Top of the O26 Class: A-10, A-Sun, Big South, Colonial, MEAC & SoCon

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 30th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region of the U.S: the Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Colonial, MEAC and Southern Conference. Previous installments include the Northeast region leagues and the Midwest region conferences.

Top Units

Which mid-major will make the most noise this season? in Rush the Court's Polls on LockerDome

Atlantic 10

  • VCU – 2013-14 record: 26-9 (12-4). Shaka Smart has led VCU to four straight NCAA Tournaments including a Final Four run in 2011, and yet this might be his most talented bunch to date. Perhaps his most highly motivated, too. After suffering a bitter, never-should-have-happened defeat to Stephen F. Austin in the Round of 64 last March, preseason all-conference picks Treveon Graham and Briante Weber return, along with several other key pieces and Smart’s best recruiting class. Graham, a 6’6″ forward, is poised to break the school scoring record this season, while the quick-handed Weber looks to build on the career steals mark he already shattered – it’s like the guy was built for HAVOC. The presence of forward Mo Alie-Cox, backcourt contributors JeQuan Lewis and Melvin Johnson, and a trio of heralded freshmen – including four-star Terry Larrier – makes this team more than ready for a tough non-conference slate. Expect a bunch of wins, an A-10 title and big things come March.
VCU is loaded with talent this season. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

VCU is loaded with talent this season. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Dayton – 2013-14 record: 26-11 (10-6). Last year’s Cinderella should be top-three good in the A-10, but it may need some time to rediscover the magic. Gone is Dayton’s best all-around player, Devin Oliver, its most important big man, Matt Kavanaugh, and two productive guards. Luckily, Archie Miller’s tendency to use a deep rotation last season – 10 to 12 guys a game – should pay off; this year’s newly-anointed starters all saw quality minutes in 2013-14. Among them will be Scoochie Smith, who steps in as starting point guard following the transfer of Khari Price. Smith’s ability to open up the offense, along with the continued emergence of forwards Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott, will be important factors. Dyshawn Pierre and sharpshooter Jordan Sibert should lead the way, but it is the (probably large) supporting cast that will determine the Flyers’ ceiling.

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Previewing the Atlantic 10 Tournament

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on March 12th, 2014

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

Everything’s Gonna Be OK

The unasked question at Media Day last October was how the conference would fare without Temple and Xavier (not to mention Charlotte and Butler). In the 17 seasons since John Calipari left Massachusetts, the Owls or the Musketeers won (or shared in) 10 conference regular season titles, won eight conference tournaments, collected 25 of the 56 NCAA bids, and represented with at least one entrant in all but a single postseason (2005). Their last season in the league had more whimper than bang, so the remaining 13 members have to build their future without the name recognition and traditions that those programs contributed to the whole. If this season is the foretelling of things to come, though, the A-10 will be in great shape over the long run. Stellar non-conference play by George Washington, Massachusetts and Dayton, along with strong showings from Virginia Commonwealth (albeit disappointing by preview standards) and Saint Louis have put the conference in a no-man’s land between the basketball-first conferences (the West Coast, the Missouri Valley, C-USA and Mountain West) and the conferences that sit atop Division I. Whether the chosen metric is the RPI (ranked #6), Ken Pomeroy (ranked #8), Sagarin (ranked #8) or Dunkel (ranked #8), the Atlantic 10 is clearly positioned closer to the elite conferences than the other 25. Anticipating between four and six NCAA bids, the conference is about to kick off the second edition of its tournament at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, and ready for the limelight.

With a bevy of quality coaches, including Shaka Smart and Jim Crews, the A-10 is trending upward.

With a bevy of quality coaches, including Shaka Smart and Jim Crews, the A-10 is trending upward.

Four, Five… or Six?

