As we begin to wrap up conference play, it looks like the door may be closing on the A-10's quest for a third NCAA Tournament bid. There were plenty of solid performances this weekend, but some of the higher profile matchups did not really go in the conference's way. Here are my takeaways from the weekend, my team of the week, and updated rankings.
A Solid Saturday Given the Circumstances
The A-10 went undefeated in their three games on Saturday, and although that comes due to four games getting cancelled or postponed, every team that managed to still have a game was solid.
Dayton took down Mississippi State in an 85-82 double overtime thriller that featured 19 lead changes. Jalen Crutcher shined with 25 points to help the Flyers rally late in regulation, but the real difference maker was free throws. The Flyers are scrappy, and their ability to draw infractions off of the Bulldogs gave them exactly what they needed to barely pull ahead. In the last overtime period, Dayton went 3-for-3 from the field and 6-for-9 from the line, without committing a single foul against their opponent.
We finally got a good look at the Minutemen of UMass as they split a semi back-to-back against Northwestern, winning on Friday 94-79 and losing on Sunday 78-75. They executed the double team better than any team in the conference I've seen so far this season, and their efficiency at running an extra pass offense against an unsuspecting Northeastern team was impeccable.
La Salle's finally got some wins! They notched two in a row this week off of solid play from Freshman Anwar Gill. In their 58-48 win against crosstown rival Drexel on Saturday, Gill notched 15 points to go along with 8 rebounds. Turnovers continue to be a major problem for this team, but their shooting seems to be taking a turn for the better.
Richmond Gets Beat at Their Own Game
After a couple of shaky wins, the Richmond Spiders finally fell to the 11th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers 87-71. The Spiders started off strong, keeping up with WVU's intensity through the first ten minutes. However, WVU's shooting just stayed way too hot, finishing the game shooting 36-62, including 8-14 from three point range. The Mountaineers had the Spiders stretched very thin, allowing their guards to get off plenty of shots while Golden and Gilyard tried to lock down the paint. Any time pressure would come beyond the arc, WVU found an open lane down low.
Due to a lack of size outside of Grant Golden, Richmond's biggest strength on defense is being able to create solid plays off of turnovers. Jacob Gilyard's place as second in the nation in steals per game is a testament to that. However, it's hard to think about forcing turnovers when you're committing so many yourself. In the first half alone, Richmond committed 12 turnovers in the first half, allowing a 29-10 WVU run that the Spiders just could not recover from.
If you're a Richmond fan and your standard for this team is to maintain their place in the Top 25, then panic, because I feel like this loss will cause them to drop a couple notches. However, looking at their remaining schedule before A-10 play, which consists of Vanderbilt, Hofstra, and a possible Duquesne replacement, the Spiders should be in good shape. A closer loss would have kept them right on the pace they wanted to be on, especially with their win against Kentucky slowly diminishing in value with every Wildcats loss, but Chris Mooney will find away to pick apart this loss into solid growth for his team.
If Fatts is Cold, Rhody is Cold
I understand that this might not be that remarkable of a statement; every team takes a hit when their best player has a bad game. What worries me is how big that gap is for Rhody and their star Fatts Russell. In their loss against Wisconsin, Russell was able to lead a potential second half comeback that came up short, so I gave the team credit for a decent performance against a much better team.
However, against Western Kentucky on Sunday, Fatts and his Rams were cold from the get-go. Bricking nine of their first ten shots, Rhody let Western Kentucky quickly jump to a 9-0 lead. The Rams were able to bring it within six at half, trailing 33-27, bit they looked sloppy. Russell finished the first 20 minutes of play 1-3 from the field, missing his only three-point attempt. Rhody closed the gap late in the second, but smart fouling from WKU prevented the Rams from drawing up any plays.
Aside from Rhode Island's own struggles on offense, they simply could not handle WKU's Charles Bassey. The junior center lit up the Rams for 13 points and 9 rebounds, in a performance that head coach David Cox described as "spooking" his players.
Team of the Week: Week 3
I went with three guards and two forwards this week, because so many guards impressed me that I felt bad leaving a few out.
So. Tre Mitchell (UMass)- Mitchell was so versatile in his first game against Northeastern, that there were certain points where I forgot he played center. He was able to be wherever his team needed him on the floor, joining a double team at half court that could immediately shift into closing a lane for a driving opponent. His 31 points on Friday were the perfect capstone to the beginning of a solid sophomore campaign.
Fr. Mikael Brown-Jones (VCU)- Brown-Jones notched a season-high 10 points against in-state rival Old Dominion on Saturday. Coming in as the biggest freshmen for VCU this year at 6-8, Brown-Jones is having no trouble finding his place on the Rams rotation.
So. Nah'Shon "Bones" Hyland (VCU)- Hyland is averaging a nice 16.9 ppg for VCU, bolstered by a 30 point performance against North Carolina A&T. He's been an absolute scoring machine all season, and incredibly effective at forcing turnovers, averaging 3 steals per game.
So. Gibson Jimerson (SLU)- SLU has been so good at sharing the ball this season, that by the end of the season, I might nominate every single Billiken to at least one team of the week. This week, Jimerson impressed me against Central Arkansas with 21 points and 2 steals. I think Saint Louis has padded the early portions of their non-conference schedule, but their win against LSU is enough for me to think they're pretty legit so far.
Sr. Carter Collins (DAV)- I know I didn't really mention Davidson a lot this week, but their first game back since Maui was pretty standard, routing Georgia Southern 77-45. Collins was practically automatic from beyond the arc, bringing on a 9-0 lead all on his own in the first half. Davidson is an amazing team when it comes to scoring, and Collins continues to make great contributions to his team's wins.
As usual, I will provide rankings for this week and how they impact the aggregate ranking for the season. Two teams have yet to play (Fordham and St. Bonaventure), and St. Joe's, Duquesne, and George Mason didn't play at all this week, so the most points a team can get this week are 9. Teams that I think can make March Madness right now will be marked in Bold.
This Week's Ranking:
Saint Louis (9 Pts.)
VCU (8 Pts.)
Dayton (7 Pts.)
Richmond (6 Pts.)
Davidson (5 Pts.)
UMass (4 Pts.)
URI (3 Pts.)
La Salle (2 Pts.)
George Washington (1 Pt.)
Saint Louis (28 Pts.)
Richmond (25 Pts.)
VCU (23 Pts.)
Davidson (18 Pts.)
URI (16 Pts.)
Dayton (14 Pts.)
George Washington (8 Pts.)
George Mason (7 Pts.)
Saint Joes, LaSalle, UMass (4 Pts. each)