Jan. 8, 2013
2012-13 MBB Weekly Report
It's time for the second season.
Most college basketball coaches break their season down into three seasons: non-conference play, conference play and the postseason.
For Atlantic 10 men's basketball, that second season, conference play begins Wednesday. There are six league games scheduled for Wednesday night and the other two league openers (Temple at Xavier, UMass at Saint Louis) will be played Thursday.
This will mark the first foray into conference play for four of the A-10's 16 coaches. Jim Ferry (Duquesne) and Dan Hurley (Rhode Island) are in their first years at their respective institutions. But for Butler's Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart of VCU, both of whom have had considerable success in other leagues, Wednesday will mark their first taste of Atlantic 10 play. Both teams are well positioned for league play too, Butler is ranked No. 14 (AP) and No. 17 (Coaches) while VCU is ranked No. 24 (Coaches) in the national polls.
"We're going to find out where we are. We play a non-conference schedule that's very competitive, very challenging. We do it for two reasons - number one, we want to give ourselves the best chance of earning opportunities at the end of the year with our play, and number two is we want to get better so we can get ready for Conference play and we're obviously going to have to be ready on January 9, there's no question about it" Stevens said.
The Bulldogs (12-2) open up a preseason league favorite Saint Joseph's (8-4). One of the deepest teams in the league, the Hawks have a non-conference signature win over then No. 20 Notre Dame and are currently riding a three-game win streak. SJU hosts a Butler team that has claimed wins over No. 1 Indiana, No. 9 North Carolina and Marquette. It will be a good test for both teams early in conference play.
VCU hosts Dayton (10-4) pitting Smart's trademark "HAVOC" defense against an experienced UD team that's led by dynamic senior Kevin Dillard, who averaged 15.0 points and 4.9 assists per game. The Rams (12-3) will rely on their defense, which leads the nation in steals and turnover margin and their perimeter offense, led by A-10 Player of the Week Troy Daniels. Daniels leads the nation in threes made (4.27/game), which leads to a ranking of 11 for VCU as a team in threes.
Another Wednesday game to watch will be La Salle at Charlotte. Both teams began the year on hot streaks and are well positioned to make a regular season or A-10 Championship run. La Salle is a deep, experienced team that plays with a notable amount of chemistry. Led by A-10 scoring leader Ramon Galloway (17.8 points per game) and Tyreek Duren (15.3 points per game), the Explorers recently got the services of Tyrone Garland, a transfer from Virginia Tech to add to the mix.
Both Ferry and Hurley begin their first A-10 season on the road with Duquesne playing at Fordham and Rhode Island travelling to Richmond. The Dukes (7-7) will take on a Fordham team that struggled early, missing injured All-Conference double-double machine Chris Gaston. Since Gaston returned in mid-December, the Rams (4-11) have picked up three of their four wins. Duquesne had a surge in non-conference, winning five of six, capped by a win over West Virginia.
Hurley opens at 2011 A-10 Champion Richmond and the inside-outside scoring punch of Derrick Williams and Kendall Anthony. Rhody (5-8) picked up non-conference wins over SMU and Auburn and has won three of its last four games. The Spiders (10-5) started the season very hot, winning nine of their first 11 before stumbling against Kansas, a top ten team and losing a heartbreaker to George Mason on a last-second shot.
Defending A-10 champion St. Bonaventure opens its conference slate at George Washington. The two teams are similar in their results this season, Bona (7-6) opened the season on a 7-3 run and has some key wins over Buffalo, Siena and Niagara while GW is 6-7, having won two of their last three games. The Colonials had back-to-back heartbreakers against Kansas State and Rutgers in early December, but have since righted the ship. Both teams are dangerous and worth keeping an eye on this season.
The two Thursday games have lined up nicely to be critical tests for all four teams. Temple travels to Xavier (7-6) to face a young Musketeers squad the won seven of nine to start the season, including a road win at Purdue. Led by Preseason All-Rookie selection Semaj Christon, XU hosts a talented and experienced Temple team that knocked off No.3 Syracuse and almost did the same to No. 6 Kansas. The Owls (10-3), led by senior Khalif Wyatt, have been receiving votes in both the AP and Coaches polls.
The final conference game to tipoff is Thursday's UMass at Saint Louis matchup. One of these teams will lose a long winning streak, SLU (11-3) has won eight straight, all at home and the Minutemen (10-3) have won seven straight. Chaz Williams, Massachusetts scoring and sharing point guard versus a stifling Saint Louis defense that has allowed just one opponent to break 50 points since mid-December will be an entertaining end to the first two nights of league play.
Most (14 of the 16) teams will play their second game of the conference schedule Saturday, with UMass playing at Fordham in the lone Sunday game.
"When you just look at the first two games in Atlantic 10 play this week coming up, there's going to be some very good teams that are 1-1 or 0-2. Not everyone can win. At the same time I do think what that does, especially with some of the non-conference success that quite a few teams in the league have had, it gives you quite a few opportunities for high-quality wins." Smart said.
The third season, the post season, will begin March 14 at the A-10 Championship at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.