One of the primary criticisms of the NCAA in Taylor Branch’s piece in The Atlantic was that student-athletes were only given one-year renewable scholarships that could be pulled due to factors not related to their academic performance such as injury, poor on-field performance, or a change in coaching regime that leads to the student-athlete’s athletic skillset to be less desirable. To counter that the NCAA proposed that individuals be eligible for multiyear scholarships, but more than 75 schools have objected to the proposal meaning that the proposal will go in front of the NCAA’s Board of Directors next month where it will be reevaluated. The primary criticisms offered by the objecting schools was that they wanted to keep athletic scholarships in the same format as most scholarships at the school (renewed annually) and that multiyear scholarships would create bidding wars between competing schools. While we can see some reasoning in those arguments when you combine it with their earlier opposition to cost of living stipends the schools appear to be unwilling to give student-athletes any concessions in the latest round of negotiations.
When your team starts 1-11 one of the positive things you can say is that things cannot get much worse, but for Rhode Island it appears like things will get worse after they dismissed Jamal Wilson, their leading scorer, from the team after violating undisclosed team rules. Even before Wilson’s dismissal it seemed possible that the Rams might not win more than a handful of their remaining games. Now with Wilson gone it is a distinct possibility that they might not win another game this season. Using Ken Pomeroy’s rating system, the only two games that they have greater than a 40% predicted chance of winning are against a terrible Fordham squad. Without Wilson they might still be favored in their game at home against Fordham, but will be hard pressed to win any other games.
Drew Cannon of Basketball Prospectus analyzed the intense discussion surrounding Luke Winn’s power rankings two weeks ago. In those power rankings, which we discussed in our Morning Five the following day (see point #2), Winn pointed out that based on points allowed per possession Kentucky actually appeared to be a slightly better defensive team with Anthony Davis on the bench than when he is on the court. As we noted that day, the decision by some people to use that statistic to question the use of all advanced statistics was myopic. Given the additional space of a whole post rather than a single Morning Five bullet, Cannon goes into additional detail about what happens in situations like these and what we would consider a reasonable way to handle these situations.
With schools on holiday break a number of players are reconsidering their situation within their program and opting to make a break from their current situation. The most recent of these is Illinois sophomore guard Crandall Head, the younger brother of former Illini star Luther Head, who has decided to transfer. Unlike his brother, Crandall has had minimal impact at the school and was averaging just 1 point, 0.6 rebounds, and 1 assist in 9.2 minutes per game. According to the school’s press release, he has not listed any schools that he is considering transferring to, but that he wants to go “somewhere they play my style of game and get a fresh start”. We are not sure which schools he is considering, but it may be instructive to look at the schools he was considering when he was being recruited in high school.
Finally, Rick Pitino announced yesterday that he would not coach after the 2016-17 season. You might expect that we would lead our post with this, but we don’t believe that Pitino will actually retire at that time and if he does it will not be because of something he mentioned at press conference more than five years earlier. It does raise a few interesting questions with the first and most obvious being who would be Pitino’s successor at Louisville. The most interesting (or at least most nepotistic) choice would be his son Richard Pitino, but there will be no shortage of successful mid-major coaches and high-level assistants looking for their big break when Pitino does decide to retire. The other more immediate question is how Pitino expects to succeed as a recruiter in a few years when every other coach in America will be whispering to his recruits that they will never get to play for Pitino because he will step down before they graduate.
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.
Early Season Tournaments – The Conference Crossroads: Though the invitational tournaments come in three different formats, they provide A-10 members with the opportunity to face-off against competition from other conferences. If the tournament is a “destination”, all the better, as those often offer one or two games versus power conference opponents on a neutral court. Mixed format tournaments can provide the A-10 member with the chance to play a power conference opponent and then host a sub-regional mini-tournament afterward, as George Washington did for the Preseason NIT last season and Rhode Island did for the Legends Classic this season. Despite the road game incentive built into the RPI, the NCAA does little to discourage the power conference practice of guarantee games beyond officially “frowning” on it. Unless you are Xavier or Temple, your best chance to see a power conference team in a venue besides their home court (on the front end of a home-and-home agreement) is to join one of the early-season invitational tournaments. Though Xavier will spend Christmas in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic, virtually all early-season invitational tournaments concluded on or before Thanksgiving Weekend. How did the Atlantic-10 do?
