It has now been 20 seasons since the USC Trojans last finished a season with less than 10 losses, 26 years since they earned at least a piece of the Pac-10 title and 51 whopping years since they won their conference outright (then known as the Athletic Association of Western Universities – or the Big Five). Compared to that history of futility, the recent past in USC basketball has been relatively successful. Between the 2006-07 and the 2010-11 seasons, the Trojans posted a combined 103-66 record, finished tied for third twice and never finished lower than a tie for fifth. And then came last season, when the wheels came off the bus entirely, as the team limped home to a school-worst 6-26 record, helped along by an almost unbelievable stretch of injuries. Of the five players who started in USC’s first exhibition game last summer in Brazil, just one was still active when their season wrapped up, and all told, just six scholarship players remained available.
The USC Basketball Program Had Been Relatively Successful In Kevin O’Neill’s First Two Seasons, But Nothing Went Right Last Year (Rick Scuteri/AP)
Teams are going to have injuries from time to time, and head coach Kevin O’Neill understands that, but last year’s streak of bad luck came at a particularly tough time, with the program left in a fragile state by previous head coach Tim Floyd. In June 2009, Floyd resigned abruptly in the wake of NCAA investigations (and eventual penalties) related to illegal benefits for O.J Mayo, just shortly after starters DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett had all decided to leave school early to pursue professional careers. With the change in staff and the NCAA sleuthing around, the Trojans lost all but one player from their 2009 recruiting class, including Derrick Williams, Momo Jones and Renardo Sidney. The Trojans were able to scrape into the NCAA Tournament in 2011 behind a molasses-slow tempo and stingy defense, but the program was still in recovery mode from the Floyd fiasco, lacking the depth to be able to mask the multiple injuries they endured last year.
For better or worse, there are three overriding eras in the history of the Arizona basketball program, all revolving around Hall of Fame head coach Lute Olson. There is, of course, the Lute Olson era, from 1983 to 2007, during which the Wildcats made 23 straight NCAA Tournaments (over the course of 24 seasons), advanced to four Final Fours and won their lone NCAA Championship in 1997. The other two eras are dictated by their relationship to the Silver Fox’s reign in the desert. The pre-Olson era had its moments, mostly under Fred Enke (who coached the program from 1925 to 1961) when the Wildcats owned the Border Conference in the 1940s and advanced to three NITs and one NCAA Tournament, but by and large, the Arizona program was a non-entity prior to Olson’s arrival from Iowa. However, the end of the Olson era left the Wildcat program in something of a mess, as health and personal issues caused the transfer of power to be choppy at best, with Kevin O’Neill and Russ Pennell each limited to single ill-prepared seasons in the desert. Throw in the fact that the results from the 2007-08 season had to be vacated because of violations committed by Olson, and for a stretch, there was some doubt as to whether the program could live up to the high standards set by their iconic head coach.
Lute Olson’s Legacy Casts A Heavy Shadow Over the Arizona Basketball Program (Danny Moloshok, AP Photo)
But, in the spring of 2009, highly regarded head coach Sean Miller agreed to leave Xavier and become the new top man in the desert, immediately reestablishing a sense of stability around the program. Despite the fact that his Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament in his first season after 25-straight appearances, the program was back in the limelight in his second year, as the Wildcats won the Pac-10 and advanced to the Elite Eight in 2010-11, before losing to eventual national champion Connecticut as a potential game-winning three rimmed out at the buzzer. While last year’s team again missed the NCAA Tournament, Miller assuaged the fears of Wildcat fans by inking an elite recruiting class, ranked third in the nation by ESPNU, featuring three top 20 recruits. For the most part, there appears to be a confidence around the program that, despite a few bumps along the road in transition from Olson to Miller, the road ahead looks smooth.
