A-10 overachievers

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There may not be a lot to celebrate on a majority of this years’ Atlantic 10 teams. That said, there is not a team in the league without an unexpected star. Even Fordham and Richmond have seen some guys rise in the ranks and emerge as more than just scorers. Here’s a profile on each A-10 team’s overachiever.

Davidson: Kellan Grady

Grady’s cooled off following an opening night where he shot 7/10 from three point range in a rout over Charleston Southern. That said, the Wildcats’ would be remiss to not recognize how well he’s done the intangibles. Taking care of the basketball is something Bob McKillop’s teams have always prided themselves in; last year’s 17-15 team turned the ball over on 17.4% of its possession (90th nationally). This years’ Davidson team leads the nation, coughing the ball up on just 12.1% of its possessions.

As good of a scorer as Jack Gibbs was, he turned the ball over 2.6 times per contest. The senior had 24 giveaways in his first 7 contests (Gibbs missed the first game of the season due to injury). Grady has coughed it up only 4 times all season.

This gives him the 11th best turnover rate in the nation according to Kenpom. Now, it is interesting to see that Grady has primarily been playing the 3 for Davidson this year, and while he’s not the primary ball-handler, he still does a lot of dribbling and a lot of driving. And with Jon Axel Gudmundson’s effectiveness moving without the basketball and shooting in rhythm, it seems like Grady should be relied upon more heavily in creating offense. Grady was also the spark that kept the Wildcats in a game against North Carolina, knocking down 4 threes to minimize what looked like an impending second-half blowout. I think his long range shooting (38.6%) will only improve.

Dayton: Darrell Davis

It’s obvious that Davis has been the Flyers’ biggest overachiever. Averaging 17.7 points per game is an enormous jump from his junior season at just 5.5; granted, the senior is seeing 91.1% of available minutes on the court compared to just 51.4% last year. A jump in scoring was bound to happen, but I don’t think anyone saw Davis leading the Flyers in scoring more than halfway through non-conference play.

While the senior’s three point shooting has been impressive, yes, I’ve been most surprised watching his ability to create offense off the dribble. Davis took 104 three point attempts to just 40 2s last season. Now, he’s attempted 59 of the former and 57 of the latter. Attacking off the dribble and slashing through 2 defenders shows progression for a guy who was known normally as just a distance shooter. If he can create space in defenses like that, he’ll have open shooters on the wing to knock down shots. Speaking of which, Jalen Crutcher has been incredible as a long range threat, and UD’s overachiever was certainly a tough choice to make.

Duquesne: Eric Williams Jr.

The freshman is leading the Atlantic 10 in rebounds per game and is averaging a double-double on the season; it’s safe to say that Keith Dambrot has a star to build his program around. Williams is an absolute beast who I’d say is comparable to George Mason’s Marquise Moore when it comes to securing rebounds. Like Moore, Williams Jr. does most of his work on the defensive glass but certainly helps on the offensive end as well.

The difference between Williams Jr. and a guy like Moore is that Duquesne’s freshman has great touch from long range as well. He’s hit 20 threes this season and has shot 38.5% in the process. He has to be on the radar for Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year after an impeccable start in Pittsburgh.

Fordham: Ivan Raut

As a freshman who drew little to no attention upon arriving at Fordham, Raut’s made a name for himself recently. Particularly, back-to-back 4 point plays against Fordham clawed the Rams back into the game in the first half. Not to mention, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy make back-to-back 4 point plays.

He was 5/10 from three against Rutgers and also cashed in on 7/9 from deep earlier in the season against LIU Brooklyn. I’m not saying Raut is the remedy to all of Fordham’s problems, but having a consistent threat from long range wouldn’t hurt. Fordham is shooting an abysmal 25.7% from three this year, and it’s difficult for the Rams to stay in games against high-powered offenses. Raut could help reverse that trend.

George Mason: Goanar Mar

Most of the players on this list are freshmen, and I don’t think that’s just because we didn’t know about these guys coming in: I think freshmen have just been better than we’d expected. Particularly, look at Goanar Mar. Most followers of the league knew that this was going to be one of the better freshmen in the conference this season, but I think few saw Mar averaging 12.8 points and 4.7 rebounds thus far.

Not only has he been great scoring the basketball for a George Mason team that lacks depth, but he’s also doing it with incredible efficiency for a freshman. Mar is 83% from the line this year and 60.4% from two point range. Unlike most players on teams without depth, Mar has made a lot of his attempts and finishes inside the arc. The Patriots need to make sure he stays out of foul trouble this season, but he’s a diamond in the rough for sure.

George Washington: Jair Bolden

Bolden’s been doing it all for George Washington this season, and there are a lot of reasons why he’s one of the most entertaining players to watch in the league this year. Bolden dropped a career-high 25 points on Princeton the other evening and has been extremely effective both shooting the long ball and driving through the lane. He’s also playing 91.5% of available minutes this season, ranking 26th nationally, meaning he’s stepped into a big role as a sophomore and has not failed under Maurice Joseph.

