Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 29th, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Last Week… and This Week

Conference teams played 12 games over the abbreviated week, going a total of 7-5. A winning percentage of only 58 percent continues the conference’s declining winning percentage this month, but Atlantic 10 teams have 12 more games through New Year’s Eve to rebuild their momentum. Four more games featuring Power Six opponents, two of which offer the signature-type of wins that can help a team’s postseason resume, are still to play — see the Five Games to Catch This Week section below. We then turn quickly to conference play over the weekend, with five games on Saturday and two more Sunday, two of which should have long-term conference race implications.

Jack Gibbs has paced what has been an impressive showing by the A-10's top tier guys this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

Jack Gibbs has paced what has been an impressive showing by the A-10’s top tier guys this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

The All Non-Conference (OOC) Teams

KenPom observed that “players do jump from being decoys to go-to guys in one season, and some even regress the other way. Those are the exceptions. By and large, a player’s role on his team in one season is a good indicator of his role the following season.” Non-conference play suggests that the following players are the engines that drive their team’s performances. The question is whether they can maintain that status through conference play. For those on the All-Freshman and All-Surprise Teams, the question on the eve of conference play is whether the roles and momentum they have established so far will continue.

Non-Conference First Team

It should not surprise anyone that three of the names on the First Team at the midpoint of the season are known commodities who were named to the preseason All-First Team, while the other two were named to the All-Third Team. Their roles as outstanding players on their respective teams have not changed much from last season. Read the rest of this entry »

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In a Season of Parity, the High Mids are Struggling…

Posted by Andy Gripshover on December 11th, 2015

A common thread as we move into the second month of college basketball has been that many of the top non-power conference schools not playing up to the gold standard they’ve set for themselves in recent years. While there are key differences among the following five teams, there are also some striking similarities as to why they have not been nearly as good as we’ve come to expect for these programs. Let’s first dig into the their status.

Wichita State and the Other Gold Standard Non-Power Conference Programs Are Struggling (USA Today Images)

Wichita State and the Other Gold Standard Non-Power Conference Programs Are Struggling (USA Today Images)

  • Gonzaga – The four year starting backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell is gone and big man Przemek Karnowski is hurt. The Zags are 6-2 but fell in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis – an event they were favored to win – to Texas A&M and before blowing a 10-point halftime lead last Saturday to Arizona to lose for just the 13th time in the history of the (new) Kennel. They almost lost for the 14th time on Tuesday to Montana in what would have been arguably the biggest upset in the history of the building, but scored the final five points to survive.
  • Wichita State – The Shockers have been the best program outside of a power conference over the past three seasons; winning 30 games in each season and including a Final Four appearance and a 35-0 start. They are just 4-4 this season, however, and went winless in Orlando over Thanksgiving weekend.
  • San Diego State – The Aztecs are back-to-back Mountain West regular season champs, having won at least one game in four of the six straight NCAA Tournaments they’ve made, but have already taken losses to Arkansas-Pine Bluff and low-major city rival San Diego and sit at 7-4.
  • VCU – The Rams differ from the rest of this group in one key way: they have a new coach in Will Wade. VCU is 5-3 to start his tenure in Richmond.
  • Harvard – Five consecutive Ivy League championships, four straight NCAA Tournament appearances… and now just 3-6? Northeastern, UMass, Boston College and Holy Cross have relegated the Crimson to the fifth-best team in their own state.

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Off to a Hot Start, Cincinnati’s Improved Offense the Key

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 2nd, 2015

Going into the season, Cincinnati wasn’t getting a whole lot of respect. Despite being picked to finish third in the American by the league’s coaches, Mick Cronin thought his team was better than that. Fast forward a month and the Bearcats are out to a blazing hot 7-0 start, including two solid wins against Nebraska and George Washington in last week’s Barclays Center Classic. Led by a new-look offense, Cincinnati takes on a tough Butler team tonight at home. Let’s take a quick look at what has made Cincinnati look more like a contender than a sleeper through the first two-plus weeks of the young season.

