Conference Realignment: Who’s Got Next? A non-story for the entire season, the divorce negotiated between the Catholic 7 and the Conference Formerly Known as the Big East was finalized last week, a development guaranteed to kick off another round of musical partners. The Catholic 7 got custody of the last name (Big East) and the house (an older but stately palace in downtown New York), along with a promise to process the paperwork quickly. The new/old conference needs three more members to share the TV money and national exposure they are rumored to have negotiated with Fox Sports. The yearly payout per team, believed to be just under ten times the per-team amount the Atlantic 10 just agreed to with CBS, should draw interest. Butler and Xavier have been at the center of Catholic 7 alignment rumors since last October. Unlike Temple’s announced exit in February of last season, however, neither school has confirmed – or denied – the rumors. Xavier, a member since 1995-96, would be the second flagship program (behind Temple) to exit the conference in that last 13 months. Butler who twice went to the Final Four within the last five years, has barely had time to unpack before moving on. When given the news of Temple’s exit in February of 2012, commissioner Bernadette McGlade took a proactive tack and had two replacements in place eight weeks into the offseason. Expect her to do the same this off season. George Mason and Wichita State are the two mentioned most by fans and conference followers.
The Best Basketball-Centric Conference? Mountain West fans may disagree, but it seems certain that the Atlantic 10 Conference will send at least five members to the NCAA Tournament, equaling the highest ever achieved (1997 and 1998). Saint Louis, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth are all but certain to receive bids regardless of what happens this weekend, and prospects for Temple and La Salle remain very strong. On top of that, Massachusetts or Xavier could, with strong conference tournament showings, squeeze out an unprecedented sixth bid for the conference, though it seems unlikely.
The last week of conference play opens with only three conference tournament spots – all three on the sidelines, determined. Others (that Saint Louis will take the #1 seed, Virginia Commonwealth will take #2 and La Salle most likely the #3) seem nearly certain, but note that seeds #4 through #12 are pretty much up for grabs…at least until Wednesday.
Jim Crews has the right to smirk a little after leading the Billikens to their first regular season title in 42 years. (USATSI)
Saint Louis (24-6, 13-3; #16 AP; Projected NCAA Seed #5) – The Billikens stumbled in the last week versus Xavier, but locked down the #1 seed in Brooklyn by beating La Salle. Off until Friday, coach Jim Crews’ team will meet the winner of the Richmond/Charlotte game (most likely Richmond), and if seed holds, most likely La Salle Saturday (and Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday). On the radar however is the NCAA tournament (yes the Bills are a lock at this point, win or lose Friday) seed. The consensus today is a #4-#5 seed with little prospect of moving up without a slew of early conference tournament losses elsewhere. RTC’s Dan Evans’ early March bracket matched the #5 Bills against #12 seed OVC Champion Belmont. The Bears run and gun, which would make this an interesting matchup. Read the rest of this entry »
The Best Basketball (Only) Conference in the NCAA? You Bet– With the departure of Temple (to the Big East) and Charlotte (to CUSA), A-10 fans knew the conference would not “make due” with a 12-team configuration. The question was which candidates would match best with the conference profile and mission and not in the chase for football money? The A-10 could afford to focus on candidates with high quality basketball programs, thereby offering regional rivalries to the Midwestern and Washington D.C. metro area members. Virginia Commonwealth and Butler were the logical choices as both have had recent Final Four appearances, are high quality programs, and boast two of the hottest young coaching names in Division I. Both schools accepted and the existing circumstances of member departures and arrivals means that the A-10, with 16 members and an 18-game conference slate, will have a superconference look and feel this season.
Veteran St. Joseph’s Coach Phil Martelli Has Garnered Plenty Of Media Attention Over The Years. Now Thanks To A New TV Deal, The Entire Atlantic-10 is Going to Get a Dose Of Camera Time (AP)
The New TV Deal – The conference announced an eight-year partnership with ESPN, the CBS Sports Network and the NBC Sports Network, worth an estimated $40 million dollars ($5 million per year) to run from 2013-14 through 2021-22. The three media outlets will televise 64 regular season men’s games (CBS and NBC Sports Network will televise 25 apiece and the ESPN outlets will televise 14). These three outlets will divvy the responsibilities for the conference tournament with NBC televising the men’s (and women’s) quarterfinals, CBS televising the men’s (and women’s) semifinal games, and ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU televising the men’s championship game. Though financial details were not disclosed, the conference’s 14 members are expected to collect about $400,000 apiece each season.
