O26 Game of the Week: VCU Visits Saint Louis in Defensive Clash

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 12th, 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.

Virginia Commonwealth (19-5) at Saint Louis (22-2) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday

This game punctuates what could be a decisive week in the Atlantic 10. If VCU can take down George Washington on Wednesday night, it will claim sole possession of second place and remain just two games back of Saint Louis heading into Saturday. A victory would pull Shaka Smart’s club within a game of the top spot, setting the stage for a crucial rematch on March 1st; a loss would give the Billikens an overwhelming advantage over the rest of the league, nearly guaranteeing a second-straight regular season title. And conference implications aside, this game offers each team—both stingy-defensive units with second-weekend potential—the opportunity to notch a resume-bolstering victory just one month out from Selection Sunday. A lot will be at stake in Chaifetz Arena.

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

If last year was any indication, Saint Louis should have no problem handling VCU and its HAVOC defense, which is predicated on forcing turnovers and scoring points in transition. In their only regular season meeting of 2013, the Billikens—who run a slow-paced, ball-control offense—broke the Rams’ press time after time down the floor, committing just eight turnovers and getting countless easy looks under the basket. In turn, VCU was unable to get anything in the way of transition buckets—a huge problem against a dominant half-court defense adept at taking away the three point shot, the Rams’ next-best scoring method. Saint Louis coasted to a 14-point home victory in that one and validated it a month later in the A-10 Championship game, again staving off VCU’s pressure on its way to claiming the league’s postseason crown.

So, then, what hope could the Rams possibly have this year, on the road against virtually the same team? Well, for starters, the Billikens have been skating on the thin ice in recent weeks. Three of their last five games have been one possession contests in the final minute of regulation, including an overtime home victory over then-winless George Mason. They won all three—part of a current 16-game winning streak—but showed slight vulnerabilities on defense and at times struggled to score. If Saint Louis continues playing with fire, odds say it will eventually get burned. Plus, this season’s Billikens aren’t quite the offensive team they were a year ago (scoring at a modestly lower rate), and VCU is even better on defense. Anytime a middle-of-the-pack offense meets an elite defense, the former is probably going to have trouble at various points in the game. Of course, the same can be said for VCU’s offense and Saint Louis’ defense, but the point remains: the Rams certainly have a chance. And if they do manage to pull one out on the road, the A-10 will become a whole lot more interesting.

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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 (@vtbnblog) on February 5th, 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.

If the week proved to be a momentum builder for a few teams (Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Joseph’s), it also proved to be a killer for several others (like Richmond and Massachusetts).

Halil Kanasevic and St. Joseph's had a good week. (Getty)

Halil Kanasevic (right) and Saint Joseph’s had a good week. (Getty)

Good Week

  • Saint Joseph’s — With the loss at Richmond January 25, the Hawk appeared ready for life support. A 2-0 week has improved their conference record to 5-2, though, and with a 15-6 overall record and a #54 RPI ranking (via RealTimeRPI.com), revived Saint Joseph’s hope for a bye seed in Brooklyn and NCAA consideration. For the skeptics, these were not run-of-the-mill conference wins. The first came on the road in Dayton, as the Joe’s overcame a 25-20 halftime deficit with a 27-5 second half run that put a “must-win” Flyers squad back on their heels. The Hawks held them off to post a 60-57 win. The second win, a 73-68 decision over an increasingly desperate UMass squad, came over the weekend. Coasting out to a comfortable 17-point halftime lead, the Hawks fought off a Minutemen rally to secure the win. Four Saint Joseph’s players (Halil Kanasevic — team high 18, Ron Roberts, freshman DeAndre Bembry and Chris Wilson) posted double-figure points with Kanasevic, a center/forward, also dishing five assists. Who knows, if the Hawks can roll through this week (they host Saint Louis, followed by Virginia Commonwealth), RTC’s resident bracketologist Daniel Evans may even give them a nod next week. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Game of the Week: Indiana State Looks to Ruin Perfection

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 5th, 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. 

Wichita State (23-0) at Indiana State (14-5) – 8:05 PM ET, Wednesday. This is probably the greatest remaining hurdle on Wichita State’s quest for an undefeated regular season. Now 23-0, the Shockers have just eight games left on their schedule, only three of which come against squads with a .500 or better record, and just one versus a team ranked within the KenPom top-100. That team is Indiana State, and that game is tonight at the Hulman Center.

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Greg Lansing’s group should be dialed in after regaining some much-need momentum over the weekend at Northern Iowa, using a big second half rally to end the Panthers’ 11-game home winning streak and return to the win column. The Sycamores suffered a dreadful 19-point drubbing at Southern Illinois just three days earlier to all but end their at-large hopes, a sobering reality that perhaps bled into Saturday’s contest early. It took an angry locker room message from the head coach before the team finally woke up, ripping off 12 straight points in the first four minutes of the second half, tying the game before the first media timeout and maintaining firm control until the final whistle. It was an impressive comeback, the kind of focused, resilient effort they will need for a full 40 minutes in order to beat Wichita State.

