Jury Returns: Chris Mack is Not a Good Coach

For a while I’ve gone back and forth on whether I think Chris Mack is a good coach. After yesterday’s drubbing at the hands of Marquette I have now realized that he is not. The argument for Mack is clear, after the departure of Sean Miller the program has not missed a beat. The team has not dropped off, thus it is unfair to consider him a poor coach. Xavier has 50 wins since Mack grabbed the wheel. The question is; how much of that success can be attributed to the coach?

Over the past two seasons it is clear that Xavier and Temple have been the teams to beat in the Atlantic 10. How did these teams get to the top? In regard to Temple it seems clear that much of their success has to do with Fran Dunphy taking over the head coaching position following John Chaney’s retirement. It seemed clear that Chaney, legendary architect of the Owls’ lockdown matchup zone defense, had lost his fastball due to his advanced age. After a run of making 17 of 18 NCAA Tournaments, Chaney failed to make the big dance in his final five seasons. Enter Fran Dunphy. Dunphy had paid his dues coaching Penn for 17 years, winning the Ivy League 10 times in that span.

Comparing Chris Mack and Fran Dunphy Over The Past Two Seasons


Mack Dunphy
Record 50-16 55-13
Winning Percentage .758 .809
NCAA Appearances 2 2
2010 Pomeroy Rating 14th 22nd
2011 Pomeroy Rating 35th 36th
2010 RPI 17th 11th
2011 RPI 25th 27th
Expected 09-10 A10 Finish 2nd T-5th
Actual 09-10 A10 Finish T-1st T-1st
Expected 10-11 A10 Finish 2nd 1st
Actual 10-11 A10 Finish 1st 2nd

After an initial rebuilding season Dunphy has led the Owls to the dance four consecutive seasons. Dunphy had taken a sputtering program and breathed new life into it making it the class of the conference. Is the key to his success convincing top flight recruits to spend a few years in North Philadelphia? Not really. While Dunphy has not recruited big names, he has utilized the Philadelphia and New York talent bases well. Below is a table that points to all of Dunphy’s freshman recruits. Notice that only one of them was nationally ranked at their position and he was enrolled this season and has not seen the floor due to injury. Pointing to recruiting as the primary reason for Dunphy’s success seems unwarranted.

Freshman Recruits Along With Their Scout.com Position Ranking


XAVIER



TEMPLE

Class Player Pos Rank
Class Player Pos Rank
2006 Adrion Graves SG 20 2006 Ryan Brooks SG NR
2006 Jason Love C 34 2006 Luis Guzman PG NR
2007 Dante Jackson SG 26 2006 Mike Scott PF NR
2008 Tu Holloway PG 15 2007 Ramone Moore SG NR
2008 Brian Walsh SG NR 2007 Lavoy Allen PF NR
2008 Kenny Frease C 11 2007 Michael Eric C NR
2008 Brad Radford SG 27 2007 Martavis Kee SG NR
2008 Mark Lyons PG 20 2008 Scootie Randall SF NR
2010 Griffin McKenzie PF 43 2009 Rahlir Jefferson PF NR
2010 Justin Martin SF 20 2009 Khaliff Wyatt SG NR
2010 Jay Canty SG 20 2010 Aaron Brown SF NR
2010 Jordan Latham PF 20 2010 Anthony Lee C 23

Lets compare Dunphy’s success to that of Mack. Mack has a nearly identical record. Has he been blessed with better talent than Dunphy? You betcha. Over the past five recruiting periods Xavier has received commitments from 12 incoming freshman, the same amount as Temple. There is a major difference however. 11 of X’s 12 recruits were nationally ranked at their respective positions (see table below). So that is 11-12 ranked prospects for Xavier compared to 1-12 ranked prospects. Considering this condition it is clear that the Musketeers are starting from a better position. With that talent level coming through the pipeline in a league like the A-10, Xavier should never finish outside the top three. Under Mack they have won the league in both of the coach’s seasons, so he is certainly making good use of the talent, but it would seem that recruiting has been the primary reason for success.

Taking into account the level of talent coming through the blue side of Cincinnati, one would expect them to have post season success. Last year’s squad did, making the Sweet Sixteen and then forced Kansas State to overtime once there. The run was largely on the back of do-everything-guard Jordan Crawford who was a first round NBA Draft pick. Crawford transferred from Indiana after the Kelvin Sampson debacle. Temple is not likely to get transfers like that, but I digress. A team with that talent should make Sweet Sixteens, and that is exactly what happened.

