Wizards

A-10 enjoying strong season, waiting for next move

201301262220804157583-p2.jpeg

A-10 enjoying strong season, waiting for next move

CINCINNATI (AP) One recent Saturday, Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade sat courtside and watched Xavier - one of the league's mainstays - hold off upstart La Salle. Then she drove 90 miles to Indianapolis and watched Butler steal one away from Gonzaga.

A great day for the A-10 all-around.

``Fabulous,'' McGlade said, in a phone interview. ``It reminded me what this is about. For a fleeting 10 hours, I didn't think about realignment.''

Even in good times, it's never far from any conference commissioner's minds these days.

The Atlantic 10 is enjoying a strong season, buoyed by the additions of Butler and Virginia Commonwealth. Butler was ranked No. 9 in the latest AP poll on Monday, and VCU and La Salle received votes.

The league is on pace to get at least three teams into the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight season, which would equal the best streak in A-10 history. Ten of its 16 teams are ranked in the top 90 of the RPI. The league ranks seventh in combined RPI, sandwiched between the Big 12 and the SEC.

It's been a good transition season so far. Charlotte (No. 51 RPI) and Temple (No. 55) are planning to leave after this season - the 49ers are starting a football program and moving to Conference USA, while the Owls are headed to the Big East.

Butler and VCU (No. 38 in the RPI) will allow the league to hold its own and continue raising its national profile - provided the A-10 doesn't get raided.

Seven of the Big East's schools - the so-called Catholic 7 - have decided to form their own basketball-based league. Presidents of DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova met in New York earlier this month to lay the groundwork.

Xavier, a Jesuit school, and religiously-unaffiliated Butler would be attractive to the new league. The Catholic 7 have to decide how many schools they want in the new conference, 10 or 12. Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco said in Connecticut on Monday that the separation has been amicable.

McGlade and the A-10 schools are waiting to see how that plays out.

``All of the swirling speculation about conference realignment is in some respects a little exhausting,'' McGlade said. ``And it takes away from the present, which happens to be so positive and so successful.''

The A-10 has started benefiting from its push to have the conference's also-rans make a bigger commitment to scheduling tough nonconference opponents. Last season, the league's nonconference strength of schedule ranked seventh, ahead of the SEC.

Teams at the top have longed for the day when an in-conference loss was seen as a sign of the A-10's balance rather than a black eye for March. The conference is getting there.

Last week, La Salle bounced back from that close loss at Xavier and extended its best start since 1990-91. The Explorers beat Butler and then-No. 19 VCU in back-to-back games, getting consecutive wins over ranked teams for the first time since the 1952 National Invitation Tournament.

And no one considered it a fluke.

``If you think we're surprised, you're nuts!'' coach John Giannini said.

Although Xavier is having a down season by its standards - the Musketeers lost all five starters from the team that reached the NCAA tournament's round of 16 last season - it beat Butler by 15 points early in the season. The Bulldogs have only three losses, two to A-10 teams.

McGlade has been talking to A-10 school presidents about the conference's future, trying to be proactive as the Big East's realignment continues. She points out that the A-10 is in a solid position with its scheduling, eight-year television deal and a conference tournament moving from Atlantic City to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

``I have to believe the current membership will look at those points of strength that we've been able to establish, and also our distribution model, which is extremely favorable to successful teams,'' McGlade said. ``I know my presidents. They're smart people. They're going to evaluate any opportunity that may arise very carefully, along with the strong opportunity they have right now in the A-10.

``If we're ever in a position of strength, I believe we are now.''

---

AP Sports Writer Pat Eaton-Robb in Cromwell, Conn., and Hank Kurz Jr. in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.

---

Follow Joe Kay on Twitter:http://twitter.com/apjoekay

Quick Links

Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: A difficult season for Scott brooks nets a positive grade

Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: A difficult season for Scott brooks nets a positive grade

Now that the dust has settled for the 2018-19 Wizards season, it's time to review the roster and hand out individual grades...

Who: Scott Brooks, head coach

Year with team: 3rd

Grade: B

Season review: There is no question that from a basketball perspective, the 2018-19 season was among the most challenging of Scott Brooks' career. Even for a man who coached a 23-win team in 2008-09, and the mercurial Russell Westbrook, it would be hard to top all that went on for Washington this year.

Brooks had to navigate around a serious injury for John Wall for the second straight year. Dwight Howard missed all but nine games. The Wizards made five trades and suited up a franchise-record 25 players. 

They often played rotations mostly comprised of guys on expiring contracts. And there were in-practice spats between him and players that were made public.

Brooks, along with his players, were not able to keep the ship afloat. They sank to 32-50 by the end of the season and along the way it cost Ernie Grunfeld, the man who hired him, his job. That set the tone for what could be a tumultuous offseason, one that offers no certainty Brooks will be back with the Wizards for a fourth season.

