CIO… the Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2013
128 Games, 59 Days, 16 Teams, 12 Seeds – For this season the Atlantic 10 decided to expand the conference tournament to a fourth round at the tournament site, to be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Four of the conference’s 16 members will not be seeded in the field. Going into the last week of the regular season one of the 12 tickets to Brooklyn has yet to be won and the games this week will decide which of the three “bubble teams” will get their tickets punched… and which will not.
- IN – While the conference tournament has yet to settle seeds #2 through #11 precisely, Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth, La Salle, Butler, Temple, Massachusetts, Xavier, Saint Bonaventure and Richmond are guaranteed (to varying degrees) a seed.
- OUT – Duquesne, Fordham and Rhode Island, currently #14-#16 in conference standings, will not be in the field. Rhode Island’s three-game losing streak in the past two weeks effectively ended any discussion of a late season surge and a tournament seed.
- BUBBLE – Saint Joseph’s, Charlotte, Dayton and George Washington will rely on games this week to decide if they make the tournament field. Of the four bubblers, the Hawks, are best positioned to make the field. The most likely scenario has the George Washington – Dayton match-up Saturday becoming a one-game play-in to the conference tournament.
More Conference Alignment Rumors – About 10 minutes after the Catholic 7 announced their secession from the Big East Conference last October, Xavier and Butler (and a variety of others) were rumored to be ready join the new basketball-focused association when the conference details were settled. As of last weekend however, though the Catholic 7 appear on the verge of securing the Big East name, a TV deal and the immediate rights for a conference tournament in Madison Square Garden, Butler and Xavier have yet (according to commissioner Bernadette McGlade) to notify the A-10 that they intend to withdraw from the conference. Charlotte (to CUSA) and Temple (to Conference TBD) are slated to leave in July, losing two more would place membership numbers at 12 going into July and beyond. Though committed to maintaining a strong basketball-focused conference, the front office has been short on details and candidates to replace the lost members or protect itself from even more exits as newly consecrated Big East looks to pick up other members.
NBC Sports Network Will Televise Thursday Rounds – McGlade announced that the NBC Sports Network will televise all four of the games that will open the Conference Tournament on Thursday, March 14. CBS has committed to televise Saturday’s semifinal games and Sunday’s Championship game as part of their Selection Sunday coverage.
The last week of conference play opens with only three conference tournament spots – all three on the sidelines, determined. Others (that Saint Louis will take the #1 seed, Virginia Commonwealth will take #2 and La Salle most likely the #3) seem nearly certain, but note that seeds #4 through #12 are pretty much up for grabs…at least until Wednesday.
- Saint Louis (23-6, 12-3 #16 AP) – Though not a lock for the #1 seed in Brooklyn, the Billikens have to be favored with a road game at the Cintas Center Wednesday and visit from La Salle Saturday to close out the regular season. Xavier, fading after a late season surge, is vulnerable, while Bills’ 16-2 record in the Chaifetz this season has to make them favorites versus the Explorers. A 2-0 week would lock up the #1 seed and most likely boost their NCAA seed to a solid #4 (they are seeded between #4 – Jerry Palm – and #6 – Joe Lunardi).
- Virginia Commonwealth (24-6, 12-3 #21 AP) – With a decisive 32 point win over Butler Saturday, the Rams have locked up at least the #2 seed in the conference tournament. They must win out, possible, though hardly carved in stone, as they host Richmond Wednesday and travel to Temple Sunday, and hope that Saint Louis drops both their games, to secure the #1 seed. Their Saturday win boosted their poll rankings and NCAA seed (currently between #7 and #8) and put the fear of HAVOC back into the conference (and post season) conversation.
- La Salle (21-7, 11-4) – If the season ended today the Explorers would earn the #3 seed in the conference tournament and pull down a invite to Dance. Ramon Galloway drew a conference nod for his 23-point night versus Duquesne (La Salle won by 33, 97-64), earning his fourth Honor Roll mention to go with two Player of the Week honors. Though he will not earn Player of the Year honors from the conference, the senior off guard has to know his on court contribution was one of the difference-makers in this breakthrough season for Dr. John Giannini’s squad. A 1-1 week – most probable given they host George Washington and travel to Saint Louis – would secure them as no worse than the A-10 conference tournament #4 seed with a bye to the quarterfinal round on Friday. Should Virginia Commonwealth beat Temple Sunday, the Explorers would draw the #3 seed.
- Butler (22-7, 9-5) – Saturday’s loss to Virginia Commonwealth was made all-the-worse by the horrific 32 point margin (84-52). The Bulldogs may well have maintained their Top 25 ranking despite the 0-2 week had their outing (no pun intended…) versus VCU been more competitive, but the truth remains that Butler lives and dies by the three point attempt (and taking care of the ball). While coach Brad Stevens’ team takes about the same number of three point attempts win or lose (19.4 vs. 18.4), their fortunes hang on their ability to convert. In their seven losses the Bulldogs converted at a 29.5% rate (38-129) while in their 20 wins they converted at a 37.6% rate (160-426). On a day like the one they had at VCU, losing 23 of their 65 possessions on a turnover combined with a 21% three point conversion rate (3-14) spelled a 30 point loss. Should the Bulldogs go 2-0 this week they would secure the #4 seed in Brooklyn only if VCU beats Temple Sunday.