No such luck this season, after X took a drubbing by Marquette. Marquette ran an offense and Xavier had five guys try to go one-on-one. The Muskies looked flat at the beginning of the contest and never could get into a rhythm. Buzz Williams’ team shut down Xavier’s three top players Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Jamel McLean. Lyons and Holloway payed their typical Kobe Bryant inspired hero-complex games and failed to succeed against a stout Golden Eagle defense. McLean simply had a bad game. There was little ball movement and players largely stood around waiting to get the ball.

Such is not the sign of a good coach. Looking back at the games I have seen Xavier play this season, last night was not an exception but the norm. The only difference between this game and the others is that X’s superior talent did not save the day. Also, Xavier has consistently played to the level of its competition which is a sign of lack of motivation. Mental lapses against bad teams, while not costing many games, still has been apparent and will have to change in order for my opinion of Mack to change. While Mack is by no means Brian Gregory, he is not Fran Dunphy either. Muskie fans should not expect a Final Four any time soon.

State of the A-10 (2-21-11)


W L Win% W L Win% PPP PPPA Marg
Xavier 20 6 .769 11 1 .917 1.131 0.970 0.161
Temple 21 5 .808 11 2 .846 1.097 0.915 0.182
Richmond 21 7 .750 10 3 .769 1.109 0.972 0.137
Duquesne 17 8 .680 9 3 .750 1.078 0.905 0.173
Rhode Island 16 10 .615 7 5 .583 1.007 0.975 0.032
George Washington 14 12 .538 7 5 .583 1.007 1.007 0.000
Dayton 19 9 .679 7 6 .538 1.033 0.958 0.075
St. Bonaventure 14 11 .560 6 6 .500 1.049 1.019 0.030
Massacusetts 14 11 .560 6 6 .500 0.978 0.980 -0.002
La Salle 12 15 .444 4 8 .333 1.041 1.063 -0.022
St. Louis 9 17 .346 4 9 .308 0.969 0.961 0.008
Charlotte 10 16 .385 2 10 .167 0.993 1.019 -0.026
St. Joseph’s 7 19 .269 2 10 .167 1.015 1.058 -0.043
Fordham 6 18 .250 0 12 .000 0.961 1.073 -0.112

Looking ahead at the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Atlantic City, Duquesne looks to be in good shape to earn a first round bye. The top four teams will earn a bye and avoid having to play a first round contest at a campus site. The Dukes favorable position could easily change with a home loss against Rhode Island. URI and George Washington are tied for 5th, two games behind Ron Everhart’s club. Further, Duquesne holds the head to head tie breaker over GW already and a win against URI would essentially clinch a bye. GW has three tough matchups against Temple, Dayton and URI to close out the season following a game against Charlotte. It is unlikely that the Colonials will sweep them.

Following Temple’s dismantling of Richmond on Thursday it seems clear that Xavier and Temple are the class of the conference. Xavier, however, does continue to struggle against poor teams as evidenced by only a seven point win at home against league winless Fordham. I trust that Temple will play to nearly the same level every night whereas Xavier has a much higher variance. For this reason, I would not be surprised if Temple takes the top spot going into the Tournament. Richmond will probabbly jockey for position with Duquesne for those two bye spots perhaps finally deciding seeding in the season finale at Richmond between those two teams.

Further drama in the conference could occur in a contest between St. Joe’s and Charlotte in North Carolina. They are tied for the 12th best record in the conference, or the last entry into the A10 tournament. My money is on the Hawks. I’ll go with the superior club according to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.

