A-10 Roundup Vol. 1: 4 Opening Week Impressions
In my Atlantic 10 preview, I talked about how this is a watershed year for the Atlantic 10, and this first week of play proved that. I wasn't expecting us to see how good this conference is so early in the season, but this weekend was a beyond pleasant surprise. Early on, we have a glimpse of exactly what this conference can do, and even when it was clear that some teams needed a bit more time to develop their game, there were still major glints of promise.
Here are five things that stood out to me the most this week, and what they could mean come March.
Richmond makes a HUGE early statement against Kentucky
In a win that shook Twitter to it's core on Sunday, the Richmond Spiders got their first road win ever against a top-10 team after losing 25 straight against the tenth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats. While this win was nothing short of impressive, their first half play was no indicator of what was to come. Their shots simply were not falling, but it was their defense that kept the margin within four going into halftime. The close score could also be attributed to a fairly young Wildcats roster, with four freshman starting on Sunday, but regardless of age, any team coached by John Calipari is not to be taken lightly.
Luckily for the Spiders, their performance on offense quickly caught up, as forcing turnovers on Kentucky led to 9-0 and 7-0 runs, respectively. During the second half, Richmond was able to force 11 turnovers to match the 10 committed by Kentucky in the first. Kentucky was able to cut into some of the larger leads, but it was too late and too large of a deficit to make any significant progress.
By the time most people will be reading this article, Richmond will likely have cracked the Top 25, as they were just a few votes short of doing so in the preseason poll. Non-conference play will be crucial in holding that position, as they face their second ranked opponent in 15 West Virginia on December 13th. With a few games against some smaller schools in between, I think Richmond will be in a pretty good position when they take on the Mountaineers.
Big wins against unranked teams
You don't always have to take down a ranked team to bring some major props to your team and your conference. Sometimes, all it takes is getting some solid wins against Power Five and other Mid-Major schools, which we saw from VCU and Saint Louis this weekend.
VCU put on a defensive clinic against Memphis on Friday, forcing the Tigers to shoot just thirty five percent from the field, including an abysmal 6-for-23 from beyond the arc. Like Richmond, turnovers were a key in the Rams' victory, with 25 points coming off of 9 steals. This was the story for pretty much their entire weekend, in fact, as they were able to get 18 turnovers off of Utah State on Wednesday. Rebounding seems to be a weakness for VCU, especially on the defensive end, but they have plenty of time to make this correction before beginning conference play.
In the Billiken Classic, hosting St. Louis was able to work through their injuries and take down SEC powerhouse LSU in an absolute classic. Both teams shot the lights out of Chaifetz arena in the second half, and it came down to free throws from Javonte Perkins to seal it for the Billikens after he was fouled beyond the arc with 17 seconds left. Their next Power Five matchup comes on December 20th against Minnesota, and with their very-winnable non conference schedule, I don't see the Billikens having trouble being the second A-10 team to break the top 25.
Rhodey still tries to find their footing
While a 1-2 record against ranked opponents this weekend isn't much to hang your laurels on, there were still a few highlights for the losing teams. Rhode Island held their own against one of the best Arizona State teams we've seen in years, with Jeremy Sheppard and Antawn Walker each putting up 19 points for the Rams.
Rhodey was still adjusting to a fairly new roster, with only five returning players from last year, leading to a first half spent mostly cutting into a 16-3 Sun Devils run. Early foul trouble also lead to their downfall, with four players earning three infractions in the first half alone. Thursday was just as tough to watch, as Fatts Russel's 23 points were not enough to lift URI past Boston College in a tough 69-64 loss.
They were able to bounce back with USF and San Francisco, but a 2-2 record coming out of the weekend means no days off for the Rams. They currently sit in the middle of the conference as a tournament bubble team, but all three of their remaining non-conference games are definitely winnable, being against Seton Hall, BC, and Western Kentucky, respectively.
Positive notes from George Washington's loss
With any developing program, not making the NCAA tournament is not necessarily an indication of a failed season. Sometimes, a winning record and a decent run within the conference can be a solid sign of an improving program. For Colonials Head Coach Jamion Christian, this is a very attainable goal.
In their season opening loss against Navy on Wednesday, there was a lot of promise in the second half of play. Jameson Battle and James Bishop led the charge for GW, recording 20 points each in 35 and 36 minutes, respectively. Down the stretch, the Colonials had plenty of great opportunities to keep this game close against a Navy team that posted a dominant first half shooting performance. Unfortunately, despite their ability to force plenty of fouls and get into the bonus, they could just not sink key free throws, ending the day at 14-23 behind the line in a 78-71 loss.
If GW can improve their shooting and bring their turnovers way down, I see no reason why they can't be a sleeper team in this conference going into January and February play.
My A-10 Rankings After Week 1:
After every roundup, I'm going to be providing my own personal ranking of the conference in a similar style to how the AP does it, with 14 points being awarded to the top team of the week and 1 point being awarded to the worst team. In being fair to those teams that haven't played, this week I will only be giving the top team 9 points this week, as only nine teams have played.
Richmond (2-0) (9 pts.)
Saint Louis (2-0) (8 pts.)
Davidson (1-0) (7 pts.)
VCU (2-1) (6 pts.)
URI (2-2) (5 pts.)
George Mason (2-1) (4 pts.)
George Washington (0-1) (3 pts.)
St. Joseph's (0-2) (2 pts.)
La Salle (0-2) (1 pts.)