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
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.
(ed. note – this week’s column does not factor in Wednesday night’s action, which saw Saint Louis beat Saint Joseph’s, Richmond defeat George Washington and Dayton top Charlotte.)
Saint Louis Breaks Out – The Billikens evicted Butler and Virginia Commonwealth and decisively took sole possession of the conference penthouse last week. On Tuesday Saint Louis hosted Virginia Commonwealth, the team that paced the conference from virtually the opening week and ranked #24 by the AP the previous Monday. The Bills pummeled the Rams by 14, 76-62, handing coach ShakaSmart’s squad the worst defeat of their season. With barely 48 hours to celebrate, the Billikens packed their bags and traveled to Hinkle Fieldhouse to play #15 ranked Butler on Friday night. Saint Louis held on to defeat the Bulldogs by 4, 65-61, and hand Butler only their second defeat at home this season. At 10-2, SLU sits atop the conference with a half-game lead (one fewer loss) over second place Virginia Commonwealth.
Conference Difference Margins, Week 8 – The difference margin continues to divide the conference roughly in half; nine teams have positive margins, seven teams have negative margins. The paradox is that the Atlantic 10, much like many conferences in parity, the number of teams with a 0.500 record or better numbers 11 (or 69% of the conference membership). For a power conference this parity (if the top of the conference was strong enough) could, in effect, “pull” a middling team or two into the NCAA tournament. Is the A-10 strength of schedule enough to yield a fifth or sixth bid?
Reviewing the numbers (from Ken Pomeroy’s kenpom.com site – the conference results through Monday February 25) gives us a few things to consider:
The difference margin adds greater definition to Saint Louis’ breakout last week. At +0.156, the margin is half again larger than that of their nearest rival (Virginia Commonwealth). To this point Saint Louis is in a class by itself. A rocky out of conference run will most likely keep the Bills’ NCAA seed in the #4 to #6 range, probably deceptively low.
The teams are forming a series of well-defined tiers, many of which are consistent with the conference records earned so far. Note the Virginia Commonwealth/Butler grouping, distinct from the Massachusetts/Xavier/Temple tier.
Duquesne and (yet again, unfortunately) Fordham have “lost touch” with the rest of the conference. The difference margins for the two lowest ranked teams suggest they are no longer competitive with their 14 conference mates. Temple’s loss to Duquesne on February 14 becomes all the more puzzling and damaging to the Owls’ post season prospects.
Charlotte’s record says “even”, but the difference margin suggests the 49ers have been susceptible to blowouts. A look at the schedule reveals a tendency to lose big on the road Miami, Richmond, Saint Louis). Not the kind of credential one wants to present to the Selection Committee.
Dayton maintains a positive difference margin (+0.013) widely at variance with their losing record (4-8). A Pythagorean Winning Percentage calculation suggest the Flyers should be closer to a 0.500 record (or 6-6, since they have played 12 games). They are, however, so far underwater that it is likely the Flyers will “run out of games” before they can get to a 0.500 record (8-8 given their 16 game conference schedule).
*Ed. Note: the statistics in this column were aggregated prior to Tuesday night’s St. Louis-VCU game.
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.
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 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 »
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 Butler and George Washington. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
Three key takeaways.
GW is Getting There — Down 53-38 with under eight minutes to play, George Washington staged a furious 18-4 run, powered by an aggressive full-court defense and a renewed toughness on the glass. But with three chances to tie the game on the final possession, the Colonials couldn’t convert. This is the third time that the Colonials lost a game on the final possession to a high quality opponent at home, after falling to Kansas State 65-62 and Temple 55-53. But in his second year at the helm, Mike Lonergan has molded the Colonials into a very competitive team. At 5-4, they already have as many wins in A-10 play as they had all of last year. They’re also a very young team, starting four freshman and a junior, which should give Colonials fans optimism about the future. On Saturday, in spite of an abominable shooting performance (27.9% FG shooting), the Colonials managed to claw their way back against one of the best teams in the country. That kind of toughness and resilience that should serve them well the rest of the year and into the future.
Mike Lonergan Has Molded the Colonials Into an A-10 Contender (GW Hatchet / Jordan Emont)
Butler Is Not Exactly What You Think It Is — If you don’t watch Butler much, you might stereotype them as a team with good fundamentals, strong three-point shooting, and a solid, compact defense. The reality is more complicated. First, as they showed in the first half against George Washington, many of Butler’s guards — Rotnei Clarke, Roosevelt Jones, Kellen Dunham, and Chase Stigall — can drive the ball to the basket. This is not just a team that comes down the floor looking to free up shooters with off-ball screens. Casual fans may also be confounded by the fact that Butler has a propensity to turn the ball over.It’s the weakest part of their offensive game, and against George Washington, it showed. The Bulldogs committed 19 turnovers, including five in the final 2:15 of the game, breathing life into George Washington’s late rally. Walk-on point guard Alex Barlow has a great story, but his ability to take care of the ball has been less great; more than 37 percent of the possessions he uses result in turnovers. Oh, and one other surprising fact — Brad Stevens gets upset … sometimes. He may be more calm than the average Division I coach, but a game-long bird’s eye view confirms that he can be just as excitable about perceived officiating errors and bad turnovers as anyone.
To the Victor of the Glass Go the Spoils — Butler built its nine-point halftime lead in large part because of their rebounding dominance. They outrebounded the Colonials 30-19 overall and pulled down 50 percent of their own misses, which they converted into eight second-chance points. But George Washington turned the tables in the second half. They rebounded more than 70 percent of Butler’s misses and more than 40 percent of their own en route to finishing the game with 20 second-chance points. Crucially, they pulled down seven offensive boards in the last six minutes of the game, helping to power the 18-4 run that put them in position to tie the game on the final possession.
[Ed. Note: this article was written prior to Thursday night’s St. Louis-Butler game.]
Difference Margins…Three Weeks into Conference Play: About 20% of the conference games are in the books, enough for the offensive and defensive efficiency (points per possession scored and allowed) margins provide some insight to race so far. I have included strength of schedule (conference games only) to provide a sense of how the schedule may have impacted the difference margin for any particular team.
Overall the margins appear to be behaving, about half of the conference teams have positive margins (offense greater than defense), and seven of those eight teams have winning records. The margins do not correspond exactly to the conference records, and those teams with divergent margins tend to draw out attention.
A few observations:
Butler’s spot in the rankings is no surprise. Their #1 ranking in strength of schedule suggests the other numbers are going to hold up over the next six weeks.
Fans familiar with difference margins from past seasons see Dayton in a familiar spot, as the Flyers’ record has typically run either ahead of their difference margin or well behind. This season the margin is far wider (and positive) than the record — back-to-back routs of Fordham and Duquesne are the reason. Expect the record and margin to close in the next two to three weeks.
Charlotte appears to be the negative counterpart to Dayton. Huge road losses to Richmond and George Washington explain the negative margin, but a strength of schedule ranking of #13 suggest that the 4-2 record so far may be vulnerable.
Upsets and inconsistent play add excitement to the conference race and jumble the rankings again this week. The question is how these unpredictable turns will affect the number of bids the conference garners at the end of the season. And whose phone will ring come Selection Sunday.
Butler (17-4, 4-2, #9 AP) – The Bulldogs’ stumble (the first since late November) may have given La Salle a boost onto the bubble. Hopefully it will not cost them too much over the next six weeks. Rotnei Clarke is back and Kellen Dunham is blossoming, but the team’s recovery has been slow, especially in holding onto the ball, as they are in 10th in the league in turnover percentage.
Virginia Commonwealth (17-5, 5-2) – The Rams’ defensive efficiency (points per possession allowed) has been rising steadily (see chart below) since the start of the conference season. In three of their last four games, coach Shaka Smart’s squad has allowed 1.0 point per possession or more (not good). Note that the offensive and defensive efficiency averages are curving towards each other, a trend that began after game #17 (the first conference game). Read the rest of this entry »
The Good: Charlotte is one of three teams still undefeated in conference play. Neither win was against a conference powerhouse, but both were good signs. Beating La Salle at the Holton suggests they will do well at home, while taking their road game versus Rhode Island was a sign that they should be able to win games there as well.
The Bad. Temple’s loss to Xavier will not preclude the Owls from drawing an NCAA bid, but it makes the conference-wide bid picture, expected in the preseason season to be five, possibly very murky. The preseason NCAA short list included Saint Joseph’s, Xavier, Butler, VCU, Temple and Saint Louis, but poorer than expected non-conference results for Saint Joseph’s and Xavier seem to have pared that list. Xavier’s win over conference rival Temple may boost morale among the Musketeers’ faithful, but it undercuts the prospects for Temple (who has a very poor outing versus Duke on it’s resume), one of the stronger prospects on conference’s shrinking list.
The Ugly: Saint Bonaventure was not expected to perform at the same levels as the Andrew Nicholson-led teams, but the double-figure road loss to rebuilding George Washington lowers the ceiling on the Bonnies’ prospects for this season. That was a game they would have won last year (and the year before). This is a larger-than-expected step back for the program.
CBS Sports named two A-10 players to their mid-season Top 50 Impact players. Butler’s Rotnei Clarke, a senior guard who transferred in from Arkansas and sat last season, was ranked #42 with the comment “Best shooter in the country?” Treveon Graham, Virginia Commonwealth’s sophomore guard, was ranked #45. Recognized as a integral part of VCU’s Havoc defense, Jeff Goodman went on to comment “Makes plays at both ends of the floor.” The list, a collaboration by CBS Sports’ four basketball beat writers — Jeff Goodman, Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello — focused on the 50 players who they felt had the greatest impact on the first two months of the college basketball season.
Rotnei Clarke May Be The A-10 POY If The Season Ended Today, But Will Miss Time With An Injury. (AP)
Conference play opened last week with every team playing twice before the end of the first weekend. While the top – and bottom — of the power rankings remains largely unchanged from the end of December, there is some shuffling within the middle eight.
Butler (14-2, 2-0) – A 2-0 start to conference play has extended the Bulldogs’ winning streak to 11. The run is jeopardized by guard Rotnei Clarke’s neck injury, sustained when the senior was fouled as he completed a layup at the end of a breakout play in Butler’s 79-73 win over Dayton. A day-after MRI showed no spinal fractures (or other damage), but Clarke will be held out of the Bulldogs’ next two games (Richmond on Wednesday and Gonzaga on Saturday), pending a medical review. The Butler team doctor took issue with NBC Sports Network which had a crew covering the Dayton game. The crew overzealously opened a nearby microphone and broadcast the injured player’s conversation with attending medical staff, an act Dr. Thomas Fischer contended that was intrusive and unethical. Dr. Fischer will determine when Clarke can return to play. Richmond, without junior Derrick Williams, will be hard pressed to match the Bulldogs’ front court contingent, but Gonzaga, ranked #8 by the AP, could prove to be a very difficult opponent. Freshman Kellen Dunham, sophomore Alex Barlow and senior ChaseStigall will have to take up Clarke’s scoring contribution for at least the next week. Given Clarke’s contribution is 16.5 per game, that will be a task bigger than the collection can probably handle. Read the rest of this entry »
Conference Records: Previews in September and October offered rosy predictions on the number of teams that could/would qualify for the NCAA Tournament. If the previews were too exuberant, a poorly timed loss or two has brought that pendulum back in the opposite direction… with a vengeance. How is the conference really doing relative to last season? Compiling the games through December 17 of this and last season puts the progress in a different light.
The conference has won 65% of its games this season, a modest increase over its 62% winning percentage at this point last season. The conference has played games with teams from 29 of the 30 other conferences and independents in Division I, even if the mix has changed. Nearly 30% of the opponents have come from power conferences, about the same as last season (28%), although the winning percentage has declined (50% down to 41%). A-10 teams are dominating the other, non-power conference opponents, winning over 75% of games from both conference with a similar profile (Conference USA, the Colonial Athletic Association, the Missouri Valley Conference, the Western Athletic Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the West Coast Conference) and those with a lower profile.
A few quick observations:
A-10 teams have a winning record (5-3) against the SEC and compliments of Butler’s upset over #1 Indiana last Saturday, a 5-3 record versus the Big Ten. Three of those SEC wins came against a now-struggling Alabama team.
The A-10 has cleaned the CAA’s clock for the second year running, compiling a dominant (18-1) record versus the CAA that bested even last season’s impressive 11-3 record. Although Bernadette McGlade did successfully raid the CAA for Virginia Commonwealth University, the CAA still has a recent Final Four participant (George Mason) and a relatively deep conference. Losing records versus the West Coast Conference (0-2) and the Missouri Valley Conference (2-3) balances strong records versus the CAA and Conference USA (4-0). Conference teams have two more games versus the WCC.
Crossroads at the Crosstown? When they last met in the Crosstown Classic (nee’ “Shootout”), Xavier was 8-0 and hitting on all cylinders. Cincinnati was, on the strength of a 5-2 record that included a home loss to lowly Presbyterian, searching for the chemistry to ignite their season. The 23-point Xavier thrashing of Cincinnati that culminated in a bench-clearing brawl, however, threw each program on a very different path last season. Xavier finished the year with a so-so 15-13 run while Cincy compiled a 21-8 record and earned an NCAA bid that seemed all but impossible on December 11, 2011. The court will be neutral this time (a change negotiated to insure each school had 50% of the tickets, a measure to keep the crowd “balanced”), and Cincinnati appears to have the momentum, sporting a 9-0 record to Xavier’s uncharacteristically “average” 7-2.
