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.
Bid Talk: 3? 4? 5!?
Two weeks of conference play has scrambled the conference’s NCAA bid picture. Going into conference play, the Atlantic 10 had five teams in the postseason conversation, increasingly a “normal” situation for the A-10. However, five conference games has shuffled the New Year’s pecking order of Massachusetts, Saint Louis, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton (last eight in). The Minutemen picked up their second loss of the season (58-55 at Richmond) after a couple of close calls (with St. Bonaventure and George Mason), as the Billikens edge closer to UMass in the hearts and minds of bracketologists — if not the poll voters (compliments of a strong opening run).
The Saint Louis faithful is gearing up for another run at post season play. (Saint Louis athletics)
With the losses of Temple, Xavier, and Butler to other leagues, more than a few publications predicted a step back for the conference’s overall postseason prospects. At this point the conference offers four candidates that will need consistent conference play to maintain their chances. How many bids can the conference get (maximum), and was the non-conference showing strong enough to boost any of the outlier programs into postseason contention (should any of the front runner fade)? Massachusetts (#13 in the January 20 AP poll; #12 in the USA Today/Coaches poll) and St. Louis (#19 AP, #20 in the USA Today/Coaches) are legitimate “High Fliers” that should contend for the conference title and draw NCAA bids with their consistently solid play. The non-conference resumes for George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton are good enough, but their conference work could move them out of contention. GW is among those “also receiving votes” from voters in both polls. Note that Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin, the RPI and ESPN (the BPI) all rank five conference teams among their top 60 — see the below table of the consensus top eight conference teams below. 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.
Dealing With Expectations
Forgive me if six weeks and 10 games (more or less) into this season I am a little dizzy from all the twists and turns. Most understood Massachusetts would be good, especially with Chaz Williams’ decision to take his last season of eligibility in Amherst, but undefeated? VCU would be nicked in the non-conference schedule — that much was a given — but three losses that include a 14-point loss to Florida State on a neutral court and a loss to Northern Iowa? That is a surprise.
What’s new? UMass standout Chaz Williams is having another great season. (AP)
Chaz Williams (Massachusetts) — It may be hard to believe, but the unanimous pick has actually exceeded expectations. Williams has led the Minutemen to a 10-0 undefeated start and a #22 ranking in AP’s Top 25. UMass is the only conference representative.
Dwayne Evans (Saint Louis) — The Billikens’ slashing forward’s sluggish offensive numbers mirror the larger problems facing St. Louis this season. Evans can score inside as his 51 percent two-point completion rate attests, but absent a consistent long-range scorer, opposing teams find it very easy to stop the Bills — pack the lane and wait for Evans (or guard Jordair Jett) to drive. The stingy defense lives on, Saint Louis is ranked #3 defensively by Ken Pomeroy, but a team-wide three-point drought (Jake Barnett excepted) leaves Jim Crews’ squad with a one-dimensional offense.
Tyreek Duren (La Salle) — Hobbled by a troublesome plantar fasciitis condition that dates back to last May, the point guard has to adjust his energy to manage the Explorers’ offense rather than create it through his typical to-the-basket drives. There are many reasons the Explorers are struggling this season and with a better start Dureen’s inability to move laterally and plant for a jumper would be a footnote.
Treveon Graham (Virginia Commonwealth) — Graham continues the domination that established him as a first teamer last season. He leads the Rams in scoring (196 points, 16.3 PPG) and combines prolific scoring with efficient scoring, earning a 117.9 offensive rating from Ken Pomeroy. Questions on how to get VCU back on track should not start with Graham. He is on pace to accumulate last season’s numbers, and has improved his defensive rebounding to boot.
Juvonte Reddic (Virginia Commonwealth) — VCU’s second leading scorer (140 points, 11.7 points per game, 110.1) and leading rebounder (30-56-86) has stepped back slightly in offensive efficiency, but has improved in block and steal rates and in getting to the line. If his contributions hold steady through the season, Reddic should be in the thick of an All-Conference conversation come March.