•The UC-UConn rivalry benefits from the mutual respect between Cronin and Ollie (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

A lot of pundits felt Cincinnati would stagnate this season but Mick Cronin has his squad pointing up so far. (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

Elite Defense

Defense is a staple of Cronin’s Cincinnati teams. The Bearcats have had a top 50 defense in each of the last six seasons, and Cincinnati is off to its best defensive start under Cronin ever, ranking third nationally and allowing more than 70 points only once thus far (Western Carolina). Let’s take a look at the team’s most recent performance in a 61-56 victory over George Washington. Two statistics stand out — the Colonials’ three-point and two-point field goal percentages. The Bearcats held GW to a miserable 29 percent shooting on two-point attempts, and it was only by virtue of 50 percent shooting beyond the arc that the Colonials stayed in the game. This shows that Cincinnati will muck things up inside the paint in an effort to prevent any easy baskets, even if by doing so the Bearcats give up some open threes in the process. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 1st, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Feast Week Feedback

With St. Bonaventure’s 77-73 win over Canisius last Tuesday, the Atlantic 10 pushed its non-conference record to 44-11, pushing its winning percentage over 80 percent for the second time this season. Senior guard Marcus Posley scored 37 points, including the two free throws that broke the tie that put the Bonnies up for good. So started Feast Week, but unfortunately momentum stalled as A-10 teams tallied a good but not spectacular 21-10 record in games spanning the Thanksgiving Holiday. Still, the league’s composite record on Monday, November 30, is 58-20 (0.774) — terrific by any measure. Should the conference keep up this pace through December, the Atlantic 10 should have at least six NCAA Tournament candidates with several others drawing attention for other postseason tournaments.

The big-time effort that Marcus Posley produced was just one of many standout performances from A-10 players during Feast Week. (AP)

The big-time effort that Marcus Posley produced was just one of many standout performances from A-10 players during Feast Week. (AP)

Seven conference teams (highlighted in the table in yellow below) participated in tournaments that concluded last week. Four of those teams (Dayton, George Washington, Massachusetts and Rhode Island) finished second. Richmond finished third, losing its semifinal game but beating star-studded California in the third place game. Duquesne placed fifth in the Gulf Coast Showcase, dropping its first game to Pepperdine but salvaging wins versus Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Western Kentucky. Like most of these Feast Week tournaments, the Brooklyn Hoops Classic relied on preliminary rounds played on campuses, usually prior to the semifinal and final rounds. The tournament field was held to five teams and they played a round-robin with a single round played at two “tournament site” locations. St. Louis beat three of the participating schools — North Florida, St. Francis-Brooklyn and Hartford. They also lost to Louisville by 20 points at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

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Nine Games to Catch This Week

The party is on as eight Atlantic 10 teams will face eight elite conference opponents (and a Missouri Valley Conference power in Northern Iowa) over the next seven days. Elite conference opponents represent 33 percent of the composite non-conference schedule, which is at the high end of the range for the past several seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joseph Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on November 19th, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the Rush the Court correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. 

Impressions From the First Week

Mike Lonergan and George Washington picked up one of the bigger wins the A-10 has garnered in recent memory last week.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Mike Lonergan and George Washington picked up one of the bigger wins the A-10 has garnered in recent memory last week. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

  • Best Win For a ProgramGeorge Washington over #6 Virginia. As one of the tip-off games for ESPN’s annual Marathon of Hoops, the George Washington’s win guaranteed that the Colonials — and by association the entire conference — had a full day’s worth of free national publicity. At the very least expect head coach Mike Lonergan’s program to gather a few well deserved votes in next week’s national polls. The Colonials have 27 or so more games to play before Selection Sunday, but if their frontcourt complement of Kevin Larsen, Tyler Cavanaugh and Yuta Wantanabe, along with all-purpose wing Pat Garino, can dominate opponents as well as they did the Cavaliers, expect this squad to be in the thick of the conference race and very much a part of the NCAA conversation. Should Virginia regain its RPI footing, the bonus will extend to the Colonials, and by association, everyone they play on their A-10 slate.
  • Best Win For the ConferenceTie. Davidson over Central Florida and Dayton over Alabama. True, most computer systems rate the Knights and Tide in the mid-100’s and a consensus of previews project them to finish somewhere in the middle third of their respective conferences, but these programs are both in conferences with higher national profiles than the Atlantic 10, which means these wins can only help the league’s overall profile. Dayton’s win over Alabama by 32 points may prove to be a bold statement about the relative health of the Flyers’ program in the absence of Dyshawn Pierre. Along with George Washington, expect both of these teams to be in the hunt for conference honors.

