Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis: Thursday Night

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2010

Over the next two days, RTC will break down the regional semifinal games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are Thursday night’s games from the East and West Regionals.

7:07 pm – #1 Syracuse vs. #5 Butler  (West Region)

We’re starting to worry about this Arinze Onuaku situation.  Sooner or later, Jim Boeheim’s team is going to need the 11 points, five rebounds and general defensive anchor support on the front line that the 6’9, 260-pound big man provides.  Rick Jackson is a serviceable replacement, but the fact that Onuaku reportedly hasn’t even suited up in practice since his injury against Georgetown on March 11 is cause for alarm.  Even if Syracuse survives to advance to next weekend’s Final Four, how productive could he possibly be?  So far, Syracuse hasn’t shown a need for him yet.  The Orange ran over Vermont and Gonzaga without breathing all that hard thanks to the superb play of Wesley Johnson and friends, but there will be a team in the very near future where they’ll need more than Jackson alone can provide.

That team will not be playing SU in the Sweet Sixteen, however.  Butler is an excellent team and Brad Stevens has gotten players other than Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard to step up this season, most notably Shelvin Mack who went 9-12 from long range in the San Jose pod against UTEP and Murray State.  Syracuse is not UTEP or Murray, though, and the wide-open looks that Mack was getting in those games will no longer be as readily available thanks to the length and quickness of the Orange’s perimeter defenders.  Furthermore, Butler center Matt Howard has enough trouble staying out of foul trouble against Horizon League teams; it’s not realistic to think that he’ll be able to play 30+ effective minutes against Jackson, Johnson and Kris Joseph inside.  The main problem we foresee is that Butler is not a very good offensive team in general — when Hayward and Mack aren’t firing on all cylinders, the Bulldogs have trouble scoring points.  Add that to the fact they’ll be facing one of the best offensive teams in America, and you have a situation where numerous things need to go exactly right for Butler to get this win tonight.  Even without Onuaku on the floor for another game, we just don’t see Butler finding enough offense to win this game.

The Skinny: The last time the Bulldogs made it this deep into the NCAAs, they ran into a long, athletic team by the name of Florida in 2007.  They played the defending and future national champions as closely as they were played in that tournament thanks to their control of the tempo, strong defense and  attention to detail, but it still wasn’t enough because the Florida offensive attack was simply too good.  We think the same thing will happen in this game.  Syracuse has too many weapons for the Butler defense to key in on all of them, and even if they catch SU on an off night, where will the Butler points come from?

7:27 pm – #2 West Virginia vs. #11 Washington  (East Region)

Most prognosticators felt that Washington had Sweet 16 talent coming into this season. Lorenzo Romar was returning reigning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Isaiah Thomas, defensive stalwart Venoy Overton and a forward named Quincy Pondexter ripe for a breakout season. While Pondexter’s prediction panned out, guard play was shaky, road wins were hard to come by, and the Huskies found themselves on the NCAA bubble with seven losses in a weak Pac-10. A conference tournament win punched their ticket, though, and the Huskies have taken advantage of the opportunity, erasing a double-digit second half lead to beat Marquette and wiping the floor with Mountain West champion New Mexico. Their toughest test yet will come Thursday against Big East Tournament champion West Virginia. Washington needs to produce a near carbon copy of their performance against New Mexico. In other words, they need to play a near-perfect game. Thomas must keep his head on straight and continue to make outside jumpers. Overton must frustrate Da’Sean Butler, Elston Turner must continue to produce offensively and Pondexter must out-duel Devin Ebanks.

For West Virginia, Washington seems like a favorable matchup. They may have preferred Joe Mazzulla guarding Isaiah Thomas more than the sidelined Darryl Bryant anyway. Mazzulla is the superior defender and Bryant has been woeful shooting-wise the last three weeks. They also match up well with the length of Washington. Bob Huggins can throw a lineup out on the floor of players 6’6 or above with huge wingspans, meaning the long WVU defense could fluster Pondexter and force him into difficult shots. One possible negative to the Bryant injury is that it increases the likelihood that the Mountaineer offense will become too reliant on Butler to bail them out. He’s done it time and time again this season and in postseason tournament play. Does he have more magic up his sleeve?

The Skinny: West Virginia has a plethora of defenders that can frustrate Pondexter and they boast the best late-game scorer in the nation in Butler. That combination should prove enough to take care of Washington in fairly methodical fashion. Avoiding their typical slow start would be prudent.

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Second Round Game Analysis: Sunday Games

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 16 of the second round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Sunday games.

12:10 pm – #1 Syracuse vs. #8 Gonzaga  (Buffalo pod)

In the CBS national game to start the day, everyone will get this very enticing game between Syracuse and Gonzaga.  Given the way this year is winding up, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Orange without their big man Arinze Onuaku found itself on the short end of the score around 2:30 pm today.  But we still have faith in Syracuse even without the talented center and we think that Jim Boeheim’s team is too good to fall short of the Final Four this early.  The primary problem that the Zags are going to have is one they didn’t have to worry as much about with Florida State, and that is in stopping the powerful SU offense.  With offensive scoring threats at all five positions, Syracuse is in a far more advantageous position than FSU was (with their limited offense) when Gonzaga caught fire on Friday — if the Zags want to get into a shootout with Syracuse, that’s not likely to end well for them. Still, with the way the Big East has had so many early round troubles, and the WCC looking great with St. Mary’s already in the Sweet Sixteen, we’re not ready to dismiss the Zags based on that alone.  The Syracuse zone is likely to be something that Mark Few’s team has not seen with such athletes all season, so even with their ability to put the ball in the hole, we hesitate to think the Zags can consistently score on it.

The Skinny: Gonzaga will push the Orange, but we still like this team to advance and make a serious push for the national title in coming weeks.

2:20 pm – #2 Ohio State vs. #10 Georgia Tech  (Milwaukee pod)

You might not see it on their faces, but the Buckeyes are smiling.  Northern Iowa’s removal of Kansas puts Ohio State in the driver’s seat in the Midwest region.  That said, there’s still no way Thad Matta and Evan Turner are going to let the rest of that team look past their opponents and assume an open road to Indianapolis.  Good thing, because Georgia Tech showed us that they’re not just made up of Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal and a bunch of suckers.  The Yellow Jackets shot 2-10 from the three point line but balanced that by holding Big 12 player of the year James Anderson to a 3-12 shooting night, 0-6 from beyond the three-point arc, and an overall 11 points.  But the most impressive aspect of Georgia Tech’s performance on Friday night — by FAR — was the fact that they went to the free throw line 25 times — and hit 24 of them!  It wasn’t just Lawal and Favors.  Tech played nine players, and eight of them shot at least one free throw.  Evan Turner isn’t just the player of the year in his conference, though — he’s likely the national POY, so the Tech task is that much tougher.  Turner wasn’t himself in their first round game against UCSB, going 2-13 and posting only nine points (though he did contribute 10 boards and five assists).  He’s looking to break out, and knows he’ll have to be at his best.  Lawal and Favors, though, will be looking to get Dallas Lauderdale, Jon Diebler, and Turner in foul trouble early and open poke some holes in that OSU front line.

The Skinny:  You probably don’t want to go with our Midwest picks, since yesterday we took Kansas and Ohio.  It’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that this will be a great second round game, but that stat line of Turner’s shows you that he can play such an important role on the team even when he’s not scoring.  For Tech to win, they’d have to turn in a similar performance at the free throw line, keep Turner under wraps and coax him into a supporting role again, and cool down Jon Diebler.  That’s a tough trifecta to pull off.  We don’t see it happening.  But we didn’t see Northern Iowa dismissing Kansas, either.