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.
The afternoon session saw Saint Louis beat Charlotte by 17 in a game that was in doubt for only the first three minutes. The Billikens used their defense to smother the 49ers, limiting them to 0.77 points per possession, a good sign for their postseason prospects. The second game left La Salle on the bubble as they could not overcome Butler’s shooting and rebounding, 69-58, in a game that was much closer than the score suggests.
Four Questions From Friday’s Afternoon Session:
How much gas is left in Butler’s tank? The Bulldogs were in a nip and tuck battle with the a stubborn La Salle squad, but when they pushed the lead out to double digits for the first time at the 32-minute mark, La Salle could get no closer than six (twice) in the game’s last eight minutes. Dr. John Giannini’s game plan did call for the Explorers’ four guards to take turns on Butler’s Rotnei Clarke, however, and Sam Mills, Tyreek Duren, Tyronne Garland and (especially) Ramon Galloway ran the Butler guard all over the floor. They triple-teamed Butler’s lead guard on inbounds plays in an attempt to keep the ball out of his hands. Several of the senior’s three-point attempts were short on the front rim, suggesting he was still recovering from yesterday. But in the game’s last eight minutes Clarke drove the lane through traffic for a contested layup, and hit a decisive three-point attempt four minutes later to snuff another La Salle rally. Clarke scored 14 points to lead the Bulldogs, but four teammates chipped 10 or more points to make the win a team effort. Butler will face Saint Louis in the Noon semifinal Saturday for their third game in three days. Expect Clarke to spend the evening in an ice bath.
La Salle hounded Rotnei Clarke all game long, but a couple key buckets down the stretch by the Butler star proved to be the difference. (AP)
Where will Charlotte play next? The 49ers were eliminated by Saint Louis, 72-55, in the day’s opening game and with that defeat Charlotte closes the book on it’s sojourn in the Atlantic 10 Conference. A return to Conference USA, effective for the 2013-14 season, was announced last April, but there may still be life after Brooklyn. The NIT is a distinct possibility, especially if the NIT Selection Committee gives weight to their wins over La Salle, Butler, Xavier and Massachusetts. And if they want to feature a mobile forward, there are few better than Chris Braswell, who, with 20 points and 10 rebounds against the Billikens, recorded his second double-double of the season? 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 »
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):
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 (@vbtnblog)
All first round games will be played at the campus of the higher seed on Tuesday (3/6) night. Using the log5 calculation, the order of probability of an upset is:
#8 Massachusetts/#9 Duquesne (73-27)
#7 La Salle/#10 Richmond (76-24)
#6 Dayton/#11 George Washington (86-14)
#5 Saint Joseph’s/#12 Charlotte (84-16)
Probability follows seed this season, a departure from previous seasons. The Dayton/George Washington game will be a return engagement. The Flyers beat the Colonials by 16 at home last Saturday. A rookie coach with a team that may be overconfident could spell upset. But unlike 2010-11, the higher seeds in this round have proven over the last 16 games to be the stronger teams. Seed should hold. If Xavier, Saint Joseph’s and Dayton all win at least once more, the conference will boast seven 20-game winning programs for the 2011-12 season, only the second time in conference history when seven members collected 20 or more wins.
The Temple/Saint Bonaventure side of the bracket offers (if seed holds) two interesting quarterfinal matchups for a Friday afternoon. Both could well become “do-overs” of games played in the last week of the season. Temple barely beat Massachusetts (at the Liacouras in Philadelphia) on February 29, but only after an overtime period. Neither squad should need much by way of motivation. The Hawks dropped their last game of the regular season to the Bonnies, by five, on the road. A Bonnies win would bolster their NIT credentials (and put them into a winnable semi-final game with either Temple or Massachusetts), while a Saint Joseph’s win could well set-up an all-Philadelphia semi-final that should cause a traffic jam as Big 5 fans and partisans of both schools pile onto the Atlantic City Expressway to see the rubber game. Read the rest of this entry »
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 @(vbtnBlog)
Editor’s Note: Report written before Tuesday’s contests.
