Previewing the AAC Season to Come…

Posted by CD Bradley on November 9th, 2013

We may have run out of time to write previews for all of the AAC teams, but that doesn’t mean we can’t e-mail each other about our favorite sport on the first day of its season and use the contents of those e-mails as a de facto conference preview. Let’s tip it off!

Louisville Is Expected to Run Away With Its One-Year AAC Tenure

Louisville Is Expected to Run Away With Its One-Year AAC Tenure

Mike Lemaire: So the conference is brand new, almost all of the teams in the conference have major questions to answer, and you don’t need to be a college basketball fan to see that, barring unforeseen injuries or suspensions, Louisville is going to run away with this league quickly. Did I leave anything out C.D.? Are you delusional enough to believe that anyone in the conference has a shot at toppling the Cardinals?

C.D. Bradley: In short, no. Louisville brings the most back, has the best newcomers, the most depth, and the best coach. And their one potential weakness, a thin frontcourt exacerbated by the suspension of Chane Behanan, cannot be readily exploited by their closest competitors, Memphis and UConn. A much more interesting question to me is which of those teams finishes second. They’re largely mirror images — talented and experienced backcourts, frontcourts full of question marks, and young coaches with something to prove. So who you got? Huskies or Tigers?

ML: Until Josh Pastner can prove to me his team can the make the leap and until his fabulous group of freshman live up to their billing, I am sticking with the Huskies. I think Michael Dixon is going to make a huge impact for the Tigers, and I think they will be a surefire NCAA Tournament team by the time the regular season ends, but Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are the best backcourt duo in the conference and DeAndre Daniels and Omar Calhoun are the type of complementary pieces that would be stars for most other Division I programs. They are obviously thin in the frontcourt, but I don’t think that will affect them much in a conference that lacks any dominant big men. Pastner’s teams always seem to have talent and then they always seem to underachieve and fall apart in big games. The Tigers need to prove they have the discipline to go along with the talent before anyone starts to take them seriously as a conference crown contender. I do believe the Cardinals, the Tigers and the Huskies are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league. Things get a bit murkier from here so try and help me sort it out. Can Cincinnati score more than 20 points per game? Can you even tell me one thing about Temple’s team? Should we be taking Larry Brown and his Mustangs more seriously?

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AAC M5: 10.18.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on October 18th, 2013

