Day Four: Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament

Day Four: Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament
Mar 16, 2008, 09:43 am
Temple defeats St. Joe's to take the upper hand in the heated Philly Big 5 rivalry, with Most Outstanding Player honors going to Dionte Christmas. Head coach Fran Dunphy has completed the revival of the Temple program after taking the reigns from John Chaney two years ago.

Temple vs. Saint Joseph’s

Despite Saint Joseph’s halftime lead, Fran Dunphy’s Temple squad never felt that the game was in doubt and stormed back to victory, largely due to Dionte Christmas. Christmas, Temple’s 6’5 junior shooting guard, earned the tournament’s most outstanding player award largely because of his 22 point (8/14 FG, 5/8 3FG, 1/1 FT), 4 rebound, 1 assist, and 1 steal performance.

Christmas scored in a variety of different ways, incredibly efficiently, and proved that he can find his offense even against long athletic defenders, something he was unable to do last night against An’juan Wilderness and UNC-Charlotte. Tonight, Christmas showed off his perimeter stroke, which looked incredible. He gets very good elevation on his jump shot, and has a quick release, which combined with his long arms creates a very difficult shot to block. Christmas was able to get his shot off anywhere on the court, most of the time well beyond the college three point line. Though his shot selection is not the best, his ability to get his shot off, relatively consistently, from anywhere on the floor was on display tonight. After missing his first three perimeter jumpers, he hit his next five and opened up the paint for Temple’s big men to operate. Christmas is extremely streaky, going 8/22 from behind the arc throughout the tournament, but once he gets into a shooting rhythm, it is difficult to stop him. Just ask Tasheed Carr and Garrett Williamson, a couple of the Atlantic 10’s best defenders. They played outstanding defense on Christmas and he still managed to score 22 points on 62% shooting.

One good thing about Christmas’s offense repertoire is his adaptability. Early in the first half, when his perimeter shot was not falling, he drove to the basket, where he can use his solid first step and strength to finish around the rim. Improving his handle should allow him to become a better slasher because he is noticeably slower off of the dribble. As he has also proven in the past, he is capable of drawing fouls around the rim, and though he could definitely become a better free throw shooter, he finds ways to put points on the board, even if his perimeter shot is not falling. He also shows a developing mid-range game, pulling up off of the dribble. He needs to improve his ball handling ability if he wants to be a good mid-range scorer, but the instincts are there.

He again showed a solid defensive effort, using his long arms, strength, and good lateral quickness. One problem, however, is that he uses his hands too much, which in this tournament has landed him in foul trouble in all three games. Christmas may not be an athletic specimen, but he should be able to hold his own at the next level on defense and should not be a liability.

Elsewhere, it is important to acknowledge his court awareness. While teammate Mark Tyndale gets most statistical credit, Christmas is a good passer who realizes how to move the ball within Temple’s offense. Christmas understands that this is not yet his team, and despite his 20 points per game scoring average, he is still very much a role player in Temple’s system. In addition, Christmas has learned Dunphy’s system extremely well and can make an impact on the floor even if he is not scoring. He has the opportunity and the potential to have an incredible senior season and should very much be in the 2009 NBA Draft conversation.

Much has already been said about Pat Calathes, but tonight’s performance was simply awful. He scored 14 points, most in the first half, on 5/13 shooting from the field and 2/10 shooting from the perimeter. Most of his shots were hitting the front of the rim, a clear sign that his legs were simply not there. He also looked a step slower on both sides of the ball, and distracted on the defensive end. This fatigue is understandable considering the fact the Hawks played four games in four days and Calathes is averaging 34.3 minutes per game. This being said, this performance was a bad culmination to an otherwise stellar tournament in which he earned All-Tournament Team honors. Hopefully Calathes will get to showcase his abilities in a post-season appearance, but if not, he has had an impressive season.

Tasheed Carr is an elite athlete and one of the best perimeter defenders in college basketball, but he has a long way to go before becoming a prospect at the point guard position. He is best when attacking the basket off of the dribble and either finishing or kicking the ball out and shows the best point guard instincts in these situations. He is extremely effective in transition as well. In half court sets, however, he has a long way to go before becoming a true point guard. He still shows the tendency to over dribble and on occasion, he picks up his dribble before he knows what he wants to do with the ball. He needs to work on tightening his handle, even though he is very quick with the ball as it is and he must find consistency in his shooting motion. This being said, Phil Martelli has had a lot of success in developing guards and considering the fact that 2 years ago at this time Carr was a Big 12 shooting guard, he still has a lot of potential to break out next season. Carr’s leadership has been essential in order for the Hawks to make it this far and hopefully he will get a chance to showcase his improvements in front of a national audience during the post-season.

Ultimately, despite a long list of prospects, two Atlantic 10 players have legitimate NBA shots: Pat Calathes and Dionte Christmas. Players such as Tasheed Carr, Parfait Bitee, and Derrick Brown have potential, and guys like Ricky Harris and Garrett Williamson are long shots but could turn into prospects eventually. Most of the prospects at the Atlantic 10 Tournament seem like they will find success overseas, but if one thing was clear during this tournament, it was that the Atlantic 10 is on its way up and is likely the best mid-major conference in the country this season. With Temple and Xavier locks to make the tournament, it would be nice to see teams like Saint Joseph’s or Dayton make the field of 65 just to reward the conference’s stellar season.

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