Officials changed the name of the Xavier-Cincinnati cross-town classic in an attempt to disassociate the game from the ugly brawl last season involving Xavier’s Kenny Frease and others (Icon SMI)
There is more than one game being played on the floor of the U.S. Bank Arena, however, as the fate of the Big East looms large in the plans for both schools. Week-long rumors that the Catholic 7 intends to dissolve the conference and reconstitute a basketball-first entity (with the NCAA distributions, the exit fees and the rights to Madison Square Garden for the conference tournament as potential endowments), Cincinnati has to wonder where it will play ball (foot- and basket-) in those athletic facilities it has raised millions of dollars to renovate. Xavier on the other hand, appears to top the list of schools the Catholic 7 intends to invite into the reconstituted conference to bring the membership to 10 or 12.
I. Renko is a DC-based correspondent for Rush the Court. You can follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops. He filed this report after Saturday’s game between Kansas State and George Washington.
Kansas State improved to 7-1 on the season on Saturday, in a thrilling 65-62 win over George Washington that was not decided until Dwayne Smith missed a potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer. The Wildcats overcame a poor shooting performance, in which they shot 35.7% from the field and 56.3% from the free throw line. So how did they win? The way they’ve been doing it for the past six years: by dominating the offensive glass. “If you told me we were going to hold them to 35% shooting, I thought we could win the game, but the killer was offensive rebounds,” GW head coach Mike Lonergan explained afterwards. “We just gave them too many second chance opportunities.”
Kansas State Has Been The Most Consistently Outstanding Offensive Rebounding Team in the Country For The Past Six Years (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
The Wildcats set the tone early, scoring their first six points on second chance put-backs by forward Nino Williams. They would go on to rebound almost as many of their misses as George Washington did, posting a remarkable 49% offensive rebounding percentage. In fact, the Wildcats actually had more offensive than defensive rebounds in the game — 24 to 22. As a result, they had 17 more field goal attempts than George Washington, an edge that mitigated their poor shooting. If you keep throwing the ball up, sooner or later it’s gonna go in. And the Wildcats’ rebounding performance was not the result of a weak opponent. In the eight games they played before Saturday, the Colonials had not allowed an opponent to rebound more than a third of their misses.
Rick Majerus, 1948-2012 – Former Saint Louis Billikens head coach Rick Majerus succumbed to his chronic heart condition Saturday in California while undergoing extended treatment. Deteriorating health forced the 25-year veteran to take his first medical leave in 2003-04 when he coached the Utah program. He resigned during the 2004 season. After a three-year hiatus that included a stint behind the microphones at ESPN, the coach returned to the bench at Saint Louis University to begin a rebuilding process that earned the Billikens their first NCAA bid since 2000.
In His Twilight, Rick Majerus Led SLU To A Tournament Upset Over Memphis. (AP)
“The entire Atlantic 10 family is grieving tonight over the loss of coach Majerus. His undeniable knowledge and love of the game was known to all, and he was an excellent teacher committed to the student-athlete. This passion made his impact on A-10 basketball over the past five years immeasurable,” said Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade. “He will be missed at Saint Louis, within the A-10 and nationally; our prayers and condolences are with coach Majerus’ family and the Saint Louis University community.” said Atlantic 10 Conference Commissioner Bernadette McGlade in a press release late Saturday night.
Though he had not been on campus since the end of the 2011-12 season, the first public notice was an announcement in July that he was in California seeking treatment for his heart. St. Louis issued a Friday afternoon announcement in late August that he would take a medical leave for the 2012-13 season, followed by another Friday afternoon press release nine weeks later that heart problems would preclude his return to the Billikens bench at all. Over the course of a head coaching career at four schools (Marquette, Ball State, Utah and Saint Louis) that dates back to 1983-84 (Marquette), the coach developed a resume that included a 517-216 lifetime record, only one sub-.500 season, 15 20-win seasons, 19 postseason bids (12 NCAA, 6 NIT, 1 CBI) and a Final Four appearance with the Utah Utes in 1998. Those mentored by Majerus over the course of his career include consensus All-Americans Andre Miller (Utah) and Keith Van Horn (Utah), along with Boston Celtic Coach Doc Rivers (Marquette).