It’s never too early for these, right? We all love the debates, projecting who is too high or too low, and taking a closer look at the upcoming college hoops season — six months goes by quickly, promise. In quickly looking at the Top 25, one would surmise that having five of a team’s top players forgo the remainder of their college careers in favor of the NBA Draft would absolutely kill that team’s prospects for the upcoming season, but that is simply not the case for Kentucky. Last year’s National Champions check in at #2 in the Top 25, proving that John Calipari doesn’t rebuild, he reloads. It would not behoove us to let Kentucky steal the storyline, however, as Tom Crean’s Indiana Hoosiers are the top dog in what looks to be a banner upcoming year. In what was arguably the most exciting and high-flying game of last year’s Tournament, the Hoosiers fell to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, but have nearly all the pieces back. Just two years ago this was a 12-20 team with no postseason experience, and now they are the top team in the land — according to our group of experts, at least. What a tremendous job Tom Crean has done. The usual Quick ‘n Dirty after the jump…
Whether it is through an exceptional recruiting class, or an impressive finish to the 2011-12 season coupled with a strong nucleus returning, the following five teams surged upward—and for good reason:
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)
All first round games will be played at the campus of the higher seed on Tuesday (3/6) night. Using the log5 calculation, the order of probability of an upset is:
#8 Massachusetts/#9 Duquesne (73-27)
#7 La Salle/#10 Richmond (76-24)
#6 Dayton/#11 George Washington (86-14)
#5 Saint Joseph’s/#12 Charlotte (84-16)
Probability follows seed this season, a departure from previous seasons. The Dayton/George Washington game will be a return engagement. The Flyers beat the Colonials by 16 at home last Saturday. A rookie coach with a team that may be overconfident could spell upset. But unlike 2010-11, the higher seeds in this round have proven over the last 16 games to be the stronger teams. Seed should hold. If Xavier, Saint Joseph’s and Dayton all win at least once more, the conference will boast seven 20-game winning programs for the 2011-12 season, only the second time in conference history when seven members collected 20 or more wins.
The Temple/Saint Bonaventure side of the bracket offers (if seed holds) two interesting quarterfinal matchups for a Friday afternoon. Both could well become “do-overs” of games played in the last week of the season. Temple barely beat Massachusetts (at the Liacouras in Philadelphia) on February 29, but only after an overtime period. Neither squad should need much by way of motivation. The Hawks dropped their last game of the regular season to the Bonnies, by five, on the road. A Bonnies win would bolster their NIT credentials (and put them into a winnable semi-final game with either Temple or Massachusetts), while a Saint Joseph’s win could well set-up an all-Philadelphia semi-final that should cause a traffic jam as Big 5 fans and partisans of both schools pile onto the Atlantic City Expressway to see the rubber game. 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)
Editor’s Note: Report written before Tuesday’s contests.
The Week That Was:
Does Anyone Want to Win This Conference?
One of the odder turns this late in the season is the sudden spate of losses suffered by upper division conference teams. Though Charlotte bounded out of the gate with two quick wins and Xavier stumbled mysteriously for much of January, the conference appeared on the way to sorting itself as January turned into February. Not so last week as the two conference elites, Temple and Saint Louis each dropped a game. Temple’s loss may be understandable as Saint Joseph’s is putting together a great turnaround from last season, but Saint Louis stumbled against bottom dweller Rhode Island, a squad that posted 20 losses before St. Valentine’s Day. The conference’s flagship program, Xavier, was in the midst of a late season push when they dropped a very important road decision to Massachusetts last Tuesday. Other notable late season hiccups, Saint Joseph’s loss to a young Richmond squad, La Salle’s three game losing streak (which has all but eliminated the Explorers from NIT consideration) and the aforementioned Massachusetts squad, whose win over Xavier is the only win in the last four games.