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  1. Unless you were completely off the grid yesterday, by now you’ve likely heard that Louisville forward Chane Behanan is indefinitely suspended from the university. Doom-and-gloom reactions notwithstanding, The Courier-Journal’s Jonathan Lintner points out that coach Rick Pitino walked into yesterday’s press conference and laid out a blueprint for the Cardinals to remain “legitimate without Chane.” While depth and rebounding remain a concern, Behanan’s absence allows Pitino to start talented sophomore Montrezl Harrell alongside a smaller lineup of Russ Smith, Chris Jones, and wings Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear, rather than have Harrell split minutes at power forward as previously planned. “I honestly believe we’re number 2, 3, 4, 5 –– wherever you want to put us,” Pitino said, “all you’re doing now is putting Montrezl Harrell out there for 34 minutes a game. That’s not the worst thing in the world.” Pitino is as much a master of managing expectations as of exaggerating timetables, so his contention that the Cardinals still belong in the top five is likely either a good sign for Behanan or a genuine vote of confidence in Harrell and Blackshear.
  2. It was an active day for Louisville coverage on RTC’s AAC microsite yesterday, as Mike Lemaire measured Louisville’s depth post-Behanan and C.D. Bradley considered the future of the Cardinals’ rivalries with Memphis and Cincinnati, as well as the impact of the NCAA’s newly-imposed hand-checking rule on Russ Smith’s defense. On the latter topic, Bradley points out that Smith “stands to gain huge benefits” on the offensive end because of his propensity for getting to the free throw line (and cashing in once he gets there), citing Rick Pitino’s prediction that the change will render Smith “unguardable.”
  3. Pete Wickham writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer that Temple will begin its AAC basketball tenure uncharacteristically removed from the spotlight. Picked to finish fifth, firmly in the middle of the pack, by coaches at media day, Wickham reiterates that this year’s team scarcely resembles the one that won 24 games in the A-10 last year and tested Indiana in the NCAA Tournament. The five graduated seniors who won’t return to the court this year, including star player Khalif Wyatt, represented 73% of Temple’s offense. Fran Dunphy said he felt fine “laying in the weeds” at the start of the season, and emphasized the importance of balanced scoring as new starters adjust to expanded roles: “We’re going to have to be a team with five players who score in double figures.”
  4. The Memphis Tigers kick off their season with their Memphis Madness event tonight, and for coach Josh Pastner the theme of the evening is energy. “We’re going to have a tremendous evening. I can tell you that. It’s going to be energized. I’m all about energy. Life is about energy, positive energy,” said Pastner, probably as he caught his breath and chugged another Red Bull; “It’s going to be on the move. You don’t want to miss it. Doors open at 6:30 [PM]. They’ll end by 9 [PM].” Coming off of the most successful season of his head coaching tenure at Memphis, Pastner said nothing short of the program’s first national title would fully satisfy fans, and he wants to keep it that way, adding “We don’t ever want the expectations to change here.”
  5. SMU coach Larry Brown says that freshman shooting guard Keith Frazier has already “changed the program” by generating more interest among local recruits. The McDonald’s All-American, who was named the Preseason AAC Rookie of the Year on Wednesday, has evidently helped make the Mustangs more competitive on the recruiting trail before playing his first college game. Brown said “we’ve never been successful in recruiting inner-city kids in the Dallas Metroplex. Now everywhere I go, kids are interested in us because of Keith.” Five-star class of 2014 Dallas guard Emmanuel Mudiay credited his commitment to SMU over the summer in large part to Frazier’s decision to stay home.
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Indiana 58, #9 Temple 52

Posted by IRenko on March 24th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Dayton after Sunday’s Third Round game between #1 Indiana and #9 Temple. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

Victor Oladipo Did What NPOYs Do...

Victor Oladipo Did What NPOY Candidates Do…

  1. Victor Oladipo Won This Game – The stat sheet won’t tell you what Victor Oladipo means to Indiana, because it offers no metrics, advanced or otherwise, for heart and soul. Oladipo took this game over down the stretch at both ends of the floor. Indiana had used a number of defenders to try to slow Khalif Wyatt (more on him later), but it was Oladipo’s shut-down, ball-denial, in-your-grill defense in the closing minutes that prevented Wyatt from carrying his team across the finish line. With the game tied at 52 and under two minutes to play, Oladipo harassed Wyatt into a missed three, grabbed the rebound, and drew a Wyatt foul while pushing the ball up the floor. On the next possession, Oladipo denied Wyatt the chance to even get the ball, forcing Temple to burn a timeout and the entire shot clock before Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson missed a jumper. Oladipo then promptly ran down to the other end of the floor and drained his one and only three-pointer of the game to clinch the win for Indiana.
  2. Indiana Scored 58 Points — And Won – Indiana scores north of 1.15 points per possession, but they looked largely ineffective against Temple for two reasons. First, Temple’s tough interior defense. The best way to slow the Hoosiers is with physicality, and the Owls brought plenty today. They bodied Cody Zeller and Christian Watford in the post, swarmed Oladipo on his drives, and pushed the Hoosiers around on the glass. Zeller and Watford combined to shoot 6-of-17, Zeller committed six turnovers, and the Hoosiers rebounded less than 20 percent of their own misses. Second, the Hoosiers went cold from three-point range, missing eight of their first nine long-distance attempts. They got hot late just in time to push themselves over the top, but credit Temple for nearly stopping the nation’s most efficient offense in its tracks.
  3. A One-Man Offensive Band — This game was an almost comical display of the extent to which Temple relies on Khalif Wyatt offensively. The confident point guard has a tendency to rise to the occasion against the best of competition, and today was no exception. Relishing the role of the villain, taking on not just the quiet and unassuming Oladipo but a boisterous crowd full of Hoosier fans, Wyatt did his best to carry the Owls to the upset. Despite being the obvious focal point of Indiana’s defense, he managed to pour in 31 points – 60 percent of Temple’s total — on 12-of-24 shooting.  The rest of the Owls’ offense was dreadful, shooting 9-of-38 from the floor. Scootie Randall was the worst offender with an atrocious 0-of-12 night, and the team as a whole missed several makeable shots.

