Atlantic 10 March Madness Update

ATLANTIC 10 MARCH MADNESS UPDATE

 

The La Salle Explorers have done something quite remarkable over the past week. They haven’t just won three NCAA tournament games in a five-day span; they’ve produced a body of work that has eclipsed the past half-century of hoops at the venerable Philadelphia school.

 

Yes, it’s a great time to be an Explorer. La Salle will be exploring the Sweet 16 this Thursday in Los Angeles after winning a First Four NCAA tournament play-in game, followed by two more wins in the West Region this past weekend in Kansas City. A victory over Boise State in Dayton, followed by a pair of triumphs over power-conference teams Kansas State and Ole Miss, have vaulted the No. 13 seed into the Sweet 16. Had Florida Gulf Coast not hit the headlines with its historic charge into the NCAA tournament’s second weekend, La Salle would be receiving even more national coverage as the ultimate darling in college basketball.

 

Let’s put La Salle’s achievements in perspective: In nine NCAA appearances from 1968 through 1992, the Explorers won a total of two NCAA tournament games, one in 1983 and one in 1990. The last time La Salle made a deep run in March was in the 1955 NCAA Tournament. Coach Ken Loeffler led the Explorers to the national championship game, losing to San Francisco. The year before, in 1954, La Salle won its only national title, beating Bradley for NCAA supremacy. It had been a long time since La Salle – the alma mater of noted CBS basketball analyst Bill Raftery – had made this deep an imprint on the college basketball world, but the Explorers, led by fearless guards Ramon Galloway and Tyrone Garland, have re-emerged in full force.

 

A decisive win over Boise State in the First Four last Wednesday was surprising in its ease. The win over Kansas State on Friday was the most impressive performance for the Explorers this past week, because La Salle was playing what amounted to a road game in Kansas City. La Salle didn’t hit a field goal in the final 7:55 of regulation, but it still managed to dig out a gritty win because of the clutch foul shooting of Jerrell Wright, a 62-percent free throw shooter who went 9 of 10 at the stripe, 3 of 4 in the final minute of regulation. Sunday’s win over Ole Miss was a feat simply because La Salle had to play through fatigue due to its First Four game on Wednesday. Yet, adrenaline helped the Explorers to fight to the finish, and because of 24 points from Galloway, La Salle was able to play the more rested Rebels on even terms. At the very end, Garland answered the call, scoring on a nifty, swooping layup with 2.5 seconds left to break and tie and unleash a wild celebration that will carry through the week in Philadelphia.

 

La Salle is the Atlantic 10’s lone representative in the Sweet 16, but it will not face a top seed as a huge underdog. La Salle will be able to play the West Regional semifinals on very even terms because it will face ninth-seeded Wichita State, another upstart and anything but a heavyweight.

 

Elsewhere in the Atlantic 10, the league still gained a lot from this NCAA tournament, procuring six win shares from the round of 64 and the First Four. The A-10 went 5-0 in the round of 64, making a name for itself before getting thinned to one team.

 

Butler stopped Bucknell in the East Region, throttling the Bison with an unrelenting defensive performance. Virginia Commonwealth scored a 46-point win over Akron, reminding national viewers of its prowess on defense. Saint Louis smothered New Mexico State before bowing out of the tournament against Oregon in the round of 32. Temple bested North Carolina State thanks to a ball-hawking defense. Whereas other conferences fell flat on their faces, the Atlantic 10 turned in a strong showing. It could have used more than one team in the Sweet 16, but it will still take six NCAA wins, with La Salle offering a chance for even more.

 

In the CBI, Richmond kept the flame burning for the A-10 with a first-round victory last week over Bryant.

 

Matt Zemek

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Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship Game

Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship Game

(1) Saint Louis 62 (2) VCU 56

 

The Saint Louis Billikens added their names to the list of teams in college basketball that managed to win both regular season and tournament championships in their conference in 2013. Completing this double is one of the hardest things a team can do in college basketball, magnifying just how tough and tested the Billikens have become. In this season, marked by the death of program architect Rick Majerus, a band of basketball brothers, led by head coach Jim Crews, has managed to fully realize the vision of the man that brought this team together in the first place. Few stories in the sport have carried more poignancy and power than the one that has originated in the Gateway City.

On Sunday in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center, the Billikens made that story even better.

In a clash between slow structure and full-court frenzy, Saint Louis’s deliberate pace and style won out against Virginia Commonwealth’s so-called “Havoc” defense. The Billikens and Rams both like to bother the opposition at the defensive end of the floor, and on Sunday, Saint Louis bothered VCU a little more than the Rams were hoping for.

