With the latest wave of Covid-19 sweeping the nation, it's been a tough go around recently for college basketball, especially within the Atlantic 10. A week and change into the official start of conference play, and the amount of games played in the conference varies wildly from program to program, with two teams yet to play at all.
Despite the sparse play from several teams, I think what we've seen so far has given us a pretty good idea of who's a tournament team, who can make some noise early in March, and who should go back to the drawing board. That being said, there are still plenty of questions to be answered regarding this year's A-10. Let's check out four questions that could potentially be answered with tonight's slate of games.
Is this year's Arch-Baron Cup the big decider for SLU's and Dayton's Tourney Hopes?
Dayton and Saint Louis are very interesting teams this year, because I really think both have what it takes to make a tournament this year, just maybe not the tournament. At the very least, it's gotta be one or the other, and this year's Arch-Baron Cup, which will be played tonight in Dayton and in Saint Louis in February, will likely decide both teams fates this season.
As I've said many times before this season, Dayton has one of the strangest resumes out of any school in the A10. A 2-1 Quad 1 record combined with a 5-3 Quad 4 record really shows that this is a young team that can show up, but still has a lot to learn. For their rivals Saint Louis, there most recent win against tourney-bound Iona doesn't put them into the bubble conversation yet, but bumps them up a notch in a season where they really need it. If you can only watch one game tonight, I highly recommend this one.
Where does VCU fit into the bigger picture?
Like many seasons in the past, VCU has flown under the radar as a team that might not be tournament caliber, but one that can make a deep run in the Atlantic 10. Already 2-0 in conference play, both of VCU's wins are impressive in their own regard. The first, a 53-52 win over Dayton, put the Rams' patented disruptive defense on display, as they forced 15 turnovers against the Flyers. VCU committed 12 themselves, as well as 20 fouls, so those are two things they definitely need to work on, but there are still plenty more positives. According to the Richmond Free Press, VCU led the Atlantic 10 in opposing PPG, FG%, and 3P% during non-conference play.
Offensively, Ace Baldwin has been the biggest star since his return, averaging 5.4 assists per game and helping lead the Rams on a 6-game winning streak. With a win against Syracuse and close losses against Baylor and UConn under their belts, VCU is poised to be a serious challenger in the conference play this year.
How will the Bonnies adjust after their long pause?
These past two seasons have been very tough for mid-major programs in terms of cancellations. When outbreaks within your own program and the programs of your opponents force long stretches without play, it becomes really easy to fade from the national conversation. The Bonnies, after their strong non-conference schedule that saw them win the Charleston Classic, are a perfect example of that. After a tough two-game skid against Virginia Tech and UConn, as well as Kyle Lofton's ankle injury, the Bonnies' month-long absence from play has really let the doubt around this team stew.
Luckily, according to Joe Lunardi's Bracketology rankings, the Bonnies are still floating around in the March Madness bubble, and a strong finish in the conference can no doubt sneak the preseason favorites into the Last Four In. Opening conference play tonight against the struggling La Salle Explorers is a great opportunity for the Bonnies to sort out any kinks that emerged before the pause. In terms of what to look for tonight, viewers should start tracking how Coach Mark Schmidt uses his early season rotation of Lofton, Jaren Holmes, Jalen Adaway, and Osun Osunniyi. As long as these guys can gel like they did last season and early on this season, the Bonnies should be back as a top contender in the Atlantic 10.
Who can stop the Davidson Wildcats?
Of course, when the preseason favorite takes a step back, there must be another to take their place. Davidson, undefeated since mid-November, have done a pretty good job at taking the reins of the A-10. Currently a 9-seed in Lunardi's rankings, the Wildcats are the A-10's current best chance at an at-large bid. As this program progresses through their fourth decade under Bob McKillop, we may be looking at one of the best teams he's ever coached. Their roster offensively is so deep, with big stars like Hyunjung Lee and Foster Loyer able to dish to guys like Luka Brajkovic when under pressure, leading to one of the best shooting teams in the country.
Their most recent win over the surging URI Rams is pretty indicative of how this team has been able to put up as many wins as they have so far this season. Despite a pretty back-and-forth game which saw Rhody dominate the paint, the Wildcats kept themselves alive with six clutch threes throughout the game. While this was not their best shooting performance of the season, the Wildcats also benefitted from consistent shooting from the free throw line, sinking 18 of their 23 foul shots. After the game Coach McKillop said that physicality is clearly something his Wildcats need to improve upon, starting with tonight's matchup against UMass. While I originally recommended that you watch SLU-Dayton tonight, I would also advise that you do a little channel flipping to see how this Davidson team continues to develop in conference play.