The Week That Was:
Does Anyone Want to Win This Conference?
One of the odder turns this late in the season is the sudden spate of losses suffered by upper division conference teams. Though Charlotte bounded out of the gate with two quick wins and Xavier stumbled mysteriously for much of January, the conference appeared on the way to sorting itself as January turned into February. Not so last week as the two conference elites, Temple and Saint Louis each dropped a game. Temple’s loss may be understandable as Saint Joseph’s is putting together a great turnaround from last season, but Saint Louis stumbled against bottom dweller Rhode Island, a squad that posted 20 losses before St. Valentine’s Day. The conference’s flagship program, Xavier, was in the midst of a late season push when they dropped a very important road decision to Massachusetts last Tuesday. Other notable late season hiccups, Saint Joseph’s loss to a young Richmond squad, La Salle’s three game losing streak (which has all but eliminated the Explorers from NIT consideration) and the aforementioned Massachusetts squad, whose win over Xavier is the only win in the last four games.
Fran Dunphy's Temple Squad Stumbled Last Week, But The Owls Still Look To Be The Top Team In the A-10 (AP)
Early season results hinted that the middle of the conference was stronger this season, a theory born out by the continued uncertainty over bye bids to Atlantic City even into the last week of conference play. The resurgence is not limited to the middle of the conference however. Consider that in each of the last two seasons the bottom two teams in the conference combined to win four games. This season Fordham and Rhode Island have combined for six wins, with at least one more before the seeds for the conference tournament are finalized Sunday. I have also noted several times over the last month that the points per possession margin between Saint Louis (at the top) and Fordham (at the bottom) is much closer than last season.
With a loss to Saint Joseph’s last weekend Temple dropped back towards the rest of the conference, leaving Saint Louis virtually alone at the top with a wide, +0.04 margin in points per possession. Comparing the statistics to the Billikens’ conference record (and especially the record of late), leaves one wondering if Saint Louis’ Top 25 status (as suggested by Pomeroy) is the product of an illusion fostered by the numbers or a genuine sleeper going into the postseason. The conference tournament may be the last best chance to gauge the Billikens before the NCAA opening rounds.
The results last week produced a few strange late season upsets, but even more surprising is that the point per possession margins are beginning to align more consistently with conference records. Teams with losing records show negative point per possession margins, an expected pattern in theory that does not always play out in practice. Saint Louis continues to be an outlier atop the conference and Massachusetts, which has an 8-6 conference record should, according to the Pythagorean Winning Percentage, show a 7-7 record through 14 conference games.
The top teams developed a ripping case of hiccups at just the wrong time. If the power rankings do not look terribly different from last week however, consider that they all hiccupped at the same time. Saint Bonaventure moved up and La Salle crashed, but the other teams moved very little over the past week.
Temple (22-6, 11-3 #23 AP) – Temple went 1-1 last week, beating La Salle in overtime by a single point (80-79), and then dropping a 10-point decision to Saint Joseph’s (82-72) and holding onto their Top 25 ranking for the second consecutive week. Though the result was disappointing to the Owl faithful and prevented Temple from clinching the #1 seed in the conference tournament, it was actually better than Ken Pomeroy predicted. The college basketball stats sage’s model had Fran Dunphy’s squad losing both games (and dropping into second place behind Saint Louis). Games with Massachusetts (at home) and Fordham will close out the regular season for the Owls, and both should be wins (though stranger things have happened this season). Temple can finish no worse than #2 even if they lose their last two, so they have a bye seed in hand right now. The Minutemen, with dwindling hopes for a bye seed themselves, come to Philadelphia for a February 29 date at the Liacouras. Read the rest of this entry »
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the A-10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @(vbtnBlog)
Note: Standings are up-to-date but games earlier in the week have already taken place
The Week That Was:
Points per Possession Margins Through February 19
Ken Pomeroy has shown Saint Louis as the top team since late December, but college basketball’s stats guru looks at an overall margin as an indirect part of his formulation. For the past four weeks Temple posted the largest positive margin derived from conference games.