Brooklyn, Here We Come – A quiet affirmation that the move to lock up the Barclays Center in Brooklyn came with Hurricane Sandy. The superstorm swamped Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the Boardwalk Hall, previous site of the conference’s championship tournament. The Barclays Center has garnered positive reviews for its architecture, facilities and amenities. The brand-new facility will work out the kinks with a number of invitational tournaments (Barclays Center Classic, Coaches vs. Cancer, Legends Classic, Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival and Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational) and be ready to host the conference tournament next March.
Reader’s Take I
Predicted Order of Finish
Signs that the A-10 is in for a wild ride this season are everywhere. CBS Sports’ five basketball experts (Jeff Goodman, Doug Gottlieb, Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello) tabbed four different schools (Butler, Massachusetts, Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth) to take the regular season crown. The A-10 coaches named a fifth school – Saint Joseph’s – at the conference’s Media Day earlier this month. Note that nobody in that group is named Temple or Xavier – the two schools which have passed the regular season crown back-and-forth for the last five seasons.
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter (@vbtnblog)
All first round games will be played at the campus of the higher seed on Tuesday (3/6) night. Using the log5 calculation, the order of probability of an upset is:
#8 Massachusetts/#9 Duquesne (73-27)
#7 La Salle/#10 Richmond (76-24)
#6 Dayton/#11 George Washington (86-14)
#5 Saint Joseph’s/#12 Charlotte (84-16)
Probability follows seed this season, a departure from previous seasons. The Dayton/George Washington game will be a return engagement. The Flyers beat the Colonials by 16 at home last Saturday. A rookie coach with a team that may be overconfident could spell upset. But unlike 2010-11, the higher seeds in this round have proven over the last 16 games to be the stronger teams. Seed should hold. If Xavier, Saint Joseph’s and Dayton all win at least once more, the conference will boast seven 20-game winning programs for the 2011-12 season, only the second time in conference history when seven members collected 20 or more wins.
The Temple/Saint Bonaventure side of the bracket offers (if seed holds) two interesting quarterfinal matchups for a Friday afternoon. Both could well become “do-overs” of games played in the last week of the season. Temple barely beat Massachusetts (at the Liacouras in Philadelphia) on February 29, but only after an overtime period. Neither squad should need much by way of motivation. The Hawks dropped their last game of the regular season to the Bonnies, by five, on the road. A Bonnies win would bolster their NIT credentials (and put them into a winnable semi-final game with either Temple or Massachusetts), while a Saint Joseph’s win could well set-up an all-Philadelphia semi-final that should cause a traffic jam as Big 5 fans and partisans of both schools pile onto the Atlantic City Expressway to see the rubber game. Read the rest of this entry »
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @(vbtnBlog)
Editor’s Note: Report written before Tuesday’s contests.
The Week That Was:
Does Anyone Want to Win This Conference?
One of the odder turns this late in the season is the sudden spate of losses suffered by upper division conference teams. Though Charlotte bounded out of the gate with two quick wins and Xavier stumbled mysteriously for much of January, the conference appeared on the way to sorting itself as January turned into February. Not so last week as the two conference elites, Temple and Saint Louis each dropped a game. Temple’s loss may be understandable as Saint Joseph’s is putting together a great turnaround from last season, but Saint Louis stumbled against bottom dweller Rhode Island, a squad that posted 20 losses before St. Valentine’s Day. The conference’s flagship program, Xavier, was in the midst of a late season push when they dropped a very important road decision to Massachusetts last Tuesday. Other notable late season hiccups, Saint Joseph’s loss to a young Richmond squad, La Salle’s three game losing streak (which has all but eliminated the Explorers from NIT consideration) and the aforementioned Massachusetts squad, whose win over Xavier is the only win in the last four games.