The 21-13 record reveals both hope (Dayton, Richmond and Saint Louis) and fear (La Salle, Massachusetts and Rhode Island) as the season progresses, but overall, the 61.8% winning percentage will help the conference come Selection Sunday. Flyer fans can look to a surprise first-place finish in the Old Spice Classic that included wins over Wake Forest out of the ACC and Minnesota from the Big Ten, as signs that the Dayton program revival is ahead of schedule under rookie coach Archie Miller. Saint Louis rolled through the 76 Classic field, cutting through three power conference opponents in four days like a hot knife through butter. No one, not Boston College (ACC), Villanova (Big East) nor Oklahoma (Big 12) could get closer than 11 points to the Billikens in their final scores.
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.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Atlantic 10 correspondent, Joe Dzuback. You can read more of his in-depth writing and analysis at Villanova By The Numbers.
Reader’s Take I
Bobinski to Chair NCAA Selection Committee: While the conference again sent seven teams, half of its membership, to the postseason — three to the NCAA, one to the NIT and three to the CBI, the Final Four runs by Butler (Horizon League) and Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial Athletic Association) overshadowed a showing, Xavier’s loss to Marquette excepted, that exceeded 2010’s NCAA results. The NCAA announced that Xavier Athletic Director Mike Bobinski will succeed Connecticut’s Jeff Hathaway as Chairman of the 2012 NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Bobinski just completed his third year of a five-year term on the Selection Committee. While the Atlantic 10 has been the most successful non-BCS conference in placing teams in the tournament field (with 20 NCAA bids allotted to six teams since 2004), its representatives have tended to draw the short straw when it comes to seeding, and Bobinski will likely lobby hard for that cause.
The Coaching Carousel: The conference had two coaching vacancies during the early phase of the coaching carousel. If the 2010 offseason saw coaching turnovers due to firings, the 2011 offseason saw suitors come to call on the Atlantic 10 coaching fraternity. Tennessee, having fired Bruce Pearl on March 21, made its first call to Xavier to talk with Chris Mack. Mack reportedly turned aside an offer of $2 million per year to coach the Volunteers in favor of staying in Cincinnati with the Musketeers. Richmond’s Chris Mooney signed a 10-year contract extension, his second extension in two years, ending Georgia Tech’s courtship. Mooney’s decision triggered a spate of articles (see “Old coaching assumptions are fading” by Dana O’Neil for example) about non-BCS coaches who pass on BCS offers to stay with their programs. The Yellow Jackets turned their attention to Dayton’s Brian Gregory, who succumbed to the lure of the BCS and packed his bags for Atlanta on March 28. Dayton conducted a six-day search and hired Archie Miller, brother of former Xavier head man Sean Miller, away from Arizona to succeed Gregory. In late April, George Washington’s Athletic Director, Patrick Nero, fired 10-year veteran Karl Hobbs. Nero, who succeeded retiring AD Jack Kvancz on June 30, was hired on April 20, and wasted no time in turning over the men’s basketball staff. Nero reached into his old stomping grounds, the American East Conference, and hired the league’s premier head basketball coach, MikeLonergan of Vermont, on May 6 to replace Hobbs. The resignation of Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis on May 24 (DeChellis took over the Navy program) triggered a few tense days among the Duquesne faithful as coach Ron Everhart landed an interview for the Happy Valley position. The Dukes exhaled on June 1 when Everhart withdrew his name from consideration in favor of staying with the Pittsburgh school next season.
