We go up one side of the roller coaster and then back down the other with this team. Sitting at 4-0 and having just thumped an excellent La Salle team, Xavier looked in an awesome position to make a run. Then, the Musketeers lost on the road to Charlotte and went to St. Joseph's and committed the exact same mistakes they have all year long. That loss put an end to any chances of an NCAA at-large bid. The rest of the Atlantic 10 went absolutely crazy in a frenetic week that reshaped the standings from top to bottom.
Brad: What is going on the conference right now? We beat La Salle, who beats VCU, we beat GW and then lose to Charlotte, but GW beats Charlotte by 28. La Salle beats Butler, the best them in the league in our opinion (VCU) drops two straight after terrorizing the same St. Joe's team that just beat what was a 4-1 Xavier squad. What gives?
Joel: Short answer is that I have no clue. Long answer is that I can tell you some things it probably isn't. I first thought maybe it could be an experience issue. We both believe talent is king over things like grittiness or "knowing how to win," but older guys tend to play to their talent level more consistently. I thought a young league might explain the variance in results, but the experience levels in the league are all over the place and the most veteran team (Temple, who is 10th in the nation in that regard) is one of the most mercurial. I thought maybe it was a league of streak shooters that could gun teams in and out of games, but it turns out the A-10 is well below average in terms of frequency of shots from deep.
I can only come to a couple of theories that are so tenuous I hate to use the word "conclusion" on them. First, it's a fairly slow league, averaging fewer than 66 posessions per game. Fewer possessions give the better team fewer chances to show dominance, but the A-10 is by no means dramatically slow. Second, it's a fairly well-balanced league. More than 27% of the games have been decided by a single possession, a mark exceeded by only three conferences in the nation. When a game comes down to that margin, it can flip on fairly small things, leaving the difference between 4-2 and 2-4 often as little as a couple of bad calls or the odd jumper rattling out. Finally, there's been a lot of shuffling. Butler and VCU are new to the league, Xavier basically replaced the whole squad, et c. It's possible that teams are dropping or taking game based on matchup advantages that slipped through the cracks in scouting.
All that to basically get us back to the short answer: I have no clue.
Xavier and the at large
Joel: This just league makes no sense. Butler is on top at 4-1, then Xavier, GW, La Salle, VCU, and Charlotte are all tied at 4-2. We've still got a chance to make a meaningful play for one of the byes, which has to be the goal at this point. After these two losses, only a miracle gets us an at-large bid. I'm talking winning out which, obviously, gives us the auto bid. I don't think the bubble is going to be soft enough for this team to get in any other way. They just don't have the consistency.
Once again, it was a massive second-half drought that killed the game. X managed to score eight points in the last 10:30, including a meager four points in the last 8:04. Even without that defensive collapse at the end, you just can't win games being that pathetic on offense. To score 49 points in a 61-possession game isn't going to get you anywhere. On the plus side, they did play really good defense for most of the game.
So where does that leave us? Are we as fans really that dependent on if Semaj is able to make his stamp on the game? Without him getting a lot of points without taking a ton of shots, is this team offensively hopeless? Is any team that is able to take Trav out of the game automatically going to feed it to Xavier?
Brad: I hope your exterior walls warm up sufficiently to paint today. Painting is the worst part, get through it and you can handle the rest.
There is no miracle that can get us an at-large. That chance went up in smoke when Dee Davis stepped out of bounds. My goodness he was awful yesterday. He was only charge with three turnovers, but he didn't care of the ball well at all. Redford would have been a much better option in every respect if he didn't have the flu. We just left the season on the table. It's a bye and an automatic bid, or nothing.
Joel: Speaking of unhealthy, I think you're right that we need the bye. Everybody in the league can be had in Brooklyn, just not by us. If we get a bye and if someone gives us some help by beating VCU, I think we can win three games in three days on a neutral court. I think we've got the chops to beat Butler under those circumstances, though if we play up to our potential is another question entirely. Miss out on the opportunity to do that in Brooklyn, and I'm afraid we're in the NIT.
Brad: NIT is the most likely conclusion, but we are both assuming a massive collapse isn't forthcoming. In the same way we could win three straight, we could only win three the rest of the way.
"They are who we thought they were"
Joel: I'm afraid this is what we are. We have the talent to beat almost anyone; we also have the ability to drop a game to a middling AAU team. I can understand it from the inexperienced guys like Semaj and Dee, but it's so frustrating from JRob or Martin or Philmore or... you get it. I can call it growing pains with the younger guys; it's just stupid with the dudes who have been out of high school for three or four years.
Brad: It's the "they are who we thought they were" thing. Dee- too small to drive, Semaj- can't shoot, Travis- doesn't get enough touches, JRob- is JRob, Martin- acts like a shorter JRob, Redford- only a shooter, Stenger- a walk on. I would only single Philmore out for being a serious disappointment. He can be a shrinking violet in a bull's body. It's frustrating to watch him shy away from people like he did Aiken on Saturday. Grow a pair, man.
Same thing with the coaching staff, really. Coach Mack seems to hit great highs (had the stones to play Amos on Wyatt in the win over Temple) and yet fail to make simple in game adjustments (any game Trav takes less than ten shots). Recruiting he has brought in Semaj, but also Jeff Robinson and Dee Davis. I am, as I'm certain you detected, less than thrilled with your boy.
Joel: Dee is a good but limited player. On a deep team, I promise you, you'd thank God for Dee Davis twice a game at least. In this lineup, he's in over his head worse than Tom. If we get a decent squad around him, he'll be like Drew Lavender but better on defense. I'm just afraid he, like this squad, is a little too limited for what we need out of him this year. Add a couple more scorers and make him the fourth option for the other team to worry about instead of the second and watch him go for 9/2/5 a night on rainbow threes and the occasional teardrop in the lane. Bookmark this page and let's come back to it at this time next year. Until then, keep your forked tongue behind your teeth when you talk about Dee Davis.
I tried to believe in JRob after that consistency article. I really did. I still think his performance is the key to the season. Unfortunately, to borrow a phrase from my old baseball coach, there is just no fire in that dude's belly. If it's down to him, we may be well and truly in trouble.
Brad: The thing is, Jeff had the fire against St Joe. He really played a good, really active, game, but we lost anyway. Why? Because as much as you love Dee, he's too limited for what he has to do. Yes, I know all the caveats, but all that matters is we don't have a true "point guard." Semaj can't do it, and neither can Dee. I do love his guts though, he's violently committed.
Joel: Didn't I just say that? I know he's limited. He's not an ace, but he's a great support player. Unfortunately, we don't have enough dudes for him to be supporting right now, so he has to try to take on more than he can handle. That's basically a microcosm of this team right now. It's Dayton and @ Richmond this week. Realistically, we need them both. 5-3 in the conference leaves us a lot of work to do to grab a bye. Home crowd needs to be big for the Dayton game, and we need to sack up and grab a win at Richmond. If we don't, we're prepping to host an NIT game. Sorry if that's ugly, but it's the truth. Big week here. Big, big week.