Saint Louis and Temple were not the only two squads whose conference points per possession margins moved closer to alignment with their overall numbers. Count Richmond among those whose skew was rectified last week. The Spiders stubbornly posted a +0.006 points per possession margin even though the team was three games below 0.500 in conference play. Though the Spiders posted a “positive” 1-1 week, their points per possession margin slid into negative territory, consistent with their record. Though throughout the conference the records and points per possession margins do not align exactly with the won-loss conference rankings (see Duquesne above), the alignment is the most consistent in the three seasons I have tracked the numbers. Identifying and explaining the discrepancies will be one of the bullet points for next week.
A Look at Conference Honors Two Weeks Out
The race for conference Player of the Year was not a serious contest in 2011. Tu Holloway won recognition either as Player of the Week or at least a nod in nine of the sixteen weeks the conference posted weekly honors. Honored as Player of the Week six times, Holloway’s nearest competitors had not gathered more than two, one-third the number of times Holloway was honored.
The Homogenization of the A-10: The surprise team through the first two weeks (Dayton) has fallen to earth with a 4-5 record at the halfway mark. Now what? The points per possession table (conference game only) below may suggest the conference is breaking into a series of tiers (three for the top half of the conference, then everyone else … ), but the striking number is how closely the top and bottom teams are to each other, a hint at the parity also suggested by the first half won-loss records. In sharp contrast to this point (about mid-way through the conference regular season) last season, Temple and Fordham show a mere 0.353 difference in their points per possession margin, a much smaller gap than last season’s 0.512 margin. Note there are no undefeated teams at this point, last season two teams (Xavier and Duquesne) sported 7-0 marks. Fordham and Saint Joseph’s were looking for their first wins last season (both broke into the win column before the end of the regular season), while the bottom two teams this season have both logged two wins apiece. Parity of a sort perhaps, but is this a sign the conference is “better” or “worse”?
The computed conference strength of schedule (Number and Rank, leftmost two columns) suggest Temple’s record may be due in part to their slate of opponents. Early evaluations underestimated the strength of La Salle and Saint Joseph’s, two Big 5 rivals who did not give Temple much competition the past three or four seasons. This time around may be different though, as the Owls must play those two one more time, along with Xavier, Massachusetts and Saint Bonaventure. Temple’s last half of the season should prove more challenging than season’s past.
A Midpoint Look at All-Conference Team Candidates:
Each week the conference designates a Player of the Week, a Rookie of the Week along with a number of Honorable Mention players, based on their performance in the last week (usually a 2-3 games per week). If the season ended today, the Player of the Year vote would be split between Ramone Moore from Temple and Saint Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson. Read the rest of this entry »
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 (@vbtnblog)
The Week That Was
New Sheriff in Town? The surprise team so far is Dayton. The Flyers, under first year head coach Archie Miller, have unveiled a revamped offense with a decidedly different approach to player rotation. Under Brian Gregory all members in the rotation, with the exception of forwards Chris Wright (graduated in May 2011) and Chris Johnson (a senior this season) saw game time in four minute (or less) slices. Wright, Johnson and freshman point guard Juwan Staten (who transferred to West Virginia in the off season) played 70% or more at their positions, which translates to about 28 minutes per game. The junior guard Paul Williams aside, everyone else on the squad logged no more than 44.2% of the available time (Josh Benson, about 18 minutes per game) at their respective positions. The rotation this season also features two players (transfer guard Kevin Dillard and Williams) who have logged better than 70% of the available time (with Johnson playing 63%), but Miller uses three other players for 50% or more of the time, and fourth, sophomore Devin Oliver, who plays about 46% of the time on the wing. If Gregory’s approach gave more players some game-time exposure, Miller’s style, more tradition in the distribution of minutes, allows team members to acclimate to the game. Though Miller uses fewer players per game, the Flyers continue to get a bit more than 66 possessions per game, consistent with the last season under Gregory.
