The rebuild didn’t take long at Saint Joseph’s. After a disappointing 13-18 season following a 2014 Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship, Phil Martelli has the Hawks rolling once again and tied for first in the A-10 standings alongside the Dayton Flyers and VCU Rams. The Hawks forced that tie last night with a nine-point home win over Archie Miller’s #TrueTeam and with that are the league’s most winningest squad with a ridiculously impressive 22-4 record.
Those 22 wins are tied for the second most in all of college basketball, their four losses tied for the second fewest. The Hawk was injured but never dead and is now soaring atop the A-10 standings and after being picked to finish seventh in this year’s preseason poll are clearly one of the biggest surprises in this year’s A-10 conference.
SAINT JOSEPH’S (22-4, 11-2)
See above and consider this: Saint Joseph’s is six wins away from matching the great 2004 Elite 8 team’s win total. The Hawks have six games remaining in the preseason and are currently the kenpom favorite to when each of those, their most challenging contest perhaps coming in Olean against a Bona team that handed the Hawks a surprising 10-point home loss earlier this season. But pair a few wins to finish the conference slate, an A-10 tourney win or two and a postseason win and 30-plus wins is certainly attainable. How many of you saw that after last year’s finish, even WITH DeAndre Bembry returning?
ST. BONAVENTURE (17-7, 9-4)
After finishing last season seventh in the conference the Bonnies have used the deadly trio of Marcus Posley, Dion Wright and Jaylen Adams to exceed preseason expectations. A-10 media members predicted an eighth-place finish for Bona but at fourth with a 9-4 record and a very favorable remaining schedule, Mark Schmidt’s Bonnies have a very realistic chance at a Thursday Barclays bye and even with last night’s letdown at La Salle (their first bad loss of the season) have played themselves on to the bubble this season. Schmidt is most definitely an A-10 Coach of the Year candidate after this start.
VCU (19-7, 11-2)
Recent history has suggested VCU does more reloading than rebuilding, even in coaching change years, but what Will Wade has done with this group after losing Graham, Weber, Larrier, Smart and an entire 2015 recruiting class has been phenomenal. The Rams essentially lost their two best players — one their second best scorer of all-time, the other their best defender in program history — but own the top offense in conference play and the No.2 defense. VCU is off to their best A-10 start ever under their first-year coach and sit tied atop the A-10 standings after being the preseason No.5 pick.
RHODE ISLAND (14-12, 6-7)
Even with the EC Matthews injury there’s no other way to describe Rhody’s season but a major disappointment. Dayton has played without top players Pierre and Pollard throughout huge chunks of the season but is tied for first while VCU has done great without Weber & Graham (both programs proved an ability to win in the face of adversity last season as well), so I think it’s reasonable to expect a top team to not take the level of nosedive the Rams have seen without Matthews. THAT SAID, this team still has the talent to do damage in Brooklyn but anything short of a tournament championship run will cap what has to be one of the most disappointing seasons in Kingston in recent history.
RICHMOND (14-11, 6-7)
I believed in the Spiders and still think they have one of the best trios in the conference but damn if they haven’t found a way to lose. I picked the Spiders fourth in my preseason poll but like Chris Mooney and staff apparently HIGHLY undervalued the defensive presence of Alonzo Nelson-Ododa. The Spiders have one of the league’s best offenses but saw their defense go from top-50 nationally to 232nd this season, a stat that was highlighted just this week in an 83-79 loss to a Davidson team missing two of their best players in Jack Gibbs and Jordan Barham. Rough year for Mooney and Co.
DAVIDSON (15-9, 7-6)
The Cats received six first place votes this preseason after losing just one player: 2015 A-10 Player of the Year, Tyler Kalinoski. Kalinoski’s loss appears to be that of the Ramone Galloway variety as the Cats have been a very mediocre A-10 squad all season long. Davidson owns just two kenpom top-100 wins this season, both coming over fellow A-10 letdown team, Richmond. They’ve dropped road games at Saint Louis and George Mason and were absolutely hammered in their three big non-conference games. I LOVE watching these guys play but unfortunately the Cats just haven’t gotten the results this season a lot of fans and media members like myself expected.
While some teams have surprised and other disappointed, the season is far from over. All three of my main disappointments remain middle-of-the-pack units with an outside shot of a top-four finish thanks to St. Bonaventure’s loss at La Salle (doubtful, but possible). What’s more is all three of those teams have the talent to do damage in this year’s A-10 tournament — Richmond and Davidson owning two of the conference’s top-five offenses, Rhody a top-four defense — potentially capable of even matching VCU’s four-game run through last year’s Barclays Center gauntlet. Conversely, there’s still enough runway remaining for a team in that top group to crash the plane.