VCU will wrap up non-conference play Wednesday night before jumping into Atlantic 10 action this Saturday in a tip against semi-rival (second tier rivalry?), George Mason.
Haven’t been paying attention to the action around the conference? I’m here to catch you up.
A-10 RUNDOWN (in order of kenpom ranking)
DAYTON 9-2 (42)
The A-10 preseason favorites are off to a great start with a 5-2 record against kenpom top-100 squads including two neutral court Ws and a road win at Vanderbilt. The Flyers only bad loss came to a really good team, a 29-point beatdown at the hands of rival Xavier. Their other loss came to a Will Wade-built UT Chattanooga squad on the Flyers home court, 61-59, one of a number of close games that could have gone either way, their most recent coming in a one-point home survival against No.206 Miami of Ohio. Dayton is as talented of a team you’ll find and get even more talented with the return of top returning scorer, Dyshawn Pierre, who missed this past semester due to suspension.
VCU 7-5 (55)
You know these guys. The computers like VCU despite their record due to the Rams consistency. They’ve been in every game they’ve played and had a legit shot to win several top-50 games but could not finish. They’ve hammered everyone outside of the top-100 by an average margin of victory of 24 points and boast two top-100 wins, one against rival ODU, the other at Middle Tennessee State. VCU came up on the wrong end of three close games against Wisconsin, FSU and Cincinnati and weren’t able to hold on despite leading at the half against kenpom No.9, Duke. Fans don’t like those close games but computers do and they see just how dangerous can be entering Atlantic 10 play.
Richmond 8-3 (58)
This year’s Spiders finally seem to have put together an NCAA worthy non-conference schedule, boasting three top-100 wins over Cal, Northern Iowa and Old Dominion. Overall Richmond is 3-3 against the top-100 (plus a road win at current No.101, Wake Forest) with the only real head-scratcher coming in a season-opening home upset at the hands of No.99 JMU. They were hammered at Florida against a very good defensive team and suffered a close neutral court loss to West Virginia. They are a very dangerous team thanks to a dynamic offense that currently ranks 19th nationally in effective field goal percentage. Led by bigs Terry Allen and TJ Cline they have one of the more talented starting fives in the A-10 but do lack depth. VT transfer Marshall Wood has been a nice addition while guard Shandre Jones is off to a hot start as one of four Spiders shooting over 40% from distance for the season. They can certainly contend for an A-10 title but like VCU will be handicapped by a more difficult schedule thanks to home-and-homes with VCU, GW and Davidson as well as George Mason.
Rhode Island 7-5 (64)
This was supposed to be the year for the Rhody Rams before NBA hopeful EC Matthews saw his season end 10 minutes into URI’s first game. They now add an injury to arguably the A-10’s best defender in Hassan Martin and despite a talented surrounding group will have to heavily temper their expectations for a team that was picked to finish second this preseason. Martin injured his ankle in a road loss at Old Dominion and is now out indefinitely. The Rams are 0-4 against the kenpom top-100 and have a road loss at No.135 Nebraska as well. They have a talented young group but struggled to score with Martin and should take a defensive hit without their top big on the roster. Rhody will still be a dangerous team but should fall out of the top-four in terms of where they finish this season without Matthews and Martin on the roster.
Saint Joseph’s 9-2 (66)
The Hawks appear to be rising from the ashes of last year’s 13-18 finish thanks to improved performances from returning players, 6’7 senior Isaiah Miles in particular who’s posting career bests across the board to help returning star DeAndre Bembry carry this Hawks squad back toward the top of the conference. At 1-2 against the top-100, SJU owns a two-point neutral court win against ODU, was competitive the majority of the game in an 11-point neutral court loss to Florida and suffered a very forgivable home loss to cross-town rival Villanova. SJU appears to be a much-improved offensive unit and even tougher defensively than last year’s squad that was already solid on that side of the ball. Like Dayton they benefit from a favorable home-and-home setup, playing VCU, GW, Richmond and Davidson just once each. If they are able to maintain their solid non-conference pace they could be a sneaky pick for a top-four seed in Brooklyn thanks to that schedule and what appears to be an improved team through 11 games.
George Washington 10-2 (68)
I’m a little puzzled by their kenpom ranking, quite frankly. The Colonials look like an improved team thanks to the addition of 6’8 Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanough and own three top-100 wins including a home win over UVA that should serve them well come March. What clearly has hurt them in the eyes of Pomery’s computers is their recent 21-point loss at DePaul. I think the computers also have deducted some points due to two of their best wins coming on their home court. Either way, GW looks improved, is building a tournament resume and will be a very tough A-10 team, especially at home. The Rams get them twice this season as a part of a very competitive “A-10 South” (unofficial name I’ve given the VCU, Richmond, Davidson, GW and George Mason grouping).
