Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 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 week proved to be a momentum builder for a few teams (Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Joseph’s), it also proved to be a killer for several others (like Richmond and Massachusetts).
Halil Kanasevic (right) and Saint Joseph’s had a good week. (Getty)
Saint Joseph’s — With the loss at Richmond January 25, the Hawk appeared ready for life support. A 2-0 week has improved their conference record to 5-2, though, and with a 15-6 overall record and a #54 RPI ranking (via RealTimeRPI.com), revived Saint Joseph’s hope for a bye seed in Brooklyn and NCAA consideration. For the skeptics, these were not run-of-the-mill conference wins. The first came on the road in Dayton, as the Joe’s overcame a 25-20 halftime deficit with a 27-5 second half run that put a “must-win” Flyers squad back on their heels. The Hawks held them off to post a 60-57 win. The second win, a 73-68 decision over an increasingly desperate UMass squad, came over the weekend. Coasting out to a comfortable 17-point halftime lead, the Hawks fought off a Minutemen rally to secure the win. Four Saint Joseph’s players (Halil Kanasevic — team high 18, Ron Roberts, freshman DeAndre Bembry and Chris Wilson) posted double-figure points with Kanasevic, a center/forward, also dishing five assists. Who knows, if the Hawks can roll through this week (they host Saint Louis, followed by Virginia Commonwealth), RTC’s resident bracketologist Daniel Evans may even give them a nod next week. Read the rest of this entry »
Joseph Dzuback is a RTC correspondent and longtime Big 5 basketball enthusiast.
Where the Road Runs
Halfway through the Atlantic 10 conference schedule, fans find three conference members are earning AP top 25 votes, but none is from the City of Brotherly Love:
Temple and Saint Joseph’s share a 4-4 record and ninth place in conference standings, a game behind the five teams – one of whom is La Salle — that shares fourth place. What happened to Andy Katz’s Philadelphia-centric conference overview, “Atlantic 10 race will run through Philadelphia”, that argued the conference’s three Philadelphia-based members would compete effectively for the top seeds to the conference tournament in Brooklyn or, at the very least, play a critical role (larger than their 42 game contribution to the conference schedule) when time came to crown a conference champion and divvy up the NCAA bids?
Collectively the three Philadelphia teams were, on paper, the strongest they had been in over a decade. Katz’s argument was hardly a stretch. But now?
Saint Joseph’s (13-8, 4-4): The coaches’ pick to take the conference title last October, returned everyone from the 2011-12 squad that won 20 games and earned an NIT bid. Veteran coach Phil Martelli, dean of the A-10 coaching fraternity, assembled the most talented and experienced collection of players since his 2003-2004 squad won the regular season title and ran to the Elite Eight on their way to a 30-win season. Wounded by a thousand pin pricks however, the Hawk has failed to soar this season. Guard Carl Jones was suspended for the Hawks’ last exhibition and first two regular season games. Though Saint Joseph’s beat (then #20 ranked) Notre Dame during Jones’ absence, off guard Langston Galloway lost a tooth in a freak collision while diving for a loose ball. Though he has appeared in every game, Galloway’s production is down nearly two points per game from 2011-11. A mediocre December record of 3-3 included losses to Creighton and Villanova and a two game suspension for junior forward Halil Kanasevic, tabbed by some previews as the sleeper candidate for conference Player of the Year. Kanasevic has yet to appear in more than five consecutive games this season. In addition to the suspension Kanasevic did not appear in St. Joe’s game versus American and missed three conference games when he traveled overseas to attend an uncle’s funeral. With the entire squad finally assembled and healthy, perhaps Martelli can use the last eight games to establish a rhythm.
Saint Joseph’s forward Halil Kanasevic hits a point-blank bucket in the first half of Saint Joe’s 70-69 win over Temple. Saint Joseph’s outscored Temple in the paint 40-16.