There was some good and some bad with Brooks' job performance in Year 3. He oversaw the continued development of Bradley Beal, who has a chance to make All-NBA when the honors are announced next month. Thomas Bryant had a breakout season after Brooks promoted him to the starting lineup. 

Despite a revolving door of a roster and the absence of Wall, the Wizards continued to feature an above-average offense. They finished the season 10th in points and 14th in offensive rating.

But on the other end of the floor, the team continued to trend in the wrong direction, this year bottoming out as one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA and in franchise history. They were 29th in defensive rating and 28th in points allowed. They gave up about 11 more points per game than they did the year before, 116.9 compared to 106. 

And when it comes to the success of some players, it was fair to question if those leaps could have been made earlier. 

Troy Brown Jr., their 2019 first round pick, didn't earn consistent minutes until late February, when the season was essentially long lost. That was despite him showing flashes of promise in his first few months as a rookie. And at times, it appeared Brooks was choosing to play lesser players like Ron Baker or Gary Payton II over him.

All in all, though, it's hard not to grade Brooks on a forgiving scale due to all that went wrong that was out of his control. A head coach could have only done so much to overcome the obstacles the Wizards were presented by injury luck and the front office.

Now the question is whether Brooks will be back for another year and, if he is, whether there will be changes to his staff. Until the Wizards hire a new general manager, it is tough to predict.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

With the season on the line, the Capitals remain confident heading into Game 7

With the season on the line, the Capitals remain confident heading into Game 7

ARLINGTON, Va. – While Capitals fans woke up breathing into paper bags on Wednesday trying not to hyperventilate, the team was all smiles as it skated onto the ice for the morning skate. While the curse of playoff failures past still clearly resonates through a nervous fan base, there was nothing but confidence coming out of MedStar Capitals Iceplex.

“It’s a positive mood,” Carl Hagelin said. “But at the same time, you can see that guys are focused. I think that’s a big part of it, too, being focused going in and knowing that first shift is going to be key.”

The newfound confidence stems from last year’s playoff success which included a dominant 4-0 Game 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.

“I think the last year experience what we have against Tampa helps a lot,” Alex Ovechkin said. “We have the same motivation, we have the same atmosphere. Of course it's not for Stanley Cup Final, it's for second round."

“Until you go through it and you've had success, then you can only talk so much about it,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “Eventually you have to go through it. Our core group has gone through it, and we'll use that as a positive tonight and go about our business."

Unlike last year’s Game 7, however, this one will come in Washington which should give an advantage to the Caps.

The home team has gone 6-0 in this series thus far and Washington has looked like two different teams playing at Capital One Arena and in Raleigh.

While the true advantage of home-ice throughout the league is debatable, clearly it has mattered in this series and, according to the team, the importance of having the home crowd certainly matters to them.

“When the fans cheering for you in your big moment, block shots or kill the penalty and the fans get into it right away, you feel it and it gives you more energy and motivation," Ovechkin said.

"Home ice has been a big advantage in this series,” Reirden said. “I expect our crowd to give us the lift that they have thus far. Right from the start of the playoffs they've given us a boost, I think different than in past years, and it's allowed us to have more success at home.”

One player who will need to step up his game if the Caps hope to extend their season will be Evgeny Kuznetsov. One of the most dominant players in last year’s postseason, Kuznetsov has been held to just five assists and no goals in six games.

Kuznetsov enters Game 7 knowing he needs to be better than he has been to this point.

“I think that is how everyone feels when you lose a game in the playoffs,” he said. “You always feel like you did something wrong and you are not fully there and you know it.”

While the pressure of a Game 7 can wear on some players, however, Kuznetsov said that he looks forward to these moments. Kuznetsov was the Game 7 hero in 2015 when he scored the game and series-winning goal against the New York Islanders.

“Game 7 is Game 7,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “It is fun to play.”

In the past we have seen a tentative Capitals team take the ice, play tight and collapse when things did not go their way. A more experienced team will take the ice on Wednesday knowing that things will not go completely their way in the game, but with the confidence that they are good enough to overcome those obstacles, win and advance.

“I just think unexpected stuff happens and being mentally tough is really important in these games and just having confidence and trust in one another,” John Carlson said. “A lot can go astray, a lot can change quickly and with both of the teams’ backs against the wall, that’s what you rely on and fall back on.”

“You’ve got to be prepared for everything,” Reirden said. “In this situation you need to come back to your foundations as a group, as a system, as a team. That never changes, regardless of what happens within the game. So you've got a system and that's your security blanket, and you've got that structure in place. Where the game goes from there is going to be decided by the players executing that system and that game plan. Every [Game 7] plays out a little bit different. There's crazy swings. It's a fun time to be playing in these type of games and our guys will grow from it no matter what."

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: