Thursday, January 21, 2021
By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)
Staying healthy meant a team would have to avoid injuries to operate at an optimum level. In these times, healthy has taken on a greater meaning.
Conference favorite Saint Louis was set to host St. Bonaventure on Saturday. That game is now postponed. Travis Ford’s Billikens have not played since December 23. Richmond got off to a good start in Atlantic 10 play before temporarily shutting down. Following a team stopping activity due to COVID-19, the concern, after the safety of everyone in the program and school, is how will that team respond when activity is resumed.
Everyone will take a good look at Saint Louis in particular. How will this layoff affect them? How soon can they get back on track?
The A-10 tournament has been moved out of Brooklyn, and rightfully so. No matter where the tournament is held, there will be a close watch on teams just getting back into action following a delay. When the tournament arrives in March, we will watch who may be coming off a shutdown, or who may enter such a period of inactivity on the eve of the tournament. The best to hope for is all the teams maintain good health from this point on. Realistically, it’s an ideal situation and a lot to hope for in these times. Staying healthy never meant more.
The following numbers are for conference games only, and courtesy of KenPom:
Efficiency Margins and Records
1) St. Bonaventure (+17, 5-1)
2) UMass (+15, 4-1)
3) Davidson (+12, 5-2)
4) Richmond (+11, 3-1)
5) Dayton (+10, 4-2)
6) Rhode Island (+5, 4-4)
7) VCU (-1, 3-2)
8) George Washington (-2, 2-3)
9) George Mason (-3, 3-4)
10) Duquesne (-5, 3-4)
11) La Salle (-10, 3-4)
12) Saint Joseph’s (-16, 0-6)
13) Fordham (-25, 1-6)
Saint Louis (+18, 7-1 OOC)
By virtue of its come-from-behind win over VCU at Reilly Center, St. Bonaventure grabbed the top spot in the conference. The Bonnies have several teams on their heels. UMass has been a pleasant surprise. Richmond is off to a good start? but is currently in the midst of a COVID pause. Davidson and Dayton are both starting to gain momentum, and VCU is still formidable. Lest we forget, conference favorite Saint Louis has yet to line up for an A-10 game this campaign.
Offensive Efficiency Leaders
1) Richmond (112)
2) Davidson (110)
3) Dayton (109)
4) UMass (105)
5) St. Bonaventure (104)
Defensive Efficiency Leaders
1) St. Bonaventure (87)
2) UMass (90)
3) Rhode Island (95)
4) VCU (96)
5) Davidson (97)
It’s the defense: Up in Amherst, Matt McCall has the services of a talented duo in Carl Pierre and Tre Mitchell leading the way. There is an uptempo, high-octane offense in place. For the Minutemen, make no mistake: It starts on the defensive side of the ball.
Let’s look at UMass since McCall’s arrival three years ago:
2018: 116 defensive efficiency, 5-13 A-10 record
2019: 110 defensive efficiency, 4-14 A-10 record
2020: 103 defensive efficiency, 8-10 A-10 record
2021: 90 defensive efficiency, 4-1 A-10 record
There is a corresponding improvement in defensive efficiency and the win-loss ledger each season. One of the components on the defensive end is the ability to force turnovers. UMass’ opponents are turning it over at a 21 percent rate, good for fourth-best in the conference.
The Minutemen began conference play with a double-overtime loss to George Mason. Since then, they’ve won three straight, highlighted by an overtime win over Rhode Island. A stern test will arrive on Saturday, when Davidson visits the Mullins Center. Given their defensive stature, it will be a test for Bob McKillop’s Wildcats as well.
1) VCU (76 possessions per game)
2) Saint Joseph’s (74)
3) UMass (72)
4) Rhode Island (71)
5) La Salle (70)
T-1) Dayton and Fordham (63 possessions per game)
T-3) Duquesne and St. Bonaventure (65)
5) Davidson (66)
Defensive Turnover Rate Leaders
1) VCU (27 percent)
T-2) St. Bonaventure and Richmond (23)
T-4) UMass and La Salle (21)
Havoc went to the Lone Star State, but there is still evidence that Shaka Smart’s pressure defense dictating to offenses is alive, well and formidable in Richmond.
Games of Note
January 15: St. Bonaventure 62, Duquesne 48
Kyle Lofton scored a game-high 28 points and made a succession of big plays in the stretch as the Bonnies prevailed before a national television audience. Defense was another big factor, as Mark Schmidt’s group held the Dukes to a 79 offensive efficiency.
January 17: UMass 65, Fordham 46
The Minutemen took to the road and dispelled any hopes of another Fordham upset. UMass jumped out to a 55-15 halftime lead and was never seriously threatened. Fordham got the pace (65 possessions) it wanted, but the UMass defense, a 71 efficiency and 25 percent turnover rate, was too much for Jeff Neubauer and the Rams to handle.
Dayton 67, George Washington 54
Following the Flyers’ early losses to Fordham and George Mason, the venerable Blackburn Review was about to shovel dirt on their season. Dayton never trailed as it earned its third straight victory, handling the Colonials in a game played at George Mason. Anthony Grant’s Flyers posted a 107 efficiency and kept the turnover rate to a more than manageable 15 percent.
January 20: St. Bonaventure, 70 VCU 54
The visiting Rams appeared to be in the driver’s seat, racing out to a 15-point halftime lead. The final 20 minutes were, in Mark Schmidt’s estimation, the best half the Bonnies played during his tenure in Olean. The Bonnies held VCU to just 14 second-half points. VCU pounded the glass with a 46 percent offensive rebound rate, but St. Bonaventure inflicted its own damage, forcing the Rams into a 28 percent turnover rate and 81 offensive efficiency.
