Monday, March 14, 2011

2011 Atlantic 10 Tournament -- 6 Takaways

Pausing at the End of the Regular Season
After blogging five of the seven games in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I reflected on what I saw in March 2010 and what I saw in March of 2011. The drive home was interrupted by texts and calls on the seeds and regions for the NCAA, but as the phone traffic died down and the Garden State Parkway behaved, I had a chance to think about the conference, the venue and what might be coming next...

1. Atlantic City is a great venue for a tournament -- The A-10 Conference was an outstanding host and Boardwalk Hall, not under siege from an offshore Nor'Easter as it was the first weekend March of 2010, provided a dry and comfortable, fan friendly venue for a college game. The attendance relies heavily on the A-10 member fan-base. The games did not draw much by way of street traffic. That was a problem, as neither Richmond nor Dayton, the finalists, are within short-term traveling distance from Atlantic City, and therefore unable to get to Atlantic City for the Championship game. Attendance for the semi-final games which featured two Philadelphia schools, was 8,285. Attendance for the Championship game was 5,602. Put another 5,000 fans in the seats and the place would rock.

2. Dayton's Old Habits Are Hard to Break -- After "counter programming" for three rounds, Dayton fell back into their old pattern in the championship game. And lost. In the first three rounds the Flyers took an early lead over their opponents (Massachusetts, Xavier and Saint Joseph's) through a mix of three point shooting and fast breaks. During that three game run the Flyers' three point completion rate -- 50.9% -- was better than their two point completion rate, 47.0%, and they scored 17 fast break points in their quarter and semi final games. Against Richmond the Flyers returned to form, they fell behind early on the road and spent the rest of the game playing catch up. Their three point conversion rate, 21.4% was lower than average, but two fast break points was a killer, and gave proof that Richmond's defensive strategy, defend the three point line, limit offensive rebounds and stay in front of Dayton's forwards and guards, worked. Dayton is headed to the NIT for the second consecutive post season. They won it all last season, and it will be interesting to see if Coach Gregory's squad can maintain the focus necessary to make a run this post season.

3. Kevin Anderson was unstoppable -- When Richmond needed points, he got them, or found the teammate who would. The Tournament MVP scored 66 total points over three games, an average of 22.0 points per game. The senior point guard score 24 points on eight converted three pointers, 22 from 11 converted two pointers and 20 points from the free throw line.

4. Temple was too small and too shallow to win three games in three days -- They need to get Scootie Randall back. Coach Dunphy used a seven man rotation against Richmond, and La Salle (discounting one minute stints for Dutch Gaitley and Jake Godino). It was not enough against Richmond, as the Spiders outrebounded the Owls by six (42 to 36), but more importantly, limited the Owls to a very paltry 25.6% offensive rebounding rate (the Owls rebounded just over 25% of their missed field goal attempts). That rate declined over the halves, from 27.8% to 23.8%. Were the Temple rebounders tiring?

5. Richmond's defense can win games -- Of defensive rebounding -- "...that's...not a tremendous strength of ours...this tournament was probably the most consistent we've every rebounded..." He went on to credit Darrius Garrett as their defensive stopped and principal rebounder. "...not a strength" is an understatement, the Spiders are ranked (per Ken Pomeroy) #291 (out of 345) for offensive rebounding, and a below average #195 for defensive rebounding. For the three games in Atlantic City, the Spiders' offensive rebounding rate rose to "above average" (the rank in the range of #147-#152) while defensive rebounding had the Spiders limited opponents to a 26.1% rebounding rate all season, would be ranked #5. That rebounding rate will win games. The defensive retooling, should it carry over into the NCAAs, should get the Spiders out of the first weekend.

6. Saint Joseph' year -- Their 6-5 finish to the season (after a 5-17 start) has assured a 17th season on Hawk Hill for Coach Phil Martelli...and raised expectations for next season? The veteran coach can look to a stable and productive backcourt pairing in Carl Jones and Langston Galloway that will be balanced with an inside presence in CJ Aiken, Ronald Roberts and Darius Quarles. The late season surge may be attributed to something as obvious as "We got tired of losing..." -- the sentiment expressed by a Saint Joseph's player in the Duquesne post game press conference, but the veteran coach will need more than the good feelings of a 6-5 finish going into next season. In addition to finding replacements for seniors Charoy Bentley and Idris Hilliard, Martelli has to hold this nucleus together through the off season. While Hawk faithful may feel recruiting errors have been the biggest program failing since the Hawks' 2004 run to the Elite Eight, holding onto and developing those players recruited has proven to be the bigger challenge.

Onto the Post Season...
NCAA -- Three A-10 teams Xavier (#6, East Region), Temple (#7, West Region) and Richmond (#12, Southwest Region) were seeded in the NCAA field.
NIT -- A single team, the Dayton Flyers were offered a spot in the field of 32. The Flyers will host Charleston Tuesday night.
CBI -- Three teams are entered in the Gazelle Group's College Basketball Invitational Tournament and will play their first round games Wednesday. Rhode Island will host Miami (Oh), while St. Bonaventure will travel to Central Florida and Duquesne will travel to Montana.

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