Versus Other Conferences – Nearly 60% of the A-10’s non-conference games are in the books and the conference has posted a very power conference-like winning percentage of (about) 63%. The conference’s sluggish start, often recorded on neutral courts in invitational tournaments, appears to be offset by a combination of home court wins and strategic road wins. Current for games through Wednesday December 5, the table below shows how the conference did head-to-head with the other Division I conferences. The summary at the bottom breaks out the A-10’s record versus the six power conferences, versus other non-power conferences with similar profiles (i.e., the Missouri Valley Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the West Coast Conference, Conference USA and the Colonial Athletic Association) and the other 20 Division I conferences (and independents):
The (Early Season Invitational) Returns Are In – Thirteen of the conference’s 16 teams are participating in early season invitational tournaments this season. While several tournaments continue play through this week, 11 of the higher-profile tournaments finished play over the Thanksgiving Weekend. Conference teams (see below) took a first-place, three second-places, two fourth-places and two fifth-places. Versus the field in those nine tournaments the conference posted an 18-17 (0.514) record, below their 60% winning percentage overall. Charlotte (Great Alaska Shootout), Butler (Maui Invitational), Saint Joseph’s (Coaches vs. Cancer) and Saint Louis (CBE Classic) reached their respective tournament championship games. Charlotte (see story below) swept the field in Anchorage, Alaska, to take first place and preserve their undefeated record.
Pride of the A-10 – Entering their last season of conference play, the Charlotte 49ers’ men’s basketball team seems at last to have caught fire, completing the first fifth of its 2012-13 schedule with a perfect 6-0 record, taking the Great Alaska Shootout title Saturday night with a win 67-59 over Northeastern of the CAA. Since moving over from C-USA, the 49ers have dominated A-10 sports, as 11 of Charlotte’s 16 sports programs have garnered a total of 30 titles — either regular season championships or conference tournament titles – in the school’s eight-year run. The move to the A-10, basketball-driven for the most part, was resisted by more than a few fans (and former men’s basketball coach Bobby Lutz), due largely to the conference’s more northern and eastern focus. That the men’s hoops program, a source of pride for the school, could only muster a mediocre 48-64 (0.429) in conference play has been a huge disappointment, taken by some as a confirmation that the move from the southern and western-centric C-USA was ill-considered. Charlotte’s 6-0 start matches the 1975-76 club’s 6-0 opening of their 24-6 campaign.
Phil Martelli Sits Atop the Power Rankings at This Early Point of the Season
Saint Joseph’s (3-1) – The Hawks easily handled a Harvard squad that earned an NCAA bid last March 75-66, before breaking for the Thanksgiving Weekend. Junior forward Ronald Roberts was named the Player of the Week for the A-10 Conference for his work at the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament over the November 17 weekend. The six man nucleus — Carl Jones, Langston Galloway, Chris Wilson, Ron Roberts, Halil Kanacevic and C. J. Aiken – has done a tremendous job sharing the touches and scoring so far. The squad goes back into action Wednesday when they host American. The Creighton game Saturday should be a featured game next weekend.
Temple (3-0) – Scootie Randall continued his comeback by playing 38 minutes as the Owls downed Delaware Saturday 80-75. Randall and backcourt mate Khalif Wyatt chipped in 18 points apiece (45% of the Owl’s total point production), notching an efficient 51% eFG%. Better yet, the two combined for 10 assists to five turnovers, as they helped each other and their front court teammates. Fans who held their breath last season as then-freshman center Anthony Lee stepped in for then injured senior Michael Eric are seeing the benefits now. The sophomore has become a rebounding workhorse, grabbing an astonishing one in three of the opponent misses while he is on the court. Fifth year senior Jake O’Brien has garnered impressive numbers on the Owls’ offensive boards. The next two games, versus Buffalo (Wednesday) and Wagner (Saturday) should bump the win total to five. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Sunday’s BB&T Classic.
New year, new team. Somebody tell the press. “Half the questions from the media, even now, December 4, are about last year” said VCU coach Shaka Smart after Sunday’s 75-60 win over George Washington in the first game of the BB&T Classic. “In our mind, last year’s over, and it’s not gonna win us any games this year.”
Way Too Early to Count Out Shaka Smart's VCU Rams
Fair enough, Coach. But while VCU can’t carry over any wins from last season, what it has replicated is the same style of play that took the Rams on their historic run to the Final Four. Just like last year, this year’s team relies on a frenetic, turnover-generating defense with heavy ball pressure. And just like last year, the offense is not built around a super-efficient field goal percentage. Rather, the Rams will try to beat you with second-chance points and three-point shots.
Despite losing four starters to graduation, VCU showed on Sunday just how effectively the current team can execute this approach. Against a GW squad undergoing its own transition — from coach Karl Hobbs to coach Mike Lonergan — VCU generated 17 turnovers and turned them into 21 points. They torched the Colonials from the three-point line on 12-24 shooting. And while GW did a better job of keeping the Rams off the offensive glass in the second half, VCU built a 17-point first half lead on the strength of a 39% offensive rebounding rate.