The consensus of season previews anticipated that Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Louis and Massachusetts would catch the Selection Committee’s attention, but by the eve of conference play, two more — Dayton (12-3) and George Washington (12-2) — had joined them to assemble a group that potentially could equal last season’s record five bids (matched twice before). Massachusetts and Dayton faltered in conference play, but the Minutemen were secure enough by mid-January that the slippage has translated into a #7 seed line this week. A 1-5 start put Dayton out of the field of 68, but a 6-1 February followed by a 3-0 (so far) March has moved Archie Miller’s squad back into the conversation as a possible First Four (#12 seed) candidate. As for VCU (#8), St. Louis (#6) and GW (#8), all appear to be secure enough that an early round exit from the conference tournament should not jeopardize their NCAA bids. St. Joseph’s, despite a mediocre 9-4 (eventually 10-4) non-conference record, compiled an 11-3 A-10 record and appeared to be squarely in the field. An 0-2 closing put the Joe’s at 11-5 and back into a possible round one game in Dayton. The Hawks will need a win or two this week to bolster their resume.

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VCU Likely Crushes Richmond’s NCAA Dreams, Bolsters Hopes of March Success

Posted by Lathan Wellls on March 7th, 2014

VCU continued to put thoughts of their three-losses-in-four-games stretch to rest Thursday night, vanquishing their city rivals from Richmond, 56-50. While the depleted Spiders didn’t appear on paper to have the manpower to match up with a Rams squad fresh off an upset of Saint Louis, it was still a rivalry game in which anything can and did happen. Richmond’s 26-22 halftime edge and 11-point lead with 15 minutes to go was enough to prove that. Still, the comeback win was encouraging and important for VCU’s push into March, and also emblematic of the reason Shaka Smart’s club becomes so dangerous come tourney time. A look into Smart’s numbers away from home and against familiar opponents while at the helm demonstrates why opponents hate to meet the Rams late in the year, no matter the game’s location.

Coach Smart's team is ridiculously successful in "return games," boding well for conference tournament play (sportsillustrated.com)

Coach Smart’s team is ridiculously successful in “return games,” boding well for conference tournament play (sportsillustrated.com)

Everyone knows about the well-documented defense that VCU employs. The attacking Havoc style has been alive and well all year long, as the Rams currently rank third in the Atlantic 10 in defense (allowing 66.0 PPG coming into the match-up with Richmond) and lead the nation in turnovers forced. The key to this team’s success, though, is in its balance. VCU also ranks second in the conference in scoring, making it the only team in the A-10 that can boast top-three rankings in both statistical categories. That means the Rams can hound their opponents to death with the full-court press, but also boast five starters averaging at least nine points per game. While Richmond’s formidable match-up zone defense had its way with Smart’s offense for the bulk of the game and there was a definite lack of impact from the bench, the frenetic pace the Rams employ and the variety of scoring options at their disposal proved vital in the second half and illustrated why they’re a scary team to meet late in the year.

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O26 Game of the Week: Saint Louis-VCU Pt. II, Iona-Manhattan & More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 27th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Saint Louis (25-2) at Virginia Commonwealth (20-7) – 6:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday. Yes, this was our Game of the Week just two short weeks ago and yes, the Billikens all-but-clinched the Atlantic 10 crown by winning on their home floor. So why does the second iteration once again headline the week? Well, for one thing, it was a really good basketball game the first time around. Saint Louis held serve in Chaifetz Arena, sure, but not before VCU forced 17 turnovers and battled back from a double-figure deficit to make the final two minutes thrilling — it took a Rob Loe three-pointer with around 30 seconds left to ice it for the home team. And the defenses lived-up to their dominant billing, each limiting the opposing offense to well-under one point per possession on the afternoon. Even if you had tuned in for just five minutes of action, the high level of play and serious potential of both teams would have become quickly evident.