But Bolden’s work on the defensive end of the floor has been equally as impressive. Bolden steps up and delivers in areas unexpected: take the above double-block for example. He’s only fouling 1.6 times per 40 minutes this season which is down significantly from 2.9 on limited playing time last season. Bolden is one of the more aggressive on-ball defenders in the league and has provided energy all over the court.

La Salle: Amar Stukes

This team doesn’t get too many contributions outside of Pookie Powell and B.J. Johnson, but the Explorers have been lucky to have Amar Stukes this season. He stepped up as a major catalyst against Villanova, going for 16 points and knocking down 4 of 5 three pointers. That was his first good showing from deep this year, and Stukes isn’t really known as a three point threat historically.

However, this past performance could be a big indictor for the Explorers. If La Salle could have a three point threat outside of Johnson and Powell, it would take a lot of weight off the shoulders of the aforementioned. La Salle has not been great at all from range. In fact, they failed to hit a single deep ball against Miami. Stukes’ shooting against the now #1 ranked Wildcats is promising; it could make La Salle the prime sleeper in the A-10.

Massachusetts: LuWane Pipkins

Isn’t it obvious? The sophomore is 4th in the Atlantic 10 in scoring and has lifted the Minutemen to an enormous win over Providence. He’s going to make a case for A-10 Player of the Year in the near future; heck, he could even be a surprise this season if he keeps up this type of play. I think the Minutemen have a shot at finishing in the top half of the league, and it’s because this guy has been so darn good.

Rhode Island: Daron “Fatts” Russell

As both a scorer and distributor this year, Fatts Russell has had so much upside for the Rams. He’s the 4th leading scorer for a Rhode Island team that’s dominated by seniors. Honestly, I didn’t think there was much of a place for Russell in this loaded backcourt to start the season. Boy was I wrong. Over the last 5 games, he’s now played more minutes at the point guard position than Jeff Dowtin. He’s earning his spot in Hurley’s rotation. Russell’s coming-out-party was when he had consecutive 20 point performances against Brown and Providence. Not only is this promising for this year, but Rhode Island has an incredible point guard for future seasons.

Oh, yeah, and he can do this.

Richmond: Jacob Gilyard

Lately, the freshman Jacob Gilyard has picked up a lot of slack for a Richmond team that can’t get much going this year. It took a buzzer-beater to take down James Madison at home, which is not a good sign for the Spiders, but the freshman was the one to take and make the three point shot in the final seconds.

Gilyard is a quick and speedy guard who reminds me a lot of ShawnDre’ Jones. He was a lethal scorer in high school, and it seems he’s going to take that over to the next level. Gilyard is shooting nearly 40% from three this year, and I only expect numbers like those to progress in the coming seasons.

Saint Joseph’s: Taylor Funk

It’s been FunkyTime often in Hawk Hill, and the freshman has been a saving grace for the injury-ridden Hawks. Funk is hitting 51.7% of threes this year including 8 in his last 2 games. With the 65th best offensive rating in the nation, Saint Joseph’s freshman has helped the Hawks play much better without Kimble and Brown.

Funk has such a natural stroke and knocks down his long balls with the confidence of a senior. Phil Martelli has a young threat to base his future teams on, and Funk should hit some clutch threes in conference play this year.

Saint Louis: Javon Bess

Bess has hands down been Saint Louis’ best player this year on both ends of the floor. It’s different for the Billikens having one guy who has emerged as the leader, as this team’s usually had balanced scoring across the board. I look at Bess as an aggressive player who should try to get to the line even more often than he already does. Bess has the 11th best free throw rate in the nation and is knocking down 79.5% of his shots from the line. For a team that’s struggled to score, especially from three, Bess’ ability to draw contact has been huge.

St. Bonaventure: Courtney Stockard

St. Bonaventure’s Courtney Stockard has struggled with injury last year and at the beginning of this season, but he’s come back with a bang since. After playing in the opener and missing two games, he came back and hit the game-winner to beat Maryland, securing a win that the Bonnies desperately needed in November.

VCU: Justin Tillman

The only reason I’m citing Justin Tillman as an overachiever is because he’s done everything expected of him (rebounding and scoring in the post), but he’s also added a new dimension to his game: three point shooting. After attempting just 3 threes in his first 3 seasons as a Ram, Tillman is all of a sudden shooting 48.1% from deep, hitting 13 threes this season.

Realistically, Tillman could be the best player in the Atlantic 10 if he really progresses as a Peyton Aldridge type scorer: one who can hit shots inside and out. If the Rams want to finish in the top 3 in the Atlantic 10 this year, they’re going to need Tillman to be on his game every single night. The senior hasn’t disappointed thus far.

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About Author

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 SB Nation's BT Powerhouse (Big Ten Basketball) and The Champaign Room (Illinois Basketball). He also co-founded his own Illinois Basketball blog called The Groce Report. Grant is a member of the Davidson Class of 2020. Shoot him an email at [email protected] Follow @GrantLabedz

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