The Atlantic 10: Bad Luck, Bad Coaching, or Both?

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We here at A10 Talk hate to be the guys that complain about the refs. However, it has felt like the conference has been screwed by some egregious calls throughout non-conference play, potentially costing the league some big win opportunities. This past weekend showed some of the same trends.

Here’s a tough call that went against Saint Louis in the 2nd half. The Billikens went on a quick spurt out of the gates to take a 6 point lead in the 2nd half. A mysterious technical foul was called on Javon Bess going into a timeout, and Houston grabbed back some momentum after a couple of free throws. But the worst call of the game had to be this one that went against the Billikens. Houston’s player clearly bumps into his own teammate, but SLU’s DJ Foreman gets whistled for the foul.

This certainly was not the reason Saint Louis lost the game. The Billikens went on to build a 3 point lead in the final minute but failed to execute in the half court, and Houston went on to sink a dagger three. However, this was a painful reminder of a trend that has been unfortunate officiating at the expense of A-10 teams this season. Who could forget the St. John’s game for VCU where the refs missed a critical foul that would’ve sent Evans to the line in OT? Who could forget the 5 point play that Virginia was gifted late at home when the Rams held a lead and were bidding for the upset? And who can forget the egregious shot clock errors the officials missed on Davidson’s behalf this past weekend against Temple?

It really feels like the Atlantic 10 has been unlucky. But yeah, that’s easy for me to say. I watch all of these games and am clearly biased towards the conference. I probably don’t look at these fouls from an objective viewpoint. Were some of them the right call (the 5 point play against VCU)? Maybe… There have been quite a few times where the refs just need to swallow their whistles. We saw Massachusetts get called for a 3 seconds in the paint call against Providence on the road in the final minutes of a tight contest. Is that the right call? I guess, but most will agree it’s a crazy call for the officials to make at that point in the contest, unless it’s so blatant that it has to be made. And at the same time, it’s likely there have been some egregious calls that have gone the way of the Atlantic 10; I probably just don’t remember them.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many reliable ways to figure out how much a team has actually been “screwed over” by the officials, let alone an entire conference. We as fans just subjectively remember bad calls and feel victimized whenever games don’t go our way. I did think it’d be interesting to look at Kenpom’s luck factor though to see if there was any substance behind feeling unlucky. Kenpom describes his luck factor as “the deviation in winning percentage between a team’s actual record and their expected record.” Obviously this isn’t going to shed much insight into bad calls on the floor, but I thought it would be interesting to see just how “unlucky” the Atlantic 10 actually is.

The luckiest team as a I write this is Duquesne, ranking 22nd in the nation. Davidson is the 44th luckiest team in the country. Those are the only 2 A-10 teams that rank in the top 100; Fordham is the only other team with a positive luck factor, and then, there’s a sharp drop off. Every other team in the conference seems to be “relatively unlucky” by Kenpom’s metrics. Most notably, Dayton, Richmond, and St. Bonaventure rank 324th, 340th, and 347th respectively in luck. Don’t take this league to Vegas.

St. Bonaventure’s ranking is understandable; Kenpom doesn’t handicap a team if its best player(s) are injured, and Courtney Stockard and Ladarien Griffins’ absences have taken a toll on this team’s actual record. As someone asked on Twitter today, “what would the Bonnies’ record look like if they had Stockard and Griffin all season?” the answer is probably somewhere around 7 or 8 wins rather than 4.

It’s actually interesting when you consider Kenpom’s luck factor as a potential barometer for good and bad coaching in the Atlantic 10. It’s not surprising to see Keith Dambrot and Bob McKillop as the “luckiest 2 coaches in the league,” as I’d argue the 2 of them to be the best in-game coaches in the conference.

Richmond’s had its fair share of the injury bug as well, losing Nick Sherod for the season and playing without Jacob Gilyard for 2 games. But for the Spiders, it feels like coaching has been more of an issue than poor luck; Chris Mooney failed to deliver at home against a very bad Oral Roberts team and also lost to Longwood even when he had Sheord, Gilyard, and Golden at his disposal. That’s inexcusable. Though Dayton fell victim to a brutal call by the refs today as well, it’s tough to see the Flyers’ “bad luck” score as much other than coaching. Anthony Grant’s decision to take Josh Cunningham and Obi Toppin out of the game with 3 fouls stifled the Flyers who got outplayed in the final minutes. Grant just has not been a great in-game coach now in his 2nd season at Dayton, and that’s beginning to show even more this year as Dayton is just 5-5 on the young season.

The Atlantic 10 has had its problems. Is it bad luck? A little bit. Is it bad coaching? Sometimes. Kenpom certainly considers the Atlantic 10 an “unlucky league” based on actual records at this point, which means some of these teams are probably better than their record indicates. Saint Louis’ 3 losses have come by a combined 11 points; I think SLU is a much better team that anyone will give them credit for. Unfortunately, wins and losses are the only thing that matters in March. To make the NCAA Tournament, you have to be good, but you also have to be lucky. And while I think some bad calls have stifled A-10 teams this year, contributing to that bad luck in Kenpom, I think poor coaching decisions down the stretch in crucial games has played a big role as well. As conference play comes to a close, let’s get some damn “luck,” please.

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About Author

Grant Labedz is a college basketball superfan who loves the entire sport but definitely has favorites in the A-10 and the Big Ten. He has written for SB Nation's BT Powerhouse (Big Ten Basketball) and The Champaign Room (Illinois Basketball). He also co-founded his own Illinois Basketball blog called The Groce Report. Grant is a member of the Davidson Class of 2020. Shoot him an email at [email protected] Follow @GrantLabedz

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