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (Chris Lee, AP)

And that’s the overarching reason why Saturday’s tilt — this time in Richmond — is the main event in an already-loaded week; Saint Louis-VCU isn’t merely a marquee A-10 match-up, it’s a marquee national match-up. Everything at stake in a high-profile power-conference game is also at stake here: perception, NCAA Tournament profile, late-season momentum, bragging rights, and in the case of the Billikens, a very long winning streak. Jim Crews’ bunch has reeled off 19 straight victories over the course of three full months, last losing way back on December 1 to still-undefeated Wichita State. Shaka Smart’s group, meanwhile — fresh off a painfully-close road loss to UMass last Friday — has not dropped a home game in more than a year, obliterating visiting opponents this season by nearly 17 points per contest. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object in Verizon Wireless Arena, and the basketball-watching public will be the beneficiary. KenPom has the home squad pegged as 62 percent favorites, which is to say, it’s more or less a toss-up. Tune in on Saturday — Round II should be great.

Four More to Watch

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 19th, 2014

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

Another Look at A-10 Offensive and Defensive Efficiencies

St. Bonaventure and the inversion of Saint Joseph’s and Richmond with George Washington and Massachusetts excepted, conference records and efficiency differences are lining up. If this seems too early for this “alignment,” do not worry, as a week of upsets can jumble the differentials and records quickly, as even 10 games is still too small a sample size. Given the unbalanced schedule, however, this may be the best available predictor out there.

Table01140219

The bottom four teams identified last week (Rhode Island, George Mason, Duquesne and Fordham) continue to drift away from the other conference members, even as Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth separate themselves from their conference mates. Another trend worth tracking are the defensive efficiencies and the winning percentages of individual teams. As the standard deviation suggests, there is a greater variability between the conference defensive efficiencies (points per 100 possessions allowed — 7.7) than between their offensive efficiencies (points scored per 100 possessions — 3.1). For the Atlantic 10 so far this season, defense is the barometer that predicts each team’s prospects.

Pomeroy projects UMass, George Washington, the Joe’s and Spiders will tie up third through sixth place with 10-8 records. The application of tie-breakers will be necessary to set the seeds for Brooklyn should the multiple ties come to pass. If we look at those four teams as a mini-conference, the “standings” against each other so far:

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 12th, 2014

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

Looking Behind the Conference Win-Loss Records

The conference win-loss record hints at the overall dimensions of the conference race. Possession-based statistics can provide insight on how any of the teams developed their current standing. The sample is small, anomalies and outliers abound — the conference records and efficiency differences will not “behave” for another two-to-three weeks (if then). By comparing the record, the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions), and their difference (offense – defense), along with the conference strength of schedule, we can understand more precisely where a team stands with respect to the conference race, and their prospects going forward.

Table01140212

The top four (Saint Louis, George Washington, VCU and Massachusetts) and the bottom four (Rhode Island, George Mason, Duquesne and Fordham) are clearly separated from the “middle six”, forming three basic tiers. A paradox or two jump out quickly: Saint Joseph’s -2.7 efficiency difference contradicts the Hawks’ 6-3 conference record as does St. Bonaventure’s +2.5 difference with a 3-6 record. Coach Phil Martelli’s squad suffered through double digit routs (versus Richmond and Saint Louis), while all three of the Bonnies conference wins (Richmond, La Salle and Massachusetts) were by double digits. While Saint Louis, GWU, Massachusetts and VCU are relatively secure in the NCAA field of 68 with seeds ranging from Joe Lunardi’s bracket (#5 seed — Saint Louis to #9 seed George Washington, four bids total), to Jerry Palm’s bracket (#6 seed — Saint Louis to a first round play-in #12 — Richmond, five bids total), to RTC’s Daniel Evans’ bracket (#7 seed — Saint Louis and Massachusetts to #9 seed George Washington, four bids) the consensus is about four+ bids with the mostly upper bracket seeds. Palm’s fifth bid — a right side of the bubble play-in seed for Richmond — hints that the conference could garner more than four bids.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 31st, 2014

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

Teams on the Rise… Teams on the Slide

Just over 38 percent of the conference schedule is in the books and two teams — Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth — have emerged as the teams to catch. Three other teams – George Mason, Duquesne and Dayton (!) — are falling out of contact with the rest of the conference.