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First Round Game Analysis: Friday Afternoon

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Friday afternoon games.


12:15 pm – #2 West Virginia vs. #15 Morgan State  (Buffalo pod)

West Virginia enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation. They squeaked out an enormous road win at Villanova to end the regular season then swept through Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Georgetown en route to a Big East championship riding the heroics of Da’Sean Butler. The Mountaineers are an extremely gifted rebounding team; in fact, sometimes their best offense comes after a missed shot. They feature multiple weapons that can step out and shoot a mid-range jumper or three from Wellington Smith to Kevin Jones to the all-around dynamo Butler. Also, few teams can match West Virginia’s intensity in the halfcourt defensively. Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman will need a gigantic scoring output from their own star, Baltimore native Reggie Holmes. Holmes scored 25 or more points fifteen times this season, averaging 21.3 PPG and ranking in the top-50 in percentage of shots taken. The Bears also feature a rugged forward named Kevin Thompson who comes in at fifth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. In fact, Morgan State ranks 11th in the country as a team in that very category. Unfortunately for the underdogs, West Virginia is never outworked on the glass, not with Jones, Devin Ebanks and Bob Huggins prominently involved.

The Skinny: This one shouldn’t be close from the tip. Morgan State dominated the MEAC all season, but West Virginia is flying high at this point. Expect the Mountaineers to dominate by 25-30 points.

12:25 pm – #6 Xavier vs. #11 Minnesota  (Milwaukee pod)

The answer to which team will win this game depends entirely on which Gopher team shows up to play in Milwaukee.  Will it be the defensive juggernaut that held Purdue to 11 first  half points last Saturday, or will it be the team that got obliterated by Ohio State 52-29 in the second half on Sunday?  Tubby Smith’s team has been schizophrenic like that all year, following up strong wins with disastrous performances (two losses to Michigan?  really?), which probably explains why they were a bubble team up until Sunday evening.  Xavier comes into this one with the stronger resume, but it’s difficult to say if the Musketeers are the better team.  When he plays under control, XU’s Jordan Crawford is a talent, and his supporting case of Jason Love on the interior and Terrell Holloway running the show makes for nice balance throughout the Xavier lineup.  The question we have is who will win the defensive battle, though.  Xavier defends the three really well, while Minnesota behind Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook both shoot it equally as well.  This game is essentially a tossup (Vegas agrees, setting Minny as a one-point favorite), and we really liked the first seven halves of basketball that the Gophers put up in Indianapolis on a neutral floor last week, so we’re going with the extremely mild 6/11 upset here, in a close game that comes down to the last possession. 

The Skinny: Despite the seedings, this is a tossup game and we like the Gophers to win it on the last possession. 

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.16.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

South Region Notes (Patrick Sellars)

  • The first “upset” of the tournament occurred in the South Region when SWAC champion Arkansas Pine-Bluff took down the Big South tournament champion Winthrop, 61-44. The Golden Lions earned the right to play top seeded Duke on Friday night.
  • When #9 Louisville takes on #8 California on Friday night, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino says he’ll be ready for the Bears’ “organized chaos.”  There is also an interesting quote in the article from Cardinals’ guard Edgar Sosa that says he has heard Cal referred to as “poor man’s Marquette”.
  • Utah State’s leading scorer, junior guard Tai Wesley, broke his nose in the WAC tournament final on Saturday when the Aggies got pounded by New Mexico State.  He will play in the Aggies’ upcoming game versus Texas A&M, but you have to wonder what kind of effect it will have on USU’s star. On TAMU’s side, they will have Dash Harris back in the lineup after he missed the Big 12 Tournament with a bone bruise in his right wrist. Head coach Mark Turgeon said that if his team wants any chance to win this weekend, they will need Harris healthy.
  • Fran McCaffery is not letting his Siena team think they can beat Purdue by just showing up in Spokane on Friday. He says Purdue is by far the best team Siena will face all season even without Robbie Hummel. You’d have to think a Butler Bulldogs fan would think otherwise.
  • Here is an interesting article from The Times-Picayune which highlights the #3 Baylor vs. #14 Sam Houston State game. Not only are the two teams from Texas, but they have two New Orleans natives returning to their home town for the first round. Star senior guards Tweety Carter (Baylor) and Ashton Mitchell (Sam Houston State) both played their high school ball in The Big Easy.
  • Villanova head coach Jay Wright told the Philadelphia Inquirer about his team’s lackluster play in first round games the past two seasons. Wright said “we’ve survived first-round games, but we really haven’t played well in first-round games.”

East Region Notes (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

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Daily Diaries: ACC and Atlantic 10 Tournament Finals

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC covered several of the conference tournaments from the sites over the weekend. We had RTC correspondents at the ACC and Atlantic 10 Tournament finals on Sunday; each of them wrapped up the day’s action in these diary submissions.

Atlantic 10 Championship

Temple 56, Richmond 52

  • “It is tough to win both the regular season title and the conference tournament. I have to congratulate Temple on their achievement” said Richmond Coach Chris Mooney to start his last press conference at the 2010 A10 Tournament. His Richmond team had lost to Temple, 56-52, in front of 10,000+ fans at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ. The cheers from the arena floor could he heard in the background as the reporters asked Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper to analyze their team’s performance. Richmond came out cold in the first half, missing their first four shots. A dunk by center Darrius Garrett put Richmond on the board, but Temple had already converted three times. Three minutes into the game it was 7-2 Temple, just like the day before, different day and opponent perhaps, but the same start. That was the story of the A10 Championship game. Like their semifinal game with Rhode Island, the Temple Owls scored first and never relinquished the lead. Richmond however was not Rhode Island and the Spiders did not go quietly. The crowd was Temple’s by a 60-40 margin, and when the Spiders came close cutting Temple’s lead to one with 39 seconds left in the game, the Spider faithful came to their feet and gave their team a loud cheer.
  • “Threepeat!” shouted the fans as the Temple team cut down the nets. “It’s the beginning of a dynasty!” a fellow member of the media said as he packed his bags, “They bring back Fernandez, Allen, Eirc and Jefferson. They will own the A10 for at least two more years.” Dynasty talk will have to wait for next season’s previews however, because the talk along press row was whether the game would help Temple’s argument for a #3 (or better) seed.  There is another month to this season, and the growing expectation that this Temple team (and most probably the two other A10 teams who will participate in the NCAAs next week) will play through the first weekend, and possibly into the second weekend.
  • Weather and a leaky roof aside, the A10 Conference Tournament was everything an eastern basketball fan could ask for. Three days of terrific basketball, ten games in all. Throw in an overtime game and two of the last three games decided by six or fewer points and play after play by athletic and skilled basketball players. The work of Kevin Anderson and Juan Fernandez in particular stand out. Anderson put the Richmond team on his back and brought them back against Xavier in the semifinal game. Anderson scored the last four points in regulation to tie the game, and hit the first points in overtime that put Richmond in the lead. Fernandez is a oddity for American audiences. Temple fans remember Pepe Sanchez, an Argentine guard brought over by John Chaney very fondly. Fernandez is about six inches taller and very skilled. In the championship game he called for the ball again and again, taking to the lane or hitting a pull-up jumper, a small lapse at the midpoint of the second half aside, he was composed throughout, chewing on gum, as if to set his internal clock. In the championship game Anderson played 38 minutes and scored 14 points. Fernandez played 38 minutes and scored 18 points: the margin of the game.

