Thursday, December 29, 2016

Atlantic 10 Tempo Thursday: December 29, 2016

Marquise Moore's sensational start has placed George Mason among Atlantic 10 leaders in advanced stat metrics heading into conference opener Friday against VCU. (Photo by Alan Kelly/

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

As non-conference play is reaching the final buzzer and the A-10 wars are set to tip off, it’s time to look at the conference from a tempo-free perspective. First order is the efficiency margin (EM). That is derived by subtracting the defensive from offensive efficiency. Naturally, a figure in the positive numbers, is the object of teams in terms of EM:

1) Dayton (efficiency margin +15, 9-3)
2) Rhode Island (+14, 8-4)
3) VCU (+12, 10-3)
4) St. Bonaventure (+11, 8-4)
5) George Mason (+10, 10-3)
6) UMass (+10, 9-3)
7) Davidson (+4, 6-4)
8) Richmond (+3, 6-6)
9) George Washington (+2, 8-5)
10) La Salle (+1, 6-4)
11) Fordham (+1, 6-7)
12) Saint Joseph’s (+1, 6-5)
13) Duquesne (+1, 7-6)
14) Saint Louis (-1, 4-8)

The resurgence of George Mason has been largely predicated on defense. The Patriots sport an impressive 106 efficiency on the offensive end. But it is the defense, allowing an efficiency of 96, that is the proverbial difference-maker. It isn’t so much forcing turnovers (the turnover rate on defense is 19 percent), but rather a case of solid half court defense, as opponents are shooting an effective field goal percentage of 47 percent.

The defensive efficiency leaders:
UMass : 88
VCU: 91
Dayton: 93
Duquesne: 94
Rhode Island: 95

Saint Louis is struggling. The Billikens are the lone A-10 team to date in negative EM numbers. Even Fordham, the only other conference team under .500, has an EM in the black. The defense is allowing a 100 efficiency, yet the overall problem has been on the offensive end. Coach Travis Ford’s club is showing a conference-low 86 offensive efficiency.

The NASCAR leaders, or fastest-tempo teams to date in conference:
UMass: 76 possessions per game
St. Bonaventure: 75
Duquesne: 74
Davidson: 72
Saint Joseph’s: 72
Mark Schmidt has the Bonnies getting out and shooting threes. Under Jim Ferry, Duquesne has been a faster tempo team during his tenure, so no surprise there. Bob McKillop runs some of the best half court sets around. Do not be deceived. The Davidson mentor knows a few things about pushing the ball up the floor.

Most deliberate:
We talked about the teams getting out and running. Here are the most deliberate. Again, the numbers point out even the slowest-paced teams are not exactly walking the ball up the floor. Fordham and George Mason, at 67 possessions each, are three removed from the 70-possession NASCAR threshold:

Fordham: 67 possessions per game
George Mason: 67
Rhode Island: 68
Dayton: 69
George Washington: 69

Offensive efficiency leaders:
St. Bonaventure: 113
La Salle: 112
Rhode Island: 109
Dayton: 108
George Mason: 106

The Bonnies have a slight lead thanks to the outstanding backcourt play. Jaylen Adams (23 points per game, tied with Davidson’s Jack Gibbs for the A-10 scoring lead) and Matt Mobley (20.2) combine for 51 percent of the Bonaventure scoring. La Salle’s offense is courtesy of a 55.6 percent eFG percentage and excellent care of the ball. Shooting-wise, the Explorers share the lead in that category with, surprisingly, Fordham.

Turnover rate:
La Salle: 13.3 percent
Rhode Island: 13.3
Saint Joseph’s: 13.6
Dayton: 14.6
George Mason: 14.8
Under 20 percent is the objective, and the conference leaders are well below that figure. In fact, every team is below 20 percent, with Saint Louis at the bottom with an 18.9 percent rate that a lot of teams down the road would trade for.
On the defensive end, the Rams are the most disruptive in forcing opposition errors. The Rams we are talking about are not VCU, but the ones residing at Rose Hill, Fordham. Jeff Neubauer’s group forces opponents into a 26 percent turnover rate. Right behind, though, are the VCU Rams at 20 percent. Interestingly, they are the only two forcing offenses into a 20 or higher turnover percentage rate.

Things to watch as conference play unfolds:
Expect possessions to decrease.
The closer games in league play often dictates a more deliberate play in the stretch. Another factor is the defenses. Conference teams know one another. They know the opposition tendencies, what they like to run, and whom they go to in the clutch. That awareness allows defenses to significantly affect the game pace.

Turnover percentages will increase.
As we noted before, the defenses know the opposition from year to year. Familiarity breeds contempt, and has a way of imposing a will on offenses as the campaign progresses.

Offensive efficiency will decrease.
Conference play is a test night in and night out. As the weeks go by, maintaining an offensive efficiency of 110 or higher is an extremely difficult task.

George Mason may not sneak up on anyone, and they will be closely watched.
Off to a 10-3 record, including nine straight wins featuring road victories over Penn State and Northern Iowa to name a few, Dave Paulsen’s team has got the other conference members’ attention. The next test could tell us a lot more-Friday at home in the Patriots’ conference opener against archrival VCU.

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