Wednesday was a bit of a weird college basketball news day, mostly filled with quotes, non-controversies, and Andrew Wiggins. Ever heard of him? Let’s start with Jesus Shuttlesworth combined with Butch McRae (bonus points for that reference), otherwise known as Kansas’ young superstar, Wiggins. His fantastic Sports Illustrated cover started making the rounds on social media Tuesday night and Luke Winn’s profile story (print or digital subscription only) released yesterday. The comparison he makes is with another couple of former Jayhawk stars who came to the Great Plains to make their basketball marks, Wilt Chamberlain in 1955 and Danny Manning in 1984. Wiggins is the third star in this line of succession, but as Winn writes in his supplemental Wilt, Danny, Andrew: 22 Thoughts column (available online), “It is not a pronouncement that Wiggins will have a Wilt-like impact.” It is, however, an informative and compelling read, but his 22 Thoughts piece might be more fun. Over the series of blurbs, Winn manages to reference Neal Cassady, shows a ridiculous looking drawing of a giant “Wilt” hand dunking a basketball, and reveals some Wiggins-related tweets from starstruck KU students that will have you cracking up at the absurdity of it all. Check out both stories, even if you are so cheap that you have to read the paper copy in the checkout line at the grocery store.
As we all know, Kansas also picked up Kelly Oubrefrom the class of 2014 earlier this week. The commitment was notable in that it represented the third straight time that uber-recruiter John Calipari had been beaten out for an elite recruit (Wiggins, Emmanuel Mudiay, Oubre). While three times isn’t necessarily a trend, it is a bit odd considering Calipari’s prodigious record of recruiting success. Well, at least one explanation for the commitment was revealed on Wednesday, as Oubre’s father, Kelly Sr., told the Lawrence Journal-World that Self “doesn’t kick you out if you’re not ready.” Although he didn’t name who he was referencing with his barb, it was interpreted by the rest of the world as a shot at Calipari’s one-and-done program (he later told KSR’s Matt Jones that he meant nothing of the sort). Kentucky fans rightfully took umbrage at the allusion, pointing out that a number of talented freshman have in fact become sophomores at Kentucky (Terrence Jones, Alex Poythress, Doron Lamb, to name a few), but the damage was already done. Kentucky vs. Kansas again, anyone — this is getting pretty good.
Players don’t know when they play, and coaches don’t know who they play. Does anybody pay attention anymore? We’re only half-kidding. Jeff Eisenberg at The Daggerpublished an interesting piece on Wednesday that revealed George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt and Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli didn’t even realize they were playing in the same conference (the Atlantic 10, if you’ve lost track) this season as recently as July. Even this week, Martelli mentioned that, as he waited for his train to Brooklyn, he wondered where his peer and longtime A-10 competitor Fran Dunphy at Temple was. Then he realized that Temple is now in the Big East, along with Xavier and one-year wonder Butler. Honestly, it’s going to take a while to get used to these changes for everyone. We really can’t blame them for this gaffe (but that doesn’t excuse the fictional Kentucky players that don’t realize who they’re playing).
Some injury news to finish off a strange M5 on this Thursday (we warned you). Texas point guard Javan Felixunderwent hip surgery last week and is currently on the mend with an indefinite timetable for his return. With all the pressure on the Longhorn basketball program given athletic director DeLoss Dodds’ recent disparaging comments, this is not good news for Rick Barnes. Felix is the most experienced returning guard on the team, and if he can’t go at 100 percent this season, Barnes is going to need to do the best coaching job of his entire career just to keep this team above water. Down at Florida, Will Yuguete and Eli Carter are still not ready to practice due to their injuries, but more importantly, Billy Donovan has reinstated senior guard Scottie Wilbekin to the team. Wilbekin has had found repeated trouble in his time at Florida, but he has satisfied his head coach in recent months to earn his spot again. The Gators are a tough team to figure this season — they bring in some excellent transfer and freshman talent, but the returnees more or less look like a collection of role players. We know they’ll be good, but can they become great?
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 and his Xavier squad ended its A-10 season ended with a heartbreaking loss Thursday evening.