Star of the Game: So maybe the stat sheet does tell you a bit about how good Oladipo is. He led Indiana with 16 points on 7-of-12 field goal shooting and added eight rebounds and an assist.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Temple 76, #8 North Carolina State 72

Posted by IRenko on March 22nd, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Dayton after Friday’s Second Round game between #8 North Carolina State and #9 Temple. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

NC State Finishes Off a Disappointing Season

NC State Finishes Off a Disappointing Season

  1. A Microcosm of N.C. State’s Season – There was some reasonable talk that an 8 seed was a bit low for N.C. State, but this game proved to be a microcosm of N.C. State’s inconsistent and, ultimately, underachieving season. The Wolfpack came out flat, with the offense looked tentative and sluggish, and the defense indifferent, en route to a 38-22 halftime deficit. They coughed up the ball 10 times in the first half against a Temple defense that ranks outside the top 300 in the nation in causing turnovers. And despite their size and athleticism advantage, their frontcourt trio of C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell, and T.J. Warren began the game settling for missed jumpers. They woke up in the second half, outscoring Temple 50-38, but it proved to be too little, too late.
  2. Temple Slowed the Wolfpack’s Transition Game Just Enough – Before the game, N.C. State’s players talked about the importance of getting out in transition. In the first half, Temple largely shut down this part of the Wolfpack’s offense, holding them to just five fast break points. It helps that the Owls take very good care of the ball (just five turnovers the entire game), minimizing transition opportunities. The Wolfpack pressed the issue in the second half, scoring 19 points on the break, allowing them to make this a competitive game. But the hole they dug themselves over the first 20 minutes with a stagnant offense was too deep to escape.
  3. The Charity Stripe Saved Temple From Collapse — With the Owls’ halfcourt offense out of rhythm in the second half, and their once formidable 17-point lead dwindling, they needed to scratch out any points that they could. After shooting just two free throws in the first half, the Owls managed 31 trips to the charity stripe in in the second half. They didn’t make it easy on themselves, shooting just 63.6 percent from the line, but they scraped together enough freebies to hold off N.C. State’s charge. Indeed, 20 out of the Owls’ 38 second-half points came from the free throw line.

Star of the Game: For much of the year, Temple has relied heavily — at times, too heavily — on point guard Khalif Wyatt, who takes almost 30 percent of the team’s shots. But graduate transfer Jake O’Brien‘s role as a complementary offensive piece increased over the season. He’s been getting more minutes, scoring more points, and given Temple a big man who can stretch the defense with his shooting. Today, he showed how valuable he is by scoring 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting (4-of-6 from three-point range). Though Wyatt finished with a team-high 31 points, that total came on 22 shots and was inflated by some late free throws. O’Brien’s efficient scoring is what fueled Temple’s first-half offensive surge.

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The ACC in The NCAA: NC State vs.Temple

Posted by KCarpenter on March 22nd, 2013

Though North Carolina State slumped into the ACC tournament in a season that saw the Wolfpack fall short of admittedly lofty expectations, in the conference tourney the team was able to demonstrate some of the potential that led many to believe this team was an easy favorite for the regular season conference title. Strong performances over Virginia Tech and Virginia set a tone for what this team could be in the Big Dance, and a loss to Miami in the tournament semi-finals is hardly something to lose too much sleep over.

