a championship in the Charleston Classic. What’s more impressive — aside from overcoming a nine-point second-half deficit to defeat Boston College, UMass has been in complete control of each of its other games. The Minutemen find themselves ranked in both major polls (#22 AP; #20 Coaches), and are currently ranked #1 in the RPI.

Senior guard Chaz Williams is living up to his preseason all-conference accolades (umassathletics.com)

Senior guard Chaz Williams is living up to his preseason all-conference accolades (umassathletics.com).

Senior guard Chaz Williams, a preseason first team all-A-10 selection, has led the attack – averaging 17.5 points per game, thanks in part to shooting 44 percent beyond the arc. When he’s not scoring, he’s helping others do so, as Williams ranks 20th nationally in assist rate. He finished the BYU game with a ridiculous 15:1 assist/turnover ratio, and all of it has led to a balanced and potent offense, as three other Minutemen are also averaging 12 points or more per game: Cady Lalanne (15.0 PPG, to go along with 10.4 rebounds per game), Sampson Carter (13.8 PPG), and Raphiael Putney (12.6 PPG). To boot, each of these contributors is 6’8″ or taller, constantly testing opponents’ interior defense.

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