- Temple (22-8, 10-5) – The Owls may be on the right side of the bubble (#10 and #11 seed, based on who you follow), but they will play Thursday in Brooklyn (with most likely the #5 seed) unless they can go 2-0 this week and La Salle stumbles. Temple holds the tiebreaker advantage over La Salle, so if both finish with 11-5 records, the Owls get the nod. Location does favor an Owl sweep, they travel to Fordham on Wednesday and return to the Liacouras to host VCU on Saturday, but VCU is hardly a walkover. Player of the Year favorite Khalif Wyatt will need another big week, but Wyatt has produced repeatedly this season. Anthony Lee and Scootie Randall will need a big week too.
- Massachusetts (18-9, 8-6) – The Minutemen have bounced all over these power rankings this season, and with little wonder. Injury to Jesse Morgan has placed more of their offense on Chaz Williams’ shot-making (rather than his play making), their fortunes rise and fall on whether the other players on the roster can pick up the slack. Last weekend in Cincinnati it was freshman Trey Davis and senior Freddie Riley as UMass put a fork in Xavier’s late-season NCAA drive. Other games it has been senior Terrell Vinson or junior Cady Lalanne, but what coach Derek Kellogg has not be able to develop this season is a rotation that has consistently provided offensive options other than Williams. On track for a 9-7 finish and a Thursday seed in Brooklyn (#6 at this point), should the Minutemen beat Butler Wednesday, a ten-win finish is probable. The extra win will probably not garner them a bye to Friday however.
- Xavier (17-12, 9-6) – That great storyline from last week (Musketeers close out with a 7-3 run, beating Saint Louis, Butler and Memphis before rolling into Brooklyn) died Saturday when Xavier lost another home game, this time to Massachusetts (77-72). A four game home stand that should have provided an advantage in X’s closing stretch has symbolized instead what went wrong with coach Chris Mack’s team this season, as they may post a 1-3 record that brings their home record down to a subpar (for this program) 9-5 record. Semanj Christon garnered his sixth Freshman of the Week honor Monday which should narrow the Freshman of the Year choice down to Butler’s guard Kellen Dunham and himself. Remaining hopes for another NCAA bid rest solely on a run through the field in Brooklyn, a very tough road.
- Richmond (17-13, 7-8) – Coach Chris Mooney’s team finished last week 1-1, pushing aside George Washington (73-64), but unable to contain a Dayton team (78-74) that is closing with a rush. A win this weekend against Duquesne would cement a .500 conference record, an improvement over last season’s 7-9 record. An 8-8 record would also put the Spiders in line for an #8 or #9 seed in Brooklyn, the only tangible for the #8 seed is the chance to wear the home whites in Thursday’s opening round.
- Dayton (17-12, 7-8) – The Flyers posted a 2-0 record last week, beating Charlotte (88-67) and Richmond (78-74) to vault themselves into #12 place in the conference standings and put themselves in an excellent spot to grab one of the last spots in the field at Brooklyn. Win at George Washington and the Flyers are in line for the #10 seed in the conference tournament with the tiebreaker advantage over their two most likely rivals –Richmond and Saint Bonaventure.
- Saint Bonaventure (14-14, 7-8) – The Bonnies dropped a tough road game at Dayton on Wednesday and will wrap up the regular season against Fordham. Most likely to finish their conference slate with an 8-8 record, expect coach Mark Schmidt’s squad to draw the #9 or #10 seed going into Brooklyn. Prospects are slim that this squad will play beyond Brooklyn this season.
- Saint Joseph’s (17-11, 8-7) – The Hawks snagged an eighth win (hello Rhode Island…) and may be in store for a ninth (Charlotte), going into Brooklyn with a three-game winning streak and (at least) the #8 seed in hand. In that event, the Joe’s would (most likely) draw Richmond (or Saint Bonaventure) for the first game on Thursday. With a little “help” however, coach Phil Martelli’s team could slide up to #7 and draw either George Washington or Dayton on Thursday. Winning out is the first order of business.
- George Washington (12-14, 6-9) – The Colonials are on a four-game losing skid. GW could beat Dayton to pick up the #11 seed and face Massachusetts in the opening round of the conference tournament, but the Flyers, on a winning run to open this week, have to be slightly favored. Prospects now favor the Colonials snagging the last ticket to Brooklyn and playing Xavier or Temple (or Butler?) in the Thursday round. Coach Mike Lonergan’s team has shown marginal progress over last season, but ending with a six-game losing streak is not the way to lead into next season.