Superlatives

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Even More Notes From the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament, Joe Dzuback at the Atlantic 10 Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournaments, they will each post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for tonight’s pair of championship games and the A10 semis.

Mountain West Finals: San Diego State 55, UNLV 45

  • The only logical place to begin here is with Kawhi Leonard, who was dominant tonight. The line speaks for itself: 21 rebounds (a career high), including seven on the offensive end. 16 points. Holding Tre’Von Willis to 4/12 shooting from the floor (and at least two of those field goals came when SDSU inexplicably switched to zone at the start of the 2nd half). And throw in a couple assists and a couple steals for good measure. He definitely presents matchup problems for every team in the MWC, and he will present problems for teams across the country. Throw a smaller, quicker guy on him and Leonard will dominate in the paint; put a big man on him and he can step outside and use his face-up game. In the postgame press conference, UNLV head coach Lon Kruger was asked about the possibility of having to deal with Leonard for three more years, and the look that crossed his face (a combination of a knowing smile and a grimace) was priceless before he went on to spend a couple minutes singing Leonard’s praises. While New Mexico’s Darington Hobson and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette rightly are regarded as the best players in the conference, it is Leonard who is the most talented player in the conference.
  • Willis tweaked his ankle late in the game on Friday night, and while he played without incident tonight, he was likely not as explosive as he was earlier in the tournament. How much of that had to do with the ankle and how much was the Leonard factor is up for debate, but Coach Kruger of course brushed off any notion that Willis was hampered by the ankle.
  • The vaunted UNLV homecourt advantage turned out to be much less of an issue tonight than it was either last night or even on Thursday night in the quarterfinal. Maybe it was the earlier start, or maybe it was the Aztec fans’ inability to provoke the UNLV fans into a cheering confrontation as Utah and BYU fans did, but while the Rebel fans sure got loud when Larry Johnson and Jerry Tarkanian were shown on the scoreboard, they were never really a huge factor in the game.
  • Last night in this space I talked up UNLV junior center Brice Massamba quite a bit. Tonight? Um, who? Massamba’s totals: 18 minutes, five fouls, two rebounds, two turnovers.
  • Now, time for me to admit a couple areas where I was dead wrong. This doesn’t happen often (not me being wrong, I’m wrong a lot, I just rarely admit it – ask my wife), so soak it up.
  • First, sometime in the middle of the MWC season I wrote that San Diego State junior point guard D.J. Gay was holding his team back and that head coach Steve Fisher should make the move to freshman Chase Tapley at the point. Well, Gay proved me wrong and Fisher right more or less from that point on. While Gay still doesn’t shoot a great percentage from the floor, he has really cut down on the turnovers over the back half of the schedule, and more important than anything the numbers show, he is the leader on this team. Guys like Leonard and Billy White and Malcolm Thomas and even senior Kelvin Davis are all major cogs for this Aztec team, but it is Gay who makes this team go. Look at his numbers over the tournament, and they’re nothing special (in fact, they’re downright awful): less than 8ppg, six of 26 from the field, 10 assists, five turnovers. And yet, they probably don’t get out of the quarterfinals without him (when he hit two clutch free throws at the end to provide the final margin), they certainly don’t get through New Mexico without him and his seven assists and zero turnovers, and tonight it was Gay’s big three in the face of Oscar Bellfield under six minutes that extended the Aztec lead above one possession for the first time since very early in the second half. Throw in the fact that the guy played 119 of a possible 120 minutes in this tournament (and the minute that he was out the Aztecs looked lost) and its clear Gay brings more to this team than his numbers would indicate. And, just to extend my praise of the guy, he is also a well-spoken, funny kid.
  • The other place I was wrong is about Fisher. For several years now, I have been critical of some of Fisher’s in-game coaching and even his ability to bring along talent. While I thought his decision to open the second half in a zone for a couple of possessions was a similarly goofy decision, there’s really no questioning what he has done with this team. The vast improvement this team has made since opening night when they were absolutely drilled by St. Mary’s is clear and he has really gotten a talented team to buy into team over individual fully. Now, I’ll admit some of this may be because Fisher was just so charming and effusive in his press conferences that he won me over (tonight’s great Fisher quote, on winning the recruiting battle of Leonard over some Pac-10 schools: “we don’t need to get down on kneepads to recruit against the Pac-10.”), but the fact that he has taken a SDSU program with little history and put them in the postseason in seven of his 11 seasons, including now three NCAA visits, says all that needs to be said about Fisher’s ability to coach. The fact that he is just so likable is only a bonus.
  • I chose Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Leonard and Gay as my five for the all-tourney team, with Leonard as my MVP, although I felt awfully bad about not writing down White, Chase Stanback or Dairese Gary. The official tournament team was Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Stanback, White and Leonard (no fair they got to pick an extra one – I wanted my all-tourney team to have eight guys), with Leonard the MVP.

Atlantic 10 Semifinals

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RTC Live: Atlantic 10 Semifinals – Temple vs. Rhode Island & Richmond vs. Xavier

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2010

The Atlantic 10 Conference has scheduled their conference tournament in Atlantic City, NJ, the East Coast’s mecca for gambling and entertainment. The quarterfinals are over, and the last four standing are the top-seeded Temple Owls, who will face the Running Rams from Rhode Island, and the second-seeded Xavier Musketeers, who will face the third-seeded Spiders of Richmond. Eight of the fifteen players named to the three All Conference and one of the All-Freshmen Team players will see action on Saturday, giving these matchups a heavy “all star” flavor.  The Temple Owls will be led by First Team All-A10 forward Lavoy Allen, Second Team All-A10 guard Ryan Brooks, All-A10 Sixth Man Ramone Moore and All-A10 Honorable Mention point guard Juan Fernandez, while Rhode Island will counter with Third Team All-A10 guard Keith Cothran and power forward Delroy James, and All-Rookie Team guard Akeem Richmond. Xavier will be led by First Team All-A10 guard Jordan Crawford and Third Team All-A10 forward Jason Love. Richmond will counter with A10 Player of Year Kevin Anderson and Second Team All-A10 David Gonzalvez. This has been Temple’s tournament for the past three postseasons, but today the Owls face a Rhode Island hungry for an NCAA bid. Xavier and Richmond, virtually assured of an NCAA bid, are playing for seed and the home-team whites should Temple stumble. Join RTC Live as we blog live from the A10 Tournament at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

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Atlantic 10 Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 9th, 2010

Joe Dzuback of Villanova by the Numbers is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.  He will be at the A10 Tournament reporting throughout the weekend. 

Conference Offensive and Defensive Efficiencies – One Last Look

All is right in the numbers world. Almost. Temple, Xavier and Richmond sit at the top of the conference pecking order and their differentials confirm their standing. Dayton, St. Louis and Rhode Island are still tangled a bit, which could develop into an interesting story as the conference tournament plays out later this week. The won-loss records, confirmed by the gap in the efficiency differentials, suggest that the bottom four of Massachusetts, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s and especially Fordham, were simply not competitive with the rest of the conference this season (of course with respect to Massachusetts, Rhode Island disagrees).

Final Conference Standings for 2009-10

  1. Temple (14-2, 26-5, #16 AP)
  2. Xavier (14-2, 23-7, #25 AP)
  3. Richmond (13-3, 22-7)
  4. St. Louis (11-5, 20-10)
  5. Charlotte (9-7, 19-11)
  6. Rhode Island (9-7, 21-8)
  7. Dayton (8-8 19-11)
  8. St. Bonaventure (7-9, 14-15)
  9. Duquesne (7-9, 16-14)
  10. George Washington (6-10, 16-13)
  11. Massachusetts (5-11, 11-19)
  12. Saint Joseph’s (5-11, 11-19)
  13. La Salle (4-12, 12-18)
  14. Fordham (0-16, 2-26)

Predictable?

Quirky early season schedules allowed George Washington and Massachusetts to sit atop the conference briefly, but as the season wore on, Xavier, Temple, Charlotte and Richmond took turns, either alone or in company of another, as the top ranked team of the conference. Temple and Xavier were supposed to take this season to rebuild. The Owls lost Dionte Christmas and the Musketeers lost their Coach, Sean Miller. Temple landed on the national radar when they beat Big 5 rival (and #3 at the time) Villanova in December. Xavier stumbled in the Old Spice, but recovered to join with Temple to cohabit with or shadow the two other teams that took long turns at the #1 spot through the 8.5 weeks of conference play. Temple’s 77-72 win over Xavier on January 20 settled the pecking order between those two (Temple would rank higher), but it was not clear until February 28 when Xavier defeated Richmond 78-76 in two overtimes, that those two would stand alone at the top at the end.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.28.10

Posted by THager on February 28th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

#24 Richmond @ Xavier – 1 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Jordan Crawford and Xavier Look to Take the A10 Title

If there are still fans who don’t realize the importance of this game, they need to look no further than the recent comments by Xavier head coach Chris Mack on the message boards at Xavierhoops.com:

“Our team needs you loud. If you’re just going to come to the game to watch, give your tickets up. Heck, you can WATCH from home. I want our arena rocking!! Calling all PARTICIPANTS. This isn’t a marketing ploy. This is your head coach, sitting at his home computer asking for the best fans in the country to come alive for 40 game minutes on Sunday LIKE NEVER BEFORE.”

There is a good reason why Mack is so excited for this early game.  With eight consecutive wins, Richmond has not only cracked the top 25, they have actually taken the lead in the A-10 standings.  If the Spiders win their last three games against Xavier, Dayton, and Charlotte, their tournament stock could make a huge jump.  The Musketeers have won four games in a row and are tied with the Spiders for the Atlantic Ten lead.  Richmond comes in ranking only 90th in offensive efficiency, and they are going to have to hit their open shots, as they won’t get many second chance opportunities against the best rebounding team in the conference.  Xavier has a dynamic offense that ranks 10th in efficiency and features future NBA pick Jordan Crawford.  Xavier has won 22 consecutive games at home, and if they are able to hold Kevin Anderson in check, it looks like Richmond may lose its place atop the A-10.

Louisville @ Connecticut – 2 pm on CBS (****)

Both of these teams were in trouble of missing the tournament a few weeks ago when they met up.  Louisville survived that game, but with losses against St. John’s and Georgetown since then, their at-large status is still in doubt.  UConn, due to two improbable wins over Villanova and West Virginia, is playing their way back in the tournament.  RTC said before UL’s last game that they were going to have to get production from somebody other than Samardo Samuels and Edgar Sosa.  The Cardinals only had four points from their bench in that game, so Louisville is still going to need some more balance if they are going to beat a hot team like Connecticut.  The Huskies’ offense features four double figure scorers, but rank just 61st in offensive efficiency, largely due to a poor assists to turnover ratio.  Louisville’s defense ranks just 68th in the country, and they have allowed their last five opponents to shoot over 40% from the field, which will not cut it at the XL Center.  The Cardinals started the year just 1-6 on the road, but have won their last two road trips (including a win over Syracuse) so perhaps they have figured out what was plaguing them earlier in the season.  With Connecticut ranked 40th in the RPI and Louisville at #41, this game could be the difference in who is among the last four in and who is among the first four out.  Given UConn’s recent upsets, look for them to continue their surprising run toward a potential NCAA berth.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.13.10

Posted by THager on February 13th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Maryland @ # 7 Duke – 1 pm on CBS (*****)

The Terrapins have had extra time to prepare for what should be one of the best games of the year.  With the postponement of their game against Virginia due to snow, Maryland has not played in six days, which probably gave UM some much needed rest in the thick of conference play.  With a win in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Maryland will finally receive some respect.  Georgia Tech, who has more losses on the year and is eighth in the conference standings, is ranked #20, but the Terps (16-6 and second in the ACC) don’t even rank in the top 30 in the ESPN/ USA today poll.  This game will feature two of the most well-rounded teams in America, as both teams score over 80 points per game but neither gives up more than 65 points per contest on defense.  With top 25 rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency, these squads both rank in Ken Pomeroy’s top 10.  No opponent has scored more than 75 points or shot over 40 % from the field in Maryland’s last seven games, while Duke has not given up 70 points on the other side since their loss to Georgetown two weeks ago.  Duke has struggled to put points on the board in their last two games, but when a team plays defense like they did against UNC (holding the Heels to 5-19 from beyond the arc) they are going to win most  games.  Maryland has not beaten Duke since 2007, and if they plan on having success at Cameron Indoor Stadium, they are going to have to guard the perimeter well enough to force Miles Plumlee and Brian Zoubek to beat them.   More often than not, Duke is going to have at least two of their three star players (Singler, Scheyer & Smith) shoot well, but if Maryland limits the offensive onslaught to just one player, they at least have a chance.

Rhode Island @ #21 Temple – 4 pm on Atlantic 10 Network (****)

Rhode Island could use a big win to solidify their tournament status, and Temple would also benefit largely from this game after showing some vulnerability in their last four games.  These teams are ranked among the top 25 in the RPI, but Temple ranks 43d in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings and Rhode Island is 68th.  Both teams are extremely unbalanced, as Temple has a suspect offense and Rhode Island has one of the worst defenses among tournament contenders (125th in defensive efficiency.)  It is doubtful that all six “good” teams from the Atlantic 10 will get in, and Temple (fourth in the conference) and Rhode Island (fifth) do not want to lose any standing with the selection committee if they lose this one.  In their last meeting, URI came back from eight points in the latter part of the second half to force overtime.  Despite 23 points from Delroy James, Rhode Island shot below 37 % for the game and lost.  Now in Philadelphia, the Rams will have to contain Lavoy Allen, who averages a double-double and was 8-12 in the last matchup.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by jstevrtc on February 11th, 2010

Joe Dzuback of Villanova By The Numbers is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

The Threshing Floor

If conference play muddied the rankings for the teams at the top (Charlotte moved into #1, pushing the trio of Rhode Island, Temple and Xavier, teams that had topped the standing since New Years, down a notch), the teams in the middle and bottom are sorting out, both by record and efficiency differentials. A threshing floor is a wide and flat surface, located in an open area (always breezy, though sometimes windy), where farmers can spread their wheat, and through a process of beating the stalks and kernels and tossing them straight up in the air, separate the edible grain from their husks and stalks. The grain is heavy and when tossed in the air will fall (more or less) straight to the threshing floor. The wind will carry the lighter husks and stalks to the side, off the floor. The schedule may be unbalanced, but the repetitive process of playing conference games has (as suggested by the table below) separated the upper division teams from the lower division teams. And that separation is obvious, even to the casual observer.

Table reflects conference games played through February 9.

The efficiency differential divides the conference cleanly into an upper and lower division. The separation between the two grows. St. Louis is a full 0.51 points higher than #8 La Salle. Using a Pythagorean Winning Percentage formula to develop a quick projection of each team’s conference record suggests Xavier, Temple and Dayton will end up in a three-way tie with (roughly) 13-3 records. While it would play to many preseason projections, the notion that Dayton will launch a 5-0 run through the remainder of their conference schedule is a bit optimistic. The Pythagorean Winning Percentage also suggests Charlotte will go 3-4 through their last seven conference games, possible perhaps since four of their opponents are upper division teams. They do, however, face two of those opponents (Richmond and Xavier) at home. The 49ers are 9-1 at home this season.

Standings as of 02/10/10

  1. Charlotte (8-1, 18-5)
  2. Xavier (8-2, 16-7)
  3. Temple (7-2, 19-5, #21)
  4. Rhode Island (7-2, 19-3)
  5. Richmond (7-2, 18-6)
  6. St. Louis (6-3, 15-8)
  7. Dayton (5-3, 16-6)
  8. Duquesne (3-6, 12-11)
  9. La Salle (3-6, 11-12)
  10. Saint Joseph’s (3-7, 9-15)
  11. St. Bonaventure (2-6, 9-12)
  12. George Washington (2-7, 12-10)
  13. Massachusetts (2-7, 8-15)
  14. Fordham (0-9, 2-19)

Team Rundowns

Charlotte

Coach Lutz’s squad took sole possession of the #1 ranking in the conference with wins over George Washington 72-68, on Wednesday (2/3) and Fordham 77-72, on Saturday (2/6), even as Xavier stumbled in Dayton over the weekend. Junior Shamari Spears was named co-Player of the Week by the Conference which noted he scored a career-high 31 points versus George Washington and logged his second double-double of the season (15 points and 13 rebounds) versus Fordham. This is the second time the conference has acknowledged Spears’ contributions to the 49ers. A good run by Spears is only part of the story of the 49ers’ seven game winning streak. Spears, freshmen Chris Braswell and guard Shamarr Bowden, all combine with sophomore Darrio Green to power Charlotte’s offense. Green, whose offensive rating tops 113, is the squad’s most efficient scorer. Bowden, Spears, and Green shoulder most of the shot-making responsibilities. Braswell, whose most recent offensive rating (per Ken Pomeroy) of 102.2 has received multiple nods from the conference for his work this season.

A rendezvous with the Flyers in Dayton Wednesday (2/10) is next up for Charlotte, and then a week off to regroup for Duquesne. This is a game Coach Lutz needs to get to solidify his team’s hold on the top of the A10. The Flyers, coupled with St. Louis in the last group North of the conference’s dividing line, needs to pull Charlotte back to the pack. Using the Pythagorean Winning Percentage (for conference games only) suggests Coach Lutz’s squad will go 3-4 in their last seven games. Taking a road win in Dayton would buck that trend, bolster team confidence, and reassure the selection committee that Charlotte can be competitive away from Halton Arena. An early season blowout at the hands of Duke and OOC road losses to Old Dominion and Tennessee leave that question open.

Dayton

With a week to prepare, the Flyers waxed the Musketeers 90-65, on Saturday (2/6).

As the table derived from the Xavier box score suggests, Rob Lowery, a senior guard whose injury in February 2009 cut short his run last season. Lowery has been working himself back into shape this season, and the Flyers, whose defensive efficiency (0.914) is second only to Temple’s in conference play, will need all of Lowery’s offensive capabilities in the last four weeks of the regular season. For Dayton, inconsistent offense in the form of mediocre shot efficiency and higher-than-average turnovers, is the principle reason the team trails conference leader Charlotte with two losses. Their efficiency differential is high enough to suggest (using the Pythagorean Winning Percentage for conference games only) Dayton can run the table for their last eight conference games, compiling a record that should put them back into the conversation for a post season bid (without having to run through the field in Atlantic City).

Having pulled the Musketeers out of a first place tie, Dayton hosts Charlotte on Wednesday (2/10) in another chance to muddy the top of the conference. A Dayton win over Charlotte would knot the top of conference again, putting Xavier, Temple and Charlotte into a three-way tie with about three weekends left in the conference season.

Duquesne

The Dukes’ season has fallen well short of expectations so far. Melquan Bolding has returned to the rotation, but the sophomore is coming back very slowly, and the season is running out. To date, Duquesne has beaten only those teams in the bottom half of the conference, not a credential that would impress a selection committee. Against upper division teams the Dukes have come up short time and again. Coach Everhart’s squad is bedeviled by demons on both sides of the ball. Extremely poor shot conversion (an eFG% of 44.7%, ranked at #13 in the conference, ahead of only Fordham) undermines an otherwise average-to-good conference offense. The problems on defense involve more elements of the game; poor defensive rebounding and a propensity to foul combine with extremely bad shot defense to produce a defense that has yielded 1.05 points per possession, ranked ahead of only Massachusetts and Fordham in conference play.

Duquesne has a two game home stand this week, facing Massachusetts on Thursday (2/11), followed by La Salle on Sunday (2/14). Both are good opportunities for wins, which would move the Dukes to the top of the A10’s lower division.

Fordham

Chris Gaston was named Rookie of the Week for the fourth time this season as he scored 55 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in Fordham’s losses to Xavier (108-60, 1/30) and to Charlotte (77-72, 2/6). A pity that Jio Fontan transferred before Gaston exploded. The two could have formed a dynamic inside/outside combination. Probably not enough to turn the program around, but enough to improve on the Rams’ record from last season — and throw a scare into Coach Martelli’s Hawks. Ken Pomeroy’s “no win” probability remained at 63.14%. With a -0.240 differential, Fordham is nearly as far behind #13 Duquesne as the Dukes are from #7 St. Louis, the last team with a positive efficiency differential in conference games. For Coach Grasso, a commitment from Gaston (and guards Lance Brown and Alberto Eastwick) to return next season would carry more significance than a conference win, though a conference win (or two) would probably help Gaston, Brown and Eastwick decide to stay.

One of Fordham’s better prospects for a win, the George Washington Colonials are coming to town for a Saturday (2/13) game. Before that one, however, the Rams have to travel to New York’s Western Tier to take on St. Bonaventure on Wednesday (2/10).

George Washington

The January 30 loss to Rhode Island started a losing run that now extends to three games. The Colonials dropped games to Charlotte 72-68 (2/3) and to Duquesne 70-63 (2/6), this past week. That home loss to Duquesne is especially damaging, as the Dukes are also struggling through a season of lowered expectations. Post season prospects, short of running the table in Atlantic City next month, are nil. The team may have started the season well, but ineffective shooting (#11 in conference, ahead of only Saint Joseph’s, Duquesne and Fordham) is the principal culprit for an offense that has generated a paltry 0.97 points per possession in conference play (the conference average is 1.01). The defense is not fatally flawed, but giving up 1.02 points per possession is higher than the conference average (1.01). For Coach Hobbs, a losing season — the third since he led the Colonials to the NCAAs in 2007 with a 23-7 record — could not have come at a worse time. Many believe that Connecticut will begin it’s search for a successor to the Hall of Fame coach among those assistants who left to head programs of their own. At one point Hobbs was generally recognized as the most successful in that group.

The Colonials have perhaps their best opportunity to end their losing run as they take on Fordham on Saturday (2/13). The game will be played in the Bronx, though, and George Washington has dropped four straight road games in conference play.

La Salle

Coach Giannini’s squad is three games into a losing slide, having dropped a 68-65 home game to St. Louis last Saturday (2/6). Losing seniors Ruben Guillandeaux (last played 11/22/09) and Kimmani Barrett (last played 1/13 — the conference announced he would undergo surgery, thereby ending his college career) has reduced the Explorers from one of the conference’s most experienced squads to one of its least experienced in just under eight weeks. The Explorers are 2-5 in Barrett’s absence. Getting freshman Parrish Grant some court time in preparation for next season may become the higher priority as the current season slips away.

Next up for La Salle is a St. Valentine’s date with Duquesne, in Pittsburgh.

Massachusetts

The Minutemen are riding a three game losing streak, and two of the three games were added this past week. Both games were lost by identical eight point margins: Xavier, 87-79 on Wednesday (2/3), and Rhode Island, 93-85 on Saturday (2/6). Like Duquesne, UMass demonstrates yet again why shot efficiency is the most important of Dean Oliver’s four factors. The Minutemen are ranked #11 in the conference for efficiency differential, and #10 in the conference for (offensive) shot efficiency. As a dribble-drive squad that prefers to kick the ball out to the perimeter for a three, the Minutemen do not get to the line much either. For defensive shot efficiency Massachusetts is ranked #13, ahead of only Fordham.

Massachusetts’ schedule going forward (they have seven conference games left) looks fairly favorable compared to the front end of their schedule. With only three games remaining against upper division opponents, the Minutemen could acquire another 3-4 wins over the last month of conference play. The future starts Thursday (2/11) with a trip to Pittsburgh for a game with Duquesne, and continues with a visit from Saint Joseph’s on Sunday (2/14).

Rhode Island

The Rams extended their winning run to four games with a win over Massachusetts, 93-85, last Saturday (2/6). Rhode Island has put the second most efficient offense together, despite being ranked #4 in shot efficiency (50.6%), through strong offensive rebounding and a conference-leading low turnover rate (16.9%). According to Ken Pomeroy, every member of the Rams’ regular rotation has an individual offensive rating of 104.5 or higher. Four of Rhode Island’s remaining seven conference games are against upper division teams, but two of those games (versus Richmond and Charlotte) are home games. The Rams ought to prevail in both.

Rhode Island hosts Richmond on Wednesday (2/10), then travels to Philadelphia on Saturday (2/13) for their mirror game against Temple.

Richmond

Among the six conference teams currently in the NCAA postseason discussion, Richmond, with a solid 7-2 record to date, is often overlooked. The Spiders have assembled a solid conference resume, but out-of-conference road losses to William & Mary, VCU, Wake Forest and South Carolina may give the Selection Committee pause to think. In conference play Richmond has compiled a 3-1 road record, the sole loss coming at the hands of St. Louis, a fellow upper division team in the A10. Richmond’s bread and butter comes from defense, as they are #2 in the conference behind St. Louis for shot defense (eFG% is 43.7%) and #2 in conference play behind Rhode Island in turnover rates (22.6%). Their offense offers solid shooting efficiency (52.0%, #1 in conference play), but conference-worst offensive rebounding (26.0%), combined with a somewhat passive offense (FTA/FGA rate is 32.7%, well below the conference average of 36.1%) suggest the Spiders are a perimeter-oriented team that needs to convert their three point field goal attempts more effectively to prosper.

Richmond takes in two road games this week (terrible week to travel in the Northeast). First stop Wednesday (2/10) will be Rhode Island, followed by a Saturday (2/13) game at St. Bonaventure. If past is prolog, Richmond should beat St. Bonaventure, but their Rhode Island game is more complicated.

Saint Joseph’s

The problem with the Hawks’ season is that it has gone largely as planned. Seniors Garrett Williamson and Darrin Govens have shouldered much of the offensive responsibility, but neither had been especially efficient at posting points. Freshmen guards Carl Jones and Justin Crosgile are good players, but neither has developed into the impact player that Coach Martelli’s offense needs. The offense has not produced points efficiently in conference play. 0.96 points per possession is below the conference average of 1.00, and the Hawk defense allows nearly 1.05 points per possession, a deadly combination when trying to fashion a winning record.

The Hawks travel to Massachusetts for a Sunday (2/14) game. The Hawks’ road record this season is an underwhelming 1-8.

St. Bonaventure

The Bonnies are riding a four game losing streak that dates back to the last week in January. They added two of those games last week, dropping a 67-65 road decision to St. Louis on Wednesday (2/3), followed by a 78-71 loss at Saint Joseph’s on Sunday (2/7). The Bonnies convert shots at a conference-average 48.3% (eFG%), but they produce 4% fewer points per possession on average because they lose a conference-high 23.6% of their possessions. Andrew Nicholson may be a top 250 rebounder (per Ken Pomeroy), but as a team St. Bonaventure ranks only #13 in the conference in offensive rebounding. Senior Jon Hall and sophomore Nicholson can convert efficiently if the back court can consistently deliver the ball. Five of the Bonnies’ remaining eight games will come at home, so a move into the middle of the conference is only possible if St. Bonaventure can take advantage of a home court advantage.

The Bonnies open a three game home stand this week by hosting Fordham on Wednesday (2/10), followed by Richmond on Saturday (2/10).

St. Louis

The Billikens have put together a three game winning streak this week. First, they snagged a 67-65 home win versus St. Bonaventure last Wednesday (2/3), followed by a road win versus La Salle, 68-65 last Saturday (2/6), and lastly a win over Saint Joseph’s, 56-52 on Tuesday (2/9). The last two are of particular interest because they were road wins, a rare element in St. Louis’ resumen this season. Identified by Pomeroy as one of the youngest squads in D1 (at 0.56 years they are ranked #346, dead last), Coach Majerus’ squad was 1-6 in away games going into the week. The Billikens are getting it done with defense. They have posted a conference-best 43.0 shot defense (eFG%), combined with the #5 best turnover rate. Sophomore guard Kwamain Mitchell earned conference recognition in the form of A10 Player Of The Week for the second time this season with his 42 point/7 assist efforts in St. Louis’ games with St. Bonaventure and Syracuse.

St. Louis hosts Dayton Saturday (2/13). A win over the veteran Flyer squad would be a huge boost to Coach Majerus’ team.

Temple

Temple recorded a second consecutive 1-1 week in conference play as they beat Duquesne 76-60 on Wednesday (2/3), but lost their weekend game to Richmond, 71-54 on Saturday (2/6). That second loss dropped the Owls a half-game behind Xavier. Coach Dunphy’s offense and defense share a common set of priorities: that is, take care of the shot and then the rebound. On offense that translates in to a #3 conference rank for eFG% (51.4) and #5 rank for offensive rebounding (35.0%). On defense, the Owls rank #4 for shot defense (46.2% eFG) and #1 for defensive rebounding (26.4%). Ryan Brooks, Lavoy Allen and Juan Fernandez continue to be productive offensively, as Allen, sophomore Eric Michael, and Scottie Randall control the boards.

Temple will come off of a week-long break to host Rhode Island on Saturday (2/13).