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O26 NCAA Tourney Reflections: What Went Right & What Went Wrong

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 13th, 2015

Now that we’ve all had some time to decompress, let’s look back on a few of the successes, failures, and shining moments for O26 squads this March.

What Went Right

Ron Hunter provided one of the iconic moments of March. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Ron Hunter provided one of the iconic moments of March. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • The #14 seeds Came to Play. The NCAA Tournament wasted no time producing its madness, thanks largely to a trio of plucky #14 seeds. In a span of roughly three hours on the first Thursday afternoon, two #3 seeds were toppled and another narrowly avoided defeat – immediately satisfying our expectations of chaos. First, UAB – the youngest team in the Dance – overcame an early 12-2 deficit against Big 12 Tournament champion Iowa State, stormed back, and knocked off the Cyclones by one, 60-59. Shortly thereafter, Georgia State, trailing Baylor by 10 points with under two minutes left, staged an improbable upset of its own, punctuated by R.J. Hunter’s game-winning three-pointer and his father’s subsequent antics. Even Northeastern had a shot to beat Notre Dame with 30 seconds to play. “They took the bullet, not us,” Irish coach Mike Brey said afterward, referring to all the #14-on-#3 crime elsewhere around the country. Before most of America had time to leave the office, a few of the month’s most exciting and improbable results had already played out. And it was pretty awesome.
  • Ron Hunter’s One Shining Moment. After tearing his Achilles in the Sun Belt championship game just a few days earlier, Georgia State coach Ron Hunter provided the signature moment of opening weekend in the Panthers’ upset win over Baylor. The fifth-year head man literally fell off his rolling chair following his son’s (R.J. Hunter) go-ahead three-pointer with 2.5 seconds left, then – completely overwhelmed by joy – bent over and placed his head in his hands as the clock expired. The emotional father/son press conference afterward further added to the drama: “It was a great game, but I’m not going to coach, I’m going to be Dad right now… This is my son. Proud of him.” Not only was it among the biggest victories in Georgia State program history, but it earned Ron Hunter a TBS guest analyst spot during the following weekend.

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Texas Brings HAVOC to the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 3rd, 2015

Less than a week after the firing of Rick Barnes, Texas has hired its next head basketball coach. And as we speculated on Monday, VCU’s Shaka Smart is packing his bags for the Lone Star State. Once he’s introduced, Smart will be expected to immediately breathe new life into a program that had fallen into a lull over the last four seasons. Given its resources and location, the Longhorns have no legitimate reason to not be a force in the Big 12 and nationally on an annual basis, and Smart’s track record, enthusiasm and unique style of play make him Texas’ best bet to restore and possibly exceed its basketball peak from a decade ago.

As the new head coach at Texas, Shaka Smart will look to bring postseason success back to Austin.

As the new head coach at Texas, Shaka Smart will look to bring deep postseason runs back to Austin.

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Smart is his vaunted “Havoc” defense. His Rams led the country in defensive turnover percentage every year between 2012-14 and turned in a top-10 performance again this season. Had Briante Weber stayed healthy, the Rams may have ended up leading the nation again in that category. Smart’s teams also excel on the other side of the turnover column, giving the ball away less than 18 percent of the time in every season under his watch.

As with any coach making the jump from a mid-major to power conference, though, Smart will face the challenge of competing with consistently good teams on a regular basis. The Rams famously beat #3 seed Purdue and #1 seed Kansas on their way to the 2011 Final Four, but in the four seasons that followed, VCU went just 16-19 against teams rated in the KenPom top 50 and failed to return to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. In fairness, many of those games came on the road or in neutral settings as the college landscape provides little incentive for power conference teams to travel to places like VCU, but Smart’s results against top-notch competition suggest that immediate success isn’t a given at Texas no matter how good a fit he is.

