Happy New Year, hoops fans! As we say goodbye to 2020, we say hello to full slates of A-10 Conference play, finally featuring the entire conference. Scheduled to feature every A-10 team in play until Saint Louis put their program on pause, Wednesday marked the formal opening of A-10 play, and it was very indicative of an exciting second half to the 2020-21 season. Here are my three biggest takeaways before we head into the weekend.
Quarantine Did Not Treat Fordham Well
In a season in which on-and-off quarantines prevents both non-conference games and team practices, it's hard for a team to jump right into conference play. The Fordham Rams serve as a living testament to this, as their 71-47 loss to George Washington left them with a lot to figure out. According to Head Coach Jeff Neubauer, his Rams simply "did not understand basketball" on Wednesday.
Fordham's biggest problem seems to be shooting the ball. Considering the relatively small roster, you'd expect Fordham to run lots of plays off of turnovers, grabbing steals, and drawing charges to make up for a lack of rebounds and struggles with the pick-and-roll. Against the Colonials, that's exactly what the Rams were able to do, playing with a relatively fast tempo and quickly setting up some solid shot opportunities. However, despite finding these open looks, they simply were unable to connect, finishing the day with an ugly 29.3 field goal percentage. In a conference where every other team is putting up at least 30 percent, that's just not going to cut it.
This loss to George Washington comes shortly before they get set to start the toughest part of their schedule against La Salle, Dayton, Duquesne, and St. Bonaventure. If the Rams can't put up a fight against La Salle on Saturday, they might not get a win until February.
What Happened to UMass?
I was pretty hyped on UMass to start off this season. After Tre Mitchell dropped 31 and 37 on Northeastern and La Salle respectively, I assumed they'd be a sleeper hit to make a deep run in the conference tournament. However, their double-overtime loss to George Mason on Wednesday left much to be desired. By no means am I discounting the Minutemen from the bigger A-10 picture, I'm just saying the gap between a lot of teams is thinning.
The problem with UMass right now is that their offensive tempo is way too dependent on Tre Mitchell, just like URI with Fatts Russell. Putting up just four points in the first half, Mitchell's troubles seemed to singlehandedly stall the Minutemen. When Mitchell was unable to take a shot due to being double-teamed, his teammates beyond the arc went cold, with UMass shooting just over thirty percent from three point range. Noah Fernandes has looked solid as a second-option, but the gap between him and Mitchell is still very apparent. Mitchell and his team picked it up in the second half, and they had plenty of opportunities to close out the game in overtime, but 16 turnovers broke several of them up for the Minutemen.
The best thing for the Minutemen to do is take this loss as a wake-up call, and once they can move the ball effectively, they'll be able to right the ship.
VCU Could Make the Madness
I feel like my first two points in today's post were pretty negative, so I figured I'd end on a positive note for at least one team.
When looking at NCAA Tournament projections for this year, the A-10 is currently floating around three teams to represent the conference. Richmond and Saint Louis are heavy favorites according to most publications, with Davidson or Dayton floating around that third spot in most projections. However, with the way they've been playing, especially after Wednesday's win against the St. Joe's, I think it's time for VCU to be a top name in this conversation.
While a win is almost guaranteed against St. Joe's this season, I really don't think it should detract how solid of a team VCU is. While Nah'Shon Hyland was limited to just 7 points on Wednesday, his teammates were able to pick up the slack, with Vince Williams putting up 17. Along with sporting one of the most exciting offenses in college basketball, the Rams put on a defensive clinic against the Hawks, forcing a whopping 21 turnovers, with 12 of those coming from steals. Their biggest matchups are still yet to come, but I can't see the Rams falling too far from their current level of play.