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Saturday Preview: Entering February, Stakes Are Raised

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 1st, 2014

Hello February! College hoops welcomes you into 2014’s second month with a mouth-watering slate of action. You may be sold at “Duke-Syracuse,” but there will be plenty of games that don’t set Carrier Dome attendance records worth watching. That’s not to say that your college basketball fan credentials will be confiscated if you aren’t settling in to your couch for some ACC on ESPN action at 6:30 PM ET today – because they will be – but here are some other storylines to watch on the first day of February.

Perfection Will Be Tested

All Three Unbeatens Are In Action Saturday. With Visitors From Durham In Town, C.J. Fair And Syracuse Look To Be The Most Vulnerable Of The Trio.

All Three Unbeatens Are In Action Saturday. With Visitors From Durham In Town, C.J. Fair And Syracuse Look To Be The Most Vulnerable Of The Trio.

For the first time since 1976, there are three teams 20-0 or better in college basketball, and all three are in action on Saturday. Wichita State shouldn’t have any issues with Evansville (3-6 in the MVC) at The Roundhouse (3:00 PM ET, ESPNU), but both Arizona and Syracuse face serious threats to their dreams of perfection. The Wildcats visit Berkeley to take on a Cal team (10:30 PM ET, P12 Nets) which had been undefeated at home up until Wednesday, when Arizona State squeezed out an overtime win over the Bears. If Mike Montgomery’s team is to add the signature victory of all signature victories to its resume, they will need senior Richard Solomon to have a big game against that impressive Arizona frontcourt. All the way across the country, Duke would be well-served to find a way to match up with the impressive frontcourt of their undefeated opponent. The Blue Devils are not a great rebounding team, but in their game with Syracuse (6:30 PM ET, ESPN), keeping the Orange (ninth nationally in OR%) off the offensive glass will be imperative for Coach K’s squad. On the other end, look for Jabari Parker to get plenty of touches out of the high post. A record crowd is expected at the Carrier Dome for this one, which obviously sounds like good news for Syracuse. Maybe not, though. The last time there was an attendance record set at the dome (last February, versus Georgetown), a do-it-all 6’8” forward named Otto Porter torched the Orange for 33 points and eight rebounds in a lopsided victory for the visitors. Can Parker induce a little déjà vu on Saturday, and end Syracuse’s perfect season while he’s at it?

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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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O26 Weekly Awards: American, Juvonte Reddic, Chris Mooney & FAU

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 30th, 2014

From half-court shots and buzzer-beaters to reverse alley-oops and posterizing dunks, it was one heck of a week in O26 basketball. And for several players, coaches and teams, it might have been a defining one. Let’s pass out some awards to those who stood out from the rest of the pack.

O26 Team of the Week

American has reason to be confident after last week. (American University Athletics)

American has reason to be confident after last week. (American University Athletics)

American University. No team in college hoops made a louder conference statement than American did last week, and perhaps no other program has exceeded expectations to the extent the Eagles have this season. With only two returning players who averaged more than seven points a game a year ago, just one returning senior, and a new coach to boot, D.C.’s other, other school (in terms of basketball notoriety, at least) was picked to finish ninth of 10 teams in the Patriot League and entered 2013-14 ranked 288th in the KenPom rankings. Merely finishing .500 or better in the conference would have probably been deemed a success, which is what makes American’s 9-0 start in Patriot League play such an unexpected and wholly remarkable feat. And after their three most recent resounding victories, it’s clearer than ever that the Eagles are no longer just a nice story in a revamped league — they are the team to beat.

First was the absolute shocker. On Wednesday night, American hosted preseason favorite Boston University in a contest that was supposed to be relative toss-up, the Eagles having the slight edge at home but most expecting the game to go either way. From about the five minute mark onward, however, it went only one way: Mike Brennan’s group absolutely eviscerated the Terriers, scoring 1.32 points per possession behind 11-of-14 three-point shooting and 71.4 percent shooting overall, recording assists on 22 of 30 made baskets and winning by a whopping 30 points. “Our chemistry is starting to grow,” guard Jesse Reed noted afterwards, in a massive understatement. The 86-56 final was BU’s worst loss since November 2012 and its first Patriot League defeat this season, giving American sole possession of first place near the halfway point. It was an impressive achievement, no matter how you slice it.

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O26 Resume Review: New Mexico, Richmond & VCU Rising…

Posted by Adam Stillman on January 29th, 2014

As January comes to a close, we’re beginning to see teams play their way into or out of the at-large conversation. While we saw a couple teams already projected to earn a selection to the NCAA Tournament boost their profiles this past week, we also witnessed a couple more teams throw away their invitations to the Big Dance. Let’s see which O26 teams helped and hurt themselves.

