Joe Dzuback of Villanova By The Numbers is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 conference.
The Week in the A-10: Invitational Tournaments
When the NCAA rewrote and relaxed the exemption rules for early season invitational tournaments, they expanded the number of tournaments and the number of bids that could be extended. Playing in a mixed field of high-, mid- and low-majors has become the norm rather than the exception in the 15+ tournaments that dot the D-I schedule from roughly the season tip off (the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic) to the end of the calendar year (the Cable Car Classic and ECAC Holiday Tournament for example) but peak over Thanksgiving Weekend. Although the power conferences continue to dominate the invitational seeds, a variety of higher-profile conferences, not among the above “the Red Line” elites, are increasing their own representation. Dan Hanner’s blog, Yet Another Basketball Blog (YABB), lists 18 separate by-invitation-only tournaments, nine of which have an A-10 team in their field this season. I added the Hall of Fame Tip-Off, because it is an exempt tournament (though none of the teams in the field are from above the Red Line conferences), which brings the total to 10 invitational tournaments this season. That is more invitational tournaments than teams from the Pac-10, the SEC, and the Big Ten are playing in this season. For a conference that has had problems getting home-and-home contracts with brand-name teams, the invitational tournament offers the next best chance as it provides a match on a neutral court. The door is open, how many conference teams walked through?
Overall, the conference racked up a 22-10 (0.643) record in the eight tournaments played so far. If George Washington held a level (1-1) record through the preliminary pod (held outside of Philadelphia), they were consoled with the hosting responsibilities for one of the three consolation sites. The Colonials finished the tournament with an even 2-2 record. Good surprises included the Richmond sweep of the Chicago Invitational that included a win over #8 Purdue in the tournament finals, a Saint Joseph’s sweep of the Philly Hoops Classic that included a win over Big East representative Rutgers and the 3-1 record posted by La Salle in the Cancun Challenge included a win over Big East representative Providence. The most disappointing showings were turned in by Temple at the Old Spice Classic and Charlotte at the Charleston Classic. The Owls dropped two of their three games over Thanksgiving Weekend, one to a very beatable California team from the Pac-10, and the other, a one possession-squeaker, to Texas A&M of the Big 12. Charlotte may still be working out the kinks in rookie coach Alan Major’s systems, but an embarrassing losing margin to George Mason (22 points) and the consolation overtime loss to Coastal Carolina suggest the 49ers have a good deal of work ahead of them. Eight A-10 players were named to All-Tournament Teams, one taking the Tournament MVP.
The latest round of invitational tournaments has turned the power rankings into scrambled eggs. The A-10 is used to giving, not receiving, upsets in these early season rows.
1. Richmond (4-1)
Last Week: 11/26 vs. Wright State 71-61 @ Chicago, IL (Chicago Invitational Challenge), 11/27 vs. Purdue 65-54 @ Chicago, IL (Chicago Invitational Challenge)
Next Week: 12/1 @ Old Dominion, 12/5 @ Arizona State
The stumble against Iona (hey, it was an away game after all) is all but forgotten by the neutral win over #8 Purdue at the Chicago Invitational Challenge. Spider point guard Kevin Anderson earned Player of the Week honors for his performance at the Chicago Invitational, where the tournament committee recognized his efforts by naming him the Tourney MVP.
2. Xavier (5-1)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. Wofford 94-90 3OT
Next Week: 12/1 @ Miami (OH)
Brad Redford’s absence is felt still, as the Musketeers, according to Ken Pomeroy, have converted only 31.7% of their three point attempts, earning them a #285 ranking (out of 345) among Division 1 teams. The X-men needed three overtime periods (the first triple overtime game since their 2005 loss to Massachusetts in Amherst) to subdue Wofford, their only opponent last week. Xavier was 4-12 (33.3%) from beyond the arc, 1-7 (14.3%) after the first half. Jamel McLean and Kenny Frease recorded double-doubles, scoring 22 and 12 points respectively with 12 and 18 rebounds apiece.
3. Massachusetts (6-0)
Last Week: 11/24 vs. American International (D2) 83-56, 11/27 vs. Holy Cross 83-76
Next Week: 12/1 @ Quinnipiac, 12/4 vs. Boston College
The Minutemen swept the field at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off, an event that has grown from a single game (scheduled in Springfield, MA, the birthplace of basketball) to a four-game exempt event. Among the victims were New Mexico State of the WAC and Texas Christian University of the Mountain West (soon to be Big East) Conference. The 6-0 start is the best since the 1995-96 season during John Calipari’s coaching tenure. The Massachusetts faithful have every reason to be optimistic, as senior guard Anthony Gurley now has six consecutive double-figure scoring games — but best of all — the scoring responsibilities have been distributed across the lineup. The sophomore class is providing good support, as forward Sampson Carter has four double-figure scoring nights this season and guard Freddie Riley has three. All three players are averaging double-figure point scoring through six games.
