Don't lie to yourself. You had never heard of Marcus Posley.
In a college basketball world that some would like you to believe is ruled by Ben Simmons, a world with likable senior stars such as Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine, the name Marcus Posley was irrelevant. It was tucked away in the southwest corner of New York state at a petite private school. You had no right to know it.
But now you do. Or at least you should.
Posley poured in a remarkable 47 points on 19 shots last Wednesday night in St. Bonaventure's 98-90 win over tournament-bound St. Joe's. Posley's 47 were the most points scored in a single game by a Division I player this season. They were more than Hield had in three overtimes against Kansas. Some of them were downright disrespectful to defenders:
In fact, the jersey-popping, 26-footer-drilling, contact-absorbing guard wasn't just the catalyst for St. Bonaventure in a win that could send it dancing for only the fourth time since 1970. He is, in a way, the prototypical Atlantic 10 star.
The Atlantic 10 is a developmental conference. Of the 15 players on Ken Pomeroy's All-Atlantic 10 team over the past three years, 14 of them have been upperclassmen. No other top-10 conference over that span can claim as many. That's not to say other conferences aren't full of programs with similar player-development structures. But, in part due to a classic cast of coaches that includes Bob McKillop (Davidson) and Phil Martelli (St. Joe's), the Atlantic 10 turns role players into stars as well as any conference in the country.
It's in part out of necessity of course. Schools such as UMass and George Washington can't attract four- and five-star recruits like their major conference peers can. The average 247 Sports national ranking of the top five classes in the Atlantic 10 in 2011 was 98.8:
(excludes programs that have since left the conference, includes those that have since joined)
|School||247 Sports class ranking|
The conference's recruiting has actually improved significantly in recent years. In 2013, that same five-team average was 65.8. In 2014, it was 60. (247 Sports data for the 2012 class is incomplete.)
|School||247 Sports class ranking||School||247 Sports class ranking|
But even as it has, the league has remained driven by players who have bided their time, nurtured their skill sets, and then blossomed.
Three years ago, Posley was laboring through a tough freshman season at Ball State. In conference play, his turnover rate (30.4) was higher than his three-point percentage (27.3). Now, as a senior at St. Bonaventure, he's second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring at 19.3 points per game.
Posley isn't even the best example on his team though. Dion Wright, a 6-foot-7 forward, averaged 2.8 points, 1.9 rebounds and 6.4 minutes per game as a freshman in 2012-13. Those numbers have soared to 16.4, 8.9 and 36.7 in 2015-16 as a senior.
This trajectory is a common one across the conference. Consider five top Atlantic 10 players and where they were two years ago:
- Davidson's Jack Gibbs was a reserve point guard with a higher turnover rate than assist rate.
- St. Joe's' Isaiah Miles eclipsed 6 minutes only three times in conference play, and was a ‘DNP - coaches decision' in the Hawks' NCAA Tournament game.
- VCU's Melvin Johnson was a sixth man with an offensive rating of 103.8 — as a senior, that rating is 114.1.
- Dayton's Charles Cooke had a sub-100 offensive rating as a sophomore at James Madison.
- St Joe's' Deandre' Bembry was the only one of the five who was a starter, though he played an inefficient third fiddle to Langston Galloway and Halil Kanacevic.
Those are, per KenPom, the conference's five best players in 2015-16. They are all upperclassmen. Four play on teams that could be Tourney-bound. The fifth, Gibbs, recently beat Bembry, Miles and St. Joe's with a 35-point outburst, and is the nation's third-leading scorer.
It's on players like Gibbs, Miles, and others that the Atlantic 10 hasn't just survived, but thrived. Amid the uncertainty of conference realignment in 2012 and 2013, the Atlantic 10's health was in question. It lost its two most consistent men's basketball programs of the past 10 years, Temple and Xavier. Butler came, but then bolted within a calendar year.
However, in the first two post-realignment years, the Atlantic 10 put a combined nine teams in the NCAA Tournament. Nine days from now, that number could rise to 13. Between 2001-02 and 2011-12, it averaged 2.64 bids per year.
The Atlantic 10 has remained the top mid-major conference not on the back of traditional powers, but on the temporary rises to prominence of mid-tier program after mid-tier program. In 2013-14 and so far this season, it was and is KenPom's 8th-best league. In 2014-15, it graded out better than the American at No. 7.
It has done so because of VCU's consistent success, sure, and to a lesser extent Dayton's. But if VCU and Dayton are to the current Atlantic 10 what Wichita State and Northern Iowa are to the Missouri Valley, or what Gonzaga and St. Mary's are to the West Coast Conference, who are the equivalents for Jordair Jett, Dwayne Evans and St. Louis? For Chaz Williams' UMass? For Galloway's St. Joe's? For Tyler Kalinoski's Davidson?
How about for Posley's Bonnies?
The Atlantic 10 just keeps coming at you. Take away its best teams, and it finds new ones. Bid adieu to its big names, and it develops more of them. The cycle is relentless.
St. Bonaventure exists within that cycle. It streaked its way into an auto-bid in 2012, but slumped to a losing record the very next year. It isn't a big-time program. The school is tiny — 1,687 undergraduates — as are its town — Olean, N.Y., in the Allegheny foothills — and its athletics budget. As good as head coach Mark Schmidt is, it never will be a big time program.
But for now, St. Bonaventure is posing as one, at least by mid-major standards — even if only for a fleeting moment. Schmidt, Posley, Wright and Jaylen Adams have their team whizzing towards the NCAA Tournament. The Bonnies have scored 79 or more points 10 times in conference play. A win at St. Louis on Saturday gave them their 10th victory in their last 11, and has them on the right side of the bubble.
Maybe, just maybe, you'll be hearing the name Marcus Posley a lot more in the coming weeks. Maybe it's this Cinderella's year to make some noise. Just as Dayton did in 2015 and 2014. Just as La Salle did in 2013. Just as St. Louis did in 2012. Just as Richmond did in 2011.
Maybe this is the year of the Bonnies.