Well, we’ve made it. We enter the new year as a conference of sickos with no illusions of receiving multiple bids in this year’s Atlantic 10. The conference’s current top team, Dayton, sits at an unenviable 73rd in the Net Rankings, one of just two teams within the top-100 at the moment, with Saint Louis — arguably the conference’s biggest let down — hanging on for dear life at No.100.
Will a dominant force emerge within this period of conference play or will this become the bloody battle royal of mediocrity many of us expect? Here is one thing to love about each team’s chances, one thing to hate.
Love: While the Flyers lack anything resembling a sexy win through 15 contests so far (UD is 0-5 against the kenpom top-100), they do currently have a top-20 defense anchored by arguably the conference’s most draftable prospect in DaRon Holmes. We’ve seen VCU somewhat recently win the A-10 with an elite defense and mediocre offense (2019), so there’s no reason to expect Dayton can’t do the same with the elite front court duo of Holmes and Camara.
Hate: Injuries to key backcourt pieces in Malachi Smith and Kobe Elvis are sure to limit the Flyers throughout conference play and potentially in the A-10 tourney in Brooklyn. Flyer freshman, Mike Sharavjamts, may posses great potential, but he is still a freshman and one who currently has a higher turnover rate than assist rate as the Flyers starting point guard. The backcourt feels just too injured to not expect the occasional bad loss we are used to from Anthony Grant’s squad (La Salle last year, St. Joe’s the year prior). So even with Holmes and a killer defense, it’s just hard to have any confidence that the league’s top team couldn’t make a first-game exit come Brooklyn.
Love: The Billikens boast the league’s highest rated offense at No.36 according to kenpom, but do so without really shooting worth a damn (48.7% EFG%). Several starters are shooting below their averages, which to me just screams a regression to the mean is coming eventually. When that happens the Billikens starting five is arguably the best in the conference and one that you’d think you could put your chips on in Brooklyn, especially with their level of experience.
Hate: Following an upset home loss to SIU Edwardsville, SLU picked up a very shaky win at Saint Joseph’s, 83-78. The Hawks had just twelve turnovers on the night a game after Edwardsville had just nine against the Billikens. That highlights a defense that is the 11th worst in the country and turning teams over. That feels like a nitpicky stat, but it’s one that one a bad night in Brooklyn against a team like VCU that ranks 8th in the country in turnover defense, could send what was a team with high expectations home early this upcoming March.
Love: Only three teams in the conference have both an offense and defense within the top-150 in adjusted margin and George Mason is one of them. While they had a run of ugly losses early in the year, the Patriots have won seven of their last eight with that relative balance including three top-100 victories. Mason is a very experienced group with one of the conference’s best bigs in Josh Oduro, which could make them a sleeper to really compete or even win the A-10, that no one is really talking about. They are also boosted by an insanely easy home-and-home pairings group of Richmond, GW, Rhode Island and a Loyola team that has quite frankly been horrible since joining the conference. That kind of thing will help you get a top-4 seed and up your percentage chance to win a tournament title.
Hate: The A-10 has a turnover disease and Mason unfortunately is not immune. With an EFG% offense that ranks 35th nationally, you’d think GMU might sneak into the top-100 overall offensively, but turning the ball over almost 21% of their possessions while only turning opposing teams over 16% of their creates a turnover handicap that Mason must deal with most nights. Good news for the Pats however, is only three A-10 teams currently boast top-100 turnover defenses (VCU, Duquesne and UMass), all of whom Mason will play just once each this conference season.
Love: Ace Baldwin grabs the headlines for the Rams, but there’s a developing situation in the paint at the Siegel Center that is worth monitoring for the black and gold. VCU brought in a proven big man in Michigan transfer, Brandon Johns Jr. (who has played well), but it’s the recent emergence of sophomore five, Jalen DeLoach, that I think makes the Rams a little more promising than they perhaps looked earlier in the season. DeLoach is averaging 15 points on 67% shooting for the Rams with 2.2 blocks and 2 steals per contest over his last six. He flashed some of this potential last year, showing a better post IQ than recently-transferred, Hason Ward, and a better defense than graduated Levi Stockard, so it’s exciting for Ram fans to see they may have struck gold with another promising young big.
Hate: VCU’s offensive inconsistency this year with a good, but less elite defense than previous seasons, is how the Rams end up down nine like they were in this past weekend’s contest against La Salle. Injuries have certainly hurt the Rams this season, but a high turnover rate on offense and extremely inconsistent shooting makes them a hard team to put your chips on in Brooklyn, especially considering Mike Rhoades’ history of first-game A-10 tourney losses (two of his four A-10 tournaments competed in).
