Narratives Solidify for GW and VCU in Atlantic 10 Race

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 15th, 2014

Like most cities on the East Coast, Washington DC is a professional sports town where its NFL team is king. But for two hours on Tuesday night, Foggy Bottom transformed into a full-fledged campus town like one might find in Big Ten country. The reason? A budding intra-regional and intra-conference rivalry between George Washington and VCU. And for the first time in this young feud, the outcome of the contest had significant implications for both teams with respect to league standings and postseason prospects. George Washington made a statement with its 76-66 win over VCU and made clear that it is a serious contender to win its first Atlantic 10 title since 2005-06.  For VCU, it’s another bump in the road for what was supposed to be its most promising season since a run to the 2011 Final Four, and has Shaka Smart’s squad doing a bit of soul-searching. The outcome of this game has certainly changed the perceptions of these two teams from what was expected of them at the beginning of the season.

Sophomore Patricio Garino scored a career-high 25 points to lead the Colonials over VCU.

Sophomore Patricio Garino scored a career-high 25 points to lead the Colonials over VCU.

George Washington has quietly turned in one of the most surprising seasons in the country thus far. Picked to finish 10th out of 11 teams in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Media Poll, the Colonials now find themselves with a 14-3 overall record that includes wins against Creighton, VCU, Maryland and Miami (FL). A major reason for their turnaround has been the dramatic improvement of their offense from last season (jumping from 0.98 to 1.09 points per possession), which has been driven by the addition of Maurice Creek, a transfer from Indiana, and the emergence of players like Kethan Savage and Kevin Larsen. Against VCU on Tuesday, Larsen and reserve Patricio Garino stepped up and led the Colonials to shred the Rams’ stellar defense (it came in at 0.91 points per possession, 9th nationally) — George Washington shot 56.3 percent and scored 1.04 points per possession. This win signals that the Colonials are ready to make the Atlantic 10 a four-team race, joining the likes of VCU, UMass, and Saint Louis vying for a conference crown. They may not get the national attention their turnaround warrants, but what Mike Lonergan has done with his team has been nothing short of remarkable.

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Three Thoughts From the Atlantic 10 Tournament Evening Session

Posted by CNguon on March 15th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. He’s covering the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn this week. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Fans at the A-10 Tournament evening session were treated to two hard-fought contests where the winning points were scored with less than five seconds remaining. Saint Joseph’s ended Xavier’s Atlantic 10 run, 58-57, in a game that came down to a full court inbounds pass with 1.4 seconds remaining that ricocheted off of Xavier’s backboard. Isaiah Philmore, trailing the play, found the ball in his hands, but despite a good angle could not convert the shot. He collapsed on the court as time expired. In the other game, Massachusetts ended George Washington’s season with a 77-72 decision that was settled at the free throw line with five seconds left on the clock.

Chris Mack's crew A-10 season ended with a heartbreaking loss Thursday evening.

Chris Mack and his Xavier squad ended its A-10 season ended with a heartbreaking loss Thursday evening.

Three Thoughts on Thursday Evening’s Session:

  1. I Left a Ticket for the Pope: Saint Joseph’s Phil Martelli is always good for a quote or two or three. Xavier could not counter an extremely physical Saint Joseph’s frontcourt as Mack rotated Isaiah Philmore, Jalen Robinson, Brad Redford and Travis Taylor in an attempt to find an answer to Ron Roberts, C.J. Aiken and especially Halil Kanacevic. The 6’9” forward/center had a terrible first half, but finished strong with three buckets, two coming at critical times. A game that saw 10 ties and 14 lead changes, with Xavier’s eight point lead the largest by either, came down to two free throws with under five seconds to play. Langston converted both to give Saint Joseph’s a one-point lead. Xavier’s full court pass to a flashing Taylor sailed high off the backboard right into Philmore’s waiting arms. The forward’s field goal attempt was wide right and fell off the rim, leaving the Joe’s to play another day. Xavier is no doubt bound for a postseason tournament somewhere, just not the NCAA Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »
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Atlantic 10 Season Recap and Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Tournament Bracket

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Looking Back

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.

Power Rankings

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 can smirk a little after leading the Billikens from afterthought to league champions. (USATSI)

Jim Crews has the right to smirk a little after leading the Billikens to their first regular season title in 42 years. (USATSI)

  1. 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.
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Rushed Reactions: #18 Saint Louis 66, George Washington 58

Posted by IRenko on March 2nd, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent based in D.C. and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Saint Louis and George Washington. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three key takeaways:

  • Saint Louis is Tough In More Ways Than One – The Bilikens have strong guards and wings who force their way to the basket, they body up their opponent on defense, and they generally control their defensive glass. But more than that, they’re mentally tough. That should be obvious, given the season they’ve put together after losing Rick Majerus in December. But they’ve shown it on the court in their past two road games as well, both times trailing in the second-half before mounting a rally to take control, first against Butler and today at GW. After leading by eight early in the second half, they fell behind 48-45 with 7:12 to play. But they didn’t panic, instead reeling off 10 straight points to take a seven-point lead with 4:20 left, from which point they glided to victory. The Bilikens carry themselves with a quiet confidence that will serve them well in March.
  • The Bilikens Know How To Beat You From the Line – One reason that Saint Louis is so tough at the end of games is their ability to get to the free throw line. That was all the difference in this game, as they converted 21-of-24, including a perfect 8-of-8 during the crucial 10-0 run that decided the game. GW, meanwhile, managed to shoot just 8-of-15 from the charity stripe. As a result, although the Colonials shot a better field goal percentage in the second half, they were outscored by two points. The Bilikens’ tendency to pound the ball inside and draw contact gives them a particular advantage late in games when they can get into the bonus.
  • Kevin Larsen Could be a Contender – If Mike Lonergan is going to take GW back to the NCAA Tournament in the coming years, Larsen is going to be a big part of it. The freshman center from Copenhagen has a big body, good offensive skills, and an understanding of how to play within the team concept. He’s often struggled to put it all together on the court, but there is no doubt that he’s getting there. After setting a career-high at Richmond in his last game (16 points), he added 14 against Saint Louis and has now scored in double-digits in 7 of his last 10 games. Larsen does a nice job of establishing position in the post, has good footwork, and often clears himself for a good look. If he can improve his ability to finish, he could be a centerpiece of GW’s offense over the next three years.
Evans Did His Part with a 22/12 Game

Evans Did His Part with a 22/12 Game

Star(s) of the Game: Dwayne Evans and Kwamain Mitchell.  Saint Louis has a balanced offense that doesn’t rely too heavily on any single player. But when the chips are down, these two are the most likely to come through, and they did today. With their team struggling against GW’s 1-3-1 zone in the second half, the pair took over, Mitchell driving the ball to the basket and Evans fighting his way to the hoop and free throw line underneath. They finished with 40 points combined, 29 of which came in the second half.

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CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 20th, 2013

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Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

*Ed. Note: the statistics in this column were aggregated prior to Tuesday night’s St. Louis-VCU game.

Looking Back

Difference Margins in Conference Games: The offense/defense difference margins are beginning to “behave” as teams with winning records (Charlotte and Temple excepted) have positive difference margins, while teams with losing records (Dayton excepted) have negative difference margins. Temple, with a 5-5 record, has a -0.001, just two one-thousandths under “positive.” Tiers within the winning and losing groups continues to be messy, and occasionally explains why a team is succeeding or failing.

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Looking over the “standings” this week a few things jump out…

  • Fordham and Duquesne are losing contact with the rest of the conference, and that includes 3-8 Rhode Island. For the Dukes, with a new coach and a program in disarray, the trend is not surprising as wins are hard to come by. Fordham, coming into the season with senior all-conference forward Chris Gaston and a promising young backcourt, has to be a disappointment to fans and university administrators. Granted, Gaston has struggled with injuries and extended absences, but the current late season fade continues a pattern established over the last five seasons.
What's that you say? Jim Crews and Saint Louis is running away from the rest of the conference. (AP)

What’s that you say? Jim Crews and Saint Louis are running away from the rest of the conference. (AP)

  • Saint Louis appears to be running away from the rest of the league. If the Bilikens’ numbers hold up over the course of this week (they play Butler next, after eviscerating VCU last night), expect coach Jim Crews’ squad to emerge with the #1 seed going into Brooklyn and up in the NCAA field where they are currently seeded in the #9-#11 range.
  • Temple’s -0.001 efficiency margin reflects the fact that the Owls have had a series of one-point decisions (more in Temple’s team report below) against both stronger teams (Charlotte) and weaker teams (Duquesne).

Going, going… The topic touched on during virtually every Division I basketball game over the last week is “Who is in?” usually accompanied by a discussion of bubble teams – right side/wrong side, S-curves and “What happened to…”. Alhough the field is still under construction and opinions vary as to whether the Atlantic 10 will have six bids (Jerry Palm as of February 17) or four (Joe Lunardi and RTC’s own Daniel Evans), there is an emerging consensus that several preview “contenders” are in the field, somewhere on (or near) the bubble and clearly out of the conversation entirely. Some quick takes on the “bubble… sort of’s” and those who are “out”:

  • Charlotte – Jerry Palm lists the 49ers as a #11 seed and well beyond the “Last Four In” category. Daniels lists them on his bubble watch of February 18 while Lunardi remains silent. Can good conference wins versus Butler and Xavier really negate double-figure losses to Richmond, George Washington and Saint Louis? More than any A-10 team not named Temple, winning their last five games going into the conference tournament will make or break this resume. Read the rest of this entry »
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