In a season that we weren't sure was going to happen, the Atlantic 10 has made it to conference play. Coming into Wednesday, there are plenty of storylines worth talking about; a couple heavy favorites, teams that could be sleeper hits, and those that may just need to look forward to next November. Whatever your team's situation is, I'll break it down, organized by my own ranking system for the season.
This Week's Rankings:
Since I'm giving my analysis based on team rankings this week, I figured I'd start off with them so you know how the teams fall into place this week.
Saint Louis (9 Pts.)
VCU (8 Pts.)
Davidson (7 Pts.)
George Mason 6 Pts.)
Richmond (5 Pts.)
UMass (4 Pts.)
La Salle (3 Pts.)
George Washington (2 Pts.)
Saint Joe's (1 Pt.)
Saint Louis (48 Pts.)
Richmond (40 Pts.)
VCU (37 Pts.)
Davidson (30 Pts.)
Dayton (21 Pts.)
URI (20 Pts.)
UMass (15 Pts.)
George Mason (13 Pts.)
George Washington (11 Pts.)
La Salle (10 Pts.)
St. Bonaventure (8 Pts.)
Saint Joe's (7 Pts.)
Duquesne (5 Pts.)
Fordham (0 Pts.) (Yet to play)
Evaluating The Season So Far
Saint Louis (7-1, 0-0 Conf.)- College basketball is weird in the sense that if you want your team to look good to the important pundits, you have to root for your team's own opponents. When teams your team beats keep winning, especially if those wins come from the power five, it looks pretty good for tournament bids and Top 25 votes. Luckily for Saint Louis, their two solid wins against LSU and NC State continue to grow in value; LSU hasn't lost since playing the Billikens, and the Wolf Pack recently upset the currently-ranked Tar Heels. These wins weren't flukes either. The Billikens duo of Jordan Goodwin and Javonte Perkins has been absolutely dominant, while leaving plenty of room for guys like Hasahn French or Yuri Collins to get a few games in there. Saint Louis is definitely the deepest team in the conference, so don't expect fatigue to be much of a problem for them.
Richmond (6-2, 0-0 Conf.)- The phrase that best describes Richmond this season is two steps forward, one step back. They are not a bad team by any means, and can still win the conference, but their success hinges on winning every game they need to. Their Tuesday loss against Hofstra was one of those. It's hard to analyze what exactly went wrong with the Spiders, because on paper, they played very well; four players scored in double digits, with Jacob Gilyard recording another three steals. The Spiders are a well-rounded team, but when it comes to matching intense shooting teams, such as with Hofstra and Northern Iowa, they have a tough time keeping up. If they can be more consistent beyond the arc, they should have no trouble meeting Saint Louis in the conference championship game.
VCU (7-2, 0-0 Conf.)- VCU has probably been my favorite team in the conference to watch this season, if only for the stellar performance of Nah'Shon Bones Hyland. Hyland currently ranks in the top 10 Nationally in terms of 3-pointers, averaging 18.2 points per game. While the Rams seem to be a little too dependent on Hyland, he barely gives them a reason to worry, considering they're currently heading into conference play on a five game win streak, which should extend to six against St. Joe's on Wednesday. Even if Hyland's performance plateaus, there are plenty of other guys who can pick up the slack, including Ace Baldwin, who recorded his first double-double in a Tuesday 82-81 win against James Madison. Defensively, the Rams need to continue to pressure opponents and force turnovers, which they've done well so far. Six Rams are averaging at least a steal per game going into A-10 play.
Davidson (5-3, 1-0 Conf.)- Davidson has been decent so far this season, but a tough week at the Maui invitational and a bad loss to Charlotte have kept them from reaching their full potential this season. Wins against Rhode Island and Vanderbilt were enough to break even and then some, but I still think that their shooting and ball control could be major downfalls in conference play. Luckily, aside from Senior Kellan Grady, a large portion of the Wildcats core is poised to stay for another year or two. If Coach McKillop can develop guys like Sam Mennenga and Hyunjung Lee into top players in the conference and secure an NIT appearance, I wouldn't be afraid to call this season a success.
Dayton (4-1, 0-0 Conf.)- A few weeks back, I said that winning out in their non-conference schedule was absolutely necessary for Dayton to stay alive in this year's race to the top of the A-10, and that's exactly what they did. They weren't necessarily pretty wins, but two close victories against Ole Miss and Mississippi State are just enough to give this year's Flyers team a jolt of momentum before entering conference play this week. Dayton's biggest strength so far is their scrappy play on the boards, grabbing plenty of offensive boards against their two SEC opponents. Combined with solid shooting from Ibi Watson, the Flyers are going to rely on very scrappy play to carry them through to March.