Love: Mark Schmidt and the Reilly Center. Schmidt and Co. reminded everyone that Olean against a Schmidt-coached team is a tough place to win, smacking down the previously 9-3 Minutemen, 83-64. The Bonnies are basically all new pieces, so a serious puzzle for the Bona staff to figure out. I’m sure like the rest of you, I’m interested to see how they figure this group out come March. I don’t see them as a real contender right now, but a spoiler is all they need to be for a little fun in Brooklyn.
Hate: Going from Osun Ossuniyi to anyone is a bit of a challenge, but I’m just not in love with the Bonnies in the paint this year. Both Chad Venning and Max Amadasun have negative box plus/minus numbers, which is a big step back from what we’re used to seeing at the five spot. Add to that sooo many new pieces and a good amount of youth, and the Bonnies (this year) aren’t really a team I expect to threaten the league.
Love: James Bishop is averaging just about 22 points per game and unlike his previous two seasons, has actually been efficient in doing so. While Chris Caputo’s first season in Foggy Bottom may lack consistency, it could certainly deliver some fun random nights, should the Colonials decide to gel as a team like they did when dropping 97 on Loyola in Chicago.
Hate: Let’s be honest, GW has played absolutely no one and has a .500 record to show for it. Individually you look at this roster and think, “Eh, I don’t know, those dudes look alright”, but then you see losses to the likes of Radford, American and UC San Diego and it reminds you that this is a team that will not compete in the A-10 because they are one of the worst defenses in the league.
Love: Dae Dae Grant and Tre Clarke have helped take a Duquesne offense that ranked 255th last season to 78th nationally this year. A good backcourt can cure a lot and I just think that duo could be a fun one to follow this year. They have a huge home game this week against VCU with a chance to really make a statement against Clark’s former team. Also while the back court is the headline-grabber, Bowling Green transfer big, Joe Reece, is having a sneaky good season for Dambrot and Co. The St. Louis native has been a scoring machine in somewhat limited minutes, with a 21.7 points per 40 average and leads the team in both player efficiency rating and overall box plus/minus.
Hate: The Dukes survived Rhode Island to open A-10 play, but in the process connected on just 34.8% of their attempts inside the arc. On the season Duquesne ranks 231st in the nation at finishing their attempts inside the three-point line and rank 320th in free throw rate. Translation: not a ton of easy buckets. They have had some nice games inside the arc, but overall those two numbers on the season give me concern.
Love: There has been so much to love about a lot of Wildcat teams since they joined the conference, but so far this year’s group is a bit concerning. Still, if I had to love one thing about it it’s that they are led by a dangerous veteran in Foster Loyer. The Michigan State transfer was absolutely electric this past season and has three 30-point contests so far this season. It’s always fun to watch the Cats when they have a guy like that (Grady, Gibbs, Kalinoski, Curry, etc).
Hate: Davidson never seems to be a lockdown defense, which is against the case this year, but throw in an offense that is reeeally struggling to knock down the deep ball, something we haven’t seen in a while from this program and you are left with a team that loses games to the likes of Delaware and Northeastern. Right now it just seems like the Cats have so many fewer weapons on the floor than we are used to, which keeps me from thinking that even with Loyer on the court, these guys are a real threat to do much in the league. Add to that the A-10 game them home-and-home pairings with the likes of Dayton, Saint Louis and VCU and a sub-500 conference finish is not out of the question.
Love: Three main things I like about the Spiders this year: 1) Tyler Burton is a legit pro prospect who will try and put the team on his back and can 2) they have both a top-100 effective FG% offense and defense and 3) their home-and-home pairings include games with Mason, GW and St. Bonaventure. While they’ve already dropped one of those on the road to George Mason, that’s a much easier schedule than you’ll see for squads like Davidson, SLU, Dayton and VCU and with that, gives them an easier path to potentially finishing toward the top of the league while potentially being a less talented team.
Hate: Almost half of the Spiders’ shots come from beyond the three-point arc (45.8%). While they are currently knocking em down at a 36.4% clip, that makes this group considerably more three-point dependent than previous Spider teams. I think that could sting them in a game or two or three during conference play. The Spiders have also struggled to defend often against the better teams they’ve played this year, giving up 92 at Charleston (81 in regulation), 90 at Toledo and 85 to Clemson, three of the five top-100 squads they’ve played this season (they lost four of their five top-100 matchups). Not many top-100 teams in the A-10 — two if you exclude Richmond — but still a concern heading into A-10 action.
