Joe Dzuback of Villanova By The Numbers is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10.
An Early Season A-10 Masala: Does anyone want to be the regular season champion? The first week-plus of conference play suggests the title and #1 seed in the conference tournament is a hot potato that no one wants to handle. Temple continues to have the fewest losses overall, but the Juan Fernandez-less Owls were dumped rather hard in Pittsburgh over the weekend, dropping a 12-point decision to overlooked Duquesne. Richmond was poised to take over the conference lead, but dropped a four-point game to struggling Rhode Island, leaving the door open for Dayton, who then lost to Xavier by five. The Musketeers, Duquesne and George Washington are the only undefeated schools left in the conference race, but as the chart below suggests, the twists and turns through the first 20%-25% of the conference schedule hint that this conference race will be hotter and closer than anticipated.
Xavier coach Chris Mack, struggling with a roster depleted by injuries and academics and scrambling for some answers on offense in the weeks before conference play has emerged as a very early favorite for conference coach of the year. Of course, if the Dukes maintain their momentum and Richmond puts it back together, the coach’s race may turn into a masala too.
With upsets over the weekend, the conference standings are jumbled, and though my power rankings differ from the standings, I have moved even more teams around this week.
1. Xavier (11-5, 3-0)
Last Week: 1/12 vs. Massachusetts 79-60, 1/15 vs. Dayton 81-76
Next Week: 1/19 @ St. Bonaventure, 1/22 vs. Temple
The Musketeers had a 2-0 week as Tu Holloway received an Honorable Mention from the conference as he averaged 25.0 points and 7.0 assists in X’s wins over Massachusetts and Dayton. Mack’s squad will travel to St. Bonaventure for their game Wednesday, and return home for a crucial conference matchup with Temple on Saturday.
2. Temple (12-4, 3-1)
Last Week: 1/12 vs. St. Bonaventure 83-55, 1/15 @ Duquesne 66-78
Next Week: 1/19 vs. Pennsylvania, 1/22 @ Xavier
The conference’s sole representative in Top 25 polls was dropped again, one of several consequences of their Saturday road loss to Duquesne. The Owls finish their “out of conference” portion of their City Series schedule when they host the Penn Quakers on Wednesday, and return to conference action with a crucial game at Xavier on Saturday.
3. Richmond (13-5, 2-1)
Last Week: 1/13 vs. Rhode Island 74-78
Next Week: 1/19 vs. George Washington, 1/22 @ Massachusetts
The Spiders squandered an excellent opportunity to replace Temple at the top of the A-10 Conference standings and the Top 25 polls as they lost their only game of the week, a four point, 74-78 decision to Rhode Island. Richmond will host Rhode Island Thursday and then take the weekend off.
4. Duquesne (11-5, 3-0)
Last Week: 1/12 vs. Saint Louis 67-45, 1/15 vs. Temple 78-66
Next Week: 1/19 @La Salle, 1/22 vs. Charlotte
The Dukes ran their winning streak to eight with yet another 2-0 week. Senior Damian Saunders earned his second Honorable Mention from the conference as he averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.5 blocks and 2.5 steals over the Dukes’ two wins last week. In the preseason, this pair of games was expected to produce an 0-2 week. Duquesne has, however, caught the eye of stats guru Ken Pomeroy who counted the Pittsburgh-based school’s results so far as one of the surprises of the season. Last week’s wins, both in convincing fashion, will raise the school’s profile and fan expectations as the season progresses. Head coach Ron Everhart and company have a quick road trip to Philadelphia for an important two-game homestand coming up. They host an undermanned, Rick Majerus-less Saint Louis team Wednesday and an Owls squad that may not have junior point guard Juan Fernandez available on Saturday..
5. Rhode Island (11-6, 2-1)
Last Week: 1/13 @Richmond 78-74, 1/16 vs. St. Bonaventure 56-55
Next Week: 1/19 @Saint Joseph’s, 1/22 vs. La Salle
The Runnin’ Rams got an infusion of Orion Outerbridge and the re-instated forward powered them to a 2-0 week and earned himself a Player of the Week nod from the conference for his performance last week.. Another Wednesday road game (it worked last week) at the Hagan versus Saint Joseph’s, and then Rhode Island returns to Kingston to host La Salle. Both the Hawks and Explorers are struggling right now, the Rams can move higher in the standings and create some daylight for themselves.
6. Massachusetts (10-6, 2-1)
Last Week: 1/12 @Xavier 50-79, 1/15 vs. La Salle 74-71
Next Week: 1/15 @Charlotte, 1/22 vs. Richmond
The Minutemen had a 1-1 week. After a painful 29-point loss at the hands of Xavier, Coach Kellogg’s squad bounced back with a three point win over La Salle. Massachusetts takes to the road for a game in Charlotte Wednesday, and then return home for an important test against Richmond on Saturday.
7. George Washington (10-7, 3-0)
Last Week: 1/12 vs. Fordham 72-52, 1/15 vs. Harvard 62-67
Next Week: 1/19 @Richmond, 1/22 vs. St. Bonaventure
The Colonials logged a 1-1 week, routing Fordham to go 3-0 in conference play, then dropping a five-point decision to Harvard out of the Ivy League. George Washington has worked through the softer part of their A-10 schedule (Saint Joseph’s, La Salle and Fordham), and their road game with Richmond should give fans an indication of where the team stands. The Colonials return to DC to host St. Bonaventure Saturday.
8. Dayton (14-5, 2-2)
Last Week: 1/12 vs. Saint Joseph’s 65-59, 1/15 @Xavier 76-81
Next Week: 1/22 vs. Fordham
The Flyers finished another 1-1 week. Senior forward Chris Wright earned an Honorable Mentio from the conference as he averaged a double-double (12.0 points and 10.0 rebounds) for the third straight week. Wright and freshman point guard Juwan Staten, who earned a Freshman of the Week citation himself for his 13.0 point per game average and 58% accuracy in the Flyers’ two games last week, have emerged as the principal offensive options for Dayton, drawing 27.9% and 24.1% of the possessions and taking 25.6% and 21.1% of the shots, respectively, when they are on the floor. Neither however has been particularly efficient with those possesions, posting offensive ratings in the mid 90’s (about 0.95 points per possesion). There are other, more efficient options (Chris Johnson? Paul Williams?) available. While neither Staten nor Wright have been shooting particularly well from the floor, both could boost their ratings (and help their team offensively) by hitting their free throws. Wright shoots about 60% from the line, while Staten converts about 56%. Wright’s ability to get to the line is an important offensive option, but with a below average conversion rate, he does not punish the opponent enough for the foul. Dayton plays a single game this week as they host Fordham on Saturday. A win would put them back above 0.500 in conference play, a place they need to be as the week following will be very tough (Richmond and Duquesne).
9. St. Bonaventure (9-7, 1-2)
Last Week: 1/12 @Temple 55-83, 1/16 @Rhode Island 55-56
Next Week: 1/19 vs. Xavier, 1/22 @George Washington
Coach Mike Schmidt’s Bonnies stumbled through an 0-2 week, dropping their conference record to 1-2. Guard Michael Davenport led the Bonnies in scoring for both games, and recorded a career-high 28 points and 12 rebounds in the loss to Rhode Island. The Bonnies have another challenging week, as they host Xavier Wednesday and travel to Washington DC for a tilt with George Washington. St. Bonaventure has an advantage in the Xavier game as the Musketeers may be looking past them to their Temple game on Saturday. The George Washington holds conference seeding implications, as both SBU and GWU may be in need of a tie-breaker come March.
10. Charlotte (9-8, 1-2)
Last Week: 1/15 vs. Fordham 71-61
Next Week: 1/19 vs. Massachusetts, 1/22 @Duquesne
Charlotte broke their losing run in conference play with a 10 win over Fordham. Senior Derrio Green was honorably mentioned by the conference for his season-high (second time) 21 points, 19 of which were scored in the second half, in the 49ers’ Fordham game. Coach Alan Major‘s squad will host Massachusetts on Wednesday and travel to Pittsburgh to play Duquesne on Saturday. While Charlotte is favored against the shot-challenged Minutmen, they will have to value the ball (something they have struggled with this season) against a team that typically ends 22% of their opponents’ possessions without a shot. The Charlotte front court is bigger than their Duke counterparts, but Temple struggled to gain an advantage in the lane and low post last weekend.
11. Saint Louis (6-11, 1-3)
Last Week: 1/12 @Duquesne 45-67, 1/15 vs. Saint Joseph’s 67-51
Next Week: 1/19 @Fordham
The Billikens’ broke their fall with a win over Saint Joseph’s, but not before recording loss number six in their run. Freshman forward Dwayne Evans recorded a career-high 16 points and 18 rebounds — his first career double-double — in the Bills’ win over Saint Joseph’s. The confernce cited Evans for his performance. Recently re-admitted and re-instated Kwamain Mitchell is listed on the Billiken roster as “awaiting NCAA clearance”. No sign of Willie Reed.
12. La Salle (8-10, 0-3)
Last Week: 1/12 vs. Pennsylvania 89-83, 1/15 @Massachusetts 71-74
Next Week: 1/19 vs. Duquesne, 1/22 @Rhode Island
La Salle bounced back against Big 5 rival Penn to insure they would not suffer another winless week. Aaric Murray, as predicted by Explorers Coach Dr. John Giannini, did respond to the benching by averaging 15.0 points in La Salle’s two games. The sophomore center notched a 19 point, eight rebound game against Penn and followed with a 12 point, eight rebound performance in the Explorers’ three point loss to Massachusetts. The Explorers’ shot defense is the biggest (but not the only) problem so far. They have enough offense to prosper in the conference, but allowing opponents to convert 50.5% of the field goal attempts puts a large onus on their offense to keep up. Oddly, they defend the two-point field goal attempt only slightly better than the three-point field goal attempt. If Murray and company can step up their defensive intensity (and rebounding…) they may have a chance to drop Duquesne from the ranks of the conference undefeateds as the Dukes visit the Gola Wednesday. They travel to Rhode Island for a Saturday game. Neither will be easy.
13. Fordham (6-9, 0-3)
Last Week: 1/12 @George Washington 52-72, 1/15 @Charlotte 61-71
Next Week: 1/19 vs. Saint Louis, 1/22 @Dayton
Three games into 2011 and Fordham continues to look for their first win of the new year. Their losing streak has stretched to five games with their just concluded 0-2 week on the road, and things are not looking up as the Rams host Saint Louis Wednesday and travel to Dayton for a Saturday game. The squad is plagued by the twin demons of poor offense and porous defense, a common problem for inexperienced squads. And coach Tom Pecora has a squad Ken Pomeroy ranks in the bottom 19% for experience (ranked #279 out of 345). Pecora has to break the cycle established during the previous two coaching regimes — the staff recruits promising players; the team loses; the recruits become discouraged; the recruits transfer out; repeat. Right now, Pomeroy gives the squad a 6.5% chance of finishing their conference slate winless. Though the Rams are not favored to win any of their remaining conference games by Ken Pomeroy, there are several home games which should give them better opportunities. There are none coming this week however. The first step may well be to be competitive in the games they do have.
14. Saint Joseph’s (5-12, 0-4)
Last Week: 1/12 @Dayton 59-65, 1/15 @Saint Louis 51-67
Next Week: 1/19 vs. Rhode Island, 1/22 @Penn
The Hawks’ slide numbers four consecutive games, all logged on their conference slate, with those two additional losses last week. The road loss by six to Dayton might be a sign of hope for Hawk fans, but the 16 point road loss to a Saint Louis squad with even less experience (per Ken Pomeroy — , Saint Joseph’s is ranked #329 while St. Louis is ranked #338) has to be a bucket of cold water, but the more immediate task (like Fordham) may be to hold onto a nucleus of promising players as the program weathers the storm, and build on them for next season.
- The game to catch this week will be on Saturday, when Temple visits Xavier. In less confusing times this was tabbed as an early season showdown for the top spot in the conference. When Xavier lost Jay Canty, Justin Martin and Brad Redford, Owl fans no doubt sensed blood in the water and an early knockout for Temple. Juan Fernandez’s injury however has exposed a shallow Temple rotation, and Temple’s loss to Duquesne over the weekend has made this a very, very important game for Temple. Lose in Cincinnati and the Owls risk falling two games off the pace.
- Wednesday will feature a matchup important to Richmond, who dropped a home game to a re-energized Rhode Island team last Thursday. The Spiders like Temple find themselves in a scramble at an unexpected point in the season. Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Spiders on the outside looking in right now. Taking a second loss at home and to George Washington would seriously damage their case for an at-large bid should they not win the conference tournament. George Washington’s conference schedule so far has included Saint Joseph’s, La Salle and Fordham. Richmond is their first serious conference test.