We’re cruising through the non-conference season and before you know it will be knee deep in A-10 action (just over three weeks away). This year’s preseason No.1 has appeared to struggle while the league’s No.12 has been blasting opponents. But who are the contenders and who are the pretenders? With varied levels of non-conference schedule it can be hard to tell. I dug into the schedules and stats this morning to attempt to rank them myself.
1. GW – I think GW has looked like the most “trustworthy” team thus far. In their losses they’ve looked competitive to good teams away from home (led UVA in at the half in Charlottesville before falling off a cliff in the second half) and they’ve blown out the lower ranked teams they’ve played. I think the loss of Creek will be their biggest challenge this year as they’ve struggled to hit the deep ball, but as long as they have that D and guys that can get em points in the paint, they’ll be an NCAA tournament team in waiting. I’m calling Lonergan for Coach of the Year. Love that guy and love the way he coaches.
2. VCU – They’ve had some ugly moments at times this season but have also looked like the best/most dangerous team in the conference as well. Their schedule has been brutal and it will stay brutal almost all the way up to conference play. The Rams have two kenpom top-100 wins away from the Siegel Center as well as wins over teams 105 and 103. They have played just one team ranked lower than 105 by kenpom and play three top-100s over the next three games. Big opportunity against nationally ranked Northern Iowa Saturday. The Rams will be battled tested and VERY dangerous come January as Shaka figures out how his new pieces fit this team.
3. Rhode Island – Like Davidson Rhody has proven they too can beat up on cupcakes. The Rams have blown out the four cupcakes they’ve played by an average of 27.5 points per contest BUT ALSO have a solid win over Nebraska and were competitive in two of their three losses, both to top-100 teams, both away from home. They struggled against Kansas at Kansas but hard to fault them for that.
4. Dayton – The Flyers round out my top four as a balanced team with some solid wins. Their defensive effective field goal percentage of 42.4% ranks 27th nationally. I like that. They’ve been solid on offense as well and boast a top-100 win over Texas A&M as well as some surprisingly decent wins over Eastern Michigan (who just won AT Michigan), Bowling Green and Boston College, all of whom are kenpom top-125 teams (solid but not great). Had they not fallen apart late to UConn after leading with just over 10 minutes left, they’d be undefeated. They aren’t, but I still think right now they are a top-4 A-10 team.
5. Davidson – I want to put the Wildcats higher, I really do. Davidson has a slew of blowout wins and currently ranks 12th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Their defense however ranks last in the conference and just recently gave up 99 points to a sub-200 Montana squad. Bob McKillop’s boys do have a top-100 win over Charlotte (which was less competitive than the 6-point win suggests) but haven’t played much of anyone outside of that exclusing an 18-point loss to UNC.
6. UMass – The Minutemen haven’t won in a minute (as the kids say), losing their last four but all to top-100 squads outside of Amherst. The FGCU loss gives me pause but I rank them all the way up at No.6 based off their wins, including a home blowout of Northeastern (No.99) as well as solid wins over Florida State, Boston College, Sienna and Manhattan. Lots to work on but lots to work with as well.
7. Richmond – You can’t believe I have a sub-.500 team ranked ahead of a 6-1 St. Bonaventure squad. Let me explain. The Spiders have yet to play a team ranked 200 or lower. Their wins over Radford (180) and High Point (173) are whatever. Their close call against William & Mary concerns me (although senior guard Marcus Thornton is DAMN good for the Tribe). But mostly I’ve been impressed with Richmond in their losses to some very good teams…until JMU happened. I forgive them for the road loss against an in-state rival (Dukes have long hated Spiders, huge football rivalry) and the Spiders played well on the road at UNI, NC State and ODU, all top-100 opponents. Did they get the wins? No. But they made me confident in their ability to beat up on some A-10 teams.
8. St. Bonaventure – Let me have it, Bona fans. I’ve disappointed you by ranking your 6-1 Bonnies eighth, but I’m just not sold on Youssou and the boys based on how they’ve played against a ridiculously easy schedule (ranked 328th out of 351 teams). A decent win against Buffalo, nice to win on the road at Ohio, but concerned by SBU’s home loss to Sienna and their struggles against the likes of Canisius (No.147, who they trailed at the half) and Jackson St (No.318) who they should have buried at home.
9. La Salle – An interesting start for the Explorers. After jumping out to a 4-0 start, La Salle has lost four straight, all-be-it to solid competition. La Salle technically played UVA and Villanova tighter than VCU managed to, but don’t have any solid wins to help make their case. Offense has been atrocious.
10. Saint Joseph’s – I basically had to flip a coin between the Hawks and Dukes for this spot, but you gotta give it to Martelli’s group because they actually have a few decent wins. No shame in losing to Villanova or Gonzaga and the Hawks lost a tight one to an ok WKU squad. SJU boasts three top-150 wins, two of which were to other Philly teams (Drexel and Temple). I don’t know what to make of these guys but I know their shooting has been scary bad.
11. Duquesne – I thought the Dukes looked pretty good on the road last night at Penn St, nearly pulling off a solid road win. The loss to Pitt is understandable but outside of that all Duquesne has is a home L to NJIT and three wins against the worst of the worst. The Dukes have struggled to score against teams with legit D1 players. Luckily they don’t play any more of those until they face Dayton on Jan 3rd in their A-10 opener. Dukes COULD be 8-3 heading into that one, all-be-it a deceptive 8-3.
12. Saint Louis – The Billikens have beat no one, are horrible on offense and have home losses to Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Sout Dakota State. Chaifetz was half full (or half empty?…5,102 fans) when the Bills played SDSU so the bandwagon appears to be emptying already in ol’ St. Louis.
13. George Mason – Was tempted to put them ahead of SLU but as you can see…didn’t. The Patriots have been competitive in all but one game so I think they could finish higher than this in conference play but I just couldn’t get past that home loss to Cornell. I really should have ranked them higher than SLU.
14. Fordham – Are these guys up for relegation yet? In all seriousness, at least they are on a two-game winning streak. I just don’t faith in their ability to string many of those together after home losses to the likes of UMass Lowell (No.295) and Maryland Eastern Shore (No.311).