State of the A-10 (2-9-11)


W L Win% W L Win% PPP PPPA Marg
Duquesne 16 6 .727 8 1 .889 1.097 0.909 0.188
Xavier 17 6 .739 8 1 .889 1.128 0.973 0.155
Temple 17 5 .773 7 2 .778 1.083 0.908 0.175
Richmond 18 6 .750 7 2 .778 1.099 0.955 0.144
Dayton 17 7 .708 5 4 .556 1.045 0.969 0.076
Rhode Island 14 9 .609 5 4 .556 1.020 0.982 0.038
Massachusetts 13 9 .591 5 4 .556 0.998 0.990 0.008
George Washington 12 11 .522 5 4 .556 0.993 1.009 -0.016
St. Bonaventure 12 10 .545 4 5 .444 1.029 1.014 0.015
St. Louis 8 14 .364 3 6 .333 0.970 0.948 0.022
La Salle 11 13 .458 3 6 .333 1.038 1.045 -0.007
Charlotte 10 13 .435 2 7 .222 1.005 1.022 -0.017
St. Joseph’s 6 15 .286 1 8 .111 1.012 1.048 -0.036
Fordham 6 15 .286 0 9 .000 0.929 1.069 -0.140

It seems relatively clear that the four best teams in the conference are the head and shoulders above everybody else. It would be surprising to see another team manage to get a first round bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Barring some drastic changes in events it id fair to consider that these teams should have their tickets punched for Atlantic City.

It is also clear that Duquesne has as of yet been the best team in the conference performance wise. More recently the Dukes have improved their offense from where it was a few weeks ago. With the exception of free throw shooting the Dukes offense is in the top 100 nationally in all phases of the offensive game. This efficient offense combined with stout turnover inducing defense place Duquesne at the top of the conference.

As for the other teams at the top of the league, Xavier possesses the best offense in the Atlantic 10 and conversely Temple is the best defensive club bettering Duquesne by 1 thousandth of a point per possession.

Xavier’s minor flaw is a risk averse defense which fails to force turnovers allowing opponents to get plenty of shots off. This deficiency makes the Musketeers good but not great at stopping the opposing team from scoring.

While Temple is solid on both ends it is marginally worse on offense where it lacks both a consistent outside shooting touch and poor free throw shooting. The Owls also struggle at corralling misses on that end.

Richmond is solid on both ends of the floor also but they have one glaring flaw, rebounding. The Spiders rank 311th in offensive rebounding percentage and 219th in defensive rebounding. This makes Richmond vulnerable despite being one of the finest shooting team in the nation. If the shots do not fall on a particular night the Spiders will not get many second chances.

These four clubs have separated themselves from the pack and serve as the league’s only NCAA Tournament contenders. It seems that at the very least they all will at least play in the NIT. Temple and Xavier seem to be solidly in the tournament at the moment with several quality non-conference wins. Richmond seems to be in a better position than Duquesne because a win against a top ten Purdue team but will likely need another quality conference win against Temple or Duquesne to put itself back in the mix. Duquesne lost several close games to quality non-conference competition (WVU, Penn State & George Mason). A win against one of those teams would greatly aided the Dukes chances. Currently, the Dukes only have one top 50 RPI win, so sweeping the rest of the schedule might be necessary including contests against Xavier and Richmond. Otherwise Duquesne will most likely have to take the title in Atlantic City to get into the dance.

State of the Atlantic 10 (1-23-11)


W L Win% W L Win% PPP PPPA Marg
Duquesne 12 5 .706 5 0 1.000 1.089 0.899 0.190
Temple 13 5 .722 3 2 .600 1.071 0.884 0.187
Richmond 15 5 .750 4 1 .800 1.111 0.941 0.170
Xavier 13 5 .722 5 0 1.000 1.114 0.958 0.156
Dayton 15 5 .750 3 2 .600 1.063 0.970 0.093
Rhode Island 12 7 .632 3 2 .600 1.014 0.982 0.032
St. Louis 6 11 .353 2 3 .400 0.965 0.941 0.024
St. Bonaventure 10 8 .556 2 3 .400 1.025 1.012 0.013
Massachusetts 10 7 .588 3 2 .600 0.986 0.977 0.009
La Salle 9 11 .450 1 4 .200 1.041 1.048 -0.007
Charlotte 9 9 .500 1 3 .250 1.001 1.019 -0.018
St. Joseph’s 5 14 .263 0 5 .000 0.996 1.026 -0.030
George Washington 10 9 .526 3 2 .600 0.963 0.994 -0.031
Fordham 6 11 .353 0 5 .000 0.934 1.059 -0.125

On a point per possession basis the Dukes are the best team in Atlantic 10. They have improved their standing greatly in this regard during the current winning streak. The improvement has really been on defense. With the return of Eric Evans the Dukes have been able to run five guards in and out of the game putting constant pressure on opposing offenses. This team is a true Ron Everhart team in the highest form, fast athletic guards with long, athletic and small forwards that chase around the offense not permitting it to run its set plays.