Temple (15-7, 4-4): The Owls fielded a squad a step behind the teams that dominated conference play the past three seasons. The 2012-2013 edition contains upperclassmen who understand, but may not be able to execute coach Fran Dunphy’s system. They have bobbled the baton passed by Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez and Eric Michael, with the accumulated attrition eroding the Owls’ front court enough to force Dunphy to bring fifth year senior Jake O’Brien in to provide depth. An unexpectedly shallow backcourt meant point guard responsibilities passed to sophomore Will Cummings which left West Virginia transfer Dalton Pepper on the bench. Read the rest of this entry »
The Conference Within a Conference – Another round of Philadelphia’s historic City Series, better known as the Big 5, was played at Saint Joseph’s Hagan Arena Saturday night. At one time every game in the round robin series was played in the Palestra, the landmark arena located on campus of the University of Pennsylvania. In true Big 5 fashion, Saint Joseph’s beat Temple by a single point, 70-69, rallying from a nine point deficit to take the lead, 68-66, on a C.J. Aiken layup with 0:25 left on the clock. A shot at the buzzer by Temple’s Khalif Wyatt clanged off the rim as the Owls fell to 3-4 in (A-10) conference play and a 2-1 tie in the Big 5. With a two games left in the series (Saint Joseph’s vs. La Salle and La Salle vs. Temple), only La Salle – should the Explorers sweep – can still win outright. The “standings”:
Efficiency Margins, Week 5 – With two-to-three more conference games on the books, the margins continue to provide insight on how the conference will evolve. With a few exceptions, teams with a winning record have positive (offensive-defensive) difference margins while teams with losing records have negative margins. “Order restored” or so it would seem. The exceptions do tend to draw our attention, however (records through Tuesday, February 5):
St. Louis’ two wins last week, the most impressive over Butler last Wednesday, helped the Billikens leapfrog both Butler and VCU (and three other teams…) to the top of the chart. The conference SOS, however, suggests the Bills have more work to do. Butler, with the best conference record and the strongest conference SOS, is still the team to beat going into the second half of conference play.
Dayton was ranked #2 on the difference margin chart last week, even though the Flyers were two games under 0.500. Their drop in the difference rankings this week, the result of another loss, suggests their difference margin will begin to dovetail with their record (rather than the record upgrading to coincide with their difference margin). The outlook for coach Archie Miller’s squad is not good.
When Charlotte loses in conference, it is a rout. The 49ers’ average winning margin is 6, while their average losing margin is 24. Ouch. Coach Alan Majors’ squad has played the easiest schedule so far according to Pomeroy’s conference SOS, which suggests there are more losses ahead.
The Good: Charlotte is one of three teams still undefeated in conference play. Neither win was against a conference powerhouse, but both were good signs. Beating La Salle at the Holton suggests they will do well at home, while taking their road game versus Rhode Island was a sign that they should be able to win games there as well.
The Bad. Temple’s loss to Xavier will not preclude the Owls from drawing an NCAA bid, but it makes the conference-wide bid picture, expected in the preseason season to be five, possibly very murky. The preseason NCAA short list included Saint Joseph’s, Xavier, Butler, VCU, Temple and Saint Louis, but poorer than expected non-conference results for Saint Joseph’s and Xavier seem to have pared that list. Xavier’s win over conference rival Temple may boost morale among the Musketeers’ faithful, but it undercuts the prospects for Temple (who has a very poor outing versus Duke on it’s resume), one of the stronger prospects on conference’s shrinking list.
The Ugly: Saint Bonaventure was not expected to perform at the same levels as the Andrew Nicholson-led teams, but the double-figure road loss to rebuilding George Washington lowers the ceiling on the Bonnies’ prospects for this season. That was a game they would have won last year (and the year before). This is a larger-than-expected step back for the program.
CBS Sports named two A-10 players to their mid-season Top 50 Impact players. Butler’s Rotnei Clarke, a senior guard who transferred in from Arkansas and sat last season, was ranked #42 with the comment “Best shooter in the country?” Treveon Graham, Virginia Commonwealth’s sophomore guard, was ranked #45. Recognized as a integral part of VCU’s Havoc defense, Jeff Goodman went on to comment “Makes plays at both ends of the floor.” The list, a collaboration by CBS Sports’ four basketball beat writers — Jeff Goodman, Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello — focused on the 50 players who they felt had the greatest impact on the first two months of the college basketball season.
Rotnei Clarke May Be The A-10 POY If The Season Ended Today, But Will Miss Time With An Injury. (AP)
Conference play opened last week with every team playing twice before the end of the first weekend. While the top – and bottom — of the power rankings remains largely unchanged from the end of December, there is some shuffling within the middle eight.