Saint Louis grabbed a 45-32 lead with 11:45 left, holding VCU to little more than a point per minute, but at that precise moment – just when SLU was slowly squeezing the life out of the second seed – the Rams perked up. “Havoc” created four SLU turnovers to fuel a 13-1 run in three minutes of game time. What had been a blowout turned into a 46-45 game. Saint Louis easily could have lost composure, but the Billikens managed to steady themselves instead. SLU’s Cody Ellis stopped the bleeding with mammoth three-pointer with 8:25 left to give the top seed a 49-45 lead and, quite significantly, halt VCU’s momentum. The Billikens stopped turning the ball over, and VCU therefore couldn’t get cheap baskets in transition.

After Ellis’s huge three at the 8:25 mark, the Rams scored just six points in the next 6:20, and by that time, Saint Louis had established a 57-51 lead. VCU needed to hit a few threes to have a realistic shot at a comeback, since SLU milked the 35-second clock on its own possessions, but the Rams did not make a single three in the final seven minutes of regulation, as the Billikens put the clamps on VCU’s shooters. Saint Louis maintained a small working margin and celebrated a championship on the occasion of the Atlantic 10′s first visit to Brooklyn.

It’s a trip the Billikens won’t soon forget.

The imprints of a Saint Louis victory – and a game flow that favored the top seed for most of the day (the 13-1 VCU run being the main exception) – can be found in the box score. VCU hit just 3 of 18 triples, a sure sign of defeat for coach Shaka Smart’s club, which needs to hit long balls at a higher rate, not only to fuel confidence, but to create a reasonable points-per-possession average over the course of the game. All told, Virginia Commonwealth hit just 34 percent of all its field goal tries, the product of Saint Louis’s persistently pesky defense. The Billikens would have won this game more comfortably if they had been able to do better at the foul line. SLU hit just 21 of 33 free throws, a 64-percent conversion rate. The Billikens also committed 17 turnovers, a sign of how well VCU competed, even in a loss.

 

Matt Zemek

 

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Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament – Semifinals

Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament – Semifinals

 

(1) Saint Louis 67 (5) Butler 56

Saint Louis advances to play (2) VCU in the championship game on March 17

The Saint Louis Billikens achieved something substantial on Saturday afternoon in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn: They beat the Butler Bulldogs for the third time in the same season.

Butler’s reputation in the college basketball world is substantial. The Bulldogs can claim back-to-back appearances in the NCAA national championship game, a feat few other programs in recent memory can match. Coach Brad Stevens has established Butler as a destination school in this sport. It’s hard to beat Butler once, let alone thrice, in one season.

Saint Louis faced relatively little trouble in achieving this feat. That’s how good the Billikens are, and it shows why this team won the outright regular season championship of the Atlantic 10 in 2013.

Saint Louis pulled away from Butler on Saturday, finding greater offensive efficiency while preventing the Bulldogs from getting on a run at any point in the second half. Saint Louis knows that Butler likes the three-point shot, and on Saturday, Butler hit only five triples in 18 attempts. Rotnei Clarke is Butler’s leading three-point shooter, and he actually produced a solid game with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting (plus 5 rebounds), but he made only two threes on Saturday. Saint Louis got pounded on the offensive boards, giving up 10 offensive rebounds while collecting only four, but Butler’s big men could not finish enough plays near the tin. Aside from Clarke, no one on the Butler roster scored more than eight points. Saint Louis contained the Bulldogs all game long.

At the other end of the floor, Dwayne Evans starred for the Billikens. The forward hit 7 of 10 field goal attempts and went 9 of 11 from the foul line, posting 24 points along with 11 rebounds. With Cody Ellis hitting four threes en route to 13 points off the bench (the kind of game Clarke aspires to), Saint Louis generated enough offensive production to cruise to a double-digit win. The Billikens functioned smoothly in the second half, posting 40 points by getting the shots they wanted. Butler, on the other hand, labored through most of its possessions in the second half. That’s how Saint Louis likes to play: disruptive on defense, calm and unruffled on offense.

If the Billikens can play like this one more time against VCU, they’ll have a tournament championship to add to their regular season Atlantic 10 crown.

 

(2) VCU 71 (6) Massachusetts 62

VCU advances to play (1) Saint Louis in the championship game on March 17

The Virginia Commonwealth Rams hit only 36 percent of their field goal attempts on Saturday afternoon in the second Atlantic 10 semifinal against the Massachusetts Minutemen. They were outworked on the offensive glass, 14 boards to 10. UMass blocked nine shots while VCU managed only two. The Rams were outscored at the free throw line, 19 points to 13.

They won by nine. Do you really need to wonder why?

VCU prides itself on its defense, summed up in one word: “havoc.” The Rams’ full-court pressure, a relentlessly attacking style of defense, is designed to bother the opposition, accumulate a big bunch of takeaways, and give the Rams the added possessions that will work in their favor. Saturday’s game against Massachusetts was therefore a prototypical VCU masterwork. The Rams forced 23 UMass turnovers while giving up the ball only 7 times on their own. That one differential enabled VCU to attempt 17 more field goals than Massachusetts (70 to 53). VCU was therefore able to shoot at a lower percentage (36 to UMass’s 38) yet still prevail.