Xavier

The Musketeers lost their second conference game last week, a 90-65 road game at Dayton on Saturday (2/6). Timing is everything as Temple also lost (to Richmond), keeping those two programs even in the loss column, and one loss behind Charlotte. Their offense, ranked #1 in conference games, earns them 1.11 points per possession. Combined with their #6 ranked defense, which allows 0.98 points per possession, that puts them at the top of the conference for efficiency differentials. On offense, top of the conference ranking in shot efficiency (eFG% of 54.3%) combined with frequent trips to the line (FTR of 45.7%) explain how Xavier earns their points. They have Jordan Crawford to thank, taking over a third of Xavier’s shots when he is on the court.  But as defenses concentrate on Crawford, Xavier has two other players — Terrell Holloway and Jason Love — who convert shots very efficiently.

Xavier takes a break from conference action to travel to Florida for a game with the Gators of the SEC.

Games to Catch:

Rhode Island at Temple Saturday 2/13 — An early season matchup gave Temple their first important conference road win, and knocked the Rams, who were flirting with #25 in the national polls, down a peg or two. Both teams, saddled with two losses apiece, need a win to keep pace with Xavier and remain one loss behind Charlotte. Lavoy Allen versus Delroy James should be interesting. Juan Fernandez and Luis Guzman will be tested by the conference’s best team in terms of forcing turnovers.

Xavier at Florida Saturday 2/13 — A top 50 RPI win up for grabs. Jason Love and Kenny Frease will have their hands full with Vernon Macklin and Dan Werner. If it comes down to a shootout between Kenny Boyton and Jordan Crawford, I have to like Crawford.

Dayton at St. Louis Saturday 2/13 — Two of the conference’s better defenses lock up in this game. St. Louis has been very tough at home (11-1 this season), while Dayton is less impressive on the road (4-3). This is the second game in a tough week for Dayton, but the Flyers cannot relax if they want to keep pace with the five teams clustered at the top of the conference.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by rtmsf on February 3rd, 2010

Efficiency Differentials

Updated to reflect games through Tuesday February 2, Xavier looks as if they are separating from the pack, but realize the Musketeers played Fordham and Duquesne last week. The differentials will tighten as Xavier plays Dayton next week, and Charlotte and Richmond in the following 2-3 weeks. Dayton and Charlotte seem to be anomalies. By the Pythagorean winning percentage, Dayton should have another win (or two), while Charlotte should have another loss. The 49ers still have games with Dayton (away), Xavier (home), Rhode Island (away) and Richmond (home closer) on tap. If Coach Lutz can run that gamut with a decent efficiency differential, Charlotte may be looking at a postseason in a four-letter tournament. Fordham continues to lag far behind the rest of the conference. The gap grows larger with each week.

Standings as of – 02/03/10

  1. Xavier (7-1, 15-6)
  2. Temple (6-1, 18-4, #17)
  3. Charlotte (6-1, 15-6)
  4. Rhode Island (5-2, 17-3)
  5. Richmond (5-2, 16-6)
  6. Dayton (4-3, 15-6)
  7. St. Louis (3-3, 12-8)
  8. La Salle (3-4, 11-10)
  9. St. Bonaventure (2-4, 9-10)
  10. George Washington (2-5, 12-8)
  11. Duquesne (2-5, 11-10)
  12. Massachusetts (2-5, 8-13)
  13. Saint Joseph’s (2-5, 8-13)
  14. Fordham (0-8, 2-18)

Team Rundowns

Charlotte

Coach Lutz’s squad ran their winning streak to four last week with wins over Massachusetts and, more importantly, Temple. Tagging the Owls with their first conference loss brought the team from Philadelphia back to the pack and put the 49ers in a small (numbering three) cluster of teams with a single conference loss. Charlotte holds a tie-breaker edge over Temple, but more importantly, virtually every D1 bracketologist marks their 74-64 victory as a good win that puts this Carolina school in the conversation for an NCAA bid. Sophomore guard Darrio Green was cited as the A10 Player of the Week for the second time this season for his role in Charlotte’s two wins. Freshman Chris Braswell also earned a mention in the conference’s weekly recap. Braswell provides a solid presence on the boards for Charlotte, a presence that puts Charlotte among the top three teams for defensive rebounding percentage in conference games.

Next up, the 49er’s host George Washington on Wednesday (2/3), then journey to New York City to play the hapless Fordham Rams on Saturday (2/6). Road wins are important for Charlotte, as they continue to lag with a offensive/defensive efficiency differential of (off 1.04, def 1.05) -0.01 for games not played in Halton Arena. Much of that comes from an early-season drubbing at the hands of Duke, but the 49ers also have away-neutral losses to Tennessee and Xavier.

Dayton

Nothing like a trip to Olean, NY to stop the bleeding. The Flyers halted their skid at two with a 75-58 win over the Bonnies last Saturday (1/30). Despite an off night from Chris Wright and Rob Lowry, the Flyers’ defense shut down the Bonnies while Kurt Huelsman and Chris Johnson stepped up with efficient (and prolific) shooting/scoring. The Flyers dominated the boards over both baskets, a key for them going forward, especially if they have trouble with consistent offensive production.

If Dayton is to get back in the A10 conference race, this is the week to start. Visits by Xavier and Charlotte, both teams above the the Flyers in conference standings, provide a great opportunity for Dayton to regain some ground lost in January. XU comes to Dayton on Saturday (2/6), with Charlotte following on Wednesday (2/10). Xavier has not been especially assertive on their offensive boards, a characteristic the Flyers should be able to exploit to limit the Musketeers’ second chance opportunities. Xavier has concentrated on the defensive boards in conference games, an area (their offensive boards) where Dayton has dominated (especially useful if you squad is having an off night on scoring).

Duquesne

Duquesne split the last week, 1-1, dropping their road game to Xavier 86-50, but bouncing back against Saint Joseph’s with a 74-71 win last Sunday (1/31). Games away from the Palumbo Center have been a real problem for the Dukes this season, as the team’s offensive/defensive efficiency is a dismal -0.18. Coach Everhart’s squad has a 1-7 road record this season, 0-3 in conference road games. The next two games are on the road, abd beating George Washington (surprising Temple might be too tall an order at this point) in DC would do wonders for the Dukes’ confidence.

The Dukes travel to Philadelphia to play Temple on Wednesday (2/3) and then down to Washington, DC, to play the Colonials of George Washington on Saturday (2/6).

Fordham

Coach Grasso’s one bright spot on the squad, Chris Gaston, earned his third citation as the A10 Rookie of the Week. But the Rams continue to lose, having dropped two more games last week. Pomeroy projects a 63% probability that Fordham may go winless in conference play. Though Fordham managed to hold their home loss to La Salle to single digits, Coach Grasso will be pressed to maintain morale in the face of month-ending 48-point road blowout at the hands of Xavier.  

Next up for Fordham, a visit from Charlotte on Saturday (2/6).

George Washington

The Colonials finished January with a 3-5 record, 2-5 in conference play. The four-game losing streak was broken, but it took an overtime (home) game with St. Louis. The celebration was a short one, as GWU dropped their next game, a road trip to Kingston, RI, 72-66, on Saturday.

The Colonials will try to turn it around on Wednesday (1/27) when they host St. Louis. The weekend game, a visit to Rhode Island on Saturday (1/30), may not be a promising place to break their losing run.

La Salle

La Salle dropped two straight to teams at the top of the conference last week. Cross-town rival Temple beat the Explorers 64-52 on Saturday (1/30) and Rhode Island beat them Tuesday (2/2) 90-83. Offense is not really a problem right now, Coach Giannini’s squad is ranked #6 in the conference for offensive efficiency (ahead of Charlotte), but with a defensive efficiency of 1.05, they are ranked #11. In Rhode Island they were able to score at a 1.11 rate, in the hands of just about any other team that would be good enough to win, but they gave the Rams 1.20 points per possession, thereby dropping the decision. Only Fordham forces turnovers in conference at a rate less than La Salle. The conference named Aaric Murray the co-Rookie of the Week (with Fordham’s Chris Gaston), mitigating somewhat the disappointments on the court. Murray has won the honor three times this season.

