Friday, December 21, 2012
Conference Power Rankings: Atlantic 10
By Eamonn Brennan
It's 8 a.m. ET on a Friday. You know what that means! No, it doesn't mean you stumble in bleary-eyed from last night's holiday party, although maybe that's what you're doing right now. (Bosses of the world: If you are going to have a holiday party on Thursday night, give your employees the next day off. Come on now. Be reasonable.) It means it's time for another batch of Atlantic 10 power rankings! Let's do this!
1. Virginia Commonwealth. As good as Butler's win over Indiana was this week, I'm sorry, I just can't do it. I can't take VCU out of the top spot. It helps that the Rams didn't lose, either -- it's hard to nudge a team downward if they didn't actually lose -- but it's more about the fact that I just think VCU is better. Not a ton better. It's really close. And both teams play drastically different styles of basketball. But the Rams' defensive ball pressure is second to none, and they are a nightmare for nearly any opponent. I'm sticking with them for now.
2. Butler. Butler's win over Indiana wasn't just the product of a bad IU performance -- the Hoosiers played poorly, but not that poorly -- or a fluke overtime finish from little-known walk-on Alex Barlow. It was also a matter of execution and toughness, which the Bulldogs had in spades. They also have much more offensive firepower this season; Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham give them legitimate outside threats. In fact, their defense is the weak spot right now. When that picks up, anyone and everyone who worried Butler wasn't "ready" to compete in the A10 will be summarily forced to go sit quietly in the corner and not tweet their opinions for at least 24 hours.
3. Saint Louis. As you may notice, many of the teams below Saint Louis suffered losses last week, so the Billikens sort of moved up by default. (Wins over Tennessee-Martin and Eastern Illinois don't do much for me. You?) Star guard Kwamain Mitchell is slated to come back between Dec. 28 and Jan. 10 or thereabouts, and we'll get an even better look at where this team is, and where it can go.
4. Saint Joseph's. Tough, tough, tough Holy War loss to Villanova last week, in which Halil Kanacevic -- who made just one basket all game, flipped fans the bird after that basket, and then later missed crucial free throws and committed the decisive turnover -- became the story of the game. The Hawks will be glad to have gotten that early-season win over Notre Dame (which looks better and better by the week), because they've struggled against capable teams since.
5. Charlotte. Because this next jumble of teams either lost this week or doesn't have a great résumé anyway (or both), it is kind of tough to distinguish between the group. I stuck with Charlotte, if only because I still like that win at Davidson and I am willing to forgive a team going on the road and getting clobbered by Miami, because Miami's good. That said … losing by 31 points on the road to anyone doesn't give me a whole lot of faith that the putative Charlotte revival is alive and well. We shall see.
6. Dayton. Brutal home loss for Dayton this week. Typically, this is the part where you cringe and ask, "OK, who exactly did Dayton lose at home to? NJIT?" In fact, this home loss was brutal not because the opponent was so bad, but because it was good, and the Flyers had more than a good chance to win the thing. Instead, UD lost to Illinois State 74-73 in Dayton. That win would have been helpful come tournament bubble time, but the victory at Alabama portends good things, provided the Flyers can stay the course.
7. La Salle. There is no shame in losing at Bucknell. Bucknell is good. Mike Muscala, Bucknell's star, is good. The Explorers have some definite issues to clean up on the defensive end -- allowing opponents to make over 50 percent of their 2s is bad news -- but it's hard not to like what John Giannini is getting on offense, particularly from efficient second fiddle Tyreek Duren and sophomore D.J. Peterson, who has posted a 138.2 offensive rating in the team's first nine games.
8. Xavier. Xavier held its own against Cincinnati for much of Wednesday night's Crosstown Classic defeat before suffering cramps and injuries and fading down the stretch. I can give them credit for that much. Though, as Chris Mack said after the game, it would be nice if his Division I collegiate basketball players were in the sort of shape that he could rely on. In any case, Xavier maintains the potential to really get better and give opponents major problems as the season rolls along.
9. Richmond. You have to look further than skin deep to see why Richmond isn't further down these rankings. Why? Because in each of their three games against high-major foes, Richmond has been blown out. All three of these games have come on the road, but even so, the results don't look pretty. But the Spiders are playing some really efficient per-possession offense to date -- Chris Mooney has a host of weapons -- and if they can shore things up defensively they can be a factor in this league race.
10. Temple. Before the Duke game, it was hard to know what to make of Temple. They beat Villanova at Nova, sure, but how good is Villanova, really? How much can you take from that? Then Duke stomped the Owls, and oh well, right? It's Duke. But Wednesday's loss? At home? 72-62? To Canisius? This is worthy of deeper consideration. Maybe Temple just isn't that good.
11. Massachusetts. Am I totally sold on UMass? Not quite. But one must give credit where it is due: Wednesday's 85-76 home win over Ohio was just what the doctor ordered. Of course, it is worth noting that Ohio had lost three of its last four beforehand, including at Robert Morris and Memphis (the latter of which was a blowout) and at home to Winthrop (50-49, ouch). So let's not go jumping on any Minutemen bandwagons just yet. But Derek Kellogg's team needed something notably positive, and maybe that win was it.
12. St. Bonaventure. I downgraded the Bonnies pretty considerably last week, because that is what you do when a team loses at Arkansas State. The good news is that St. Bonaventure rebounded from that defeat by absolutely destroying its next two opponents (Cleveland State and The Citadel) by a combined margin of 74 points. Blowouts are blowouts, I know, but if a team with that kind of offensive power shows up every night, I'll be intrigued.
13. Duquesne. Last Saturday, Duquesne lost at NEC favorite Robert Morris. Not optimal, but forgivable. Until you see that Duquesne lost at Robert Morris by a final score of 91-69. Ouch.
14. George Washington. Nothing new to update here; the Colonials still haven't played since last week's 65-62 loss at Rutgers. Speaking of which, during George Washington's three-game losing streak -- at Bradley, home against Kansas State, at Rutgers -- they have lost by a combined margin of 10 points. Ouch again, but this time for a different reason.
15. Rhode Island. How do you know Southern Methodist is going to be a major work in progress under new coach Larry Brown? Because it lost by 22 points to Rhode Island.
16. Fordham. It isn't often that an Ivy League team can play a team outside its conference and have it be called the victim of an "upset." But by George, that's exactly what happened when Fordham toppled Princeton last Saturday. That is a shock-the-world type result. Good for the Rams.