In some ways, facing Temple is a bit like NC State facing itself. Like the Wolfpack, Temple looked very strong earlier in the year but struggled in conference play before mostly righting the ship late. Both teams have a potent offense and a defense that often seems indifferent at times. Yet in the team’s differences, we may have the keys to the game. There are two main ways to win a game: shoot better than the other team or shoot more than the other team. Against NC State, it seems likely that Temple will shoot more.

CJ Leslie and NC State come into its second round contest against Temple as the favorites. (AP)

CJ Leslie and NC State come into its second round contest against Temple as the favorites. (AP)

A lot of the offensive efficiency of the Temple Owls is due to the great care that the team takes with the ball. The Owls turn the ball over on only 16.2% of possessions, which is the 9th best rate in the country. Couple that with the indifference of the Wolfpack to forcing turnovers (outside of Lorenzo Brown‘s individual brilliance) and it looks like Temple has an inside track to gaining a few extra possessions through ball control. Against many foes, NC State has been able to offset discrepancies in turnovers with excellence in offensive rebounding, but Temple may have an antidote to Richard Howell‘s relentless attack on the glass. Anthony Lee has consistently been one of the best defensive rebounders in college basketball all season, and though he likely won’t be able to keep Howell boxed out on every carom, he certainly seems equipped to have a better chance than most. It seems fairly likely that the Owls will end up with a few more shot attempts than the Wolfpack.

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The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, East and Midwest Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 20th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

This is part two of our TO26 bracket analysis, focusing on the 17 non-power-conference teams that populate the East and Midwest regions. The teams are grouped into five rough categories, and, within each category, they are ordered by their likelihood of advancing.  For our analysis of the South and West regions, see here.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

  • St. Louis (#4 Midwest) — The Bilikens are flying a bit under the radar, but this is a team that should be a favorite for a Sweet 16 run. They have one of the best defenses in the country, a group of experienced guards who can attack and shoot (Kwamain Mitchell, Mike McCall, Jordair Jett), a surprisingly effective post presence in Dwayne Evans, and a pair of pick-‘n-pop big men (Rob Loe, Cody Ellis) who can drain the three. It should be said, though, that the Bilikens’ draw is not necessarily ideal. A first-round game against New Mexico State presents some matchup quandaries (see below), as does a potential Third Round game against Oklahoma State — both teams are prepared to bang and grind with the Bilikens down low. Ultimately, I think the St. Louis’ defense is strong enough to get them to the Sweet 16, where their steady guard play gives them a non-trivial chance of knocking off the Cards.
Can Rotnei Clarke Lead Butler Back to the Final Four?

Can Rotnei Clarke Lead Butler Back to the Final Four?

  • Butler (#6, East) — Yes, they’re back. Neither Bucknell nor their potential Third Round opponent (Marquette or Davidson) will be an easy team to conquer, but all three of these teams will give Butler an important reprieve from its biggest vulnerability — a tendency to turn it over. Bucknell and Marquette will also play at the kind of grinding pace at which the Bulldogs excel. And they’ll focus their offense on the areas of the floor where Butler’s defense is strongest — the paint. Butler also has the shooters — Rotnei Clark, Kellen Dunham — to bombard Marquette’s compact defense and the rebounders to exploit Marquette’s weakness on the glass. If anything, Bucknell may pose a bigger matchup problem, as they tend to chase teams off the three-point line and they don’t give up much on the offensive glass. The Bison will be a tough opponent, but when you look at Butler’s pod as a whole, a Sweet 16 run looks well within reach.

One and Done

These teams have at least a 50/50 (or better) chance of picking up a win, but are unlikely to get two.

  • Colorado State (#8, Midwest) – I would actually bump the Rams up to the tail end of the “Regional Threats” group if not for the uncertain status of starting point guard Dorian Green. The team’s unquestioned floor general, Green suffered an ankle injury in the first round of the MWC tournament, and though he played in a semifinal loss to UNLV, was ineffective. With a fully healthy Green, the Rams’ have a good chance of toppling Missouri. The two teams are somewhat similar in that they try to score in the paint on offense, while keeping opponents out of the paint of it on defense. Neither team is especially potent from the three-point line, and both rely a fair amount on offensive rebounding, though the Rams’ have the advantage here, especially as they are equally adept at controlling their defensive glass. That, along with Missouri’s tendency to be a bit loose with the ball, may be the difference-maker. And don’t sleep on Colorado State’s chances against Louisville in the next round. The Cardinals’ weak points are defensive rebounding and three-point shooting. The Rams are the best offensive rebounding team in the country, and as noted above, their defense forces teams to beat them from the three-point line. They also take pretty good care of the ball, which will serve them well against Louisville’s pressure defense. But this analysis could be all for naught if Green isn’t healthy enough to be effective.
  • Creighton (#7, Midwest) Doug McDermott is perhaps the most fundamentally sound player in college basketball. His All-American status owes itself to his incredibly precise offensive footwork, positioning, movement, shot, and cuts. He has inside-outside skills that present a very tough matchup if you’re not used to guarding him. And he’s surrounded by lots of great three-point shooters. Cincinnati’s defense has generally been strong, so they might be able to contain McDermott and the Bluejays’ three-point attack. But they’ll have to be especially effective because their offense has been truly miserable. I like the Bluejays’ chances here. A Third Round matchup with Duke would be a tougher proposition, as the Blue Devils combine a defense that shuts down the three-point line with an offense that is far more high-powered than Cincinnati’s. McDermott may well get his points, especially posting up inside, but that’s not likely to be sufficient.

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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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CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2013

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

Looking Back

128 Games, 59 Days, 16 Teams, 12 Seeds – For this season the Atlantic 10 decided to expand the conference tournament to a fourth round at the tournament site, to be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Four of the conference’s 16 members will not be seeded in the field. Going into the last week of the regular season one of the 12 tickets to Brooklyn has yet to be won and the games this week will decide which of the three “bubble teams” will get their tickets punched… and which will not.

  • IN – While the conference tournament has yet to settle seeds #2 through #11 precisely, Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth, La Salle, Butler, Temple, Massachusetts, Xavier, Saint Bonaventure and Richmond are guaranteed (to varying degrees) a seed.
  • OUT – Duquesne, Fordham and Rhode Island, currently #14-#16 in conference standings, will not be in the field. Rhode Island’s three-game losing streak in the past two weeks effectively ended any discussion of a late season surge and a tournament seed.
  • BUBBLE – Saint Joseph’s, Charlotte, Dayton and George Washington will rely on games this week to decide if they make the tournament field. Of the four bubblers, the Hawks, are best positioned to make the field. The most likely scenario has the George Washington – Dayton match-up Saturday becoming a one-game play-in to the conference tournament.

More Conference Alignment Rumors – About 10 minutes after the Catholic 7 announced their secession from the Big East Conference last October, Xavier and Butler (and a variety of others) were rumored to be ready join the new basketball-focused association when the conference details were settled. As of last weekend however, though the Catholic 7 appear on the verge of securing the Big East name, a TV deal and the immediate rights for a conference tournament in Madison Square Garden, Butler and Xavier have yet (according to commissioner Bernadette McGlade) to notify the A-10 that they intend to withdraw from the conference. Charlotte (to CUSA) and Temple (to Conference TBD) are slated to leave in July, losing two more would place membership numbers at 12 going into July and beyond. Though committed to maintaining a strong basketball-focused conference, the front office has been short on details and candidates to replace the lost members or protect itself from even more exits as newly consecrated Big East looks to pick up other members.

NBC Sports Network Will Televise Thursday Rounds – McGlade announced that the NBC Sports Network will televise all four of the games that will open the Conference Tournament on Thursday, March 14. CBS has committed to televise Saturday’s semifinal games and Sunday’s Championship game as part of their Selection Sunday coverage.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

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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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The Road to the Atlantic 10 Title Doesn’t Run Through Philadelphia

Posted by CNguon on February 8th, 2013

Joseph Dzuback is a RTC correspondent and longtime Big 5 basketball enthusiast.

Where the Road Runs

Halfway through the Atlantic 10 conference schedule, fans find three conference members are earning AP top 25 votes, but none is from the City of Brotherly Love:

Temple and Saint Joseph’s share a 4-4 record and ninth place in conference standings, a game behind the five teams – one of whom is La Salle — that shares fourth place. What happened to Andy Katz’s Philadelphia-centric conference overview, “Atlantic 10 race will run through Philadelphia”, that argued the conference’s three Philadelphia-based members would compete effectively for the top seeds to the conference tournament in Brooklyn or, at the very least, play a critical role (larger than their 42 game contribution to the conference schedule) when time came to crown a conference champion and divvy up the NCAA bids?

Collectively the three Philadelphia teams were, on paper, the strongest they had been in over a decade. Katz’s argument was hardly a stretch.  But now?

  • Saint Joseph’s (13-8, 4-4): The coaches’ pick to take the conference title last October, returned everyone from the 2011-12 squad that won 20 games and earned an NIT bid. Veteran coach Phil Martelli, dean of the A-10 coaching fraternity, assembled the most talented and experienced collection of players since his 2003-2004 squad won the regular season title and ran to the Elite Eight on their way to a 30-win season. Wounded by a thousand pin pricks however, the Hawk has failed to soar this season. Guard Carl Jones was suspended for the Hawks’ last exhibition and first two regular season games. Though Saint Joseph’s beat (then #20 ranked) Notre Dame during Jones’ absence, off guard Langston Galloway lost a tooth in a freak collision while diving for a loose ball. Though he has appeared in every game, Galloway’s production is down nearly two points per game from 2011-11. A mediocre December record of 3-3 included losses to Creighton and Villanova and a two game suspension for junior forward Halil Kanasevic, tabbed by some previews as the sleeper candidate for conference Player of the Year. Kanasevic has yet to appear in more than five consecutive games this season. In addition to the suspension Kanasevic did not appear in St. Joe’s game versus American and missed three conference games when he traveled overseas to attend an uncle’s funeral. With the entire squad finally assembled and healthy, perhaps Martelli can use the last eight games to establish a rhythm.

    Saint Joseph's forward Halil Kanasevic hits a point-blank bucket in the first half of Saint Joe's 70-69 win over Temple. Saint Joseph's outscored Temple in the paint 40-16

    Saint Joseph’s forward Halil Kanasevic hits a point-blank bucket in the first half of Saint Joe’s 70-69 win over Temple. Saint Joseph’s outscored Temple in the paint 40-16.

  • Temple (15-7, 4-4): The Owls fielded a squad a step behind the teams that dominated conference play the past three seasons. The 2012-2013 edition contains upperclassmen who understand, but may not be able to execute coach Fran Dunphy’s system. They have bobbled the baton passed by Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez and Eric Michael, with the accumulated attrition eroding the Owls’ front court enough to force Dunphy to bring fifth year senior Jake O’Brien in to provide depth. An unexpectedly shallow backcourt meant point guard responsibilities passed to sophomore Will Cummings which left West Virginia transfer Dalton Pepper on the bench. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2013

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

Looking Back

The Conference Within a Conference - Another round of Philadelphia’s historic City Series, better known as the Big 5, was played at Saint Joseph’s Hagan Arena Saturday night. At one time every game in the round robin series was played in the Palestra, the landmark arena located on campus of the University of Pennsylvania. In true Big 5 fashion, Saint Joseph’s beat Temple by a single point, 70-69, rallying from a nine point deficit to take the lead, 68-66, on a C.J. Aiken layup with 0:25 left on the clock. A shot at the buzzer by Temple’s Khalif Wyatt clanged off the rim as the Owls fell to 3-4 in (A-10) conference play and a 2-1 tie in the Big 5. With a two games left in the series (Saint Joseph’s vs. La Salle and La Salle vs. Temple), only La Salle – should the Explorers sweep – can still win outright. The “standings”:

Team

W

L

Pct.