The Explorers host the Billikens at the Gola on Saturday (2/6) and then take a week to prepare for a road game at Duquesne. The Billikens offer a solid chance for La Salle to break their losing run. Coach Majerus has assembled the youngest squad in the conference, the combination of a lethargic offense and a hostile environment should mask La Salle’s weakness. A win would put La Salle back into the middle of the conference.

Massachusetts

The Minutemen snapped their losing streak with an uncaharacteristic 87-80 win over Saint Joseph’s at the Hagan. The Minutemen have compiled a 2-9 record away from Amherst, keyed by a fatal combination of poor shooting (their eFG% in those games was 43.4%) and poor shot defense — they have allowed opponents to complete at a 52.7% (eFG%) clip. They could not, however, hold serve against a visiting Charlotte squad on Saturday (1/30), suffering a near-blowout 72-58 loss.

Massachusetts extends their home stand by a game as they host Xavier Wednesday (2/3), then travel to Kingston, RI, for a game with fellow New Englander Rhode Island Saturday (2/6). Shutting down Rhode Island’s shooting offense will be a challenge for Coach Kellogg’s squad. This could be a very rough week for the Minutemen.

Rhode Island

The Rams have to be happy about Temple’s slip last week, After dropping their second conference game to Xavier on 1/23, Rhode Island has since resumed the pace with a critical road win over Dayton. Last week they had two more wins over lesser conference opponents, George Washington (72-66) and La Salle (90-83). Neither was a dominant, put them away, performance, but they have an opportunity to pad their wins when they host Massachusetts on Saturday. They need to work on their conference defense of 0.984, which slipped to 1.11 in their game with La Salle. Taking the game on Saturday gives the Rams three days to prepare for Richmond, which also has two conference losses. Rhode Island has to look after their shot defense, a bit below average for the conference (eFG% is 49.1% vs the conference average of 47.1%), but even less aggressive at home (50.6%). This should not be a problem versus Massachusetts, a shot challenged team when on the road, but it could spell trouble when Richmond comes to town.

The Rams should be able to keep pace next week as they host George Washington on Saturday (1/30), then travel to Philadelphia for a game with La Salle on Tuesday (2/2).

Richmond

Coach Mooney’s squad bounced back from their loss to Charlotte (71-59, 1/20) with two wins versus struggling teams, the latest against road-challenged St. Louis, 62-36, on Saturday (1/30). The score is unusually low, even though Richmond and St. Louis are two of the lowest possesion teams in the conference. St. Louis managed a horrific 0.56 points per possession that night, far and away the worst performance in a conference game this season (that includes Fordham).

Next up for the Spiders, a visit with Saint Joseph’s Wednesday (2/3), then host Temple on Saturday (2/6). The Temple game is an oppertunity to tighten the conference race, but the Spiders have to take care of the Hawks first.

Saint Joseph’s

The Hawks dropped two games last week, an 87-80 home loss to Massachusetts and a 74-71 road game at Duquesne. Weak board work and shooting hurt Coach Martelli’s efforts to make Saint Joseph’s competitive in the conference. The Dukes and Minutemen were able to exploit the Hawks’ board problems. That a team with two senior backcourt players has a freshman (Carl Jones) taking over 25% of the team’s shots is not a good sign. Especially when the freshman is not converting efficiently.

Saint Joseph’s opens a three game homestand on Wednesday (2/3) when Richmond comes to town. They will follow with St. Bonaventure on Saturday (2/6).

St. Bonaventure

Coach Schmidt’s squad suffered a double digit loss to Dayton, 75-58, Saturday (1/30). The turnover problems, combined with lack of offensive rebounding undercut the Bonnies’ shooting efficiency (48.5%, a point above the conference average). But if St. Bonaventure is to make a second half run this season they will need to cut down on fouling. They should be able to get a start on that as they host St. Louis, one of the least aggressive offensive teams in the conference, Wednesday (2/3), followed by a trip to Philadelphia to take on the Hawks Saturday (2/6). The Hawks’ FTA/FGA in conference play is a relatively modest 32.2%.

St. Louis

St. Louis comes off of their worst offensive performance of the season, a stunning 62-36 defeat at Richmond. Failing to crack 40 points can play with a team’s confidence. The Billikens have suffered through bad shooting nights (Notre Dame, Charlotte) without losing contact with their opponent. Turnovers killed Coach Majerus’ team. Paradoxically, St. Louis has logged a better than average eFG% in conference games, but turnovers (the Billikens lose better than one in five of their possessions) undermine their offensive efficiency. Ah youth. The good news about freshmen is that they will become sophomores.

The Billikens host St. Bonaventure on Wednesday (2/3) then go back on the road for a game with La Salle on Saturday (2/6). Both the Billikens and Explorers are looking for conference credibility and a strong finish.

Temple

The Owls dropped their game in Charlotte, an ugly 74-64 scramble, on Wednesday (1/27). They bounced back with a 12 point win over La Salle on Saturday (1/30). Projected by Ken Pomeroy to finish strong, the Owls need offense from Ryan Brooks and Juan Fernandez (with help from Lavoy Allen and Scootie Randall).

Temple hosts Duquesne on Wednesday (2/3), and then back on the road for a conference showdown with Richmond on Saturday (2/6). Taking the Saturday game would put distance between Temple, Xavier and Charlotte, and the group nipping at their heels, Richmond and Rhode Island.

Xavier

The Musketeers stayed ahead of the pack with two more conference wins last week, an 86-50 drubbing of the Dukes on Thursday (1/28), followed by a 108-60 destruction of Fordham on Saturday (1/30). Those games closed a three game home stand for Xavier, as the Musketeers take to the road for a game with Massachusetts on Wednesday (2/3) followed with their mirror game with Dayton on Saturday (2/6). While Jordan Crawford draws a lot of defensive attention, Jamel McLean and Jason Love are cleaning up with very high scoring efficiencies. Terrell Holloway’s shooting efficiency is less impressive, but the sophomore guard does a great job of setting up his teammates for scores. Holloway and Crawford both are top 500 players in assist rate and turnovers (they don’t). Two characteristics that a winning team looks for in their back court.

Games to Catch

  • Xavier at Dayton Saturday 2/6 — The Musketeers come to call on the Flyers in a game with conference and postseason implications. Lose this and Xavier gives ground in the loss column to Temple and Charlotte, but should Dayton fail, the Flyers, heavy preseason favorites to take the regular season title, would fall three games off the pace, and leave more than a few wondering if Dayton will, even in an off year in the BCS conferences, get back to the Dance. Rhode Island snapped Dayton’s 30 game home winning streak last weekend. How likely is that Dayton will drop a second home game this season?
  • Temple at Richmond Saturday 2/6 — The Owls have a strong road record, 8-2 overall, 2-1 in conference. Richmond, located in the two-loss cluster behind Xavier, Temple and Charlotte, cannot afford to drop another loss off the pace. The Spider backcourt will have their hands full with senior Ryan Brooks, who has been hot since December. If Juan Fernandez gets on a roll from the perimeter, Richmond may have trouble keeping up. David Gonzalvez will have to have a good day.
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