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.

A strong 14-7 showing versus other “basketball-first” opponents (teams out of the Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Conference USA and West Coast Conferences) will be helpful should any direct team-to-team comparisons be made by the Selection Committee. The A-10′s record versus the other 23 conferences, 91-13, is strong, but given those teams made up nearly 60 percent of the scheduled games, and several conference teams struggled with those opponents (e.g., Duquesne’s losses to Robert Morris and New Hampshire; Fordham’s losses to Sacred Heart, Monmouth and Siena; Rhode Island’s loss to Detroit).

Stellar Starts

Five teams have assembled non-conference resumes that will give them momentum going into conference play. Over the next month these five squads will either build serious NCAA buzz or fade into the “whatever happened to…?” part of the postseason conversation. From most to least impressive:

  • Massachusetts – The question during the last week of conference play was “Who’d they beat?” The Minutemen had a knack for impressive wins over unimpressive opponents, but not so this season. Head coach Derek Kellogg has a veteran team that can point to wins over LSU, Nebraska, BYU, New Mexico and Providence as “good ones.” Their lone loss to Florida State was by five points and on a neutral court. Expectations for conference play? Pencil these guys in as the early favorite. Try to clear your schedule on February 21, as UMass will host Virginia Commonwealth in what should be one of the best conference games this season.
Will Shaka Smart Be Interested In The Open Position In Westwood? (US Presswire)

Shaka Smart’s crew faces early conference road games that should establish a pecking order for the A10.  (US Presswire)

  • Virginia Commonwealth — The preseason favorite’s shine was tarnished with three non-conference losses and a statistical study that showed breaking the Havoc-inspired press could lead to easier baskets. Puerto Rico Tip-Off losses to Florida State and Georgetown hurt, but the nine-point loss to Northern Iowa stung even harder, costing the Rams their AP Top 25 ranking. Shaka Smart’s charges responded to that game with four strong double-figure wins to close out the non-conference schedule. Early road games at George Washington (1/14 — see below) and Dayton (1/22) should establish a pecking order for the conference.
  • George Washington — The Colonials have fielded a squad more mature than most thought in the preseason, and they have the 12-2 record to prove it. Solid non-conference wins include Manhattan (on the road), Creighton (neutral) and Maryland. The road loss to Kansas State should not be a problem, but GWU fans should get on the Marquette bandwagon, as the win over the Golden Eagles, once thought to be a resume builder, is tarnishing as that Big East squad struggles. Next Tuesday’s game with VCU should tell us something about how far Mike Lonergan’s squad can rise.
  • Saint Louis — The Billikens were a close second to Virginia Commonwealth in Media Day estimations, but a lackluster non-conference slate gave Jim Crews’ team two chances to stand out, and they whiffed both times. Losses by under 10 to Wisconsin and Wichita State (both undefeated) are not exactly daggers to their chances, but it does mean the best win on their resume is Indiana State, and a razor-thin margin for error in conference play. An early test at Dayton (see below) becomes more important than it had to be with more astute scheduling (SIU-Edwardsville? Rockville? Really?).
  • Dayton — Pegged to finish #7 by the conference coaches, Dayton clearly exceeded expectations with a 12-3 non-conference record that featured wins at Georgia Tech, Gonzaga and California (the last two in the Maui Invitational) and a road win at Mississippi. Of the three losses, including a defeat to Baylor at the Maui Invitational and a last minute overtime loss to USC, it was the road loss at Illinois State that will haunt Archie Miller’s squad. Dayton will host Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth in a favorable scheduling twist that should test Dayton’s bona fides by mid-season.

Games to Catch This Week:

Trailing Saint Joseph’s at the half Wednesday night, the Minutemen did not break on top until Maxie Esho’s dunk with 61 seconds left. UMass survived their first conference game by a margin of three points. Welcome to A-10 conference play. Games that should be interesting (and hopefully televised) over the next seven days:

Is a must-win for Tyrone Garland and company? (USA TODAY Sports)

Is tonight a must-win for Tyrone Garland and company? (USA TODAY Sports)

  • George Washington at La Salle (Thursday 1/9,  8:00 pm ET NBC Sports Network) — Is the first game in conference play a must win? It might feel that way for La Salle, picked to finish second or third at Media Day last October, but just a tick above .500 after 13 games into the season. The Colonials come to the Gola, and if Tyreek Duren’s foot is sufficiently rested, this might be a stiffer test than expected for GWU. The front court match-ups (Steve Larsen vs. Kevin Larsen and Jerrell Wright vs. Isaiah Armwood) should be worth the price of admission, but Philadelphia papers Friday morning will probably be all about Maurice Creek. How La Salle’s collection of guards keeps up with him may tell the story of this game.
  • Saint Louis at Dayton (Saturday 1/11, 11:00 am CT ESPN2) — The problem is both teams need a resume win (the Billikens especially after their near-death experience at Rhode Island Tuesday), but only one can get the “W”. The contrast in how each wins is stark — Dayton wins when their offense is on; Saint Louis’ path to the “W” comes with defense. Dayton will use a rotation that includes Khari Price, Vee Sanford, Dyshawn Pierre, Jordan Sibert and Scoochie Smith that will man the point, off guard and wing. Devin Oliver, Jalen Robin, Devon Scott and Matt Kavanaugh will cover the low post and power forward spots. Saint Louis Coach Jim Crews will counter with Jordair Jett, Mike McCall, Andrew McBroom and Jake Barnett (backcourt/wing), along with Dwayne Evans, Rob Loe, Grandy Glaze and John Manning in the front court. The back court matchups should be worth the cost of admission; what Dwayne Evans brings is a bonus.
  • Virginia Commonwealth at George Washington (Tuesday 1/14, 7:00 pm CBS Sports Network) — On the strength of forced turnovers (33%) and strong field goal defense, the Rams built a near 20-point first half lead and coasted to a win at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Richmond last season. Will Havoc be the determining factor this season? Havoc is particularly effective against weaker, less experienced backcourts and is especially effective when the opponents’ offensive efficiency depends on keeping turnovers down. The Colonials are an average team for turnovers (they lose about 18% of their possessions to turnovers) but are vulnerable to steals. Keeping turnovers down however does not appear to be a necessary prerequisite to wins though. And Lonergan’s squad is converting their field goal attempts far more efficiently this season, a strong counter measure to Havoc-induced pressure. Kethan Savage and Maurice Creek form a lethal combination on the wing. If GW can break the press they can make the Rams pay for their aggressive defense.
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