Fran Dunphy's Temple Squad Stumbled Last Week, But The Owls Still Look To Be The Top Team In the A-10 (AP)
Early season results hinted that the middle of the conference was stronger this season, a theory born out by the continued uncertainty over bye bids to Atlantic City even into the last week of conference play. The resurgence is not limited to the middle of the conference however. Consider that in each of the last two seasons the bottom two teams in the conference combined to win four games. This season Fordham and Rhode Island have combined for six wins, with at least one more before the seeds for the conference tournament are finalized Sunday. I have also noted several times over the last month that the points per possession margin between Saint Louis (at the top) and Fordham (at the bottom) is much closer than last season.
With a loss to Saint Joseph’s last weekend Temple dropped back towards the rest of the conference, leaving Saint Louis virtually alone at the top with a wide, +0.04 margin in points per possession. Comparing the statistics to the Billikens’ conference record (and especially the record of late), leaves one wondering if Saint Louis’ Top 25 status (as suggested by Pomeroy) is the product of an illusion fostered by the numbers or a genuine sleeper going into the postseason. The conference tournament may be the last best chance to gauge the Billikens before the NCAA opening rounds.
The results last week produced a few strange late season upsets, but even more surprising is that the point per possession margins are beginning to align more consistently with conference records. Teams with losing records show negative point per possession margins, an expected pattern in theory that does not always play out in practice. Saint Louis continues to be an outlier atop the conference and Massachusetts, which has an 8-6 conference record should, according to the Pythagorean Winning Percentage, show a 7-7 record through 14 conference games.
The top teams developed a ripping case of hiccups at just the wrong time. If the power rankings do not look terribly different from last week however, consider that they all hiccupped at the same time. Saint Bonaventure moved up and La Salle crashed, but the other teams moved very little over the past week.
Temple (22-6, 11-3 #23 AP) – Temple went 1-1 last week, beating La Salle in overtime by a single point (80-79), and then dropping a 10-point decision to Saint Joseph’s (82-72) and holding onto their Top 25 ranking for the second consecutive week. Though the result was disappointing to the Owl faithful and prevented Temple from clinching the #1 seed in the conference tournament, it was actually better than Ken Pomeroy predicted. The college basketball stats sage’s model had Fran Dunphy’s squad losing both games (and dropping into second place behind Saint Louis). Games with Massachusetts (at home) and Fordham will close out the regular season for the Owls, and both should be wins (though stranger things have happened this season). Temple can finish no worse than #2 even if they lose their last two, so they have a bye seed in hand right now. The Minutemen, with dwindling hopes for a bye seed themselves, come to Philadelphia for a February 29 date at the Liacouras. Read the rest of this entry »
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the A-10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @(vbtnBlog)
Note: Standings are up-to-date but games earlier in the week have already taken place
The Week That Was:
Points per Possession Margins Through February 19
Ken Pomeroy has shown Saint Louis as the top team since late December, but college basketball’s stats guru looks at an overall margin as an indirect part of his formulation. For the past four weeks Temple posted the largest positive margin derived from conference games.
Saint Louis and Temple were not the only two squads whose conference points per possession margins moved closer to alignment with their overall numbers. Count Richmond among those whose skew was rectified last week. The Spiders stubbornly posted a +0.006 points per possession margin even though the team was three games below 0.500 in conference play. Though the Spiders posted a “positive” 1-1 week, their points per possession margin slid into negative territory, consistent with their record. Though throughout the conference the records and points per possession margins do not align exactly with the won-loss conference rankings (see Duquesne above), the alignment is the most consistent in the three seasons I have tracked the numbers. Identifying and explaining the discrepancies will be one of the bullet points for next week.
A Look at Conference Honors Two Weeks Out
The race for conference Player of the Year was not a serious contest in 2011. Tu Holloway won recognition either as Player of the Week or at least a nod in nine of the sixteen weeks the conference posted weekly honors. Honored as Player of the Week six times, Holloway’s nearest competitors had not gathered more than two, one-third the number of times Holloway was honored.