Davidson 8-3 (91)
Last year’s regular season champ has been in a serious top-100 slump that dates back toward the end of last season. That slump started with a 20-point A-10 tourney loss to VCU followed by a 31-point NCAA tournament loss to Iowa. After surviving some near losses to sub-100 teams this season they have been absolutely destroyed by the three top-100 teams they’ve played this year: 33-point loss at UNC, 25-point loss to Pitt then most recently a 26-point loss at Cal, a team that has already suffered one loss to an A-10 team this season (Richmond). Davidson survived the likes of UCF, Mercer and Morehead State and overall just don’t look anything like the Cats that were so dangerous last year. Like last year they have struggled defensively but unlike this past season have somewhat struggled to hit three-pointers, a killer for an undersized unit like the one Bob McKillop currently has. If they play like they’ve been playing they are most likely a middle-of-the-pack A-10 squad and not the A-10 title contender I saw them being before this season started. My gut tells me those threes eventually fall, and knowing my luck, probably one night against my Rams, but I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it.
St. Bonaventure 7-3 (102)
The Bonnies have once again accepted the role of a solid but very middle-of-the-pack type of team. They have some ok wins against some very ok teams (all sub-100) but also own two sub-100 losses so far this season, one being a six-point home loss to Hofstra, the other coming just recently at Sienna. They’ve struggled somewhat offensively against a very beatable schedule, which leads me to believe they aren’t a true contender in the Atlantic 10. Marcus Posely and Dion Wright are a dangerous duo but have so far seen their numbers take a dip without the presence of the recently graduated Youssou Ndoye who demanded some attention in the post.
Fordham 9-2 (136)
I’ve become very famous in my own mind for picking Fordham 10th in my A10talk.com preseason poll. 10th! (hint: that’s high for them). So far new Rams head coach Jeff Neubauer is putting together an A-10 Coach of the Year type of season for the Rams’ 9-2 non-conference finish, which consisted mostly of blowouts against outmatched opponents ranked 250 or lower (all of Fordham’s wins have come against teams ranked 233 or lower, to be exact). Regardless of competition, the Rams have posted nice numbers on both sides of the ball, ranking 33rd nationally in effective field goal percentage offense and 39th nationally on the defensive side of the ball in EFG%. Their two losses have both come away from Rose Hill, dropping a five-point loss in their season-opener at UT Arlington (a very underrated team) and most recently at Barclays against Boston College. Just as VCU saw in their last game against Fordham (a tight six-point A-10 tournament win) the Rams are improved and dangerous. Will they compete for a top-four seed? No. They aren’t there yet. But what they are is a very dangerous team that’s on the rise.
Duquesne 10-2 (140)
Like Fordham, Duquense has put together one of their best non-conference performances in a while but for the most part have done so against a who’s who of who’s nobody. The Dukes have done the majority of their damage behind what’s been a potent offense that ranks No.20 nationally in effective field goal percentage. They lost their only top-100 game of the season, a 21-point neutral court loss to Pittsburgh and finish their OOC schedule with a tough road game at Georgia Tech (who handed VCU their worst loss of the season). After that, A-10 play starts off brutally for the Dukes, hosting Dayton before traveling to Davidson and George Washington. Safe to say we’ll know a lot more about the Dukes after these next four games.
UMass 6-5 (148)
I predicted a huge drop-off for the Minutemen after the graduation of a talented senior group, as well as the transfer of Derrick Gordon. After a 4-0 start that included wins over top-100 Clemson and No.109 Harvard, I had a huge mouthful of crow. Since then however, UMass has dropped their three games against top-100 squads (18.3-point average margin of defeat) and are 2-5 over their last seven included a road loss at No.220 Florida Gulf Coast. Overall UMass might not be looking as bad as I expected, but they are getting there.
George Mason 6-7 (189)
These guys… Somehow, someway, George Mason owns top-100 wins over Ole Miss and Oklahoma State and losses to sub-200 Colgate and Manhattan. They are the A-10 landmine that is a danger to all visiting teams. VCU will host the Patriots Saturday as Dave Paulsen’s new team will be looking for just their first road win of the season. Offensively Mason has been extremely “challenged” this season, ranking 255 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency thanks to a 45.8% effective field goal percentage (283rd nationally). Defensively they have been solid thanks to shot-blocking rebounding machine Shevon Thompson and have surrendered over 70 points just once this season, an 83-66 neutral court loss to UVA. VCU will be a big favorite over the Patriots this weekend but will also hope to avoid a road slip-up in Fairfax in late February.
Saint Louis 5-6 (229)
The Jim Crews era rolls on with what looks like yet another struggling Billikens squad. After a 4-0 start to the season including a home win over VCU’s Wednesday night opponent, North Florida (70-57), SLU has won just one game since including five home losses, four to teams ranked outside of the top-100 and one sub-200 squad. SLU is once again horrible on offense but unlike the Rick Majerus squads not terribly good on defense either. Expect them to compete for last in the A-10 this season.
La Salle 4-5 (258)
Like SLU, after a nice little 3-0 start the Explorers have struggled, losing five of their last six with their only win over that span coming against Division II Rowan. They’ve been destroyed by the two top-100 squads they have played and haven’t looked much better against the scrubs on their schedule either. Jordan Price is as dangerous as always but hasn’t been able to carry the Explorers to much of anything and that is a trend that will no doubt continue through the remainder of this season. VCU will head to La Salle in early February in what the Rams will hope to be a black and gold road win halfway through conference play.