This was a close contest throughout. UMass got the early jump, but VCU’s pressure wore down the Minutemen. After 35 minutes, the score stood at 58-56 in VCU’s favor. The turning point came in the 36th minute of play. Cady Lalanne of UMass missed a tying layup, part of a stretch run in which the Minutemen simply could not finish plays near the rim. After that miss, VCU’s Briante Weber made a layup with 4:27 on the clock. Two officials near the play briefly differed on the call; one signaled for a blocking foul on Massachusetts forward Sampson Carter. One signaled for a charge on Weber. The foul was ultimately given to Carter, setting up an old-fashioned three-point play for Weber. VCU gained a 61-56 lead and pushed that advantage to 64-56. UMass never got closer than four points the rest of the way.

Massachusetts probably needed to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament to make the NCAA tournament, but the Minutemen – if they were going to get an at-large bid – needed to stack a win over VCU on top of Friday’s victory over Temple in the quarterfinals. UMass is very likely headed to the NIT, but bigger surprises have existed on Selection Sunday in the past.

 

Matt Zemek

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Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament – Quarterfinals

Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament – Quarterfinals

(1) Saint Louis 72 (9) Charlotte 55

Saint Louis advances to play (5) Butler in the semifinals on March 16

The Charlotte 49ers were lucky to beat the Richmond Spiders on Thursday in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. They were lucky only in the sense that they were able to reach the quarterfinals in the first place.

There was certainly nothing lucky about drawing the Saint Louis Billikens on Friday in the round of eight. The 49ers got drummed out of town by the regular season champion in the Atlantic 10, which made a loud statement in its attempt to secure a tournament championship and claim unquestioned supremacy over the A-10 in 2013.

Saint Louis didn’t shoot well on Friday, but Dwayne Evans sure did. The forward stepped up for SLU, hitting 8 of 9 field goal attempts and all nine of his free throws, en route to a 25-point, 9-rebound performance that left Charlotte reeling. The biggest key to this game other than Evans’ superb outing was the Billikens’ defense, which locked down the Niners throughout the afternoon. Charlotte hit just 39 percent of its shots, but the more alarming part of the day for the ninth seed in this tournament was that its number of turnovers (20) exceeded its number of made field goal attempts (19). Charlotte was never able to find rhythm in halfcourt sets, and that lack of flow carried over to the foul line, where the 49ers hit just 12 of 22 attempts.

(5) Butler 69 (4) La Salle 58

Butler advances to play (1) Saint Louis in the semifinals on March 16

The Butler Bulldogs ensured that the La Salle Explorers will have to suffer through a very, very long wait on Selection Sunday. La Salle entered Friday’s Atlantic 10 quarterfinal in dire need of one win to shore up its profile for the Selection Committee, but the Philadelphia-based team failed to get it, meaning that it is at the mercy of the men who will choose the field of 68 and then unveil it this Sunday afternoon.

La Salle made its resume based on a non-conference win over Villanova and two big Atlantic 10 triumphs over VCU and Butler. La Salle didn’t lose often in Atlantic 10 competition, but it didn’t develop a fat list of top-100 wins, and a neutral-court victory over Butler would have been just the kind of poker chip the Explorers could have used to punch their ticket to the Big Dance. They didn’t get it on Friday, and now they’ll have to sit on the middle of the bubble, hoping they get invited to Bracketville.

La Salle picked a bad time for its star player to perform poorly. Ramon Galloway, the team’s leading scorer and its crunch-time shot-taker, went just 1 for 10 from the field, 0 for 7 from three-point range. Galloway finished with just four points, one of the foremost reasons La Salle couldn’t rally in the latter stages of the second half.

La Salle received strong performances from three players on Friday. Tyrone Garland starred off the bench, throwing down 17 points, while Tyreek Duren chipped in with 16 and Jerrell Wright added 14, plus 11 rebounds. Those three players did all they could for the Explorers, hitting 17 of 29 field goals combined. However, every other player who took the court was a no-show. The rest of the La Salle team went just 3 for 21 from the field.

Butler, on the other hand, gained at least nine points from six players and at least 10 points from five. The Bulldogs hit 49 percent of their field goal attempts compared to just 40 for La Salle. Butler hammered La Salle on the glass as well, 37 rebounds to 22.

(2) VCU 82 (10) Saint Joseph’s 79

VCU advances to play (6) Massachusetts in the semifinals on March 16

The Saint Joseph’s Hawks were supposed to make the NCAA tournament this season, but instead, they won’t even make the NIT. A very disappointing campaign came to a conclusion for the Hawks on a day when all three Philadelphia-based schools in the Atlantic 10 – SJU, La Salle, and Temple – bowed out of the conference’s tournament in Brooklyn.