Three Thoughts on Thursday Evening’s Session:
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 »
Conference Realignment: Who’s Got Next? A non-story for the entire season, the divorce negotiated between the Catholic 7 and the Conference Formerly Known as the Big East was finalized last week, a development guaranteed to kick off another round of musical partners. The Catholic 7 got custody of the last name (Big East) and the house (an older but stately palace in downtown New York), along with a promise to process the paperwork quickly. The new/old conference needs three more members to share the TV money and national exposure they are rumored to have negotiated with Fox Sports. The yearly payout per team, believed to be just under ten times the per-team amount the Atlantic 10 just agreed to with CBS, should draw interest. Butler and Xavier have been at the center of Catholic 7 alignment rumors since last October. Unlike Temple’s announced exit in February of last season, however, neither school has confirmed – or denied – the rumors. Xavier, a member since 1995-96, would be the second flagship program (behind Temple) to exit the conference in that last 13 months. Butler who twice went to the Final Four within the last five years, has barely had time to unpack before moving on. When given the news of Temple’s exit in February of 2012, commissioner Bernadette McGlade took a proactive tack and had two replacements in place eight weeks into the offseason. Expect her to do the same this off season. George Mason and Wichita State are the two mentioned most by fans and conference followers.
The Best Basketball-Centric Conference? Mountain West fans may disagree, but it seems certain that the Atlantic 10 Conference will send at least five members to the NCAA Tournament, equaling the highest ever achieved (1997 and 1998). Saint Louis, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth are all but certain to receive bids regardless of what happens this weekend, and prospects for Temple and La Salle remain very strong. On top of that, Massachusetts or Xavier could, with strong conference tournament showings, squeeze out an unprecedented sixth bid for the conference, though it seems unlikely.
The last week of conference play opens with only three conference tournament spots – all three on the sidelines, determined. Others (that Saint Louis will take the #1 seed, Virginia Commonwealth will take #2 and La Salle most likely the #3) seem nearly certain, but note that seeds #4 through #12 are pretty much up for grabs…at least until Wednesday.
Jim Crews has the right to smirk a little after leading the Billikens to their first regular season title in 42 years. (USATSI)
Saint Louis (24-6, 13-3; #16 AP; Projected NCAA Seed #5) – The Billikens stumbled in the last week versus Xavier, but locked down the #1 seed in Brooklyn by beating La Salle. Off until Friday, coach Jim Crews’ team will meet the winner of the Richmond/Charlotte game (most likely Richmond), and if seed holds, most likely La Salle Saturday (and Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday). On the radar however is the NCAA tournament (yes the Bills are a lock at this point, win or lose Friday) seed. The consensus today is a #4-#5 seed with little prospect of moving up without a slew of early conference tournament losses elsewhere. RTC’s Dan Evans’ early March bracket matched the #5 Bills against #12 seed OVC Champion Belmont. The Bears run and gun, which would make this an interesting matchup. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
(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 »
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.
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 »
[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 »
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
The word entered the college basketball lexicon long enough ago for it to be a household term nowadays, but there is still something very fresh about the “havoc” being created down in Richmond. Shaka Smart coined the term years ago to describe the manic brand of hoops his VCU teams employ, and Thursday night proved the catchy maxim apt once again, as St. Joseph’s couldn’t stand up to the “wide and general destruction” (the definition of havoc, per Merriam-Webster) caused by the Rams.
VCU’s Fan Base Is Only Getting Larger…
If havoc doesn’t do it for you, we can just go with relentless. VCU found a way to come back from four down with 15 seconds to play, tying it with seven ticks left, and then forcing Carl Jones (21 points, five assists) to cough it up on the final St. Joe’s possession. There was no doubt that momentum was on the Rams side entering the extra period, and overtime was a five-minute display of everything Shaka Smart prides himself and his players on. St. Joseph’s had more turnovers than field goals in OT and looked completely out of gas, to the point where Phil Martelli’s bunch simply stood and watched as VCU, up eight with a minute to go, dribbled out the entire shot clock. Standard game theory would have suggested an early foul in an effort to extend the game, but too many hands on knees dictated action here — the Hawks simply couldn’t stand any more of the havoc.