The Homogenization of the A-10: The surprise team through the first two weeks (Dayton) has fallen to earth with a 4-5 record at the halfway mark. Now what? The points per possession table (conference game only) below may suggest the conference is breaking into a series of tiers (three for the top half of the conference, then everyone else … ), but the striking number is how closely the top and bottom teams are to each other, a hint at the parity also suggested by the first half won-loss records. In sharp contrast to this point (about mid-way through the conference regular season) last season, Temple and Fordham show a mere 0.353 difference in their points per possession margin, a much smaller gap than last season’s 0.512 margin. Note there are no undefeated teams at this point, last season two teams (Xavier and Duquesne) sported 7-0 marks. Fordham and Saint Joseph’s were looking for their first wins last season (both broke into the win column before the end of the regular season), while the bottom two teams this season have both logged two wins apiece. Parity of a sort perhaps, but is this a sign the conference is “better” or “worse”?
The computed conference strength of schedule (Number and Rank, leftmost two columns) suggest Temple’s record may be due in part to their slate of opponents. Early evaluations underestimated the strength of La Salle and Saint Joseph’s, two Big 5 rivals who did not give Temple much competition the past three or four seasons. This time around may be different though, as the Owls must play those two one more time, along with Xavier, Massachusetts and Saint Bonaventure. Temple’s last half of the season should prove more challenging than season’s past.
A Midpoint Look at All-Conference Team Candidates:
Each week the conference designates a Player of the Week, a Rookie of the Week along with a number of Honorable Mention players, based on their performance in the last week (usually a 2-3 games per week). If the season ended today, the Player of the Year vote would be split between Ramone Moore from Temple and Saint Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson. Read the rest of this entry »
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter (@vbtnblog)
The Week That Was
New Sheriff in Town? The surprise team so far is Dayton. The Flyers, under first year head coach Archie Miller, have unveiled a revamped offense with a decidedly different approach to player rotation. Under Brian Gregory all members in the rotation, with the exception of forwards Chris Wright (graduated in May 2011) and Chris Johnson (a senior this season) saw game time in four minute (or less) slices. Wright, Johnson and freshman point guard Juwan Staten (who transferred to West Virginia in the off season) played 70% or more at their positions, which translates to about 28 minutes per game. The junior guard Paul Williams aside, everyone else on the squad logged no more than 44.2% of the available time (Josh Benson, about 18 minutes per game) at their respective positions. The rotation this season also features two players (transfer guard Kevin Dillard and Williams) who have logged better than 70% of the available time (with Johnson playing 63%), but Miller uses three other players for 50% or more of the time, and fourth, sophomore Devin Oliver, who plays about 46% of the time on the wing. If Gregory’s approach gave more players some game-time exposure, Miller’s style, more tradition in the distribution of minutes, allows team members to acclimate to the game. Though Miller uses fewer players per game, the Flyers continue to get a bit more than 66 possessions per game, consistent with the last season under Gregory.
Archie Miller Has Done Wonders At Dayton
A Points per Possession Look at the teams. Last season I used points per possession (conference games only) to give the reader a more insightful look into each team’s play. The numbers for the 3-5 games the teams have played so far.
Those who followed this column last season know that the efficiency margin will not always track with a team’s won-loss record. The approach can suggest where strength of schedule, consistency and luck may play a larger than expected role in shaping the team’s record. Two differences from this point last season (four-six games into the conference schedule) include the top-to-bottom size of the margin has shrunk considerably. Xavier, at the top of the conference, was +0.267 last season while Fordham at the bottom, was -0.277, a gap of nearly 0.55 points per possession, while this season (see above) shows a gap of 0.342 points per possession. Note the lack of undefeated (in conference play) teams this season, while One of the more obvious differences this season is thth wider efficiency margins (plus or minus)
Dayton continues to win, Xavier goes sideways while Charlotte and Richmond find the road rockier than expected? Looks like my promotion of Dayton last week was the right move as the Flyers handed Xavier a crushing 15 point loss last Saturday (1/21). The rematch next month in Cincinnati should be very interesting.
