Friday, August 14, 2009

Opposition Research -- An A10 Walkaround

Assessing the Damage
Three members of the Big 5 also share a conference affiliation through the A10, which makes the yearly ebb and flow in that conference of more than passing interest to Wildcat fans (especially the basketball fans). Last season Villanova, by accident of invitational tournaments and scheduling design played nearly ½ of the conference during the OOC part of their season. Along with the 3 Big 5 opponents, Villanova will complete a home-n-home series with Fordham this season, the when and where are still TBD, though November and the CAA Arena in the Meadowlands, NJ have been in circulation for a few weeks. Dayton has been assigned to Villanova's bracket in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Though the Wildcats and Flyers are not matched up in their first game, depending on results, the two may meet in their second game. The College Chalk Talk Blog has been running a couple of series of interest in the off season. Their 2 part "Damage Assessment" series provides a quick summary of key losses to each program, packaged with an assessment and explanation. Dayton, Fordham and La Salle are covered in "Part 1". For Dayton (expected to contend for the A10 title this season if Gary Parrish's early summer Top 25 Plus 1, which ranks Dayton at #17 proves accurate) and La Salle losses are "minimal" (smallest impact rating). Dayton, according to the summary, "has arguably the best forward in the league to help make up for..." the departing player. That forward, Chris Wright, was listed among the Honorable Mentions on Dick Vitale's All Rolls Royce Team in July. College Chalk Talk also ran a "5 Questions" style interview with Assistant Coach Jon Borovich. Borovich provided some background on the Flyers' incoming class, a few of Dayton's returning players (with a comment about injured pg Rob Lowry's status) and expectations for the 2010 season. CBSsportsLine's Team Report says Lowry will be back for this season, but the Flyers still need some outside scoring.

The assessment for Fordham is "significant", the return of Jio Fontan, an A10 All-Rookie and All-3rd Team'er the only event that saved the Rams from a "total" (the worst impact rating) damage assessment. As the Rams lost two guards through transfer at the end of the 2009 season, Fordham denied Fontan's request for a release and touched off a controversy that brought comments and press statements from his parents, his High School Coach (Bob Hurley of St. Anthony's), a few Rutgers players (former St. Anthony's teammates, with Rutgers rumored to be his destination) and bloggers from New Jersey and metropolitan New York. Fontan joined the Puerto Rican U19 team (with Rutgers' #2 guard Mike Rosario) and played in the FIBA U19 Championship in New Zealand, giving everyone space to return to their corners and assess their options. The Rams bring in 6 more freshmen this season, in what increasingly looks like -- at best -- a slight improvement over last seasons' 3-25 campaign. Head Coach Dereck Whittenburg has to feel some heat going into this season.

Damage Assessment for the Explorers is also minimal which, combined with the arrival of consensus A10 preseason Rookie of the Year Aric Murray, puts expectations very high for the senior-led team. The summer started with good news (for La Salle) as Philadelphia native Earl Pettis decided to transfer from Rutgers and sit the 2010 season before joining the Explorers for the 2011 season. Senior forward Mekongo Mbala will spend the first part of August competing in the FIBA Africa Championship with the Cameroon National Team.

Damage assessments for the latter part of the A10's alphabet revealed "significant" damage for both St. Joseph's and Temple. The Joe's, coming off of a 17-15 season are, staggered by the loss of A10 (and Big 5) Player of the Year Ahmad Nevins, who will continue his career in Spain next season (the 6-9 forward signed with Manresa in the ACB League) and without a step-in replacement for their front court. Also departed is point guard Tasheed Carr, a transfer who put in his last two years with the Hawks. While the CBS Team Report notes that Coach Phil Martelli may have found replacements, the entering class will replace losses (to some degree), but add no more depth than the Hawks have had for the past several seasons. According to Coach Phil Martelli, who also sat for a "5 Questions" interview, the Hawks will compensate for the loss of Nivins by spreading the shooting responsibility and putting more motion in their offense. With a raw pace of 65.2 the Hawks were ranked #219 out of 344 DI teams by Ken Pomeroy last season. He looks to Garret Williamson and Darrin Govins to step into the leadership vacuum left by Nivins and Carr. Opening their renovated (and expanded) field house to host more on campus games should be a morale booster.

Like St. Joseph's, Temple loses their best (and the A10 champion) scorer, along with a senior center and their point guard. According to CBS' Team Report, Coach Dunphy has some good players coming back and others coming in (even the College Chalk Talk bloggers believe the Owls will finish near the top of next season's A10), but, like the Joe's, Temple may go through the season with a shallow bench. In his 5 Question Interview Coach Dunphy fielded questions about rising sophomore Juan Fernandez, an Argentine pg who has been compared to Temple great Pepe Sanchez. When asked about "the critical stat" for the Owls he answered turnovers. If shooting efficiency does step back from last season (with a team eFG% of 51.5, the Owls were ranked #88 in DI by Ken Pomeroy), limiting turnovers (with a TO% of 18.9%, the Owls, ranked #77 in 2009, are doing pretty well already).

Late Additions
I posted this walkaround on 8/14, but in the meantime, ESPN published an extensive update on the conference on the 19th. A detailed look at the entire conference, it appears that Fran Fraschilla also believes Dayton will dominate the conference. The second game in Puerto Rico, should both the Wildcats and Flyers advance from their first round game, could loom large for later in the season. Fraschilla also sees the Owls and Explorers finishing in the upper division, suggesting those two will provide good games for the 'Cats in December.

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