Love: After rolling out one of the worst defenses in college hoops in Matt McCall’s final season in Amherst, Frank Martin and Co. surprisingly have a top-100 D their first year on campus. That led them to their biggest win of the season, a 66-63 W over No.65 Colorado. UMass limited the Buffs 34% shooting in the win.
Hate: The other side of the ball. After finishing 33rd nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency in McCall’s last season, UMass sits at 228th in Frank Martin’s first season up North. UMass ranks 305th in effective field goal percentage, which is how they rank 262nd nationally in points per game despite running the 38th fastest tempo in college hoops. Prepare for many rock fights this season, UMass fans.
Love: One of the nation’s most methodical teams, the new addition Ramblers are one of the best teams in the nation at finishing their shots. For the second consecutive year as Head Coach at Loyola, Drew Valentine’s squad is top-30 nationally in effective field goal percentage and I LOVE a team who finds ways to get easy buckets. But…
Hate: That is of course when they aren’t turning the ball over. A number of teams have had offensive turnover issues in the A-10, but none as bad as Loyola Chicago. The Ramblers are the seventh worst team in the nation at turning the ball over (or well, seventh BEST perhaps at turning it over…seventh worst at not turning it over), handing it over to the opposition essentially once out of every four trips down the court. That is a MAJOR handicap to play with and one that could get them in real trouble against the likes of VCU, Duquesne and UMass who all bring top-100 turnover Ds to the court.
Love: FORDHAM IS 12-2 WITH A TOP-100 WIN!!! They are a top-200 team for just the third time in the past eight seasons and didn’t completely kill the A-10 in non-conference play, creating a total landmine for NCAA hopefuls in conference play. That’s enough in itself to love, but also they’ve done so being relatively solid on both sides of the ball, but particularly on defense where they have been pretty great in the halfcourt.
Hate: But how much of that is smoke and mirrors from one of the nation’s worst non-conference schedules, literally ranking 363rd out of 363 DI teams. Fordham is frankly extremely unproven and at 12-2 could very well be catfishing the league. They do have that top-100 road win at Tulane, but just lost their A-10 opener at home to a very mediocre Davidson team by 14. Their other top-100 matchup saw them lose by 26. You betting on Fordham to have a great year?
Love: Rhody knocked it out of the park with the hiring of Archie Miller. This is a coach that consistently ranked top-100 and top-50 both on offense and defense previously at Dayton and Indiana. Rhody has a great fanbase and nice facilities and in time with his dudes, he should have the Rams back as a top team in the conference.
Hate: But this year and this group of players ain’t it. The Rams are just too young and not enough Archie. He’ll get his guys and he’ll get the guys he currently has better. But right now the Rams are just too much of a mess offensively and are extremely young. There’s just no shot they consistently put it together to become any real threat this season. They’ll get there though. (Note: Thorr Bjorn has crushed it with two of his last three hirings in Dan Hurley and Archie Miller. While I respect his moment of weakness in elevating David Cox to head coach, I’m sure that’s the type of mistake he’ll likely never make again as AD of Rhode Island).
Love: I want to say “literally nothing”, but I will give the Hawks credit for getting to the stripe fairly well for easy buckets. They have no real elite guys at that skill, but instead a number of guys who are pretty darn good at it. That’s about it for the positives of this team and program right now.
Hate: The Hawks have by far the worst coach in the Atlantic 10 and a clueless Athletic Director who made that hire. It’s just a mess on Hawk Hill and one hopefully the SJU Board of Directors will clean up this offseason with a new AD and new Head Coach. It’s disgusting how far this program has fallen. Total amateur hour and that’s coming from writer for a website that tweets foul language fairly consistently, so that’s saying something.
Love: While one Philly school blew the head coaching search several years ago, the other nailed it and truth be told, really got a guy they shouldn’t have been able to get in Fran Dunphy, but thanks to his obvious ties to the school (he played there), pretty much hired the absolute best coach they could get. La Salle has some solid players, but inconsistent ones that as a group are no real threat to do anything in the conference this season. Let Dunphy build the program up a bit, secure some key transfers and the current A-10 bottom feeder should at least be mediocre and that’s about all we should ask for from a program competing with about half the resources of the rest of the conference.
Hate: Again, Dunphy is a heck of a coach, but just doesn’t have “dudes” right now. No consistent bucket getters makes it awfully hard to win games in a league that while down, is still pretty tough. They are the leagues’ landmine this season and are certain to catch a team or two or three.