Atlantic 10 Notebook
Three full months are nearly over. The Atlantic 10 Conference has sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two years. Half of the 14 conference teams are led by a coach with less than five years of A-10 experience. Most of these coaches are just now escorting their programs into relevance. UMass, Duquesne, and SLU are quietly climbing the ranks.
Each remaining fortnight, the Atlantic-10 will get the Bracketographic microscope treatment.
NCAA Tournament Teams: Rhode Island, Dayton, Temple, Richmond, Xavier
Temple has a shot to be an at-large team this year, if it does get the automatic bid with a conference tournament title. The conference always shines brightest when Temple runs out a solid unit.
In the obnoxiously early portion of their schedule, the Owls knocked off Siena 73-69. Argentine sophomore Juan Fernandez dropped a sacrilegious 20 points on the Saints.
The Siena team that won 27 games a year ago, including an NCAA Tournament game, returns four starters. For Temple, that victory will be an attractive notch in the belt. It might have been its best non-conference win too, if not for the crown jewel. Knocking off Villanova on December 13 ranks as one of the best wins in the country, regardless of conference affiliation.
Fernandez has improved in leaps and bounds, gobbling in the minutes once taken by departed star Dionte Christmas. His shooting percentage is up seven percent.
The Owls have not won the Atlantic 10 regular season crown since 2001-2002, when the standings were broken into East and West groupings. With their 77-72 win over Xavier, Fran Dunphy has them sitting comfy atop the 14-team conference.
Rhode Island has a pair of difficult games this week at Xavier and at Dayton. Both own imposingly long home-court winning streaks.
The Dayton Flyers just won a program-record 30th straight home game January 20th with the 66-51 thwarting of George Washington. Also, Dayton has never lost with future NBA player Chris Wright in the lineup. Thirty-eight times Wright has jumped center in UD Arena only to return up the concrete ramp underneath the seats with his head held high in victory.
Very few players nationally possess Wright’s rare combination of power and hops. Oddly, Wright does not lead UD in rebounding this year, as sophomore Chris Johnson out of Columbus has emerged as the Robin to Wright’s Batman.
CJ rebounds abnormally well for his height of 6’5”. In the middle of the conference’s rebounding leaderboard, Johnson attacks the offensive glass like a rabid dog. His lefty stroke still needs some fine-tuning, but in another year he will be an All-Conference player.
Xavier has a frighteningly active fan base. If the URI Rams need any advice on the Cintas Center in Cincinnati they need only ask the Dayton Flyer players, who have not captured a single win at Xavier since 1981. The fans are fervent, hopping mad and completely devoted to their Musketeers. Still not sure what that blue grimace of a mascot is doing, but otherwise it’s a great college gym…for the home team.
Xavier expected a transitory period with a new coach and new stars. Indiana-transfer Jordan Crawford certainly eased that transition with his virtuoso scoring performances. The sophomore leads the entire conference in scoring just over 19.0 ppg.
The recipe for a Xavier victory goes something like this: under two minutes the ball finds the hands of Crawford, who owns a mighty big bag of tricks. He often takes ill-advised shots. Two, three in a row. The next time down he buries a contested, fading jumper against Butler with less than a minute remaining. Regarding shots, the only one that matters is the next one. And all of Xavier’s players know Crawford can make the one that counts.
After Crawford gives Chris Mack’s Crew the late lead, Terrell Holloway (91 percent FTs) ices the game at the line.
Just up I-75, Dayton features a 4-4 road/neutral record, with all four losses to likely tournament teams (Villanova, Kansas State, New Mexico, Xavier).
The Flyers will get plenty of tests the rest of the way as the A-10 features more depth than in the last couple years. February games at Temple, SLU, and Richmond should be especially difficult for the athletic Flyers.
Interestingly, the only major statistical category that the five NCAA Tournament hopefuls lead the conference in remains assist/turnover Ratio. The high correlation in this category once again proves that good teams have good guards.
Richmond typically gets forgotten nationally. The small Virginia school features big time talent at the guard spots in seniors Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalez. One of the two scorers has led the Spiders in scoring 15 of their games.
The duo runs the perimeter while Justin Harper and Darrius Garrett man the paint. The Richmond and Raleigh natives, respectivelym make the Spiders a balanced, dangerous team. By late January, the Spiders had downed Mississippi State, Missouri, Old Dominion, and Florida.
The defense Chris Mooney’s squad plays has been exceptional, with two current players near the top of UR’s steals list. Gonzo and Anderson make an enormous difference on the defensive end in addition to their offensive prowess. The dudes never rest.
Needs Serious Work: Charlotte, GW, St. Louis
In the last two seasons, George Washington won nine and 10 games respectively. GW has fallen on hard times lately. It made the Big Dance five times in the 90’s and just three in the 00’s.
The Colonials have not even sniffed postseason since 2007. Their last NCAA win was 1994. It’s so bad in the nation’s capital that only one current player, senior forward Damian Hollis, has even played in an Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Despite all the negative momentum, GW burst out of the gate with four wins. In nine days the George Washington Wooden Teeth accumulated the same amount of non-conference triumphs as from the entire the 2007-2008 pre-conference slate.
Majerus’ third campaign in the “Gateway to the West” unveils ten non-conference home games. Ten. To be fair, SLU is abnormally young by Rotund Rick’s choosing. Upon his acceptance to the throne in St. Louis, he immediately began encouraging program veterans to leave.
The roster is likely the very youngest in the country, as there are no seniors, and only one non-playing junior listed (Paul Eckerle).
With the tough rebounding of slim sophomore Willie Reed, SLU won its first four games, knocking off Nebraska in the process. Each victory Reed yanked down the most Billikin boards.
Cast-offs: Six Atlantic 10 teams have already proven to be nationally irrelevant. As we at Bracketography.com strive to predict the NCAA Tournament field, let’s instantly trim the fat from this fourteen team conference.
St. Bonaventure still has not collected a notable win.
Saint Joseph’s has experienced a uniquely disastrous year. Unfortunately the legendary coach Phil Martelli will miss postseason play for the third time in four seasons. Without a turnaround St. Joe’s might finish the A-10 regular season with a losing record for the first time since 2000. With seven more losses, SJU becomes the worst Phil Martelli team ever.
Second year Coach Derek Kellogg of UMass still faces quite a climb. Three good players departed from 2009’s below average Minutemen.
Neither LaSalle nor Duquesne began the season well enough to deserve bubble consideration.
To begin the season, Duquesne knocked off a BCS team in Iowa, likely the worst Big Ten team. Other victims of the Dukes (Nicholls St. and Binghamton) are amongst the worst in the nation. As the conference race began, the Dukes tripped over the start line.
Fordham is terrible. Head Coach Dereck Whittenburg rightfully lost his job December 3rd. Losers of their last 16 Atlantic 10 games, the Fordham Rams have been dehorned.
For a team based in the Bronx, next to Mt. Vernon, Fordham sure recruits terribly. Of the 15 players listed on their roster, just one is from New York City. Coming off a 3-25 season, Whittenburg lured six freshmen to campus. Zero call New York City home. Unacceptable.
The Atlantic 10 might very well get five teams in the NCAA Tournament this season. More likely four teams will stand highest on a pile of A-10 victims when all is said and done. For a conference that has not sent four teams to the Big Dance since 2004, this should be a pleasant March.