4. Dayton (5-1)
Last Week: 11/24 vs. Florida A&M 80-60, 11/27 vs. Cincinnati 34-68
Next Week: 12/1 vs. East Tennessee State, 12/4 vs. Miami (OH)
No, 34-68 is not a typo. The game was a good trap opportunity — four games in eight days right after beating SEC contender Mississippi in a come-from-behind-effort — and the Flyers walked right into it. After their comeback win over Mississippi on November 20, the team faced a pair of low-majors with one day of rest between. Though not particularly efficient efforts, the Flyers won both. The point margin is deceptive, Cincinnati was not particularly good offensively either, Dayton was just far worse. The Flyers scored on about one in five possessions, producing an offensive efficiency of 0.51 points per possession (o-ppp). Collectively the starters (Chris Wright, Chris Johnson, Juwan Staten, Devin Searcy and Paul Williams) shot a forgettable 6-35 (0.171), accounting for 16 of the total 34 points scored. The staff and junior guard Josh Parker blamed unfocused practice sessions and lack of discipline for the let down.
5. Temple (3-2), AP #21
Last Week: 11/25 vs. California 50-57 @ Orlando, FL (Old Spice Classic), 11/26 vs. Georgia 65-58 @ Orlando, FL (Old Spice Classic), 11/28 Texas A&M 51-54 @ Orlando, FL (Old Spice Classic)
Next Week: 12/1 @ Central Michigan, 12/5 @ Maryland
“We are a work in progress… Our defense is pretty solid. We’ve got a chance to be a good basketball team,” confessed Coach Fran Dunphy in the aftermath of the Texas A&M game that concluded the Old Spice Tournament in Orlando, Florida, last Sunday. The Owl offense ran through guards Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore, along with power forward Lavoy Allen. In the three games in Orlando, those three posted these numbers…
The table confirms there was too little production (ignore the points and focus on PPWS – points per weighted shots – less than 1.00 is “unproductive”) from those three. The lack of efficient point production can in part be traced to turnovers, but the truth is none of the three, as suggested in Dunphy’s postgame comments, shot the ball particularly well — note the eFG% is well below 50% for each of those players. For the combined three games (a loss to California, a win over Georgia and a loss to Texas A&M) the Owl offense converted possessions to points at an 0.85 rate, well below the 1.00 considered minimally efficient for D-I ball. Each of those teams hails from a BCS conference, schools whose RPIs will improve with conference play. Temple whiffed on two good opportunities, and with Villanova still ahead, the chances to impress the Selection Committee are dwindling.
6. Rhode Island (5-2)
Last Week: 11/24 vs. Drexel 74-68, 11/27 vs. Davidson 71-58
Next Week: 12/4 @ Providence
A week without additional roster attrition is a small victory for coach Jim Baron and the Runnin’ Rams. The coach used an eight man rotation in last weeks games, bringing Ben Eaves, Dan West and Nikola Malesevic off the bench for double digit minutes in each game. As option #2 at the point West, a late August JUCO pickup, has averaged 24 minutes and compiled a 1.5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. The conference named forward Delroy James an Honorable Mention for the third consecutive week the forward recorded his 1,000 point of college play.
7. La Salle (5-2)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Providence 84-73 @ Cancun (Cancun Challenge), 11/24 vs. Missouri 83-71 @ Cancun (Cancun Challenge), 11/29 vs. Delaware State 65-61
Next Week: 12/4 vs. Oklahoma City (Philadelphia)
Sophomore Aaric Murray earned his third consecutive Honorable Mention for averaging a double-double in the Explorers three games. Murray was named to the Cancun Challenge All-Tourney team.
8. St. Bonaventure (3-2)
Last Week: 11/27 @ Cleveland State 51-69
Next Week: 12/4 vs. Buffalo
Despite his summer with the Great Britain National Team, Ogo Adegboye continues to struggle at the point. Demitrius Conger and Adegboye combined for five assists (50% of the teams production) in the Bonnies’ loss to Cleveland State but the pair also accounted to nine turnovers (37.5% of the teams turnovers) in the game. Andrew Nicholson drew his second Honorable Mention for his double-double effort versus the Vikings. Nicholson scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the loss.