Fran Dunphy's Temple Squad Stumbled Last Week, But The Owls Still Look To Be The Top Team In the A-10 (AP)
Early season results hinted that the middle of the conference was stronger this season, a theory born out by the continued uncertainty over bye bids to Atlantic City even into the last week of conference play. The resurgence is not limited to the middle of the conference however. Consider that in each of the last two seasons the bottom two teams in the conference combined to win four games. This season Fordham and Rhode Island have combined for six wins, with at least one more before the seeds for the conference tournament are finalized Sunday. I have also noted several times over the last month that the points per possession margin between Saint Louis (at the top) and Fordham (at the bottom) is much closer than last season.
With a loss to Saint Joseph’s last weekend Temple dropped back towards the rest of the conference, leaving Saint Louis virtually alone at the top with a wide, +0.04 margin in points per possession. Comparing the statistics to the Billikens’ conference record (and especially the record of late), leaves one wondering if Saint Louis’ Top 25 status (as suggested by Pomeroy) is the product of an illusion fostered by the numbers or a genuine sleeper going into the postseason. The conference tournament may be the last best chance to gauge the Billikens before the NCAA opening rounds.
The results last week produced a few strange late season upsets, but even more surprising is that the point per possession margins are beginning to align more consistently with conference records. Teams with losing records show negative point per possession margins, an expected pattern in theory that does not always play out in practice. Saint Louis continues to be an outlier atop the conference and Massachusetts, which has an 8-6 conference record should, according to the Pythagorean Winning Percentage, show a 7-7 record through 14 conference games.
The top teams developed a ripping case of hiccups at just the wrong time. If the power rankings do not look terribly different from last week however, consider that they all hiccupped at the same time. Saint Bonaventure moved up and La Salle crashed, but the other teams moved very little over the past week.
Temple (22-6, 11-3 #23 AP) – Temple went 1-1 last week, beating La Salle in overtime by a single point (80-79), and then dropping a 10-point decision to Saint Joseph’s (82-72) and holding onto their Top 25 ranking for the second consecutive week. Though the result was disappointing to the Owl faithful and prevented Temple from clinching the #1 seed in the conference tournament, it was actually better than Ken Pomeroy predicted. The college basketball stats sage’s model had Fran Dunphy’s squad losing both games (and dropping into second place behind Saint Louis). Games with Massachusetts (at home) and Fordham will close out the regular season for the Owls, and both should be wins (though stranger things have happened this season). Temple can finish no worse than #2 even if they lose their last two, so they have a bye seed in hand right now. The Minutemen, with dwindling hopes for a bye seed themselves, come to Philadelphia for a February 29 date at the Liacouras. Read the rest of this entry »
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)
Note: Standings are up-to-date but games earlier in the week have already taken place
The Week That Was:
Points per Possession Margins Through February 19
Ken Pomeroy has shown Saint Louis as the top team since late December, but college basketball’s stats guru looks at an overall margin as an indirect part of his formulation. For the past four weeks Temple posted the largest positive margin derived from conference games.
Saint Louis and Temple were not the only two squads whose conference points per possession margins moved closer to alignment with their overall numbers. Count Richmond among those whose skew was rectified last week. The Spiders stubbornly posted a +0.006 points per possession margin even though the team was three games below 0.500 in conference play. Though the Spiders posted a “positive” 1-1 week, their points per possession margin slid into negative territory, consistent with their record. Though throughout the conference the records and points per possession margins do not align exactly with the won-loss conference rankings (see Duquesne above), the alignment is the most consistent in the three seasons I have tracked the numbers. Identifying and explaining the discrepancies will be one of the bullet points for next week.
A Look at Conference Honors Two Weeks Out
The race for conference Player of the Year was not a serious contest in 2011. Tu Holloway won recognition either as Player of the Week or at least a nod in nine of the sixteen weeks the conference posted weekly honors. Honored as Player of the Week six times, Holloway’s nearest competitors had not gathered more than two, one-third the number of times Holloway was honored.
The last time these two teams played in the regular season, the games were decided at the buzzer by great defensive plays. Last time out, it was Tony Wroten rejecting Josiah Turner at the buzzer (just to the 10:45 mark to check it out) and the time before it was Derrick Williams swatting Darnell Gant to save the game. So, can we expect more of the same this time out? Another hard-fought classic that comes right down to the wire? Don’t bet against it.