URI (3-5, 0-1 Conf.)- After an excellent win against a very good Seton Hall Team, Rhody is currently on a three-game skid that may not break until this weekend. Following their conference opening loss to Davidson, head coach David Cox attributed Rhody's tough streak to a lack of identity in their offense. While Saint Louis' ability to reach deep into their bench was due to their ability to share the ball, Rhody's constant swapping was in large part an attempt to get some sort of strategy going, to no avail. Their defense was solid at times, limiting Kellan Grady to only 11 points, but it seemed like they tired themselves out on the defensive end which prevented them from creating on the other end of the floor. Finding that balance is going to be their top goal for the rest of the season.
UMass (2-2, 1-0 Conf.)- I jumped the gun on my initial praise of UMass basketball. Tre Mitchell is definitely legit, averaging 22.5 points per game, but this top heavy team has a long way to go before I can really see them as a legit contender in the conference. No offense to Bryant, but if the Minutemen are dropping games to them and Northeastern, they have a lot of work to do. Luckily, it's clear that they're not too top heavy with Mitchell, as five Minutemen scored in double digits, but they seem to have a tough time defending teams that are hot behind the arc.
George Mason (4-2, 0-0 Conf.)- I hate to rag on a team that's 4-2 going into conference play, but none of George Mason's wins really mean much for a school that plays in the Atlantic 10. The Patriots have a solid trio in Oduro, Miller, and Greene, who share the brunt of scoring pretty well, but I just don't think this team's ability is on par with the rest of the conference. Their winning record will soon become a losing one as they move into conference play.
George Washington (1-6, 0-0 Conf.)- There is little positive to say about the Colonials so far this season. Sticking to a non-conference schedule that mainly saw themselves bounce around the Chesapeake Bay region, George Washington doesn't seem like they can really get it together. A defense led by James Bishop looked promising in the beginning of the season, as they were able to adapt to Navy, albeit it too late to get the win, but now I don't really know if they can compete against anyone but St. Joe's or Fordham.
La Salle (3-5, 0-1 Conf.)- The Explorers actually seem to be turning it around heading into the second chunk of the season after dropping their first three games. Their biggest strength has been their rotation, as Coach Howard continues to find his team's niche. So far this season, eight different players have gotten a start for La Salle. Their athleticism led to a solid win over Drexel, but an 85-66 loss to UMass to open A-10 leaves the Explorers with a short deadline to figure out what their rotation is going to be going forward.
St. Bonaventure (2-0, 0-0 Conf.)- This is clearly just a result of my aggregate rankings, but St. Bonaventure is on their way to being a top-5 team in the conference, opening their season with two wins against Akron and Hofstra. Coach Mark Schmidt expressed how tough it was for his team to miss out on such a big part of their non-conference schedule, giving them a considerably shorter amount of time to iron out the kinks in their play. Luckily for the Bonnies, those kinks are few and far between. In their first two games so far, both wins, Osun Osunniyi has been incredibly efficient. In a game against Hofstra which saw the junior forward score 14 points and 12 rebounds, Osunniyi scored 10 points in just 12 second half minutes. The Bonnies almost blew a huge lead against Hofstra, so consistent offense is an area that needs a bit of improvement, but looking at how they open conference play against URI, they'll have time to get better.
Saint Joseph's (0-5, 0-0 Conf.)- Oh man. Where to start with the Hawks? If I have one major observation with this team, it's this; if you're going to be a team that relies on the three as much as they do, shooting an average of 31 threes per game, you have to shoot a lot better than 28% beyond the arc. To be fair, three of these losses come from teams that were all ranked in the Top 10 at the time, so it's not like they were unexpected, but dropping that game to Drexel is practically inexcusable. The Hawks have a lot of ground to make up, and in a conference where the top four teams are playing at a very high level of basketball, it's a big ask.
Duquesne (1-1, 0-0 Conf.)- Duquesne sits towards the bottom of this ranking simply because they haven't played in nearly a month. Like several other schools, they've had trouble both maintaining their predetermined schedule and scheduling make-up games, leading to them beginning conference play with only two games under their belt. In that span however, graduate transfer Ryan Murphy has been cleared to play for Duquesne. Murphy brings ACC experience, offensive variety, and solid three-point shooting at the most important point in the season.