Shaka Smart and company are once again right in the mix for the A10 crown. (AP)

Shaka Smart and company are once again right in the mix for the A10 crown. (AP)

Rising – Teams that are finding their groove

  • Saint Louis — Skeptics who groused that the Billikens’ early conference success came compliments of an easy draw have to pause for reflection after this week. Wins over Dayton, a rallying St. Bonaventure, and most recently Richmond (by 20 points) confirm that the Billikens are unlikely to slip against the conference’s middling teams and will continue to set the pace in the conference race for at least the next two weeks. A good deal of ink has extolled and analyzed Virginia Commonwealth’s HAVOC, but Jim Crews’ smothering defense — ranked #1 nationally by Ken Pomeroy (and a runaway #1 in conference play, over eight points per 100 possessions better than #2 VCU) — that provides the winning edge for the Bills. A combination of consistent two- and three-point field goal defense and strong defensive rebounding has powered Saint Louis’ defense in sharp contrast to VCU’s gambling, steal-oriented, press-and-trap approach that tolerates fouls as a byproduct. Saint Louis by contrast does not foul. Jordair Jett, the Bills’ thick but quick point guard, combines with undersized forward Dwayne Evans to provide the Billikens with an adequate, but hardly prolific, offense. The defense — for now — is enough. Their February 15 date with Virginia Commonwealth, the first of two games they will play with the Rams in the final three weeks of the regular season, is the opening shot in what may well become a three-game set that will be decided in the conference championship game at the Barclays Center. Read the rest of this entry »
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Narratives Solidify for GW and VCU in Atlantic 10 Race

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

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

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

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

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

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Quality of Depth is Key to VCU Sustaining Its Success

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 10th, 2014

Effective depth is at a premium in college basketball. VCU, predicating its success on a constant full-court game in a frenzied atmosphere, needs to not only have enough players to run at their opponents for 40 minutes, but talented ones as well. As evidenced by their first conference game on Thursday night, a 71-57 victory over in-state rival and A-10 newcomer, George Mason, the Rams have both the depth and the talent that will be required to make serious waves in the Atlantic 10 again this year.

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Juvonte Reddic is a catalyst for VCU, but the Rams reserves are equally as important to a big season (credit: csnwashington.com)

There are obviously players on this squad that opposing teams can look to as the focal points. Juvonte Reddick, the team’s starting center and best pro prospect, mans the middle and is often the sole post presence for the team. His rebounding prowess (14 boards last night, along with nine points) is of the utmost importance to a team that wants to get out and run at every opportunity. Briante Weber, the point guard, is one of the nation’s foremost steals experts, a menace in both the press and in the half-court. Weber’s acumen at the free throw line and an improved tear-drop floater he has developed this season have helped mesh his offensive game with his prowess on the defensive end. Guard/forward Treveon Graham is the steadying force on this team, a player who can bide his time for a half before becoming the go-to threat the team finds late in close contests, as it did in the win over Mason (Graham has now put up double figures in 39 of the team’s last 43 contests).

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VCU Needs Offensive Punch to Live Up to Expectations

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 4th, 2014

College basketball coaches are always stressing to players and teams that offensive performance should not dictate intensity or focus on the defensive end. If a player is struggling with his shot or having difficulty breaking down a defender, that frustration cannot be allowed to bleed over onto the defensive end. This has long been a basic tenet of basketball teaching, but if there’s one team in the country that has to ignore the notion, it’s the VCU Rams. Long known for their aggravating Havoc defense, VCU’s long-term success this season will rest largely on how well the Rams operate on the offensive end of the floor.