However, it is worth noting that in the previous matchup this season, Washington went into McKale Center and controlled the action for much of the game, jumping out to an early lead and later taking a ten-point lead into the final media timeout, before some sloppy play combined with some Solomon Hill heroics conspired to set up a wild final minute. The Wildcats had trouble keeping the Huskies off of the offensive glass in that first meeting (U-Dub grabbed over 41% of their offensive rebound opportunities), and they again struggled with turnovers, coughing it up 15 times, or an almost a quarter of all of their possessions. Sean Miller will no doubt want to see his team improve in both of those areas. But one spot where the Wildcats did excel in the previous game was in getting to the free throw line: they got to the line 29 times, made 21 of those attempts and outscored the Huskies by two touchdowns from the charity stripe. Getting to the line and earning easy points is almost assuredly another key to the ‘Cat gameplan.
Solomon Hill Almost Singlehandedly Kept Arizona In The Game In Their First Matchup With Washington (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
For the Huskies, they’ll need to find a better solution for Hill, who wound up with 28 points on a highly efficient 9-of-10 from the field and 8-of-9 from the line). They limited everybody else on the Arizona roster to just 12-of-40 shooting and a 32.5 eFG%, but Hill almost singlehandedly kept the ‘Cats around. Further, Hill went a long way towards putting the Huskies in foul trouble, drawing two fouls each on Terrence Ross and Darnell Gant. There’s no single great matchup on the Washington roster for Hill, but redshirt freshman Desmond Simmons could see a significant chunk of face-time with him.
With Oregon’s loss to California on Thursday night, we’re down to four teams sitting within one game in the loss column of first place in the conference. Depending on the outcome here on Saturday afternoon, we’ll either go a long way towards eliminating Arizona from the title hunt (in the event of a Washington win), or the race will tighten up even more, with California leading the way a game ahead of a pack of three other teams (if Arizona wins). Given all that is on the line for both teams, expect this one to be a knock-down, drag-out fight.
The Homogenization of the A-10: The surprise team through the first two weeks (Dayton) has fallen to earth with a 4-5 record at the halfway mark. Now what? The points per possession table (conference game only) below may suggest the conference is breaking into a series of tiers (three for the top half of the conference, then everyone else … ), but the striking number is how closely the top and bottom teams are to each other, a hint at the parity also suggested by the first half won-loss records. In sharp contrast to this point (about mid-way through the conference regular season) last season, Temple and Fordham show a mere 0.353 difference in their points per possession margin, a much smaller gap than last season’s 0.512 margin. Note there are no undefeated teams at this point, last season two teams (Xavier and Duquesne) sported 7-0 marks. Fordham and Saint Joseph’s were looking for their first wins last season (both broke into the win column before the end of the regular season), while the bottom two teams this season have both logged two wins apiece. Parity of a sort perhaps, but is this a sign the conference is “better” or “worse”?
The computed conference strength of schedule (Number and Rank, leftmost two columns) suggest Temple’s record may be due in part to their slate of opponents. Early evaluations underestimated the strength of La Salle and Saint Joseph’s, two Big 5 rivals who did not give Temple much competition the past three or four seasons. This time around may be different though, as the Owls must play those two one more time, along with Xavier, Massachusetts and Saint Bonaventure. Temple’s last half of the season should prove more challenging than season’s past.