Virginia Commonwealth built a big lead and then held on late to hold off Saint Joseph’s, as coach Shaka Smart’s team advanced to the semifinals, intent on winning a piece of hardware in Brooklyn after failing to earn a share of the A-10′s regular season championship.

Both teams hit at least 50 percent of their field goal attempts in this game, but Virginia Commonwealth was more consistent in attacking the tin and getting two-point baskets. Saint Joseph’s earned a lot of trips to the foul line, but it left 11 points at the stripe, hitting only 22 of its 33 tries. In a contest decided by three points, that statistic loomed large. Carl Jones scored 29 points for Saint Joseph’s while Langston Galloway added 25, but VCU – much like Butler earlier in the day – won with balanced scoring, getting at least 12 points from five different players.

(6) Massachusetts 79 (3) Temple 74

Massachusetts advances to play (2) VCU in the semifinals on March 16

As Selection Sunday approaches, bubble teams around the country are hoping that the Massachusetts Minutemen don’t gain an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The men from Amherst, Mass., are just two wins away from doing precisely that.

UMass knows that it has to produce a huge weekend in Brooklyn to have any shot at the NCAAs. An at-large bid is an outside possibility, but gaining the automatic bid is the surest ticket to Bracketville, and after beating the Temple Owls on Friday night, coach Derek Kellogg’s team can feel more optimistic about its chances.

This game was decided when UMass forward Terrell Vinson banged in a three-pointer with 33 seconds left in regulation, giving the Minutemen a 76-71 lead shortly after Temple’s Khalif Wyatt made the score 73-71 with a triple of his own, just inside the one-minute mark. In many ways, the performances of each team’s star player separated the two sides. Wyatt, Temple’s elite scorer, produced 19 points on 19 shots, a very inefficient outing. Massachusetts star Chaz Williams, on the other hand, scored 28 points on 13 field goal attempts. With UMass hitting 23 of 27 foul shots to offset 19 turnovers, the Minutemen provided enough potency to outscore the Owls, giving Temple a low seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

Matt Zemek

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Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament – First Round

Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament – First Round
 
(9) Charlotte 68 (8) Richmond 63
 
Charlotte advances to play (1) Saint Louis in the quarterfinals on March 15
There were more consequential games played on Thursday in college basketball; the Atlantic 10 Tournament first round game between the Charlotte 49ers and the Richmond Spiders was not a bubble game. It was not a contest in which one team was assured of an NCAA tournament bid and had a chance to improve its seeding. These are two teams headed nowhere, with the winner owning a faint chance of being able to beat top-seeded Saint Louis in the quarterfinals. This game did not register on the national radar screen when it began.
It sure made a news splash by the time it ended.
In one of the more controversial and remarkable endings to any college basketball game at any time or place, Charlotte defeated Richmond thanks to a highly questionable call, followed by a dramatic emotional outburst from a coach who is normally as cool as ice.
Here was the scene inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn: Richmond owned a 63-60 lead with just 4.7 seconds left in regulation. The Spiders wisely fouled Charlotte to prevent the 49ers from being able to tie the game with a three-point shot. After the first foul shot, which was made by Charlotte’s Pierria Henry, Richmond’s Derrick Williams shoved another Charlotte player in the tussle for a possible rebound, since the foul shot was the front end of a one-and-one, not the first of two guaranteed shots. The official nearest the shove by Williams called an immediate technical on the Richmond player. The rulebook allows for this interpretation, but it is generally thought that at the end of a game, a shove like that should be dealt with by talking to the player and telling him to not get overexcited. An immediate penalty is not viewed as being consistent with what is known as “preventive officiating,” the practice of allowing situations to be handled by prevention (i.e., warnings to players and coaches) instead of punishment.
When Richmond coach Chris Mooney – typically a very reserved and mild-mannered individual with a gleaming reputation in terms of bench decorum – found out about the technical foul, he became so incensed that the officials handed him two technical fouls. The technical on Williams for shoving a player, combined with the double-technical on Mooney and then a common foul by Richmond off an inbounds pass with three seconds left, gave Charlotte 10 foul shots in those final 4.7 seconds of regulation. Henry – who had made that first foul shot before the wave of technicals crashed down upon Richmond – wound up making eight free throws to account for the final margin. Richmond got eliminated in a way that drew a maximum of national attention.
(5) Butler 73 (12) Dayton 67
 