Media Coverage: The Atlantic 10 and ESPN renewed their deal to have eight games (selected by ESPN) televised on either ESPN or ESPN2 in each of the next two seasons. The ESPN networks are committed to broadcasting the Women’s Championship and up to 32 appearances in each of the next two seasons.
The Lede. Who knew that a medium-sized flyover state known more for its brats and cheese could become the center of the American sports universe, even if just for a bit? But with the top ten seasons of both the Wisconsin Badger football and basketball teams (now including victories over #1 Ohio State in both sports), plus a little Super Bowl-winning team a couple hours to the northeast in Green Bay, a fair argument could be made, couldn’t it? This too shall pass, but what will not is that Bo Ryan is an unbelievable coach and we should just go ahead and slot his teams into the top twenty every season regardless of the personnel he has returning. Honestly, it’s getting a little ridiculous just how successful this guy is year after year.
Jordan Taylor: King of Madison, Wisconsin (Cap Times/A. Mertz)
Your Watercooler Moment. Unbeaten Ohio State Goes Down. When the nation’s #1 team dunks, bombs and outmuscles you in your house on its way to a fifteen-point lead in the second half, most teams wilt as quickly as those flowers you bought for your girlfriend surely will about 48 hours from now. Wisconsin does not wilt. In fact, the Badgers don’t even bend much, at least not in their Big 10 House of Horrors known as the Kohl Center. Matching like with like, Bo Ryan’s team simply upped its resolve, made some stops and ripped off a 15-0 run of its own (ten points by Jordan Taylor) to tie the game at the 9:49 mark. The last ten minutes of this game represented some of the most exciting basketball of the season, with each team taking turns showing how to score until Taylor (and his 24/4/7 assts) created some separation with his fifth three-pointer of the game at the 5:34 mark. From that point on, it was clear that the Badgers were going to win the game and put an end to the Buckeyes’ unbeaten season, in much the same way that their football counterparts had last October 16 at Camp Randall Stadium. When OSU cut the lead to two with just under a minute to go, it was the floppy-haired Mike Bruesewitz direct from central casting who shot-faked and nailed a ginormous three to effectively salt the game away and set the Kohl Center on fire. At the end of the game, there was the obligatory RTC, as it was only the second time in history that the Badgers had knocked off a #1 team, and this particular OSU team was also the last remaining unbeaten. Full and complete coverage of the court was achieved, as viewed in the video below. Well done, Badgers.
This Weekend’s Quick Hits…
Pitt Without Ashton Gibbs. It was one thing to win the Backyard Brawl without Ashton Gibbs on the floor last Monday night; but to waltz into the Pavilion on ESPN Gameday and beat the Wildcats in their on-campus building where they had not lost in four years? Very impressive work, Panthers. We realize that Villanova played with Corey Stokes as well, but on this night it was Jamie Dixon’s team who was simply tougher than Jay Wright’s. The physical play and three technical fouls as a result are characteristic of Pitt’s wheelhouse, and when push came to shove, it was the Panthers showing that they are indeed the Big East’s best team and a possible #1 seed next month. Their toughest remaining game is a trip to Louisville, but would it surprise anyone if the Panthers ran the table the rest of the way to 17-1?
Norris Cole’s He-Man Game. 20/10 nights are damn impressive in the college game, but try doubling it. Norris Cole became just the second player in the last fifteen seasons to drop a 40/20 in a single game — and the other was an athletic specimen you might have heard of named Blake Griffin (40/23 against Texas Tech in 2009). Cole went for an absurd 41/20/9 assts against Youngstown State on Saturday, leaving us to wonder if he also ran the sound system, operated the scoring table and mopped up the soda residue and popcorn stains afterward. Sheesh… We know that Cole has had a handful (three, to be exact) of double-figure rebounding games this season, but how a 6’2, 170-pounder can pull down twenty makes no sense to us — he’s up for the Cousy Award as the best point guard in America, and with Cleveland State near the top of the Horizon League standings, let’s all hope that we get to see this kid play on the biggest stage this March.