On the Schedule
January 23: Dayton at VCU
The Flyers are on a roll, having won three straight. The host Rams will look to bounce back from their loss at St. Bonaventure and prove another test for Anthony Grant and Dayton.
St. Bonaventure at Duquesne
The Bonnies were set to travel to Saint Louis. That fell through early Wednesday, and instead, they will head to Pittsburgh. The Bonnies took the first meeting, but as noted previously, Duquesne is never an easy out.
January 24: Davidson at UMass
A battle of styles. UMass likes to put the pedal to the medal. Bob McKillop’s Wildcats will run, but set up if the break isn’t there. Whomever controls tempo has a definitive edge.
January 27: UMass at VCU
Another big home game for the Rams. Both teams get out in transition, and both teams play some strong defense. Handling VCU’s pressure (27 percent defensive turnover rate) will be a big factor for the Minutemen.
Jordan Goodwin, Saint Louis
Jalen Crutcher, Dayton
Grant Golden, Richmond
Fatts Russell, Rhode Island
Jaren Holmes, St. Bonaventure
News and Notes
Jared Kimbrough of LaSalle entered Monday’s game against Saint Joseph’s averaging three points per game and using 14 percent of the Explorers’ possessions when he was on the floor. In the 90-83 victory at Tom Gola Arena, Kimbrough exploded for 24 points in 27 minutes. To no surprise, the 6-foot-8 forward stepped up, utilizing 24 percent of the possessions.
In Davidson’s 73-58 victory over Fordham on Wednesday, Kellan Grady was the Wildcats’ lone double-figure scorer. The senior guard went for 24 points, burying seven of nine 3-point attempts.
In Wednesday’s 70-54 win over VCU, St. Bonaventure allowed 40 points the first half, and only 14 following the intermission.
Tempo: 68 possessions per game
Turnover rate: 19 percent
Home team record: 21-19 (.525)
Blowouts: 7 of 40 (17.5 percent)
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
For the first time, I welcome a coach to the podcast, as I’m joined this week by Bryant head coach Jared Grasso, who shared his thoughts on the Bulldogs’ 10-3 start, his ideal player, how he recruits and develops talent, and the challenge that inspired him to set out on his own.
Listen and enjoy by clicking the video below:
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Monday, January 18, 2021
No, you didn’t dream that.
Yes, St. John’s really went on the road, beat a ranked team and executed down the stretch.
No, none of those are typos.
The Red Storm was finally able to finish a game, coming back from a 14-point deficit to knock off No. 23 UConn, 74-70, in a Monday matinee at Gampel Pavilion.
A typical slow start for St. John’s (8-7, 3-6 Big East) — particularly on defense, where UConn’s RJ Cole drilled four largely uncontested first half 3-pointers — forced coach Mike Anderson to burn a timeout in the midst of a 15-2 Huskies run.
Led by freshmen Posh Alexander and Dylan Addae-Wusu, who were high school teammates at Our Savior Lutheran in the Bronx, the Red Storm punched back with a 15-5 run of its own, cutting the deficit to 35-32 at the half.
It would take until the 6:35 mark in the second period for St. John’s to tie the game, and another 2:30 for the Red Storm to grab the lead. Finally able to shake off their crunch time woes, the Johnnies finished with stingy defense and timely free throws, especially from Julian Champagnie, who was otherwise uncharacteristically quiet with just 12 points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Here are my takeaways from the win:
Alexander didn’t practice Sunday night after taking a physical beating in Saturday’s loss to Marquette. He seemed to wince every time he hit the floor on Monday. It didn’t matter, as the point guard was the best player on the floor, tying his career high with 18 points and adding four rebounds, six assists and three steals in 36 minutes of action.
UConn coach Dan Hurley summed up Alexander’s night perfectly: “Posh Alexander absolutely destroyed us off the dribble.”
Alexander has shown what he can do around the rim, his only criticism in his first collegiate season is his lack of a consistent jump shot, something he seems to be consciously trying to refine as the year wears on. Monday yielded the best returns of that endeavor, as Alexander went 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.
With Champagnie battling an off day and Greg Williams Jr. held scoreless in just six minutes of action before exiting with a back injury, it was up to some of St. John’s ancillary players to answer the bell. The duo of Marcellus Earlington and Addae-Wusu, who at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds and 6-4, 230 look more like Division I defensive ends than basketball players, did just that.
Earlington had 15 points and five rebounds, drilling all three of his 3-point attempts and Addae-Wusu had 10 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals in 28 minutes of action. He’s been a pleasant surprise as a true freshman and is starting to learn how to throw his weight around in the physical Big East.
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back
Not only did St. John’s reestablish its conference rivalry with UConn with a win, the Red Storm did it at Gampel Pavilion for the first time since the general public was just getting over its fear of computers taking over the world in the year 2000. That losing streak was old enough to drink before Monday’s contest.
Things you love to see
After getting destroyed in the paint and on the glass on Saturday, St. John’s had a much more inspiring effort against UConn, winning the battle inside, 32-28, and staying even in the rebound battle at 34.
One-off, or the new normal?
St. John’s has showed it can win against the bottom-feeders in the Big East (Butler, Georgetown), but also that it can’t yet compete with the top of the conference (Creighton, Seton Hall), so to see the Red Storm down UConn, albeit without leading scorer James Bouknight, who is recovering from elbow surgery, is a promising development. Whether the Johnnies use Monday’s win as a jumping-off point to a late run remains to be seen.
St. John’s will head to a de facto bye week with nine days until it visits DePaul on January 27. While that layoff may kill some of the momentum the Red Storm has been trying to build, it will be a welcome break for Williams to get healthy. It also may provide enough time for transfer big man Esahia Nyiwe to complete his paperwork and join the Johnnies.