Butler advances to play (4) La Salle in the quarterfinals on March 15
The Butler Bulldogs received a stiff challenge from the Dayton Flyers on Thursday in Brooklyn, but their defense responded down the stretch. Butler led by a narrow 50-48 margin with 11:12 remaining in regulation, and that’s when coach Brad Stevens’s team dug in at the defensive end of the floor. Butler held Dayton to just four points over the next six minutes and 19 seconds, extending its lead and pulling away for the win. Rotnei Clarke threw down 21 points to lead Butler, which will now get a chance to avenge a regular-season loss to La Salle in Friday’s quarterfinals.
(10) Saint Joseph’s 58 (7) Xavier 57
 
Saint Joseph’s advances to play (2) VCU in the quarterfinals on March 15
The Saint Joseph’s Hawks got lucky on Thursday in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. They’ll need more luck if they want to swipe an automatic bid from this league in the coming days.
Langston Galloway hit two foul shots with 1.4 seconds left in regulation to give Saint Joseph’s a one-point lead over the Xavier Musketeers. Then, SJU watched as an amazing play almost gave Xavier one of the more remarkable last-second wins in college basketball history.
Xavier coach Chris Mack was seen talking to officials during the last timeout of the game with 1.4 seconds on the clock. The full-court inbounds pass thrown by Xavier’s Justin Martin – right after Galloway’s go-ahead foul shot – caromed off the backboard and into the hands of teammate Isaiah Philmore. It might have seemed like an accident, but it was planned, and it worked to perfection. Philmore had a four-foot shot to win the game, but he missed it, and Saint Joseph’s escaped.
(6) Massachusetts 77 (11) George Washington 72
 
Massachusetts advances to play (3) Temple in the quarterfinals on March 15
In a thoroughly entertaining finale on Thursday at the Atlantic 10 Tournament, Massachusetts became the last team to advance to the quarterfinals with a hard-earned win over George Washington. Chaz Williams scored the go-ahead bucket with 1:20 left, and he added a jumper with just over 30 seconds remaining to carry the Minutemen past the Colonials. Massachusetts does not have a shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament; it must win the A-10 tourney to go to the Big Dance.
Williams scored 16 for Massachusetts. Kevin Larsen scored 17 for George Washington in a losing cause.
Matt Zemek
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Atlantic 10 Basketball Week in Review – March 4, 2013

Atlantic 10 Basketball Scores

Tuesday, February 26

  • Xavier 64 Memphis 62

Wednesday, February 27

  • Saint Louis 70 Saint Joseph’s 53
  • Dayton 88 Charlotte 67
  • Richmond 73 George Washington 64

Thursday, February 28

  • Temple 83 Detroit 78

Saturday, March 2

  • Massachusetts 77 Xavier 72
  • VCU 84 Butler 52
  • La Salle 97 Duquesne 64
  • Saint Joseph’s 82 Fordham 56
  • Dayton 78 Richmond 74
  • Saint Louis 66 George Washington 58
  • Temple 76 Rhode Island 70
  • Saint Bonaventure 104 Charlotte 83

Despite the fact that the Saint Louis Billikens won two games this past week to maintain their lead in the Atlantic 10 Conference with one week left in the regular season, the main story in this league was the matchup between the two teams who made some mid-major magic two years ago.

In the national semifinals of the 2011 Final Four in Houston, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth showed that not just one of the little guys, but two, could keep the big stage all to themselves. Butler and VCU, an eighth seed and an eleventh seed, confounded the rest of the college basketball world and shut out the heavyweights, throwing a party for themselves before roughly 75,000 people in Reliant Stadium. Before Kentucky and Connecticut fans could watch their teams play in the second semifinal of that Final Four, they had to watch two mid-majors vie for a place in the national title game two days later. It was this memory, this reality, which made Butler-VCU a compelling event for not just the Atlantic 10 community, but for national college basketball watchers. What added to the drama and uniqueness of this contest was the fact that Butler had entered into talks to join the new Big East in preceding weeks, adding its name to the so-called “Catholic 7″ schools that will take the Big East name while the other left-behind Big East schools will seek a new name and brand identity. When Butler took the court this past Saturday, a lot of people in the larger college sports industry had good reason to think that this was going to be the first – and last – time that Butler played VCU in an Atlantic 10 regular season game. When tip-off time arrived in Richmond, VCU – the loser of that Final Four game to Butler – knew that it might not get another chance to beat Butler in a conference game.

The Rams made sure to take advantage of their opportunity against the Bulldogs.

Virginia Commonwealth is known for its full-court pressure defense, simply known as the “havoc” defense. The Rams definitely wreaked havoc against Butler, seizing on the fact that the Bulldogs lacked the strong ballhandling guards they possessed two years ago (Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored). VCU stormed out of the gate, putting this game to bed by halftime. The Rams scored 24 points off turnovers in the first 20 minutes while giving away no points off the few turnovers they committed. That 24-point difference was the scoreboard margin at halftime, as VCU amassed a 45-21 lead and increased that advantage in the second half. The drubbing was certainly embarrassing for Butler head coach Brad Stevens, but this was not a “coaching loss” for Butler; this was the worst matchup the Bulldogs could have faced. VCU is the perfect foil for this Butler team; not the 2011 one, but this one. VCU, with the win, likely assured itself of an NCAA tournament spot; the Rams hope they can make another deep run in the Big Dance.

