A-10 South may hold key to championship
With the Atlantic 10 welcoming Davidson to the conference this year it only made sense to pair the new Cats on the block with regional home-and-homes in this year’s new 18-game format. Prior to this season actually beginning that would have arguably made for two more manageable wins for the likes of VCU, GW and Richmond, three teams picked to finish 1, 2 and 5 in the league before we saw a single minute of action. The Wildcats were making the jump in weight class from the SoCon to the A-10 while losing leading scorer/rebounder, De’Mon Brooks, so the obvious assumption was the Cats might need time before rising to the top of the conference. They weren’t making a jump like VCU when they left the more competitive CAA — a conference that sent three teams dancing in 2011 and two teams to Final 4s within a five-year span (’06 and ’11) — they were coming from the Southern Conference, home to the likes of Elon, Wofford and Western Carolina at the top of the league.
But SURPRISE! Davidson, a team still coached by the guy who led them to a 2008 Elite 8 (not exactly ancient history), is good…really good. Picked to finish 12th in the preseason, Davidson has looked like anything but a bottom feeder, instead appearing to be a serious contender to actually fight for a conference title, be it regular season or through a March run through Brooklyn.
They join an “A-10 South” that is loaded with competitive teams.
VCU is your preseason No.1 and have looked very much the part. The Rams are the 17th ranked team in the country, boasting eight kenpom top-100 wins already this season, including a home win over Davidson (3-1 in A-10 play) and a gutsy road win over Rhode Island (3-1) in which they struggled all game yet still managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, doing so on the back of a one-legged Treveon Graham (26 points).
GW is is off to a 12-4 start that includes a neutral court win over No.13 Wichita State and have three preseason All-Conference selections in Patricio Garino (First Team), Kevin Larsen (Second Team) and Kethan Savage (Third Team). The Colonials recently dropped a road game at La Salle but rank fourth in the league according to kenpom’s computers behind VCU, Davidson and Dayton.
Richmond and George Mason round out the group of A-10 South home-and-homes. Mason has looked about as bad as we expected them to be while the Spiders have looked just dangerous enough to beat you at their place and maaaaybe yours as well — no good wins, only one “bad” loss, and it came to a rival on the road.
These teams — particularly VCU, Davidson, GW and possibly Richmond — could/should beat up on each other all season and present a challenging road to both the regular season and tournament titles.
This is potentially great news for the likes of Dayton and Rhode Island.
The Flyers are off to an impressive 4-0 start in which they have simply hammered the competition. They play VCU, Davidson and GW each just once — unfortunately all on the road — and host both Richmond and Rhody in the only games they’ll play.
Archie Miller and Co. will play home-and-homes against the likes of St. Bonaventure, Duquesne, Fordham and La Salle, a terrible draw for the RPI but a potentially great one for the win column, especially with road wins over two of those already and an 11-point home win over La Salle Wednesday night.
Rhode Island has just one conference loss, unfortunately for them a home L to VCU in a game that was their’s for the taking. The Rams will play home-and-homes with Saint Louis, Saint Joseph’s, UMass and La Salle; a brutal schedule against last year’s teams, but a very winnable one against this year’s group that includes three teams currently outside of the top-100 according to kenpom’s computers.
The projected order of finish via the kenpom computers I’ve grown to love is as follows: VCU (15-3), Dayton (14-4), Davidson (13-5) and Rhode Island (12-6) leaving GW (11-7) just outside the top-4 and needing to win an extra game come tourney time if they want to lift the hardware.
Yes, those are projects, but projections based on roughly 16 or so games of data. Can teams surprise or improve? Of course. But as of right now, this southern group of teams in a historically northern league look to be contenders. This group of teams that now includes Davidson will no doubt provide some incredible games for A-10 fans this season. But the depth that resides in the south may ultimately hurt each of their chances to claim a regular season title and quite possibly relegates one to Thursday action come mid-March.