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Ohio State 75, #7 VCU 72

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

D'Angelo Russell is the Kind of Player Who Can Carry a Team Several Rounds (USA Today Images)

D’Angelo Russell is the Kind of Player Who Can Carry a Team Several Rounds (USA Today Images)

  1. And a Freshman Shall Lead Them. Much has been written and discussed about the underachievement of Ohio State’s last couple of senior classes — not only from a team but also from an individual standpoint. Players like Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and Lenzelle Smith (last year) have at times during their careers seemed capable of great things, but those flashes came all too infrequently to reasonably rely upon them. Even players like sophomore Marc Loving, who has at times shown such outstanding promise, has been intermittent in his production. With D’Angelo Russell taking much if not all of the offensive burden upon himself, it removes a lot of the pressure on those other players to feel like they have to be stars. That could be the right recipe for these Buckeyes as they look to make a run over the next two weeks.
  2. However, Ohio State’s Defense Must Stay Strong. The reason that the Buckeyes came into today’s game as a #10 seed this year was primarily because this is Thad Matta’s worst defensive unit since his 2009 group that lost in the opening round to Siena. Over the last five years, Ohio State has ranked among the top 16 defensive teams in America four times. And many of those very seniors already mentioned where a key part of it. True, Aaron Craft drove the success of several of those defenses, but players like Scott, Thompson and the others who remain aren’t chopped liver on that end of the floor. The point here is that the Buckeyes today held VCU to 38 percent from the field, which, when combined with the points that Russell put up, was enough to keep them close throughout. That defense will absolutely need to be humming on Saturday against Arizona, because you better believe that the Wildcats will send multiple long and lean bodies at Russell and force the other Buckeyes to make shots. A low-scoring affair is really the only shot Ohio State will have to get to the Sweet Sixteen, so the defense on the other end must come up big.
  3. VCU Loses Its Opener in Consecutive Years. And in disastrous fashion. Last year’s four-point play against Stephen F. Austin was worse, but Shaka Smart’s Rams will feel like they really let this one slip away. A pair of awful unforced turnovers on out-of-bounds plays gave Ohio State life down the stretch, and Smart’s decision to let his team play led to a reasonable but ultimately ineffective drive and look at the basket on the final play of regulation. Injuries of course were an issue with this year’s VCU squad, but there may also be a tinge of playing with the pressure of being the higher-seeded team involved here as well. It can cause really good teams to make questionable decisions in high-pressure situations.

Star of the GameD’Angelo Russell. The Ohio State freshman was everything he has been hyped to be. He handled the ball for the majority of the Buckeyes’ possessions, and he just has a feel for the game at his age that can’t really be taught. He finished the game with 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting (4-of-7 threes) and six rebounds, but it seemed like whenever Ohio State was a play or two away from getting into trouble, he would make something happen. He finished off the game with two free throws to seal it.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 19th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

And here we are. For those of us who grew up from around 1985 to 2001, the mathebracketal beauty of a 64-team field is what the NCAA Tournament is all about. Today and tomorrow are a mixture of so many highs and lows that it’s impossible to keep track of it all. We won’t be able to do that, but we can at least get you ready. Here’s a preview on each of today’s afternoon games. Enjoy the Madness.

#3 Notre Dame vs. #14 Northeastern – Midwest Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

All-American Jerian Grant Starts Things Off Today (USA Today Sports)

All-American Jerian Grant Starts Things Off Today (USA Today Sports)

Notre Dame enters NCAA Tournament play fresh off a thrilling run to the ACC Tournament title. Waiting for the Irish in Pittsburgh is Northeastern. The Huskies enter the tournament after winning three games in three days to take home the CAA Tournament crown and earn its first tournament bid since 1991. Bill Coen’s squad is led into action by senior forward Scott Eatherton, who leads the team in both points per game (14.6) and rebounds per game (6.4). Northeastern also has some talent at the guard position with junior point guard David Walker, who scores 13.4 points and dishes out 3.5 assists per contest. While the Huskies do have talent, they do not have enough to stop the Notre Dame offensive attack. Seniors Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton lead the way for the Irish, who are second in the country in field goal percentage at 51 percent. Grant and Connaughton have gotten it done for Mike Brey’s squad all season, but the Irish appear to be even more lethal now due to the emergence of sophomore guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia. Notre Dame has had its fair share of bad luck in the NCAA Tournament, but that should not be case Thursday afternoon. Expect the Irish to  ride their explosive offense to a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Notre Dame.

#3 Iowa State vs. #14 UAB – South Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV.

Iowa State and UAB commence South region action Thursday afternoon. Fred Hoiberg’s team underwent their annual roster overhaul last summer, but the end result – a team whose fast-paced, hyper-efficient offense leads to wins – saw no change. Iowa State’s national offensive efficiency rankings the last three seasons, including their current mark: 6th, 6th, and 7th. UAB’s primary task has to be slowing down the tempo and effectiveness of that Cyclone attack, a pursuit in which the Blazers are unlikely to be effective. There is little in the statistical profile that suggests they have the extra gear needed to keep pace with Iowa State, whose 15-6 Big 12 mark was about as it good as it got in the Big 12 this season. UAB was not the Conference USA regular season champion (Louisiana Tech was), but the Blazers gloomy Tournament outlook is a subtle reminder of how far their league has fallen. Sending one team to the Tournament, and on the #14 seed line, would have been unthinkable three years ago. It’s the unfortunate reality of 2015, however, and it should get only more uncomfortable after Thursday, when Iowa State will likely to dispatch an overmatched UAB team from the Tournament field.

The RTC Certified Pick: Iowa State.

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 17th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region. (Getty)

Favorite: Arizona, #2, 31-3. Wisconsin fans won’t like this, so let me first cover my butt: The Wildcats are the second-best team nationally according to KenPom and the Badgers are the third-best. Still, for my money, they’re co-favorites and the spread will likely not be larger than a point if they meet in the regional final. The other advantage that the Wildcats will have in a potential meeting with the Badgers is that their fans will make the easy drive from Tucson to Los Angeles and pack the Staples Center, giving Arizona a relative home court advantage. And then there’s this: Arizona is very, very good. Senior point guard T.J. McConnell is Aaron Craft with an offensive game. Junior power forward Brandon Ashley is finally back at the top of his game after breaking his foot last year. Freshman phenom Stanley Johnson is among the best first-year guys in the nation and is a grown man physically. And his fellow wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a dynamic individual defender capable of taking even the best offensive players – from point guards to power forwards – out of their games. If the Wildcats have a weakness, it is that they can at times go for long stretches at a time without scoring. UCLA held them without a single point for six minutes at the start of their matchup in mid-February. It’s certainly true that the Wildcats have improved since then, and even given that handful of struggles, they are still rated as the 11th-most efficient offensive team in the nation. It will take a near-Herculean effort for anybody in Arizona’s half of the bracket to beat them prior to the regional final. But assuming the two favorites get there, it is a toss-up.

Should They Falter: Wisconsin, #1, 31-3. Let’s throw out the Badgers’ head-scratching loss to Rutgers without National Player of the Year favorite Frank Kaminsky in the lineup. Aside from that, the Badgers lost at home to Duke (another #1 seed) and at Maryland in late February. On Sunday, they were taken to overtime in the Big Ten championship game by Michigan State before turning it on in the extra period and taking out the Spartans. Beyond that, they’ve been on cruise control throughout most of this season. Kaminsky has put together one of the most stupendous offensive seasons in recent history. Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker have taken huge leaps forward. And even after losing senior point guard Traevon Jackson to a foot injury in that same mid-January loss to Rutgers, sophomore Bronson Koenig stepped in and may have even improved upon Jackson’s level of play. The senior could be back for the Badgers as early as their opening round matchup with Coastal Carolina, providing quality veteran depth. But even if that never happens, this is the best offensive team in the nation and a group, as Michigan State learned on Sunday, very capable of turning into a very tough defensive team at the drop of a hat as well.

Grossly Overseeded: Oklahoma State, #9, 17-13. Okay, the RPI is flawed, that’s a given. But the Selection Committee uses it. And at #48 in the RPI with an 8-11 record against top 100 teams that includes losses to sub-100 RPI teams in both TCU and Texas Tech, the Cowboys are one of several examples of major conference teams with lousy records getting in over mid-major teams. Sure, the fact that the Cowboys were able to sweep Baylor and handle Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Arena means that they’re still a team that probably deserved to be in this NCAA Tournament. But their resume looks a lot more like a team that should have been headed to Dayton rather than in an #8/#9 game with a very favorable geographical placement.

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