Elsewhere in the league, La Salle and Temple posted perfect weeks to improve their positions relative to the bubble. The Explorers and Owls still have work to do, but the odds that both Philadelphia-based schools will make the tournament are increasing as March arrives.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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Atlantic 10 Basketball Week in Review – February 11, 2013

Atlantic 10 Basketball Scores

Wednesday, February 6

  • Massachusetts 81 Rhode Island 53
  • Dayton 60 Saint Joseph’s 54
  • Saint Louis 90 Fordham 73
  • George Washington 79 Duquesne 57
  • Temple 89 Charlotte 88
  • Butler 77 Saint Bonaventure 58

Saturday, February 9

  • Xavier 73 Duquesne 65
  • VCU 68 Charlotte 61
  • La Salle 89 Fordham 53
  • Massachusetts 80 Saint Joseph’s 62
  • Saint Louis 56 Richmond 46
  • Butler 59 George Washington 56
  • Temple 72 Dayton 71
  • Saint Bonaventure 67 Rhode Island 61

Don’t look now, but we’re only four weeks from the end of regular season competition in college basketball. The conference tournaments are just around the corner, and Selection Sunday is five weeks away. The mad dash for NCAA tournament spots is in full flight, and in the Atlantic 10 Conference, some decisive moments occurred this past week, especially over the weekend.

Wednesday night’s results set up hugely significant Saturdays for many A-10 programs. Saint Joseph’s and Charlotte lost on Wednesday, forcing them to deliver the goods on Saturday or ask out of the NCAA chase. The Hawks and 49ers just haven’t crafted high-quality resumes, with Charlotte playing a soft schedule and SJU’s big wins (Notre Dame, Harvard, Iona) being drowned out by bad losses to Fairfield, Florida State, and Saint Bonaventure. Charlotte, having fallen by one point at Temple on Wednesday, needed to answer the bell at home against Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday. A win would have given the Niners the big poker chip they’d been missing to this point in the season. Saint Joseph’s traveled to Amherst to face fellow bubbler Massachusetts, needing to win to maintain any small degree of leverage it might have owned.

The day did not turn out well for either team. Charlotte lost to VCU, stifled by the Rams’ relentless pressure defense. Saint Joe’s got whacked by 18, as UMass – a winner on Wednesday over Rhode Island – kept its flickering bubble hopes alive. The Atlantic 10′s vast and mushy middle is more orderly now; the bubble in this league is getting smaller, which is different when compared to most of the country. Dayton’s loss to Temple on Saturday pretty much killed the Flyers’ dreams of a late run to Bracketville. Temple, on the other hand, must be elated after winning two one-point games to substantially solidify its place in the NCAA tournament field.

Saint Louis also shored up its position as a likely tournament team, winning twice without any drama. Butler and Virginia Commonwealth calmly took care of business as their A-10 game of the year approaches. All in all, Butler, VCU, and Saint Louis are comfortably in the field right now. Temple looks good, and La Salle – very much on the bubble – will have a chance to play its way into the field. Xavier is on the outside looking in, needing a near-perfect finish through the A10 Tournament to get into the conversation. What seemed a few weeks ago like a possible seven-team NCAA tournament haul now looks a lot more like a five-team cluster, but there’s still a full month left for more plot twists in this 16-team conference.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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Atlantic 10 Basketball Week in Review – February 4, 2013

Weekly Atlantic 10 Basketball Scores

Wednesday, January 30

  • Saint Joseph’s 66 Fordham 62
  • Temple 71 Richmond 64
  • VCU 70 Rhode Island 64
  • Massachusetts 61 La Salle 60
  • Xavier 66 Dayton 61

Thursday, January 31

  • Saint Louis 75 Butler 58

Saturday, February 2

  • Richmond 73 Xavier 71
  • Butler 75 Rhode Island 68
  • VCU 81 Fordham 65
  • La Salle 80 George Washington 71
  • Saint Bonaventure 68 Duquesne 60
  • Saint Joseph’s 70 Temple 69
  • Charlotte 66 Massachusetts 65
  • Saint Louis 81 Dayton 52

As this college basketball season continues to unfold, few leagues remain as fascinating as the Atlantic 10 Conference. It’s true that 16 teams offer the A-10 a greater shot at large NCAA tournament haul, but the member programs in the league have to go onto the court and give the Selection Committee reasons to take them in March. A number of teams in the league are compiling very different kinds of resumes, but each of them merit consideration as February begins and the finish line of the season – while not quite in sight – lurks around the next few twists and turns on The Road To The Final Four.