Treveon Graham

Offense from shooters like Treveon Graham is just as important as the trademark Havoc defense for VCU (credit: msn.foxsports.com)

Friday night’s 81-63 win over Stony Brook in Richmond was a perfect illustration of just how important offensive potency is to the entire operation for VCU. If you’re going to overwhelm opponents with a full-court press for an entire contest, you have to be able to set up that press. The Rams, when they struggle to put the ball in the basket, can’t get into the defensive setup they prefer. This turns games into more of a half-court affair, like the first half of the match-up with the Seawolves. VCU carried only a one-point lead into halftime, largely because they shot poorly until the closing minutes (a decent 40.7 percent from the field in the half, but only 25 percent from three-point range) and were often unable to set up the Havoc. The team was cold from deep, and it allowed a talented Stony Brook team to hang in it and get comfortable. This is a disturbing trend in the Rams’ three losses this season, when they shot 29.3 percent, 35.7 percent, and 36.9 percent, respectively, against Florida State, Georgetown, and Northern Iowa. Obviously it’s tough for any team to win with shooting numbers like that, but even more so for a team that’s entire game plan is predicated on watching the ball go through the net and immediately shifting into pressing mode.

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VCU Seeks to Make Claim as Virginia’s Best Program Saturday

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 21st, 2013

The VCU Rams entered the 2013-14 season with the school’s highest preseason rankings in school history (#14 in the Associated Press poll, #15 in the USA Today/Coaches poll) and arguably coach Shaka Smart’s best team since he took over the program in 2009. The Rams have hit some early stumbling blocks with losses to Florida State, Georgetown and Northern Iowa, putting them outside of the rankings altogether at this point. The team is adjusting to new foul rules that often hamper it’s ability to run its vaunted Havoc defense, and they have not been consistently effective from long range. But this weekend’s upcoming Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic in Richmond gives VCU an opportunity to firmly stake its claim to a title they arguably have yet to formally hold — the best basketball school in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

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A win over VT would continue Shaka Smart’s team’s ascension in the state hoops pantheon (credit: USA Today)

Since Smart took over, the Rams have been the main school in the headlines when it comes to Virginia college basketball. The magical run to the Final Four in 2011, considered one of the greatest Cinderella runs of all-time in the NCAA Tournament, pushed them to the forefront of the basketball scene. But staying power is the only way to hold the title of the state’s best hoops school, and it’s that consistent success Smart and the Rams have enjoyed in the years following that makes it clear they are Virginia’s foremost basketball program. NCAA bids were achieved again in 2011-12 and 2012-13, where each year VCU had the misfortune of meeting one of the best teams in the country and getting knocked out in the third round (a rising Indiana displaced them in 2011-12; eventual national runner-up Michigan did so last year). To then come into this year with the enormous expectations that were placed upon it shows that the VCU program is now a major player on the national scene.

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Boeheim, K, Pitino & Roy: Considering Their Careers and Replacements

Posted by Christopher Kehoe on December 19th, 2013

Often when you think about a team like Duke or Syracuse, what comes to mind tends to be certain trademark characteristics that those schools exhibit and in turn becomes associated with them. For Syracuse, it’s the orange jerseys, the 2-3 zone, and head coach Jim Boeheim. For Duke, people envision Cameron Indoor Stadium with the Cameron Crazies, floor-slapping for a defensive stop, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski. The fact that these two coaches immediately come to mind is a testament to their staying power and the impact they’ve had on their respective universities and college basketball as a whole. Neither Krzyzewski (66) nor Boeheim (69) is a spring chicken, however, and that poses a serious dilemma for their schools as both are nearing retirement age.

Boeheim and Pitino confer in a meeting of Hall of Famers

Boeheim and Pitino confer in a meeting of Hall of Famers

Perhaps not in the exact same boat but not too far behind are Louisville’s Rick Pitino (61) and North Carolina’s Roy Williams (63). Neither head coach has been a ‘lifer’ at one program like Boeheim and Krzyzewski, but they remain living legends in their own right. While Syracuse and Duke owe a resounding amount of their present success to their two current coaches, Pitino and Williams have added substantially to illustrious program legacies with Final Fours and championships. Regardless, all four coaches are bona fide Hall of Famers with 100s of wins and at least one national title each. More specifically, the four coaches are responsible for 29 Final Fours, nine national championships, and an unfathomable .760% winning percentage over more than 3,700 college basketball games. If it’s even possible, these staggering numbers do not even do justice on their impact on the sport of college basketball.

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