A Midpoint Look at All-Conference Team Candidates:
Each week the conference designates a Player of the Week, a Rookie of the Week along with a number of Honorable Mention players, based on their performance in the last week (usually a 2-3 games per week). If the season ended today, the Player of the Year vote would be split between Ramone Moore from Temple and Saint Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson. 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)
The Week That Was
New Sheriff in Town? The surprise team so far is Dayton. The Flyers, under first year head coach Archie Miller, have unveiled a revamped offense with a decidedly different approach to player rotation. Under Brian Gregory all members in the rotation, with the exception of forwards Chris Wright (graduated in May 2011) and Chris Johnson (a senior this season) saw game time in four minute (or less) slices. Wright, Johnson and freshman point guard Juwan Staten (who transferred to West Virginia in the off season) played 70% or more at their positions, which translates to about 28 minutes per game. The junior guard Paul Williams aside, everyone else on the squad logged no more than 44.2% of the available time (Josh Benson, about 18 minutes per game) at their respective positions. The rotation this season also features two players (transfer guard Kevin Dillard and Williams) who have logged better than 70% of the available time (with Johnson playing 63%), but Miller uses three other players for 50% or more of the time, and fourth, sophomore Devin Oliver, who plays about 46% of the time on the wing. If Gregory’s approach gave more players some game-time exposure, Miller’s style, more tradition in the distribution of minutes, allows team members to acclimate to the game. Though Miller uses fewer players per game, the Flyers continue to get a bit more than 66 possessions per game, consistent with the last season under Gregory.
Archie Miller Has Done Wonders At Dayton
A Points per Possession Look at the teams. Last season I used points per possession (conference games only) to give the reader a more insightful look into each team’s play. The numbers for the 3-5 games the teams have played so far.
Those who followed this column last season know that the efficiency margin will not always track with a team’s won-loss record. The approach can suggest where strength of schedule, consistency and luck may play a larger than expected role in shaping the team’s record. Two differences from this point last season (four-six games into the conference schedule) include the top-to-bottom size of the margin has shrunk considerably. Xavier, at the top of the conference, was +0.267 last season while Fordham at the bottom, was -0.277, a gap of nearly 0.55 points per possession, while this season (see above) shows a gap of 0.342 points per possession. Note the lack of undefeated (in conference play) teams this season, while One of the more obvious differences this season is thth wider efficiency margins (plus or minus)
Dayton continues to win, Xavier goes sideways while Charlotte and Richmond find the road rockier than expected? Looks like my promotion of Dayton last week was the right move as the Flyers handed Xavier a crushing 15 point loss last Saturday (1/21). The rematch next month in Cincinnati should be very interesting.
Saint Louis (15-4, 3-2) – The Billikens beat Duquesne Saturday for their only game this past week. The conference record may not say #1, but the point per possession margin (+0.131 – see above) says Coach Rick Majerus’ team is on track. According to their Pythagorean Winning Percentage (conference games only) the Bills are on track to win 13 games, a very tall order given they have already logged 2/3 of their projected losses. Saint Louis has had problems winning away from Chaifetz, and the upcoming two game road swing will be an important early season test. Saint Louis will travel to Cincinnati for an early season showdown with Xavier on Wednesday (1/25) and then continue east to Amherst for a tilt with Massachusetts on Saturday (1/28).
Rick Majerus And Saint Louis Continue To Lead The Pack
No A-10 Teams in the Top 25… Again: The latest round of the AP and Coaches polls (January 16) show no Atlantic 10 team gathered enough support nationally to be ranked… for the fourth consecutive week. Saint Louis missed a good opportunity to impress when the Billikens dropped a four-point decision to New Mexico on New Year’s Eve, 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 three or so 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 beat #3 Duke but dropped two of their first three conference games. Lacking another marquee out-of-conference game (Temple versus Maryland is a pale imitation), the conference may have to wait until early February and hope that one or two teams will dominate conference play while their power conference counterparts beat each other up.
