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.
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”:
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):
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.
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.
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.
[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 »
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 »
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.
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 »
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.
Ed. Note – This week’s check-in does not include Tuesday night’s action.
Rick Majerus Retires – To those who saw the 25-year veteran head coach at the Atlantic-10 (or NCAA) tournaments last spring knew he was struggling. The only surprise last August, made public after an extended stay and evaluation at a California facility were disappointing, was that the coach, anticipating a recovery, had applied for a medical leave of absence. Saint Louis Athletic Director Chris May dropped the other shoe on Friday – Rick Majerus will not return to the Chaifetz Arena sidelines. The coach is retiring for the second, and presumably final, time. Though the course Majerus charted for a Saint Louis resurgence on the hardcourt seemed at times to be a maddeningly uneven two-step, and though he was entering the final year of his contract, it was a chronic heart condition, one that forced a complex seven bypass procedure in the late 1980s and the insertion of a stint during the 2011 offseason, that forced the 64 year old into retirement. Interim Coach Jim Crews, who took over in August, will coach the Billikens through the end of the season.
Saint Louis will be without head coach Rick Majerus this season – this time probably for good (AP)
The Very Early (Invitational Tournament) Returns Are In – Dayton, Duquesne, Fordham, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph’s and Saint Louis kicked off the 2012-13 season with (very) early season invitational tournament appearances. Read the rest of this entry »
Three Bids? Four Bids?
If the nearly unanimous opinion leaving the Boardwalk Hall Saturday night was that Xavier was definitely “in”, the feeling was less certain as the Championship game wound toward a conclusion. Xavier looked like the January 24 edition rather than the March 10 edition. Saint Bonaventure had seized the automatic bid, had Xavier’s lackluster performance knocked them out of tournament? The Selection Committee must have liked their body of work, because Xavier drew a #10 seed in the South Region and will face fellow Midwesterner Notre Dame in the second round, while Saint Bonaventure drew the #14 seed (fitting for a team not even in the bubble discussion a week ago) in the East Region and will play Florida State in Nashville on Friday. Saint Louis and Temple were “in” to start the week, so elimination before the Championship game hurt at most a seed. Saint Louis was seeded #9 in the West Region and will face Memphis on Friday in Columbus and lastly Temple was seeded #5 in the Midwest Region and will face either California or South Florida (the winner of the #12 seed playoff in Dayton on Tuesday) on Friday, also in Nashville. The conference did draw 4 bids, the third time in conference history that four teams have made the field of 64 (or 68…). The conference has earned five bids twice, in 1996-97 and in 1997-98. This marks the 13th time in the last 17 post seasons that the conference has earned more than two bids.
Nicholson Helped Guide Saint Bonaventure To An Automatic Bid
The Gate, Again
The announced attendance for the Championship game was 6,101, as Saint Bonaventure fans from all over the Northeast drove in overnight to cheer their Bonnies on. The absence of the three Philadelphia teams did not appear to depress the attendance numbers as many feared, while the crowd, loud and enthusiastic from the introductions to the final buzzer gave the barrel-ceiling auditorium the intimate feel of a college campus arena.
Temple is Out, Who’s Got Next?
Though the Owls are due to play another season of basketball in the Atlantic-10, speculation has begun about who will replace Temple as the 14th member of the conference. Concern about presence in media markets have some looking at another New York metro area school while those concerned about quality of the basketball (what else?) program look elsewhere. New York metro area teams mentioned include Iona (too small perhaps) of the MAAC and Quinnipiac (located in Connecticut) of the NEC. Given the conference’s extremely large footprint, George Mason, a Virginia state school with excellent facilities and reputation, was also mentioned. The Patriots would make a good “traveling companion” for Charlotte, Richmond and George Washington. George Mason’s affiliation with the CAA, combined with their run to the Final Four in 2005-06, make it an attractive acquisition target for the A-10. Given Commissioner McGlade’s southern orientation (she spearheaded the move of the conference’s headquarters from Philadelphia to Virginia Beach when she became commissioner) gives credence to George Mason rumors. Another intriguing candidate, mentioned frequently, is Butler, the Horizon Conference power whose runs to the Final Four in 2010 and 2011 along with their historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, speak to a long and successful tradition in basketball.
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.
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Former US olympian Karch Kiraly would even be impressed by this rejection from St. Louis’ Jordair Jett (talk about living up to your name)…