- Charlotte (19-10, 7-8) – The 49ers snapped a four-game skid, but Wednesday’s overtime thriller over Dayton can’t hide what has developed with coach Alan Major’s team. While its defensive decline was underway by the time DeMario Mayfield was suspended (see Table 02 below – Mayfield was suspended before game #6), Majors has not reversed the trend. Coupled with a stalled offense, the gradual decline has become a collapse.
The 49ers’ win over Duquesne Wednesday may light a spark, but there’s just too much to overcome.
- Rhode Island (8-20, 2-13) – Rhodie’s last bet for a third win is UMass, but the Rams’ widening difference margin (see Table 01 above) suggest the mounting losses are beginning to take a toll. Coach Dan Hurley has help for Xavier Munford coming next season.
- Fordham (6-24, 2-13) – Bryan Smith’s season-ending hand injury is the latest in a series of disappointments for the Rams this season. Chris Gaston, out for two extended periods earlier, missed his 14th game as the Rams lost by 26 to Saint Joseph’s last Saturday. Gaston, currently with 1,638 career points will finish ahead of former teammate Brenton Butler (1,524 points scored between 2006 and 2011), but Ed Conlin’s 58 year old all-time record is safe as Gaston will not overtake #7 on Fordham’s list, Ken Charles. Gaston is the third Fordham player to garner more than 1,000 career rebounds (1,029). With one game remaining, chances that Gaston will overtake #2 on the list, Dan Lyons, are slim. Looking ahead to next season, coach Tom Pecora knows his offense will probably come from the back court.
- Duquesne (8-21, 1-14) – Derrick Colter, Quevyn Winters, Jeremiah Jones and junior Jerry Jones continue to gain the game-time experience that will pay dividends next season. They have, however, two more games to play this season, and the prospects for another win, between Charlotte at the Palumbo and Richmond at the Robins Center, look grim. Perhaps Charlotte is the better possibility. The staff will no doubt pay a good deal of attention to the Dukes’ front court, and use what they see to develop a recruiting plan for the spring signing period.
The last week of conference play gives the fans an eyeful of entertaining and hard fought games. Best of all, every one of the five listed below is meaningful for both the conference and the NCAA post season tournaments. The script may not have developed as the schedule maker wanted (based on how the last two weeks of conference play was scheduled back in September), but the fans and TV viewers will have a few high-quality choices to follow this weekend.
- La Salle vs. Saint Louis (Saturday March 9, 12:30 PM, NBC Sports) – A preview of the conference tournament semi-final perhaps? Both teams are going to Brooklyn (drawing byes to Friday’s quarter final round no doubt) and to the NCAA beyond. If seed holds and Butler and VCU do not falter, these two will meet again in a week. Ramon Galloway versus Kwamain Mitchell alone should be worth the price of admission, but since neither offers heavy weight inside players or a lot of fouling to control the paint and flow, the game should move quickly and be very watchable.
- Xavier vs. Butler (Saturday March 9, 5:30 PM, CBS Sports Network) – How many outstanding games have the fans seen at Hinkle Fieldhouse this season? How about one more. On the strength of early season fireworks versus Indiana and Gonzaga, the Bulldogs picked up a lot of converts (and AP votes), but they have faltered through February, having been swept by Saint Louis and losing a nail biter to Charlotte. If Xavier is riding a four-game winning streak coming into this last weekend, look out ’cause the Musketeers will have a lot of motivation to win.
- Virginia Commonwealth vs. Temple (Sunday March 10, 12:00 PM, CBS) – According to the preseason script this was supposed to be for the conference regular season title and the #1 seed to Brooklyn. Those issues were most likely settled the day before, but any chance to see Khalif Wyatt and Troy Daniels lace them up and go after one another is worth the price of admission. Whether the prize is first place or next-to- last place (or in this case, third and fifth place…) is of little concern. These are two excellent players and two Dance-worthy teams. And a possible preview of one of the quarterfinal matchups.
(ed. note – this week’s data doesn’t account for Wednesday’s action)
Ken Pomeroy’s numbers from Monday show even greater definition among the teams at the top (Saint Louis, VCU and La Salle) and those at the bottom of the conference from those nine in the middle of the conference.
The separation of those top and bottom seven from the nine in the middle is very clear, but also consider:
- Butler’s substantial cannot be entirely attributed to their thrashing at the hands of VCU last weekend. The Bulldogs have, over the course of February, moved away from Saint Louis and VCU and towards La Salle.
- Charlotte’s steady decline through much of February has been noted here almost every week. Their run of double digit losses over the past fortnight pushed them into the lower quarter of the conference. The 49ers may well finish the regular season watching the conference tournament on TV, unthinkable four weeks ago.
- Fordham will finish the season trailing well behind the rest of the conference in difference margins. Tom Pecora has to be concerned going forward as it appears the Rams have made virtually no progress over last season. Having company in the form of Duquesne should be cold comfort to those who follow Fordham’s program. After all, the Dukes are rebuilding with a new head coach this season.
- Dayton’s continued strong showing suggests the Flyers may indeed finish with a rush and get to an 8-8, no worse than a 7-9 record.