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 »
Another Saturday, Another Scalp: Reeling from an inexplicable 10-point loss to Canisius (72-62) on December 19, Temple bounced back with a stunning 83-79 upset of #3 Syracuse, all the more surprising given that it happened in the confines of Syracuse’s “second home”, Madison Square Garden, on December 22. The Orange, notorious for not leaving the state of New York before the start of conference play, were unable to contain Khalif Wyatt and sophomore center Anthony Lee as both scored career-high points. Wyatt, a slasher who can play either guard spot in addition to the small forward was a perfect 15-of-15 from the line on the way to scoring 33 points. Lee was manhandled by Duke’s Mason Plumlee two Saturdays before, schooled fellow Philadelphian Rakeem Christmas and his teammate James Southerland to grab nine rebounds to go with his career-high 21 points. Butler traveled to Nashville the next Saturday and housed the Commodores of Vanderbilt by 19 points, 68-49. The Bulldogs’ backcourt paced the team with 40 points (Rotnei Clarke – 22, Kellen Dunham – 12, Alex Barlow – six) while Khyle Marshall missed a double-double by a single point (nine points and 11 rebounds).
Versus Other Conferences
With nearly 98% of the non-conference schedule on the books (as of January 1), the Atlantic 10 has compiled an outstanding 64.3% winning percentage (126-70). Bettering their 2011-12 winning percentage of 62.6% (107-64), the conference posted a number of superb wins over power conference teams in the process.
The mark is not without a few blemishes, especially with respect to the seven power conferences where the A-10’s conference-wide record declined over their mark last season. Especially disappointing was the conference mark versus the ACC (3-10, 0.231) and Big East (6-11, 0.353). While they continue to dominate against those non-power conferences with whom they share a similar profile (the CAA, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, West Coast Conference, and Western Athletic Conference), the overall record masks losing records versus the Missouri Valley Conference (3-4, 0.429) and the West Coast Conference (1-3, 0.250).
The teams largely wrap up non-conference play over the mid-winter break, with only a few standings-changing games on the last and this week. Games/records are through January 2.
Butler (9-2, #18 AP) – The defense of 2011-12 is starting to round into form for the Bulldogs. Coach Brad Stevens’ squad has allowed opponents on average 0.93 points per possession in the six (Division I) games since their loss to Illinois on November 21. After five starts, freshman Kellen Dunham returned to his sixth man role and appears to be thriving. If Player of the Year polling commenced today, transfer Rotnei Clarke would garner more than a few votes outside of Indianapolis, but as much as the newcomers (Clarke and Dunham) have sparked the Bulldogs, the contributions of the front court, Roosevelt Jones, Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith are key. Though not the focal point of the offense, Smith and Marshall are a devastatingly efficient combination, contributing over 1.1 points per possession on offense while hauling in over 12% of the offensive rebounds apiece when they are on the court. Butler will host Penn and New Orleans before opening conference play on the road against Saint Joseph’s (see below) on January 9. Read the rest of this entry »
Before the 2012-13 season kicked off, the Atlantic 10 seemed poised for a banner campaign. The offseason additions of VCU and Butler meant that eight A-10 teams harbored legitimate NCAA Tourney hopes, and even the most level-headed of prognosticators would have admitted that the conference seemed likely to match or improve upon the four NCAA bids it earned last season. All was rosy back then, but unfortunately for A-10 enthusiasts, little has gone to script thus far. The non-conference slate simply has not included the signature victories necessary for that surplus of NCAA Tournament bids to appear in March, and a number of A-10 powers have experienced unexpected struggles. One of the few marquee victories the conference can lay claim to is a St. Joseph’s victory over Notre Dame at MSG, but the Hawks have gone just 3-3 since, and hardly looked the part of the conference favorite (as they were selected by the media before the year) again tonight, as they fell 65-61 at Villanova.
Phil Martelli’s Group Could Have Used a Win Over Villanova
A loss at the Pavilion (in a rivalry game nonetheless) is hardly a reason to call off the season, but early results have indicated that this is an unusually weak Villanova team, as the Cats had already dropped two games to A-10 opponents (La Salle and Temple), and even more damning, been pasted at home (losing by 18) by the Ivy League’s Columbia. A familiar cliché advises you to “throw out the records” in a rivalry game, but for a St. Joseph’s team with significant preseason buzz and real NCAA Tournament hopes, I don’t think you should be shuttling to the trash can — this was a game they should have won.