Helped

Richmond (14-6, 4-1 A-10).

Cedrick Lindsay has the Richmond Spiders on the rise. (Photo courtesy of espn.com)

Cedrick Lindsay has the Richmond Spiders on the rise. (Photo courtesy of espn.com)

What a couple of weeks it’s been for the Richmond Spiders. They’ve suddenly thrust themselves into the bubble picture with wins against Massachusetts (#8 RPI), Dayton and St. Joseph’s. Richmond’s hot streak boosted its RPI from #62 to #48 in the matter of seven days. While still on the outside looking in, the Spiders can change that this week as opportunity comes knocking. The make-or-break stretch starts with a road game tonight at Saint Louis before traveling to face VCU on Saturday. Ken Pomeroy’s projections don’t give Richmond much of a chance in either game (19 percent and 20 percent, respectively). Those same projections have Richmond finishing 20-11 overall and 10-6 in the Atlantic 10, though. Is that enough to make the Big Dance? Joe Lunardi currently has Richmond listed second in his “First Four Out” category, while CBS’ Jerry Palm has the Spiders in that same group.

Projected seed for now: Out

New Mexico (16-4, 7-1 MW). The New Mexico Lobos are looking like a safe bet to be the Mountain West’s second — and maybe final — representative in the NCAA Tournament behind San Diego State. After a disappointing home loss to UNLV on January 15 that prompted me to place the Lobos in the “Hurt” category, New Mexico has since rattled off four straight wins. While three of those victories came against Utah State, Fresno State and Colorado State, the fact they came on the road helps the Lobos’ overall profile. Mix in a solid home win against Boise State, and New Mexico’s RPI jumped from #45 to #30 in a week’s time. The Lobos boast five top-100 RPI wins, including a December victory against Cincinnati (#24 RPI) that continues to look better and better as the Bearcats (19-2) climb up the rankings (#13 AP, #15 Coaches). New Mexico still faces a home-and-home with San Diego State in late February and early March, as well as road contests at Boise State and UNLV.

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O26 Game of the Week: MAC on the Line as Toledo Faces Ohio

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 29th, 2014

As conference hierarchies begin taking shape and teams gear up for the stretch run, this week offers a whole host of compelling O26 contests that are sure to impact the picture come March. Let’s take a look at the most intriguing match-ups on tap.

Game of the Week

Toledo (17-2) at Ohio (14-5) – 1:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.

The Bobcats host the 17-2 Rockets on Saturday in a huge MAC tilt. (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

The Bobcats host the 17-2 Rockets on Saturday in a huge MAC tilt. (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

Efficient offense meets stingy defense in what could very well be a preview of the MAC Championship game on March 15. After losing at home to a gritty, defensive-minded Bowling Green group last Wednesday night, Ohio again found itself in serious trouble at Eastern Michigan last Saturday, trailing by 13 points late and completely unable to generate baskets against the Eagles’ 2-3 zone. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Bobcats ripped off 20 points in the final eight minutes — including a 12-0 run to take their first and final lead — and stunned EMU to remain a game back of Akron for the MAC East’s top spot.  It was a big win for Jim Christian’s crew, but Saturday’s contest will be a different beast altogether.  For all of the conference’s tough defensive teams, Toledo is the stand-alone offensive power, ranking 11th nationally in offensive efficiency and featuring five starters each within the top 500 in offensive rating. That ability to score has helped the Rockets to a 5-1 conference record and a stellar 17-2 mark overall, among the best in the entire country.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 23rd, 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.

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)

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 »

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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.

vcu_juvonte_reddic

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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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 9th, 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.

The Atlantic 10 Versus the World (the rest of Division I actually):

Table01140109

Note: conference teams had no games versus team from the Atlantic Sun, the Sun Belt and the SWAC. Those conferences are not shown in the table.

With conference play starting this week, the Atlantic 10 has only four non-conference games left on the composite schedule. A look at the table shows conference teams have won 70 percent of their games against other Division I teams. While the winning percentage looks good overall, it masks a disappointing 36.5 percent (19-33) mark versus the power conferences (defined here as the five BCS conferences — the ACC, B1G, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — plus the AAC and Big East) that should trouble those fans who anticipate four or more NCAA bids in March. Chances to close that win deficit, with a single power conference game outstanding, are virtually nil. Scheduling nearly 60 percent of its games with opponents from the lower 23 conferences placed a ceiling on the highest ranking the conference could achieve. Several teams such as Massachusetts and George Washington have solid RPIs (Ken Pomeroy would also count St. Louis and Virginia Commonwealth among the “solid showing” group), and should help those considered more “bubble” than “in” over the next month with conference games.

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