The team that will likely give Duquesne the biggest problem is Xavier with its efficient offense, scoring 1.114 PPP. They can play an up tempo game with the Dukes and have superior talent. Fortunately, the Dukes get to play Xavier in Pittsburgh which helps. Richmond also scares me, but their weakness, offensive rebounding, is counterpointed be Duquesne’s biggest weakness, defensive rebounding. The two games against Dayton will be tough, as they always are, but I am more confident that the Dukes can play a smarter game and prevail in at least one of those matchups.  Is Duquesne the favorite to win the regular season crown? I think that distinction has to be bestowed to Xavier at this point after its quality win against Temple yesterday and its track record cannot be overlooked. X has more talent, but it is a comfort to know that statistically the Dukes have the edge right now.

Saunders is Named to Preseason First Team All Atlantic 10

Along with the preseason team predictions, the preseason All-Conference teams were announced. Duquesne power forward Damian Saunders was given first team All-Conference and Defensive team honors. Saunders was honored with these same distinctions after last season as well as earning Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year.Along with Saunders, there are a number of familiar names on these teams including returning A-10 player of the year Kevin Anderson.

First Team
Second Team
Third Team
Defense
Rookie
Lavoy Allen TEM Juan Fernandez TEM Chris Boswell CHA Lavoy Allen TEM C.J. Aiken SJU
Kevin Anderson RICH Chris Gaston FOR Cody Ellis SLU Kevin Anderson RICH Langston Galloway SJU
Andrew Nicholson SBU Tu Holloway XAV Chris Johnson DAY Dante Jackson XAV Jordan Latham XAV
Damian Saunders DUQ Delroy James URI Lasan Kronah GW Andrew Nicholson SBU Rob Loe SLU
Chris Wright DAY Shamari Spears CHA Aaric Murray LaS Damian Saunders DUQ Juwan Staten DAY

First Team: There are few surprises on the first team list. Allen is a solid power forward who is an excellent defender, an unselfish offensive contributor and quality rebounder and clearly one of the top players in the league. Anderson is the best scorer in the league and also stands out in terms of athleticism and defense. Nicholson, the rookie of the year last season, burst onto the scene averaging a double team and requiring double teams in the low post. The Bonnies’ big man is clearly the best center in the league and perhaps the best NBA prospect. Saunders is simply solid all around and terrific on defense but needs improvement in terms of free throw shooting and finishing near the basket. Rounding out the list is my least favorite player in the league, Dayton swing man, Chris Wright. Wright is a projectable athlete with a man’s body but has shown little indication of being a quality basketball player. His court awareness is poor and has few skills beyond being able to jump over people. While averaging 14.6 points and 7.7 rebounds rarely did he take over games. He is a physical monster and could continue to improve but he remains the most overrated player in the league as of now. Wright is the kind of player who impresses during practice but fades during games which might explain his spot on this list.

Second Team: Juan Fernandez, the Argentine point guard, is my favorite non-Duke in the league. For my money, he is the best player in the conference and is my dark horse to win player of the year in 2010-11. His court awareness is unmatched in the league and he is the best shooter as well. He is a natural point guard that can play the two and makes all of the players around him better. I expect him to be on the first team at year’s end. Gaston was the one bright spot for an otherwise moribund Fordham club last season. He averaged a double-double for the year and stands out as one of the best big men in the league. His defense doesn’t match that of Allen, Nicholson or Saunders which likely explains his position on the second team as well as his youth. Also, his raw stats are a little inflated due to the up tempo style Fordham played. The artist formerly known as Terrell Holloway, is looking to fill the shoes of Jordan Crawford for the Musketeers.  He is a pass first point guard who is good at drawing fouls and then converting the free throws. He is only an average shooter but remains an excellent passer. James is an efficient scorer on the ever efficient Jim Barron Rhody offense. Spears was one of the break out players last season and and is one of the better shooters and scorers in the league.