One kind of resume is the one with few bad losses. The Charlotte 49ers haven’t racked up high-value conquests this season, but they haven’t lost on many occasions, either. The Niners scored a huge one-point win this past Saturday over a fellow bubble team, the Massachusetts Minutemen, to move to 5-2 in the conference and 17-4 overall. They still need to beef up their profile, but in a year when the bubble is weak and a lot of bubble teams have really bad losses on their resumes, Charlotte will remain in the hunt as long as it can beat the vast second tier of the A-10 while grabbing one or two marquee wins against the top of the conference. In years with a stronger collection of bubble teams (and with a 65-team field instead of 68), Charlotte would be in huge trouble. This season, the Niners could benefit from the weakness of the landscape.

A very different kind of profile is the one owned by Xavier. The Musketeers have been an up-and-down team this season. True to that identity, the X split two games this past week, beating Dayton and then losing to Richmond. Xavier carries nine losses on its resume, but unlike Charlotte, the Musketeers can boast of a quality win over Butler plus a solid win over Temple and a better strength of schedule. If Xavier can tuck away a few more high-end wins in the coming month, it will force the Selection Committee to make a tough call. In 2001, Georgia – with a 16-14 record – got into the field as an eight seed. Xavier won’t get that high, but the Muskies could sneak into the field with a 12 seed if they can make this next month a good one.

A third kind of resume is the one provided by Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks beat Notre Dame but lost to Fairfield and Saint Bonaventure. They defeated Temple this past Saturday to move up in the conference standings, but their resume is a mixture of Xavier and Charlotte. The Hawks are in between those two programs in terms of their number of losses and the quality of their wins. The A-10 has more curious cases, more interesting resumes, than any other conference in America.

Over the past week, here’s what also developed: Massachusetts beat La Salle to take some steam out of the Explorers’ recent run. Butler got crushed by a Saint Louis team that looks very solid for the NCAAs right now, since the Billikens beat New Mexico earlier in the season. Virginia Commonwealth looked unimpressive in a pair of wins. The Rams are feeling the accumulated strain of the season as February arrives.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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Atlantic 10 Basketball Week in Review – January 28, 2013

Weekly Atlantic 10 Basketball Scores

Wednesday, January 23

  • Saint Bonaventure 73 Saint Joseph’s 64
  • George Washington 66 Rhode Island 65
  • Temple 76 Pennsylvania 69
  • La Salle 54 Butler 53
  • Dayton 96 Fordham 51
  • Charlotte 63 Xavier 57
  • Saint Louis 73 Duquesne 64

Thursday, January 24

  • Richmond 86 VCU 74 (OT)

Saturday, January 26

  • Saint Joseph’s 59 Xavier 49
  • Butler 83 Temple 71
  • Dayton 72 Duquesne 56
  • Saint Louis 67 Saint Bonaventure 57
  • La Salle 69 VCU 61
  • Fordham 66 Rhode Island 63
  • George Washington 82 Charlotte 54

Sunday, January 27

  • Massachusetts 70 Richmond 65

The Atlantic 10 Conference has seen its share of plot twists so far this season, but none of them have matched what occurred this past week. It’s one thing for Butler and Virginia Commonwealth, the two standard bearers of the league, to lose once in the same week; that’s a reasonable and realistic scenario. Temple must have beaten one or both of those teams, right? Maybe Xavier – a longtime power in the league, and a team which already beat Butler at home earlier in the season (way back in November) – drew blood in tandem with Temple.

Nope. Neither Xavier nor Temple, the entrenched members of the Atlantic 10′s old guard, beat either Butler or VCU over the past seven days. But wait, the plot gets better and thicker. Not only did Butler and VCU lose at least once this past week, but VCU fell twice to teams not named Xavier or Butler. Any Atlantic 10 watcher has to find this hard to believe. Virginia Commonwealth looked just as strong as Butler did through the first three weeks of January. What team could have emerged from the woodwork to cause such a stir in week four?

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the La Salle Explorers, a team that’s been off the radar in college basketball for two solid decades.

La Salle is a part of the Big Five rivalry series in the hoops-mad city of Philadelphia (with Saint Joseph’s, Villanova, Temple, and Pennsylvania), but the Explorers have not been able to parlay their big-city presence into constant NCAA tournament appearances. Temple and Villanova have been especially consistent in plucking higher-tier talent so that La Salle can’t get it, shoving the Explorers into a position of reduced strength. La Salle enjoyed two fruitful periods in its history. The program made four NCAA appearances from 1975 through 1983 and then four more in a five-year period from 1988 through 1992, thanks largely to the dynamic play of Lionel Simmons, one of the top hoopsters in school history. Since 1992, however, the well has run completely dry, and entering this past week, few casual basketball fans under age 30 were aware of La Salle’s existence.