Saint Louis (15-4, 3-2) – The Billikens beat Duquesne Saturday for their only game this past week. The conference record may not say #1, but the point per possession margin (+0.131 – see above) says Coach Rick Majerus’ team is on track. According to their Pythagorean Winning Percentage (conference games only) the Bills are on track to win 13 games, a very tall order given they have already logged 2/3 of their projected losses. Saint Louis has had problems winning away from Chaifetz, and the upcoming two game road swing will be an important early season test. Saint Louis will travel to Cincinnati for an early season showdown with Xavier on Wednesday (1/25) and then continue east to Amherst for a tilt with Massachusetts on Saturday (1/28).
Rick Majerus And Saint Louis Continue To Lead The Pack
No A-10 Teams in the Top 25… Again: The latest round of the AP and Coaches polls (January 16) show no Atlantic 10 team gathered enough support nationally to be ranked… for the fourth consecutive week. Saint Louis missed a good opportunity to impress when the Billikens dropped a four-point decision to New Mexico on New Year’s Eve, picking up their second loss in the process. With the next six teams showing three or four losses, the conference is out of the Top 25 conversation for the next three or so weeks. The other name brands, Xavier and Temple, did not help their causes this past week. Xavier dropped their third game in the last four, this time to Gonzaga in what might have been a good “comparison” game for the Selection Committee. Temple beat #3 Duke but dropped two of their first three conference games. Lacking another marquee out-of-conference game (Temple versus Maryland is a pale imitation), the conference may have to wait until early February and hope that one or two teams will dominate conference play while their power conference counterparts beat each other up.
Bernadette McGlade’s Recipe for Basketball Masala: Masalas are a variety of spicey soups or stews favored throughout India, Pakistan and most parts of south Asia. A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade and her schedule maker served up their own brand of basketball masala in this opening week of conference play. Strong preseason favorites Saint Louis, Xavier and Temple did not survive the week undefeated (Temple has yet to win with a tough game coming up this week) while recently downtrodden Charlotte and La Salle started strong, each has sustained at least one loss. Rookie Coach Archie Miller of Dayton (whose squad was depleted with graduations and transfers) is riding high, while veteran Mike Lonergan of George Washington (whose squad is well stocked with experienced players) is struggling. Far too early to throw the power rankings (see below) up in the air perhaps, but a few of the results from the past two weeks (Dayton at Temple, Saint Louis at Dayton, Charlotte at Saint Joseph’s for example) maybe critical tiebreakers come March.
Rick Majerus And Saint Louis Are On Top Of Our RTC Power Rankings (AP)
Results from the first quarter of conference play (and a few of the last few out of conference games) hold a strong hint that the conference may be more competitive through the first 12 spots than preseason projections indicated. First week losses to the favorites force me to take a long second (and third…) look at Dayton. With only a few games scheduled, and those yielding mixed results for the teams at the top of last week’s power rankings, the conference appears to be sliding sideways. Massachusetts disposes of their last out of conference opponents fairly easily to move up a spot, while Temple finishes the month 6-1 and Fordham upsets a ranked team.
Saint Louis (14-4, 2-2) – The Billikens are .500 through the first four games of conference play. They opened conference play with a 79-72 overtime loss at Dayton, the first time Rick Majerus’ squad has lost back-to-back games this season (St. Louis lost their last out of conference game to New Mexico on New Year’s). Their bounce back 78-56 win over George Washington on January 7 was the largest margin win in conference play, with the three other games decided by five or fewer points. Against Dayton, the Billikens held Dayton to a respectable 1.04 point per possession (about 75 total possessions in the overtime game), but failed to break the 1.0 (PPP) mark themselves, a persistent problem last season that Brian Conklin, Kwamain Mitchell and Cody Ellis had resolved this season. None of the three had a good outing however, as they combined for a horrific 12-33 from the field, yielding a 40.9% eFG% and 0.96 points per weighted shot. One can have an off night (there are enough secondary options on the bench and the floor at anytime), but count those game where all three have problems scoring efficiently as an “L”. Saint Louis committed the double sin of allowing the Flyers to score efficiently (over 50% eFG% overall), and rebound for second chances when they did not convert. The Billikens posted similar efficiencies in their loss to Temple last Wednesday.Saint Louis hosts Duquesne on Saturday (1/21) in their only game this week. Read the rest of this entry »
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @(vbtnBlog)
The Week That Was
No A-10 Teams in the Top 25, Again: The latest round of the AP and Coaches polls (January 2) show no Atlantic 10 team that gathered enough support nationally to be ranked … for the second consecutive week. Saint Louis missed a good opportunity to impress when the Billikens dropped a four-point decision to New Mexico on Saturday, picking up their second loss in the process. With the next six teams showing three or four losses, the conference is out of the Top 25 conversation for the next few weeks. The other name brands, Xavier and Temple, did not help their causes this past week. Xavier dropped their third game in the last four, this time to Gonzaga in what might have been a good “comparison” game for the Selection Committee. Temple won their third straight, but the last two have not been especially impressive. The Owls may get the conference’s last good chance for some noise when they host #3 Duke tonight.
Conference Comparisons: Nearly 90% of the out-of-conference games are on the books and the Atlantic 10 has posted a 62.6% winning percentage:
Against the six power conferences, the conference has logged a respectable 22-26 (0.458) record. Highlights include .500 or better records against the ACC (7-6, 0.538 – note Temple hosts Duke tonighit, see below), the Big Ten (4-4, 0.500) and the SEC (4-1, 0.800). Conference members logged their strongest numbers against the teams within the conference footprint – those traditional opponents during the out-of-conference portion of the schedule, posting a 63.8% (30-17) winning record against teams located throughout New England, the Middle Atlantic and upper Midwest regions. Against those conferences most likely to compete for the at-large bids not allocated to the power conference teams, the A-10 posted a strong – but deceptive – 23-12 (0.657) record, largely at the expense of the CAA (15-5, 0.750) and C-USA (4-3, 0.571); both show improvement over the 2010-11 season when, through the end of December, the A-10 went 7-10 versus the CAA and 2-5 with C-USA.
Conference Play Commences: The conference maintains their traditional “opening night” tipoff with five conference games and a sixth game to be played on Thursday night. Saturday will feature six conference games with the seventh game to be played on Sunday. By next Monday, every member will have logged at least one conference game.
Despite A Tough Start, Tu Holloway And Xavier Will Be A Major Challenger For The A-10 Crown (AP)
With only a few games scheduled, and those yielding mixed results for the teams at the top of last week’s power ranking, the conference appears to be sliding sideways. Massachusetts disposes of their last out of conference opponents fairly easily to move up a spot, while Temple finishes the month 6-1 and Fordham upsets a ranked team.
Saint Louis (12-2) – The Billikens ended the week 1-1 — the loss coming at the hands of New Mexico (WAC) at the notorious Pit, UNM’s homecourt. Rick Majerus’ crew smothered Texas Southern with defense in a 71-39 win on 12/27, limiting the Tigers to a paltry 0.57 points per possession (or PPP, with 68 possessions per team calculated), about half a point per possession, just over half of the Division I average. Saint Louis’ own 1.04 point per possession hints at the ongoing point production problem with Saint Louis, but when a defense holds an opponent under 0.6 PPP, the team does not need a very efficient offense to win. Brian Conklin earned an Honorable Mention for his 35-point performance over the two games which yielded an average of 17.5 points per game with an eFG% of 68.4%. Very impressive numbers indeed. The Lobos were a different matter, as the Billikens were down two at the half, and gave up another two points in the second half.Saint Louis opens conference play at Dayton Wednesday, then returns home to host George Washington on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »
Almost three months after Taylor Branch’s piece in The Atlanticreignited the debate about amateurism and the NCAA, The New York Times has joined with mix with a relatively short piece (compared to Branch’s enormous essay) by Joe Nocera in the Sunday Magazine issue titled simply enough “Let’s Start Paying College Athletes”. In the piece, Nocera reiterates some of the points that Branch made about the inequities in the system without going into the historical detail that Branch did. However, unlike Branch, Nocera offers a proposal (for football and men’s basketball) to correct these inequities using five “elements”:
A salary cap with a set minimum payment for each player
An additional two-year scholarship after a player’s athletic eligibility is up
Lifetime health insurance
A union to collectively bargain
While we agree with Nocera that college sports would benefit from some fundamental reforms Nocera’s appear rather short-sighted. We were willing to give Branch a pass on the economic aspects of his argument because he is a Civil Rights historian, but Nocera is a business reporter and reportedly consulted with “sports economists, antitrust lawyers and reformers” before coming up with this proposal so the fact that he ignores some basic economic realities is shocking. In addition to blithely estimating how many Division I football and basketball programs would survive with the new requirements, Nocera ignores the thousands of college athletes per year that would be out of scholarships at those schools (guess which socioeconomic class that would disproportionately affect) as well as waving his hands to create a superficial argument that would be politically untenable against Title IX opposition. Perhaps, the most shocking off all is Nocera’s suggestion that all college athletes be provided with lifetime health insurance. You would think a business reporter would realize how unrealistic this would be in the long run (remember the problems the US auto industry had a few years ago with its relatively small population to cover and its much higher revenues?), but apparently that is too far in the future for Nocera to consider.
The Wall Street Journal is one media institution that understands economics even if they do not know the difference between Chrysler and Crisler. In addition to their business reporting and rather opinionated op-ed section, they also do publish interesting features piece such as an interview with former Michigan great Jalen Rose where he talks about his charter school in Detroit, his DUI arrest over the summer, and the controversy around his “Uncle Tom” comments. While Rose received quite a bit of criticism for his DUI arrest (and rightly so), we commend him for trying to be productive and contribute to society when he could very easily be living the easy life in a much more desirable location although we do not fault individuals who choose to do so. It will be interesting to see if Rose’s work is able to create significant results in the academic performance and socioeconomic status for his students in the long run.
There will be at least one more chapter in the ongoing Todd O’Brien story as the former Saint Joseph’s player, who had his initial request for a graduate school transfer denied by either Saint Joesph’s or the NCAA, has resubmitted his request to be granted a waiver to play for UAB this season. In his request, O’Brien cites his 3.0 GPA in the fall semester as evidence that his transfer was academically motivated to counter the supposed reason that Saint Joseph’s has used to block his transfer. From what we have read about the NCAA’s interpretation of the rules in this case, it seems like it is unlikely that it will work unless the NCAA decides to overrule its earlier decision where they said they were strongly influenced by the recommendation from Saint Joseph’s. We tried to speak with Phil Martelli about this topic after their loss at Harvard on Saturday, but were told that nobody at the school could discuss the issue until O’Brien waived his student privacy rights. We are not sure how legitimate the school’s reported claim of silence is, but we would love to see what happens if O’Brien calls their bluff on it.
Joe Jackson has decided not to transfer from Memphis after considering his options over the weekend. Jackson, who is averaging 11.8 points per game this season had only scored two points combined (both on free throws) in his last two games before missing Saturday’s game for “personal reasons”. After meeting with Josh Pastner the sophomore guard was told to take a few days to think about his future before deciding to come back. We are not sure how Pastner will use Jackson in his first game back, which is against Tennessee on Wednesday. The events of this weekend could either be the beginning of the end of Jackson’s time at Memphis or help him refocus his game and become a more consistent player for a Tiger team that needs someone other than Will Barton to play consistently (and Barton isn’t even that consistent).
We have a little bit of ACL news to catch up on from Friday as Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe had surgery to repair his torn right ACL and Dayton forward Josh Bensontore his left ACL. Mbakwe’s surgery appears to have went “very well”, but we doubt that we will hear a legitimate time table for Mbakwe’s return to the court for at least another month or two. According to reports, Mbakwe still has not decided if he will apply for a medical hardship redshirt exception or if he will attempt to jump to the NBA after rehab. There has not been any decision on when Benson, who was having a breakout season with 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, will have surgery, but he will be out for the season. Assuming his recovery goes as expected, we expect to see Benson back in a Dayton uniform at the start of next season.
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.