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Around the A-10: Shavar Newkirk, Peyton Aldridge, and an opening weekend of close games

The A-10 finished the weekend 10-4 after two days of thrilling games. Some were blowouts while others came down to the final minutes of regulation and in some cases, even overtime. Saturday’s slate of games featured some tight contests where pesky opponents kept hanging around. While George Mason was unable to overcome Towson at home, St. Bonaventure, Davidson, and Saint Joseph’s outlasted their opponents. Every team has now finished its first non-conference game, and Duquesne will finish the weekend with a battle against Penn State on Sunday. All in all, there’s a long season ahead of us and plenty more basketball to look forward to.

1. Shavar Newkirk led the Hawks to a good win

Toledo is no pushover team. The Hawks had to grind their way to a 77-76 victory at home, and it took an enormous performance from Shavar Newkirk to get the job done. The Saint Joseph’s junior guard stepped up and delivered a career-high 28 points on 9/16 shooting from the floor. Newkirk’s previous career-high was 19 against St. Bonaventure last season. He also added 3 assists and 7 boards as the Hawks were able to outlast the Rockets in the final minutes of regulation.

It’s clear that without scoring threats DeAndre’ Bembry and Isaiah Miles around, Newkirk seems to be the new go-to guy. Someone is going to have to step up and revitalize this offense, and despite a lot of question marks, this Saint Joseph’s team actually had a pretty solid outing against Toledo. Lamaar Kimble added 16 points for the Hawks while James Demery had 11. Despite being outshot and outrebounded, Saint Joseph’s found a way to win this game, and it’s these 50-50 games that really determine a team’s direction. Props to Shavar Newkirk and company on grabbing a solid win to start the regular season.

2. Peyton Aldridge stepped up big time as Wildcats survived 

Davidson faced a tough task opening the season without star point guard Jack Gibbs, but junior Peyton Aldridge proved why he’s going to be one of the best players in the conference this season. Aldridge delivered with 31 huge points as the Wildcats used a late run to pull away from pesky Appalachian State. Aldridge was single-handedly keeping the Wildcats in the game in the first half, and whenever his team needed a big bucket down the stretch, he was there to hit the shot. Davidson got an 86-74 victory over the Mountaineers, but the game felt much closer than the final score indicated.

I can only imagine the dynamic duo that will exist when Gibbs and Aldridge are on the floor at the same time. It seems that the Wildcats may have one of the most potent offenses in the A-10 this year; the key will be locking down on defense. Though Davidson struggled to put away Appalachian State early in this one, the Wildcats were without their best player and still managed to win by double digits. Davidson is going to get a very tough test when it goes and faces Clemson in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Thursday.

3. There were some close A-10 games on college basketball’s opening weekend

Granted, it’s not over just yet, but the opening weekend really brought out the best of what college basketball has to offer. St. Bonaventure outlasted St. Francis (PA) in a close game, though the Bonnies ended up winning 92-82. Saint Joseph’s got a 1 point win over Toledo, while George Mason fell by 6 points to Towson. Richmond won by just 3 points over VMI on Friday, and the Colonials beat UMES by just 4. Duquesne got a 5 point win over Loyola (MD) while Temple beat La Salle by 5 in overtime.

We’re far from the days where college basketball teams win every buy-in game. We seem to be moving towards a point of equity in the league; teams like Wagner that beat UConn and Chattanooga that beat Tennessee show that the mid-majors are on the rise, and they’re fighting like hell. This makes college basketball a lot more fun to watch, and quite frankly, I always root on the underdog (unless it’s the A-10, of course). We have to remember that no team can be overlooked in today’s world of college hoops. It’s going to be a fun season.

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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 ...