It’s homestretch time and we’ve got a neck-and-neck race at the top of the league. Currently both VCU and Rhode Island sit atop the conference at 10-3 with Dayton a near lock to join them after tonight’s home matchup against a struggling Saint Joseph’s Hawks team. Who will grab the regular season crown and which teams will earn a top-4 seed and a critical bye to help ease their rout to an Atlantic 10 tournament championship? Let’s take a look.
VCU (10-3): The Rams will be without Briante Weber for the remainder of the season but appear to have a healthy Treveon Graham once again. Of VCU’s remaining schedule, four of their five games are against teams within the top half of the conference, three of those coming against teams still very much in the hunt for a regular season title. I think VCU holds serve at home and loses one (although won’t be shocked if they lose one to Dayton), if not both of their road games, putting Shaka Smart’s squad at a realistic best-case scenario of a 14-4 or 13-5 finish. The good news for VCU is they already boast a head-to-head tie-breaker over Rhode Island, having won in Kingston earlier this season and host both Dayton and UMass in the only games they’ll play this season. Major advantage come tie-break scenario.
Rhode Island (10-3): Fresh off a blowout of UMass, Rhode Island is very much in the hunt but has a difficult four-game stretch approaching that includes three road contests. After watching Fordham dismantle George Mason last night I will go ahead and mark Rhody’s next game as a win (at George Mason). After that things get difficult with a home game against the nation’s seventh-ranked scoring offense, the Davidson Wildcats, followed by road contests at La Salle and Dayton. URI finishes their season with a home contest against Saint Joseph’s. I’ve got two definite Ws in that mix over Mason and Saint Joseph’s and think they realistically drop two of their three games in that tough stretch, putting Rhody at 13-5 as my best guess.
Dayton (9-3): I can’t imagine Dayton losing any of these next three contests (SJU, Duq, GMU), so we’ll go ahead and project them at 12-3 heading into a tough road game at VCU. Needless to say, both VCU and their fans will be pretty pumped up for that meeting in Richmond. The Flyers have really only looked good in one road game this season (at St. Bonaventure), so I think VCU’s depth combined with a rowdy Siegel Center atmosphere proves to much in that one, meaning the Flyers will need to win their final two games of the season to win their first A-10 regular season title under Archie Miller. Dayton’s fluid offense versus Rhode Island’s lockdown D should be a fun one to watch, but assuming the Flyers pull out the win (which I think they do), they could still need a tough road win at La Salle against Jordan Price and Co. to lock in a regular season championship. Once again, 14-4 best case or 13-5.
Davidson (9-4): The Wildcats are back in the hunt after reeling off four straight wins including road Ws over the likes of La Salle and George Washington. They have a tough stretch to finish the season but return one of the conference’s best players in Jack Gibbs to attempt to shock the conference by winning a regular season title in their first season in the league. Davidson should have no problem with Fordham or Duquesne but have a stretch of Rhode Island, GW and VCU in between, only the first of which is on the road. The bad news for the Wildcats is they are already a game back of the rest of the pack meaning they’ll have to be nearly perfect to win this thing. Realistically that means one loss and McKillop’s squad comes up just short. I like Davidson over GW by double-digits in Belk Arena and think the crowd will be a huge lift in what should be a great game against VCU. They’ll have to win one or quite possibly both of those for this to come down to tie-breakers but are certainly in the hunt. Regardless, I see them doing no worse than 12-6, which I think could be enough for a top-4 seed. My guess however is they have just one more loss in them, resulting in a 13-5 finish.
UMass (9-4): The Minutemen were the league’s hottest team prior to last night’s 16-point loss at Rhode Island. Things get no easier Saturday when UMass heads to Richmond to take on the VCU Rams. After that, UMass plays two very winnable home games before hosting a tricky Richmond Spiders club, then finishes at George Washington. I think UMass drops two of those tough three games, most likely the road contests, but wouldn’t be surprised if the Minutemen finished the season 13-5. UMass has already won home games against good teams (v Dayton, Rhode Island) and tough road games (at La Salle, St. Bonaventure) so nothing would surprise me.
GEORGE WASHINGTON CONTINUES A-10 COLLAPSE
George Washington had a chance to end a two-game losing streak while picking up a quality home win to help attempt to keep their name in the NCAA tournament bubble conversation, but after an eight-point halftime lead saw the wheels come off in last night’s loss to Davidson. GW has now lost five of their last six contests, their worst stretch since the end of their 2012-13 season when four of their current five starters were freshmen. GW has just two A-10 wins over teams ranked within kenpom’s top-200, both coincidentally top-100 wins, both at home, both in overtime. The Colonials outlasted Richmond earlier this season then took down Dayton recently on a Joe McDonald buzzer-beater. They are 4-8 on the season against kenpom top-100s and 2-5 against top-100s in conference play. Kenpom predicts GW will finish at 9-9 in conference play, making them eighth in the league heading into the tournament. That is one tough potential opening game for this season’s top seed.
PRESEASON FIRST TEAM PREDICTIONS
There’s quite a bit more season remaining, so a lot can change before any of this really matters. But right now I’d find filling any ballets for A-10 awards incredibly difficult. Here’s the challenge: Do you put high-volume guys on lower ranked teams ahead of incredibly efficient guys on the best teams? Currently the league’s top four scorers are SJU’s DeAndre Bembry (17.8 ppg), Jordan Price (17.6), Eric Paschall (17.7) and Kendall Anthony (16.6), none of which play on a team within the top five of the conference. Among players used at least 20% of their teams possessions, only one of those players ranks among the league’s top-20 (Kendall Anthony at No.9). There’s no denying the talent of any of those guys, but do they get the nod over guys like Davidson’s Tyler Kalinoski, Rhode Island Hassan Martin or Dayton’s Jordan Sibert?
My picks as of this very moment (subject to change over next five games!): Treveon Graham (VCU), Tyler Kalinsoki (Davidson), Jordan Sibert (Dayton), Hassan Martin (Rhode Island), Dyshawn Pierre (Dayton).
PRESEASON COACH OF THE YEAR PREDICTIONS
Just as difficult as those First-Team selections is the current Coach of the Year race. I have it at a two-man race at this moment between Dayton’s Archie Miller and Davidson’s Bob McKillop with Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley and VCU’s Shaka Smart on the outside looking in. I don’t think Smart gets it, even with a potential A-10 title, based off being picked to win the conference in the first place and boasting a roster full of top-100 talent (all-be-it very young talent). Davidson however was picked to finish 12th in the preseason but are very much in the hunt for a regular season title in their first year in the conference despite playing five games without Jack Gibbs, the conference’s highest ranked player in terms of offensive rating. Dayton has strung together a 9-3 start despite playing with just six of their scholarship players from the start of this season (walk-on Bobby Wehrli earned his scholarship this January). I think Hurley is closer to the Smart end of the spectrum than the McKillop and Miller end, but could definitely see either of those two winning it if they can manage to run the table from here on out. Right now I hand the trophy to McKillop.