After a grueling hibernation for college basketball fans like myself, we are almost at the starting line, ladies and gentleman. Come next Tuesday, we will be watching Atlantic 10 basketball. To celebrate just 7 days until college hoops, I thought I’d give you 3 bold predictions for the season. Enjoy!
1. Rhode Island will make the NCAA Tournament this year
I think it’s easy to forget just how hot Rhode Island was at the end of last season, riding into the A-10 Tournament with a 4 game win streak and beating a strong Dayton team on the road in overtime. Fatts Russell began to find his stride, Jeff Dowtin was scoring at a high level, and things were looking up for the Rams. With an upset win over VCU in the A-10 Tournament, it looked like URI could steal a bid, but the Rams’ season ended at the hands of the Bonnies. Pretty much everyone returns for URI this year, and seniors Cyril Langevine and Jeff Dowtin are some of the only current players in the A-10 to have played in the NCAA Tournament in multiple seasons (I think the only others are De’Riante Jenkins and Malik Crowfield on VCU, but don’t quote me on that). Rhode Island’s schedule sets up to be very challenging as well, especially in the non-conference slate. Maryland on the road is a good opportunity but a very tough game. URI could get two ranked teams (LSU and Utah St.) on a neutral court. The Rams also get to face Providence, West Virginia, Western Kentucky, and Alabama — all good teams. URI also gets to play Davidson, Dayton, and VCU both at home and on the road. If Rhode Island doesn’t end up making the Big Dance, you can’t tell me they didn’t have the big opportunities to prove themselves.
2. Richmond finishes top 5 in the conference
Don’t hate me Bonnies fans… but I’m really high on Richmond right now. Prolific scorer Blake Francis adds another lethal threat to a UR team that has one of the most dangerous starting 5’s in the conference. Francis shot 41% from three at Wagner on 239 attempts during the 2017-18 season. Jacob Gilyard remains one of the most underrated players in the country — he shot better than 60% from 2 point range, which is unheard of from a guard, and he was top 10 nationally in steal percentage according to Kenpom. A valid concern that’s been raised regarding the Spiders is depth off the bench. Outside of Francis, Gilyard, Sherod, Golden, and Cayo, I’m not sure I see anyone averaging more than 5 or 6 points per contest. No one necessarily needs to be amazing outside of this starting 5, but Richmond is going to have to hold its ground when the bench relieves its starters. Also, UR beat Virginia Tech by 19 in a secret scrimmage this preseason, and while that doesn’t mean much, it certainly makes me think this team could be real good.
3. Saint Louis upsets #12 Seton Hall at home
The first 2 predictions weren’t that bold, so I said screw it, I’ll go off on a limb with this one. I’m going to predict Saint Louis over the Pirates at Chaifetz Arena on November 17th. The Billikens went into Newark last season and upset Myles Powell and company. This year, the Powell has the potential to be the best player in the nation, and just about the entire team is returning this year. This spells trouble for Saint Louis… BUT, I think Saint Louis plays the style of basketball that gives them a better shot at pulling this off than most will give them credit for. Though Powell led the Pirates in scoring against SLU last season, Javon Bess did a great job limiting him to 4/13 from the floor. Bess is no longer around, but Fred Thatch Jr. is a great defender who could get the assignment, and we know Travis Ford likes to play physical, defensive-minded basketball. I’m still trying to figure out who is going to lead SLU in scoring this season. My gut tells me Hasahn French will be the one, but Jordan Goodwin could take a massive step up as well. Playing with the home crowd in a great early season non-conference matchup will be a fun test for this team. If freshmen come to play and the juniors play aggressively, who knows what might happen…