Let’s be honest, this year’s A-10 isn’t quite the A-10 of the past two seasons. Five and six-bid years are hard to top or even match and it appears as if this season will most likely fall somewhat short of those numbers (hey, you never know).
But the future looks bright. A-10 teams have landed some key pieces over the last two recruiting cycles, VCU alone recruiting a total of five ESPN top-100 players combined in their 2014 and 2015 classes.
This season a number of freshmen have impressed. Below is a list of a few of those players, players I think have the best chance of making the A-10’s All-Rookie team based off the minutes I think they’ll get to post numbers worthy of an All-Rookie selection.
Peyton Alridge – (27.3 min) 11.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 43.3% 3p%, 9.4 TO rate
Oskar Michelson – (20.6 min) 8.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1 apg, 53.8% fg%, 52.5% 3p% (21-40)
Everytime I write about Davidson I hear the “Meet the Mets” song in my head but swap out “Mets” for “Cats”. I’m learning a bunch about this Davidson squad early this season and a lot of those lessons are typically about just how efficient everyone on this team is on offense. As a VCU grad that efficiency reminds me of March of 2005 when the Wildcats came into the Siegel Center and absolutely shredded my school in the first round of that year’s NIT (77-62). McKillop’s boys were slicing and dicing up our defense at the time and they appear to be doing more of the same almost a decade later. Alridge is the third leading scorer and second leading rebounder for the Cats thus far while Michelson’s 129.2 offensive rating is third to Davidson dynamic duo, Kalinoski and Gibbs, among players averaging double-digit minutes. Both players can absolutely torture a team from deep and right now both must be mentioned among the top freshman in this league.
Trey Porter – (13.9 min) 5.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.3 bpg
Porter is the fifth leading scorer at Mason despite checking in as the ninth most played in terms of minutes per contest. The 6’10 freshman has been a better option statistically than Georgia Tech transfer and former top-100 high school recruit, Julian Royal. Porter has connected at just under 70% of his 2-point attempts and at 97.7 has one of the better offensive ratings on the Patriots roster. His 8.1% blocks percentage leads the team. Unfortunately Porter’s team has just two DI wins this season but have however played a relatively challenging schedule.
Yuta Wantanabe – (21 min) 6.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 11.7 TO rate, 40% 3p%
I’ve been incredibly impressed with the versatile 6’8 200lb freshman from Tokyo this season. Wantanabe has looked very mature for a freshman, making smart plays all over the court and turning the ball over just 11.7% of his possessions (GW turns it over 18.4% nationally, a top-100 ranking). He’s got a nice looking stroke from range and has oddly enough been better from deep than within the arc. Yuta is consistently playing 20+ minutes so could get enough burn to make a strong case for All-Rookie honors.
Donte Clark – (20.1 min) 8.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.6 apg, 42.9% 3p%
Clark has been a very nice surprise for UMass off the bench this season, including posting a team-high 25 points against Florida Gulf Coast just two games ago. Unfortunately for the Minutemen that one came in a loss and was followed by a 2-point output the following night but such is the life of a freshman scorer. Clark has had a handful of solid nights from deep this year but the thing I absolutely LOVE about the freshman is his ability to get to the free throw line (83 free throw rate leads the team). To have a guard who can saddle another teams players with foul trouble while connecting at an 84% clip when he gets that, that’s a great weapon to have.
Jared Terrell – (28.9 min) 10.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1 apg, 1.4 spg, 36.8% fg%
Rhody head coach Dan Hurley scored big when landing the top-100 guard for a Rams team on the rise. Terrell is getting a ton of burn for the Rams but so far has somewhat struggled offensively despite the double-digit scoring average. His 44.4% true shooting percentage is nothing to write home about but he clearly possesses the talent and will get the minutes to improve on those numbers. Right now you could compare him to a freshman version of Jon Severe without the gaudy early season scoring average but I think those numbers certainly improve as the season goes on.
Jaylen Adams – (29.8 min) 12.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 47.2% 3p%, 51.1% fg%
Jaylen Adams has been racking up the A-10 Rookie of the Week honors and it’s easy to see why. Adams has been one of the most reliable pieces on a Bona team that is turning heads after a 6-2 starting that includes a four-point loss at Pitt. Adams’ 114.3 offensive rating leads the team, as does his shooting percentages from both inside (63.6%) and outside the arc (47.2%). His true shooting percentage of 72.4% is insanely good (ESPECIALLY for a 6′ guard) and tops among A-10 players who consistently see any minutes what-so-ever. Your current leader for A-10 Rookie of the Year honors.
Malik Yarbrough – (18.5 min) 7.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.2 ap%, 56.7% fg%
Hard to say the Billikens are in rebuilding mode at 7-4 but also hard to ignore how they’ve played as well. Either way, Yarbrough has been a nice young player for Jim Crews and Co. this season. Yarbrough has four double-digit scoring performances already in his young career and is connecting on over 60% of his attempts from inside the arc. He appears to be seeing the game better as well as demonstrated by his 2.2 assists average over the last six games. Yarbrough had zero assists in his first five contests. A solid rebounder and scorer, if Yarbrough can bring his free throw average up he could make a run at an All-Rookie selection because he should certainly get the minutes to post All-Rookie type numbers.
Terry Larrier – (14.9 min) 5.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg
Justin Tillman – (12.3 min) 5.1 ppg, 2 rpg, 59.5 fg%, 9.9% bk%
VCU’s four-man 2014 class was ranked 14th nationally by ESPN and having had a chance to see them in person I can tell you that it’s certainly easy to see why. Despite Larrier’s leading scoring average among the four on an incredibly deep VCU roster, it’s Tillman who seems to be the most dangerous option for the Rams at this stage in their development. Tillman is a no-nonsense player that goes straight to the basket to give VCU an incredibly efficient scoring option on offense as well as another productive shot-blocker on D (his 9.9% blocks percentage ranks tops on the team). He’s also gotta be one of the most exciting players in the A-10 already as a freshman (total highlight machine). Freshmen don’t play the amount of minutes at VCU they seem to get elsewhere but that’s par for the course on a team coming off four consecutive NCAA tournament births. I do however think as the season progresses these two in particular have a chance to see the increased playing time needed to land an All-Rookie selection, particularly as VCU’s schedule lightens (currently ranked No.1 nationally) allowing the freshman to post the 20-plus minute type of performances they saw against Maryland Eastern Shore, one of only two non-top-100 programs VCU has faced this season. Larrier dropped 21 points in 20 minutes in that game, Tillman added 10 in 25 minutes and is coming off a 16-point performance in 17 minutes against No.117 Belmont, the second lowest ranked team VCU has played.