Bernadette McGlade’s Recipe for Basketball Masala: Masalas are a variety of spicey soups or stews favored throughout India, Pakistan and most parts of south Asia. A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade and her schedule maker served up their own brand of basketball masala in this opening week of conference play. Strong preseason favorites Saint Louis, Xavier and Temple did not survive the week undefeated (Temple has yet to win with a tough game coming up this week) while recently downtrodden Charlotte and La Salle started strong, each has sustained at least one loss. Rookie Coach Archie Miller of Dayton (whose squad was depleted with graduations and transfers) is riding high, while veteran Mike Lonergan of George Washington (whose squad is well stocked with experienced players) is struggling. Far too early to throw the power rankings (see below) up in the air perhaps, but a few of the results from the past two weeks (Dayton at Temple, Saint Louis at Dayton, Charlotte at Saint Joseph’s for example) maybe critical tiebreakers come March.
Rick Majerus And Saint Louis Are On Top Of Our RTC Power Rankings (AP)
Results from the first quarter of conference play (and a few of the last few out of conference games) hold a strong hint that the conference may be more competitive through the first 12 spots than preseason projections indicated. First week losses to the favorites force me to take a long second (and third…) look at Dayton. With only a few games scheduled, and those yielding mixed results for the teams at the top of last week’s power rankings, 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 (14-4, 2-2) – The Billikens are .500 through the first four games of conference play. They opened conference play with a 79-72 overtime loss at Dayton, the first time Rick Majerus’ squad has lost back-to-back games this season (St. Louis lost their last out of conference game to New Mexico on New Year’s). Their bounce back 78-56 win over George Washington on January 7 was the largest margin win in conference play, with the three other games decided by five or fewer points. Against Dayton, the Billikens held Dayton to a respectable 1.04 point per possession (about 75 total possessions in the overtime game), but failed to break the 1.0 (PPP) mark themselves, a persistent problem last season that Brian Conklin, Kwamain Mitchell and Cody Ellis had resolved this season. None of the three had a good outing however, as they combined for a horrific 12-33 from the field, yielding a 40.9% eFG% and 0.96 points per weighted shot. One can have an off night (there are enough secondary options on the bench and the floor at anytime), but count those game where all three have problems scoring efficiently as an “L”. Saint Louis committed the double sin of allowing the Flyers to score efficiently (over 50% eFG% overall), and rebound for second chances when they did not convert. The Billikens posted similar efficiencies in their loss to Temple last Wednesday.Saint Louis hosts Duquesne on Saturday (1/21) in their only game this week. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s that time of the year where everybody is on the lookout for that one great gift for their friends and family. In the spirit of the season of giving, I’ve been racking my brain, trying to come up with the perfect gifts for all of the Pac-12 basketball programs. My good friend Mr. Claus is willing to help me out, and between the two of us, we think we’ve found just the right thing for everybody around the conference.
Arizona – Is it too much to ask for Derrick Williams back? Because he would go a long way towards curing the Wildcats’ ills up front. But since we don’t want to take Williams’ new contract or endorsement deals away from him, we’re going to have to settle on a babysitter for freshman point guard Josiah Turner. Just somebody who can make sure the kid eats his fruits and vegetables and gets to class and practice on time and in one piece, allowing Turner to simply focus on taking care of business at Point Guard U.
Josiah Turner Has All The Physical Tools To Be Another Great Arizona Point Guard, But He Needs Help Clearing Up His Off-The-Court Struggles (photo credit: Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)
Arizona State – All Sun Devil hoops fans want for Christmas is just one letter grade higher in one class on Jahii Carson’s transcript. The freshman point guard just missed getting a high enough score on his ACT exam to earn eligibility in Tempe, but just one point higher or one letter grade higher on his high school transcript would have made the speedy point ready to play. Santa has assured me that he’s found a minor discrepancy in Carson’s junior year Spanish class that could get him on the court immediately. Sure, Carson isn’t going to turn the Sun Devils into a Tournament team overnight, but they’ll certainly be a lot easier on the eyes.
California – Hey, it’s not much, but this wake-up call service we scored for roomies Allen Crabbe and Richard Solomon should save the Bears countless hours of missed practices and subsequent benchings. And we’re even throwing in a brand new icemaker, which should help Jorge Gutierrez heal up all those bumps and bruises he gets from diving all over the court.
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.