9. Duquesne (3-1)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. UMD Baltimore County 101-69
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Pittsburgh, 12/4 @Penn State
The only A-10 school to score 100 or more points in a game this season, Coach Ron Everhart’s squad has done it twice in four games, the second time against Maryland-Baltimore County. Six Dukes players scored double-figurepoints against UMBC, led by senior guard/forward Bill Clark’s 18. Since stumbling against Robert Morris in the second game of the season, junior guard/forward B.J. Monteiro and sophomore guard Sean Johnson have gone on a tear, scoring 33 and 24 points respectively, in the next two games. Good news for Everhart that the scoring has been so balanced. A-10 fans may be looking at Dayton’s Juwan Staten as the presumptive Freshman of the Year, but Duquesne faithful like T.J. McConnell, a freshman guard who has started all four games and averaged 10.0 points so far. his team-high 12 steals is nothing to sneeze at either.
10. Saint Joseph‘s (3-2)
Last Week: 11/23 @ Fairfield 60-51 (Philly Hoops Classic), 11/26 vs. Rutgers 76-70 (Philly Hoops Classic, Palestra)
Next Week: 12/1 @ Drexel, 12/3 @ Villanova, 12/5 @ Princeton
After stumbling to an 0-2 record to start the season, the Hawks have put together a 3-0 run to cross over the .500 mark. Langston Galloway took Rookie of the Week honors for his 17.5 points per game average through that three game run. He scored a career-high 20 points against Rutgers on 11/26 to help Saint Joseph’s to the Philly Hoops Classic title. The freshman dished seven dimes in the tournament final.
11. George Washington (2-3)
Last Week: 11/23 vs Hampton 51-62 (NIT Tip-Off, DC Pod), 11/29 vs. NC Wilmington 69-73
Next Week: 12/1 @ George Mason, 12/5 vs. Navy (BB&T Classic)
The Colonials beat the two weakest teams in the NIT Tip-Off field, but had problems with Boston University (American East Conference) and Hampton (MEAC!), not a good sign for coach Karl Hobbs’ squad.
12. Charlotte (3-4)
Last Week: 11/24 @ Oregon State 70-83, 11/27 vs. Radford 73-52
Next Week: 12/1 @ East Carolina
Despite some early optimism, the transition from coach Bobby Lutz to coach Alan Major has not gone smoothly. All eligible members of the squad that finished the 2010 season may have decided to stay, but Major did not, apparently get them all on-board with his agenda over the summer. Injuries to two squad members can account for the sub-.500 start, but a one game suspension (for violation of team rules) doled out on the eve of the 49ers season debut suggests that the battle for their hearts and minds continues. After a terrific showing in the Charleston Classic, that included an average of 16.0 points per game and double-figure scoring in all three games, senior Shamari Spears was named to the five-man All-Tournament team (not to neglect the Honorable Mention awarded by the A-10 front office). No sooner had the senior forward collected his certificate than he was suspended indefinitely by Major for what other sources describe as an indiscreet tweet. A number of programs have told the players to close their social networking accounts before the season began to minimize the chances a down night might trigger a hasty (and later regretted) note.
13. Saint Louis (3-2)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Tennessee State 78-50, 11/27 vs. IUPUI 58-55
Next Week: 11/30 @ Portland
How is Coach Rick Majerus adjusting in the absence of stars Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed? If the Tennessee State and IUPUI games are typical, he appears to have enlarged his rotation, as only one player per game logs more than 67% of the available minutes at their position. He looked to freshman Mike McCall (72.5%) in the Tennessee State game, and Kyle Cassity (82.5%) in the UIPIU game. As for possessions and shots, the freshmen McCall, Rob Loe (#4/#5), Jordair Jett (#2 guard), along with junior forward Brian Conklin appear to have formed the nucleus of the Billiken offense, with sophomore forwards Cody Ellis and Cory Remekun and junior Kyle Cassity providing support.
14. Fordham (2-3)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Long Island 70-82, 11/27 vs. Hartford 61-57
Next Week: 12/1 @ Harvard, 12/4 @ Lehigh
With the win over the Hartford Hawks, Coach Tom Pecora’s 2011 Fordham entry managed to match their 2010 win total under two different coaches. There are more wins to be found in the schedule. While sophomore forward Chris Gaston managed his third Honorable Mention from the conference, there are others on the squad who turned in good efforts in the last week, among them freshman guard Branden Frazier, who scored 39 points in the two games (24 vs. LIU, 15 vs. Hartford) on 15-24 (9-16, 6-8) and 2-2 shooting, for an eFG% of 75.0%, and sophomore guard Alberto Estwick, who scored 30 points on 11-20 (6-13, 5-7) and 2-2 shooting (his eFG% was 67.5%).