They’re aware now.

On Wednesday, the Explorers did to Butler what Butler has done to so many opponents in recent years. La Salle fell behind by a point on a bucket by Butler’s Andrew Smith with eight seconds left, but Ramon Galloway – arguably the player of the past week in college basketball – scored with three seconds to go to give the Explorers a massive victory. La Salle’s defense smothered Butler, giving the Bulldogs their first conference loss as a member of the A-10.

La Salle was not supposed to follow up that win at home with another conquest of an elite A-10 foe, but the Explorers maintained momentum and won in Richmond against Virginia Commonwealth, the other top dog in the conference. VCU had lost on Thursday to Richmond, leading a sensible person to conclude that it was going to right the ship on its home floor two days later. However, that did not happen.

Galloway scored 31 points and sparked a decisive 18-4 run in the second half to complete the huge two-game sweep. La Salle is now right in the thick of the 2013 NCAA tournament hunt and very likely on the positive side of the bubble. If the Explorers can show that this is not merely a brief burst of excellence but an indication of true staying power in the next six weeks, they’ll definitely be dancing on Selection Sunday. It would be quite a story in this 2013 college basketball campaign.

Elsewhere in the league, Xavier – usually a lock when Selection Sunday comes around – is not on pace to make the NCAAs. The Musketeers ate two bad losses to Charlotte and Saint Joseph’s. If the season ended today, there’s no way Xavier would be in the field of 68. Also, Butler – unlike VCU – regrouped on Saturday to grab a win after a midweek loss. The Bulldogs stopped Temple in Indianapolis.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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Atlantic 10 Basketball Week in Review – January 21, 2013

Weekly Atlantic 10 Basketball Scores

Wednesday, January 16

  • Xavier 66 Saint Bonaventure 64
  • Butler 62 Richmond 47
  • Temple 55 George Washington 53
  • La Salle 72 Dayton 70
  • Charlotte 74 Fordham 68

Thursday, January 17

  • Massachusetts 79 Duquesne 66
  • VCU 92 Saint Joseph’s 86 (OT)

Saturday, January 19

  • Saint Joseph’s 79 Pennsylvania 59
  • Butler 64 Gonzaga 63
  • VCU 90 Duquesne 63
  • Saint Bonaventure 81 Temple 78
  • Xavier 70 La Salle 63
  • Richmond 81 Charlotte 61
  • Rhode Island 82 Saint Louis 80 (OT)
  • George Washington 79 Massachusetts 76

The Atlantic 10 Conference could not, in past seasons, claim the Butler Bulldogs as one of its own. Now, the league is so deeply glad that Butler is part of the A-10 family. What happened on Saturday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse offers a perfect illustration why.

With 3.5 seconds left in Butler’s non-conference showdown against Gonzaga – the marquee game of the entire week in college basketball – BU guard Alex Barlow turned the ball over. The miscue gave Gonzaga the rock with a 63-62 lead and a chance to inbound the ball from midcourt. All Gonzaga really needed to do was to throw the inbounds pass to the offensive end of the floor. Even if the pass had been stolen, Butler would have needed to cover 85 or more feet in roughly two seconds after making the catch or recovering the loose ball. There really wasn’t any guesswork to be done. The situation was not terribly complicated. Gonzaga needed to throw the ball to the basket where it was shooting. That’s it.

What added to Gonzaga’s sense of confidence was that the inbounder’s name was David Stockton – that’s right, the son of NBA legend John Stockton, a Spokane resident and Gonzaga grad who is one of the university’s most recognizable alums. If anyone was going to throw a smart inbounds pass, surely John Stockton’s son was the right choice. Butler was about to fall in a high-stakes game, something that just hadn’t happened very much over the past three years of excellence under head coach Brad Stevens. For once, the Butler was not going to do it. For once, an enemy was going to come into Indianapolis and steal some of BU’s thunder.

Not so fast.

Stockton, to the amazement of everyone inside Hinkle Fieldhouse – the storied gym where Butler plays its home games – threw a lob pass to the middle third of the court. Butler’s Roosevelt Jones saw the play developing and made a break on the ball. He picked off the pass, and because the pass was thrown to the middle of the court, Jones  – who gained a full head of steam even before he snatched the ball – was able to get to the paint before the horn sounded. A few really quick dribbles enabled him to cover most of the court and flip up an eight-foot floater just before the horn sounded. The ball glided through the hoop, and in no time, a hysterical celebration erupted on the Hinkle floor. Gonzaga players stood stunned and motionless. Stevens, the Butler coach, calmly smiled and walked straight to Gonzaga coach Mark Few for the postgame handshake. Butler had done it again, and now the Bulldogs have the kind of resume that should point to a No. 2 seed at the very least, and possibly a top seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

How fortunate the Atlantic 10 is to have Butler within its walls and under its banner.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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