Third Team: Boswell is another interesting big man who rebounds and scores. Ellis is a highly touted Australian swing man. He can do a little bit of everything and will likely become the Billikens top performer with the departure of Kawain Mitchell and Willie Reed. Chris Johnson is the true best player on the Dayton Flyers and much better than that other guy who shares his first name. He is a great free throw shooter which indicates a better three point shooting effort in 2010-11. He is a great rebounder for a wing player and is very careful with the ball. Where Wright is an athlete, Johnson is a basketball player. Kronah is a solid all around player who excels at shooting the basketball and should improve going into his sophmore season. Another sophmore, Murray, excelled in his maiden campaign. He is a big man who rebounds and blocks shots and is very aggressive on the offensive end taking many shots.

Official Atlantic 10 Preseason Predictions Announced

The projected Atlantic 10 standings and all league teams for the 2010-11 season were announced yesterday at the Atlantic 10 Media Day in New York. A poll of coaches and some media members has predicted that Duquesne will finish eighth in the league with last season’s champion Temple projected as the team to beat with 19 first place votes.  The poll results were as follows…

Rk Team #1v Pts
1 Temple 19 350
2 Xavier 3 325
3 Richmond 3 311
4 Dayton 1 310
5 Rhode Island 233
6 Saint Louis 223
7 Charlotte 218
8 Duquesne 172
9 La Salle 133
10 George Washington 130
11 Massachusetts 126
12 Saint Joseph’s 91
13 Saint Bonaventure 80
14 Fordham 28

There are not too many surprises here, it follows much of the conventional wisdom. In the newly released Coaches poll, the Temple Owls are ranked 22nd and Xavier received some votes. I would agree that these teams are the class of the conference. I would even have the Owls ranked higher, they are loaded and they will likely move up the ladder after their non conference schedule.

The Dukes on the other hand are not given much respect this year after perhaps receiving too much last year. The voters may have some buyer’s remorse left over from ranking Duquesne 5th preseason. Tha was overly kind and most Dukes fans would have told you that. Losing a do it all point guard in Aaron Jackson is difficult to make up. The team did not have and identity last year and was lost without a stabilizing presence like Jackson.

I feel as if this year, the Dukes have reclaimed an identity. After losing  malcontented shooting guard Melquan Bolding and dead space 0f Oliver Lewison, the 2010-11 team will return to its running roots. A key contributor will be freshman T.J. McConnell. He could provide that presence Jackson was, but his youth indicates it may take awhile before he can live up to his potential. If he picks up where he left off in the summer league and is good right away that would go a long way in propelling the Dukes up the standings. I am not that optimistic, however with the losses of players at St. Louis, that should objectively move Duquesne up a spot. With an improved A-10, the Dukes should be an NIT contender even at number 8.

Nonetheless, this is a good thing. These expectations should allow the Dukes to fly below the radar and catch the league by surprise. Development of the incoming players and the steady presence of veterans should allow the team to play with high energy and heart. The coaches have had their say, now lets play the games.

Note: I will begin posting team previews soon.

St. Louis Loses Top Two Players

A seismic shift has occurred in the Atlantic 10 that is sure to affect all teams and especially second tier teams like Duquesne. The Saint Louis Billikens will be without the services of their best two players until at least January. According to a report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch point guard Kwamain Mitchell and center Willie Reed are no longer enrolled at the University. The paper reports that this is because of sexual assault allegations. Reed has asked for a release from his scholarship and will not return to school but Mitchell’s lawyer expects the point guard to return in time for the conference schedule. Of course, it is yet to be seen if coach Rick Majerus may take other action.

The basketball ramifications of this are huge (for a mid major conference). If both are lost for the season, young players will be thrown into the rotation quicker than otherwise thought. Majerus, whom I consider to be perhaps one of the ten best college basketball coaches of all time, is an excellent tactician but nonetheless, this news is a great blow to the progress made in the lengendary coach’s tenure in the gateway city. This will likely result in several fewer wins for the Billikens and over the course of the conference season more wins for other A-10 programs.

The effects are rather immediate for the Dukes who immediately jump ahead in the projected standings. The Billikens would have expected with their all league players to be dark horse contenders for the title and now have fell to the bottom of the second tier or perhaps even into the third level of teams. Duquesne, with all of its primary contributors returning is a direct rival with SLU. Of particular note is that the Dukes are scheduled to play St Louis twice. Considering the status of the SLU program, the Dukes should now win those two games, whereas with Reed and Mitchell the Dukes would gladly take a split. One or two more wins in conference can make a huge difference, and that provides a cogent example of how important this news can be to the league.