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Around the A-10: Newcomers, Charles Cooke, and why UMass is on its way to a stellar season

It’s back! We made it through the opening night of college basketball. If you’re anything like me, you spent more time furiously checking scores than actually watching the T.V. It’s tough to keep up when so many games are going on across the league, and even though we’re just one day in, we’ve already had some big moments. But I digress. The Atlantic 10 faired pretty decently in its opening night. There were certainly some highs and lows across the league, but we’re going to talk about some of the highs specifically.

1. Newcomers showed up on opening night

The A-10 has a lot of new faces this year, and plenty showed up big time in their first games. I wouldn’t consider him a newcomer by any means, but E.C. Matthews, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, came back with a bang. The junior led all scores against Dartmouth dropping 21 points on 9/12 shooting from the field, and he only played a total of 23 minutes. There’s been a lot of speculation as to whether or not Matthews would return to be the dominant player he was two seasons ago as a sophomore, but so far, he’s off to a good start.

You can’t talk newcomer performances without looking at Luwane Pipkins of Massachusetts who dropped 14 points, had 3 assists and 4 rebounds, and stole the ball an incredible 8 times in a 90-76 win over UMass Lowell. Pipkins has not been the talking point of UMass’ newcomers, but his opening night performance has to be very encouraging for a team that’s harnessing a lot of young talent. Another freshman that’s been overlooked is Isiah Deas of La Salle. He was just cleared academically a few days ago, but he went on to score 12 points and pull down 7 rebounds in the Explorers’ overtime loss to Temple.

Also for La Salle, a team that has a lot of new talent on its roster, B.J. Johnson showed up big in his first game as an Explorer. The Syracuse transfer finally got to take the court after sitting out last season and had 23 points and 8 big rebounds. La Salle may have found itself a player who can finally score at the level of Jordan Price; this would be enormous considering the Explorers were basically a one-trick pony last season. Memphis transfer Pookie Powell added 17 points and 7 boards of his own. Bottom line: even though La Salle got outlasted on the road, its new talent really showed its stuff on Friday night.

2. Charles Cooke showed why he’s got A-10 POY potential

Ok, no one was doubting that Charles Cooke was going to be a stud this season, but it kind of felt like he had been forgotten about heading into opening night. With all the talk about Jack Gibbs and E.C. Matthews as potential players of the year, it’s easy to see how Cooke may have been slightly overlooked. Whatever anyone may have thought, Charles Cooke showed up big on opening night. The Dayton senior, who forwent the opportunity to enter last year’s NBA draft, dropped 31 points in the Flyers’ 96-68 win over Austin Peay.

But that’s not very telling of just how well Cooke played. The senior scored 31 points in just 28 minutes on the court. That’s more than 1 point per minute. Not to mention he also added 3 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks to his stat line. The Flyers looked a bit shaky in their exhibition game, barely outlasting Findlay, but Friday night’s win over Austin Peay was nothing short of domination. Charles Cooke is going to be the fearless leader of this 2016-17 Dayton Flyers team, and if he continually plays like he did on opening night, he’s got A-10 POY written all over him.

3. Massachusetts really impressed in its season opener

Not a lot of people consider Massachusetts to be a front-runner candidate in the A-10 this season, but they may have all of the pieces to the puzzle: a stud leader and scorer in Donte Clark, a much improved post-presence in Rashaan Holloway, and a seemingly dark horse defensive threat in Luwane Pipkins. Yes, it was UMass-Lowell, but the Minutemen looked pretty damn good in their opening game, and some key performers showed us why this team is on the rise.

Clark dropped 14 points, had 4 assists, and pulled down 9 rebounds in Friday’s game. His only concern has to be the 7 turnovers he committed in the process. Rashaan Holloway led all scores with 21 points and also added 3 blocked shots to the mix. A lot of people have been high on the sophomore coming into this season, and by the looks of it, he could emerge as one of the better post threats in the league this year. Also, how about Luwane Pipkins? No one talks about this guy, and then he shows up and drops 14 points and adds 8 steals. Freshman DeJon Jarreau didn’t have a great night shooting the basketball, but his 7 assists showed us that’s he’s got great court vision. Finally, another freshman in Tyrn Flowers came in and gave the Minutemen 11 points and 7 boards in just 20 minutes on the court.

I would not sleep on this team. They have a long way to go and a lot to prove, but the Minutemen just kind of feel like their on the way to an impressive season. This team has a lot of young talent and not a lot of experience, but we’ll see whether or not this proves difficult to overcome. But if you’re a UMass fan, you can’t complain right now.

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Grant Labedz is a college basketball superfan who loves the entire sport but definitely has favorites in the A-10 and the Big Ten. He has written for ...