La Salle

2

0

1.000

Saint Joseph’s

2

1

0.667

Temple

2

1

0.667

Villanova

2

2

0.500

Pennsylvania

0

4

0.000

Efficiency Margins, Week 5 – With two-to-three more conference games on the books, the margins continue to provide insight on how the conference will evolve. With a few exceptions, teams with a winning record have positive (offensive-defensive) difference margins while teams with losing records have negative margins. “Order restored” or so it would seem. The exceptions do tend to draw our attention, however (records through Tuesday, February 5):

Table01130205

  1. St. Louis’ two wins last week, the most impressive over Butler last Wednesday, helped the Billikens leapfrog both Butler and VCU (and three other teams…) to the top of the chart. The conference SOS, however, suggests the Bills have more work to do.  Butler, with the best conference record and the strongest conference SOS, is still the team to beat going into the second half of conference play.
  2. Dayton was ranked #2 on the difference margin chart last week, even though the Flyers were two games under 0.500. Their drop in the difference rankings this week, the result of another loss, suggests their difference margin will begin to dovetail with their record (rather than the record upgrading to coincide with their difference margin). The outlook for coach Archie Miller’s squad is not good.
  3. When Charlotte loses in conference, it is a rout. The 49ers’ average winning margin is 6, while their average losing margin is 24. Ouch. Coach Alan Majors’ squad has played the easiest schedule so far according to Pomeroy’s conference SOS, which suggests there are more losses ahead.

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The Other 26: Niagara Rushes Forth

Posted by IRenko on February 2nd, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

When you hear the word “Niagara” you’re not likely to think of basketball. But in the shadow of one of the world’s natural wonders, something is percolating on the hardwood. After a thrilling 93-90 overtime win over Iona that included a rally from a late 15-point deficit and a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win the game, Niagara sits atop the MAAC standings at 10-1. A win over Loyola today would cap a tremendous week for the Purple Eagles, giving them a perfect 3-0 record against the next three teams in the standings — Iona, Loyola, and Canisius — over the past seven days.

Juan'ya Green Capped Niagara's Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer  in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Juan’ya Green Capped Niagara’s Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Last year, Niagara finished 14-19, the first time in head coach Joe Mihalich’s 10-year tenure that he suffered consecutive losing seasons. Mihalich had taken the Purple Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and 2007 and to the NIT in 2004 and 2009, but the team had fallen behind the pack in the MAAC in the three years since. The seeds of a resurgence were planted during last year’s losing campaign, as a host of young players started to find their footing in Division 1 college hoops. Having lost no one to graduation, Niagara was predicted to finish fifth in the MAAC in the preseason coaches’ poll. That seemed a fair, perhaps optimistic, assessment, but the clear light of hindsight makes a mockery of it.

What accounts for the turnaround? Mostly the maturation of Niagara’s all-sophomore backcourt: Juan’ya Green, Antoine Mason, and Ameen Tanksley. Last year, the trio showed that they had talent. This year, they’re showing that they can channel it into efficient offense.  Green is actually averaging fewer points (16.5) than he did as a freshman (17.6), but that’s in part because he’s managed to corral his considerable talents and become a more effective facilitator. Coming out of high school, Green was known for his prodigious scoring ability, but questions lingered about his ability to create for his teammates. He’s answering those questions this year, increasing his assists (5.2 per game) and decreasing his turnovers (2.8 per game). With Green deferring more to his teammates, Mason, the son of former NBA player Anthony Mason, has stepped into the role of lead scorer. He’s upped his per-game average from 15.1 to a team-leading 18.7, but more importantly, he’s become a much more efficient scorer.  He’s increased his field goal percentage from 38.2 to 44.6. He now shoots almost 80 percent from the free throw line, after shooting less than 65 percent last year, a significant development because of his knack for getting to the charity stripe. Tanksley, for his part, has also boosted his field goal percentage, from 38.6 to 45.7 and upped his scoring average into double-digits.

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