Archie Miller Has Done Wonders At Dayton
A Points per Possession Look at the teams. Last season I used points per possession (conference games only) to give the reader a more insightful look into each team’s play. The numbers for the 3-5 games the teams have played so far.
Those who followed this column last season know that the efficiency margin will not always track with a team’s won-loss record. The approach can suggest where strength of schedule, consistency and luck may play a larger than expected role in shaping the team’s record. Two differences from this point last season (four-six games into the conference schedule) include the top-to-bottom size of the margin has shrunk considerably. Xavier, at the top of the conference, was +0.267 last season while Fordham at the bottom, was -0.277, a gap of nearly 0.55 points per possession, while this season (see above) shows a gap of 0.342 points per possession. Note the lack of undefeated (in conference play) teams this season, while One of the more obvious differences this season is thth wider efficiency margins (plus or minus)
Dayton continues to win, Xavier goes sideways while Charlotte and Richmond find the road rockier than expected? Looks like my promotion of Dayton last week was the right move as the Flyers handed Xavier a crushing 15 point loss last Saturday (1/21). The rematch next month in Cincinnati should be very interesting.
Saint Louis (15-4, 3-2) – The Billikens beat Duquesne Saturday for their only game this past week. The conference record may not say #1, but the point per possession margin (+0.131 – see above) says Coach Rick Majerus’ team is on track. According to their Pythagorean Winning Percentage (conference games only) the Bills are on track to win 13 games, a very tall order given they have already logged 2/3 of their projected losses. Saint Louis has had problems winning away from Chaifetz, and the upcoming two game road swing will be an important early season test. Saint Louis will travel to Cincinnati for an early season showdown with Xavier on Wednesday (1/25) and then continue east to Amherst for a tilt with Massachusetts on Saturday (1/28).
Rick Majerus And Saint Louis Continue To Lead The Pack
No A-10 Teams in the Top 25… Again: The latest round of the AP and Coaches polls (January 16) show no Atlantic 10 team gathered enough support nationally to be ranked… for the fourth consecutive week. Saint Louis missed a good opportunity to impress when the Billikens dropped a four-point decision to New Mexico on New Year’s Eve, picking up their second loss in the process. With the next six teams showing three or four losses, the conference is out of the Top 25 conversation for the next three or so weeks. The other name brands, Xavier and Temple, did not help their causes this past week. Xavier dropped their third game in the last four, this time to Gonzaga in what might have been a good “comparison” game for the Selection Committee. Temple beat #3 Duke but dropped two of their first three conference games. Lacking another marquee out-of-conference game (Temple versus Maryland is a pale imitation), the conference may have to wait until early February and hope that one or two teams will dominate conference play while their power conference counterparts beat each other up.
Bernadette McGlade’s Recipe for Basketball Masala: Masalas are a variety of spicey soups or stews favored throughout India, Pakistan and most parts of south Asia. A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade and her schedule maker served up their own brand of basketball masala in this opening week of conference play. Strong preseason favorites Saint Louis, Xavier and Temple did not survive the week undefeated (Temple has yet to win with a tough game coming up this week) while recently downtrodden Charlotte and La Salle started strong, each has sustained at least one loss. Rookie Coach Archie Miller of Dayton (whose squad was depleted with graduations and transfers) is riding high, while veteran Mike Lonergan of George Washington (whose squad is well stocked with experienced players) is struggling. Far too early to throw the power rankings (see below) up in the air perhaps, but a few of the results from the past two weeks (Dayton at Temple, Saint Louis at Dayton, Charlotte at Saint Joseph’s for example) maybe critical tiebreakers come March.
Rick Majerus And Saint Louis Are On Top Of Our RTC Power Rankings (AP)
Results from the first quarter of conference play (and a few of the last few out of conference games) hold a strong hint that the conference may be more competitive through the first 12 spots than preseason projections indicated. First week losses to the favorites force me to take a long second (and third…) look at Dayton. With only a few games scheduled, and those yielding mixed results for the teams at the top of last week’s power rankings, the conference appears to be sliding sideways. Massachusetts disposes of their last out of conference opponents fairly easily to move up a spot, while Temple finishes the month 6-1 and Fordham upsets a ranked team.