Butler (14-2, 2-0) – A 2-0 start to conference play has extended the Bulldogs’ winning streak to 11. The run is jeopardized by guard Rotnei Clarke’s neck injury, sustained when the senior was fouled as he completed a layup at the end of a breakout play in Butler’s 79-73 win over Dayton. A day-after MRI showed no spinal fractures (or other damage), but Clarke will be held out of the Bulldogs’ next two games (Richmond on Wednesday and Gonzaga on Saturday), pending a medical review. The Butler team doctor took issue with NBC Sports Network which had a crew covering the Dayton game. The crew overzealously opened a nearby microphone and broadcast the injured player’s conversation with attending medical staff, an act Dr. Thomas Fischer contended that was intrusive and unethical. Dr. Fischer will determine when Clarke can return to play. Richmond, without junior Derrick Williams, will be hard pressed to match the Bulldogs’ front court contingent, but Gonzaga, ranked #8 by the AP, could prove to be a very difficult opponent. Freshman Kellen Dunham, sophomore Alex Barlow and senior ChaseStigall will have to take up Clarke’s scoring contribution for at least the next week. Given Clarke’s contribution is 16.5 per game, that will be a task bigger than the collection can probably handle. Read the rest of this entry »
Another Saturday, Another Scalp: Reeling from an inexplicable 10-point loss to Canisius (72-62) on December 19, Temple bounced back with a stunning 83-79 upset of #3 Syracuse, all the more surprising given that it happened in the confines of Syracuse’s “second home”, Madison Square Garden, on December 22. The Orange, notorious for not leaving the state of New York before the start of conference play, were unable to contain Khalif Wyatt and sophomore center Anthony Lee as both scored career-high points. Wyatt, a slasher who can play either guard spot in addition to the small forward was a perfect 15-of-15 from the line on the way to scoring 33 points. Lee was manhandled by Duke’s Mason Plumlee two Saturdays before, schooled fellow Philadelphian Rakeem Christmas and his teammate James Southerland to grab nine rebounds to go with his career-high 21 points. Butler traveled to Nashville the next Saturday and housed the Commodores of Vanderbilt by 19 points, 68-49. The Bulldogs’ backcourt paced the team with 40 points (Rotnei Clarke – 22, Kellen Dunham – 12, Alex Barlow – six) while Khyle Marshall missed a double-double by a single point (nine points and 11 rebounds).
Versus Other Conferences
With nearly 98% of the non-conference schedule on the books (as of January 1), the Atlantic 10 has compiled an outstanding 64.3% winning percentage (126-70). Bettering their 2011-12 winning percentage of 62.6% (107-64), the conference posted a number of superb wins over power conference teams in the process.
The mark is not without a few blemishes, especially with respect to the seven power conferences where the A-10’s conference-wide record declined over their mark last season. Especially disappointing was the conference mark versus the ACC (3-10, 0.231) and Big East (6-11, 0.353). While they continue to dominate against those non-power conferences with whom they share a similar profile (the CAA, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, West Coast Conference, and Western Athletic Conference), the overall record masks losing records versus the Missouri Valley Conference (3-4, 0.429) and the West Coast Conference (1-3, 0.250).
The teams largely wrap up non-conference play over the mid-winter break, with only a few standings-changing games on the last and this week. Games/records are through January 2.
Butler (9-2, #18 AP) – The defense of 2011-12 is starting to round into form for the Bulldogs. Coach Brad Stevens’ squad has allowed opponents on average 0.93 points per possession in the six (Division I) games since their loss to Illinois on November 21. After five starts, freshman Kellen Dunham returned to his sixth man role and appears to be thriving. If Player of the Year polling commenced today, transfer Rotnei Clarke would garner more than a few votes outside of Indianapolis, but as much as the newcomers (Clarke and Dunham) have sparked the Bulldogs, the contributions of the front court, Roosevelt Jones, Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith are key. Though not the focal point of the offense, Smith and Marshall are a devastatingly efficient combination, contributing over 1.1 points per possession on offense while hauling in over 12% of the offensive rebounds apiece when they are on the court. Butler will host Penn and New Orleans before opening conference play on the road against Saint Joseph’s (see below) on January 9. Read the rest of this entry »
The A-10 teams played 51 games from November 9 through November 22 against teams from 22 conferences and an independent. The overall record, 34-17 (0.667) may leave fans optimistic as last season’s final winning percentage was 0.589, but the season is very, very early with less than 25% of the schedule in the books. Whether conference members can draw a fourth (or even a third?) bid depends to a considerable degree on how the conference as a whole fares against the power conferences and against schools that will form the pool of at-large candidates.
Conferences not played have been omitted. A few oddities should catch the reader’s attention. First, only Saint Bonaventure has engaged a MAAC school so far, unusual for the conference. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is largely made up of private colleges (many of them Catholic) located in a footprint that stretches from the Capital Region in New York State, west to Lake Erie and south through metropolitan New York down to Maryland. Many MAAC schools share basketball traditions with Fordham and St. Bonaventure, and many of the other A-10 members from New England and Philadelphia. Second, the A-10 is killing the CAA this season, notching a 5-1 record so far. Granted less than a third of the scheduled games have been played, but A-10 teams had to close with a rush of wins to bring last season’s head-to-head record to 7-10, and conference fans watched with mixed emotions as the second CAA team in four seasons advanced to the Final Four last March. While only George Mason from among the CAA’s elite teams has been engaged (and GMU squeaked by, beating Rhode Island in overtime), the early returns are promising. The winning percentage against the power conferences is much lower than last season’s 0.469, but again the season is early as the conference has completed only 20% of their anticipated slate. Excluding the ACC where the A-10 holds a 2-0 edge so far, the conference’s only other power conference win came Sunday against Washington. While the lopsided record compiled against the CAA is the largest influence in the composite record, the A-10 has compiled an 8-1 record versus conferences with a similar profile (the CAA, CUSA, MWC, WAC and MVC), conference teams have sustained winning records against MWC and CUSA competition as well as the CAA.