Saint Louis (14-4, 2-2) – The Billikens are .500 through the first four games of conference play. They opened conference play with a 79-72 overtime loss at Dayton, the first time Rick Majerus’ squad has lost back-to-back games this season (St. Louis lost their last out of conference game to New Mexico on New Year’s). Their bounce back 78-56 win over George Washington on January 7 was the largest margin win in conference play, with the three other games decided by five or fewer points. Against Dayton, the Billikens held Dayton to a respectable 1.04 point per possession (about 75 total possessions in the overtime game), but failed to break the 1.0 (PPP) mark themselves, a persistent problem last season that Brian Conklin, Kwamain Mitchell and Cody Ellis had resolved this season. None of the three had a good outing however, as they combined for a horrific 12-33 from the field, yielding a 40.9% eFG% and 0.96 points per weighted shot. One can have an off night (there are enough secondary options on the bench and the floor at anytime), but count those game where all three have problems scoring efficiently as an “L”. Saint Louis committed the double sin of allowing the Flyers to score efficiently (over 50% eFG% overall), and rebound for second chances when they did not convert. The Billikens posted similar efficiencies in their loss to Temple last Wednesday.Saint Louis hosts Duquesne on Saturday (1/21) in their only game this week. Read the rest of this entry »
Early Season Performances – The Oooh Aaaah Variety (Teams & Individuals)
The A-10 evened the record versus the six power conferences again last week, largely on the strength of performances by Xavier and Richmond. Xavier needed overtime to beat Vanderbilt in Nashville. Down by two with just under four minutes in regulation, Xavier held Vanderbilt scoreless and managed to tie on a Mark Lyons jumper with six seconds remaining in regulation. In overtime the Musketeers took the lead for good 68-66 on two Dezmine Wells free throws and Tu Holloway put a large enough margin between the teams (about eight points) when he hit two threes in successive possessions to absorb a Commodore mini-run. Vanderbilt chipped the Musketeers’ lead down to four, but could get no closer. Forced to foul, Holloway and Travis Taylor went a perfect 6 for 6 from the line to stretch the lead to 10 and suck the life out of the Commodore comeback.
Hosting Purdue five days later, Xavier again went down early, allowing Purdue to take the lead at the 18:49 mark of the first half and hold it for the next 37 minutes of play. The Boilermakers took an 11-point lead into the intermission and stretched it to 15 in the first 6:30 of the second half. Over the next 12:24 Xavier outscored Purdue 29-13 to take the lead for only the second time in the game. Once in control, the Musketeers did not let the Boilermakers back in, pushing their lead out to three in the last minute of the game.
Those numbers are more interesting, however, when you break up the game. For example, with 3:30 left in overtime against Vanderbilt, Holloway had just 14 points on 4-17 shooting. That stat line looks much more impressive after he hit back-to-back threes on the next two possessions and four straight free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Likewise, against Purdue, Holloway had just 10 points and six turnovers in the first 38 minutes of the game, but in the final two minutes he hit a three on three consecutive possessions (video of the last two below) and followed that up with two free throws, completing the most impressive comeback of the young season…in the final three minutes against Vanderbilt and the last two minutes against Purdue, Holloway had 21 points, went 5-6 from beyond the arc and knocked down all six of his free throws attempts.
The Richmond squad had to replace 59% of their minutes and 68.6% of their scoring from the squad that won the A-10 conference tournament and ran to the Sweet Sixteen last March. Freshman point guard Kendall Anthony, three times designated Rookie of the Week by the conference, has picked up a load of time and scoring responsibilities for the Spiders so far. Richmond leaned heavily on Anthony along with sophomores Cedrick Lindsay and Derrick Williams for offense. Both chipped in double digit points to complement Anthony’s production. Lindsay was a serviceable back-up to senior point guard Kevin Anderson last season, but Williams, who has started all eight games for the Spiders, saw very little action as a freshman.
Overlooked Temple off guard Aaron Brown turned heads the summer before coming to North Broad, but had few opportunities to show Temple fans and the A-10 what he could do. Brown scored 21 points in 22 minutes in a display during Temple’s 86-74 win over Central Michigan. Ken Pomeroy would find hard to ignore his performance, as he hit 7-11 (4-7 from three point land, 3-4 from inside the arc) shots from the floor while getting to the line for five free throws, of which he hit three. That computes to an 81.8% eFG% with a 1.57 points per weighted shot, an outstanding outing for the sophomore, who was pressed into action due to the injury-depleted squad.
Early Season Performances – The What the !@#!@@!# Variety (Teams & Individuals)
After winning their early season invitational tournaments, beating four power conference opponents (two each) during the tournament, both Dayton and Saint Louis stumbled in post tournament games. The losses are puzzling because for both teams, the games were winnable. Saint Louis took an “and-one” game with Loyola Marymount of the West Coast Conference, losing by seven with a performance that had team observers scratching their heads. Dayton compounded the first post tournament loss (by 29 to Buffalo of the MAC) with a second loss, this one by 17, to Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference. The opponents were beatable, making the scoring margins downright consternating. Dayton was pegged to finish in the middle of the conference, but the two unexpected losses (albeit the Racers will most likely contend for the OVC title this season) could damage the Flyers chances for a post season NIT bid. Other inexplicable losses go to Saint Bonaventure’s home loss to Arkansas State of the Sun Belt Conference, a 3-4 team no one expects to make noise this season. The Bonnies were not helped by a lackluster six-point, nine-rebound effort from Andrew Nicholson.
The Power Rankings are shuffled again this week in response to the Ooohs, Aaaahs and What the heck games listed above. For the Atlantic-10 the post season margin for error is exceedingly slim. Three losses going into the first or second week of December can take a school off the RPI short list pretty quickly.
1. Xavier (6-0) #8 AP – Xavier took down two more power conference programs last week in fashion impressive enough to climb three more spots in the AP poll. I listed many of the impressive details in the impressive performances section above, but in addition to the video link below that shows two of Tu Holloway’s three “last two minute” three point field goals below (h/t to Dana & Victory Blog for the link). I should also mention that in Nashville Mark Lyons (19 points) and Travis Taylor (11 points) chipped in more than 10 apiece to go with Holloway’s 24 point performance, while Antoine Walker collected 14 rebounds in his return to Vanderbilt where he played for three years. Versus Purdue three Musketeers, Lyons (14 points), Walker (10 points) and Kenny Fraese (10 points) chipped in double digit points to complement Holloway’s 21 point outburst.
Xavier will travel to Indianapolis Wednesday for a game with Butler, then return home to host this season’s Crosstown Shootout versus Cincinnati on Saturday. Win these next two and Chris Mack’s squad deserves something special, like Christmas in Hawaii…wait.
2. Saint Louis (7-1) –Their top 25 ranking proved surprisingly short, the penalty for stumbling against the Lions last Tuesday. St. Louis recovered to beat another WCC team, Portland by 20, 73-53 at the Chaifetz. The Billikens’ defense limited Portland to 0.90 points per possession, much as they had Boston College and Oklahoma. Scoring centered on Brian Conklin and Cody Ellis, with Kyle Cassidy and Mike McCall providing efficient long-range scoring. They will host Vermont on Wednesday and Division II Illinois-Springfield on Saturday.
The MAAC conference tournament gave us another buzzer-beater last night. Saint Peter’s guard Desi Washington rushed down the court and nailed a trey to eliminate Fairfield 65-62 on Washington’s THIRD game-winning buzzer-beater against the Stags this season.
Clown, thy name is UCSB fan. Although players and coaches alike are expected to behave professionally, fans also have a responsibility to contain themselves. Incidents like last night’s approach by a rabid UCSB fan are dangerous for everyone involved.