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Around the Atlantic 10: Davidson’s defense, Saint Joseph’s backcourt, and how VCU finally picked it up

It was yet another eventful day/night of Atlantic 10 hoops as we’re beginning to enter the beloved Feast Week. While most people think of football when Thanksgiving comes around, we think about all of the college basketball preseason tournaments that are just getting underway. Davidson picked up a 70-55 win over Missouri in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off after losing its first round contest against powerhouse Clemson. Saint Joseph’s also picked up a 71-57 win over Loyola (IL) down in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam. Davidson moves on to face Arizona State in the 5th place game. Saint Joseph’s will face Ole Miss who narrowly beat Oral Roberts on Friday.

Elsewhere in the league, VCU, after looking a bit shaky to start the season, finally got the confidence-boosting, dominant win it needed. The Rams nearly doubled Binghamton, beating the Bearcats 81-42, and most notably, they got valuable contributions from a multitude of players. Fordham won its second straight, taking down Fairleigh Dickinson 68-55. Other teams weren’t so successful, though, as Duquesne fell 78-77 to Canisius. The Dukes got beat by a jumpshot with just over a second remaining. George Mason also lost 78-76 in overtime to Mount St. Mary’s as the Patriots suffer their second loss of the season.

1. Davidson’s defense looked a lot more stingy against Missouri

Missouri is no Clemson (Kenpom ranks the former at 138 and the latter at 23), but the Davidson Wildcats showed us exactly what they need to do to be an NCAA Tournament team this year: play defense. The Wildcats held the Missouri Tigers to just 42.2% from the floor and 18.8% from three; they also forced 15 turnovers. Clemson shot 58.3% from the floor and 40.9% from three to beat Davidson, and in the Wildcats’ season-opener, Appalachian State managed to keep up with the Cats, shooting 43.2% from the floor and 31.8% from three. Most notably, Davidson shut down Terrence Phillips who went off against Xavier and almost took down the #11 ranked Musketeers. Phillips had 21 points against Xavier, but Davidson held him to 1 point on 0/8 shooting.

If Davidson wants to find success this season, it’s going to have to pick up its defense like it did on Friday morning. The Wildcats have traditionally struggled on that end of the floor and have flourished on offense, but if they could figure out how to be one of the more stingy teams in the league, they’ve got a chance to win the Atlantic 10. While defense was important, Davidson’s offense was more efficient as well. Jack Gibbs seemingly shook off the rust and had a big game against Mizzou, dropping 25 points. Peyton Aldridge had 21.

2. Saint Joseph’s backcourt is too darn good

A lot of us expected Saint Joseph’s to take a major step back this season, and while this team still could, two guards are trying to prove why that’s not the case. Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble have been absolutely electric to start the season, and Friday night’s opening Paradise Jam game against Loyola (IL) was no exception. The two combined for 46 points and were the spark that carried this team to a cool 71-57 win. But this isn’t the first time this season that this backcourt has stepped up in a big way. Newkirk had 28 and Kimble had 16 to help the Hawks beat Toledo 77-76. In Saint Joseph’s win over Columbia, Kimble had 19 and Newkirk had 17.

The best part about this is that neither player is a senior. Considering this is a “rebuilding year” for Phil Martelli, it’s very noteworthy to see these two take off so early in the season. There has been a lot of speculation as to what A-10 team has the best backcourt in the league. Rhode Island, Dayton, and St. Bonaventure certainly have strong cases, but if this duo of guards keeps putting up points and winning games at this rate, you may have to rethink that question.

3. VCU finally looked impressive on Friday night

If you’re a VCU fan, you have to be pretty happy because you’re team has not looked very good to start the season, and yet, you’re 3-0. The Rams struggled in the preseason, losing their exhibition game to Queens. The Rams let UNC Asheville hang around for awhile in their home opener, and they barely escaped what would have been a tragedy on the road against Liberty. But this team had exactly the kind of performance it needed on Friday. The Rams trounced Binghamton 81-42 and surely helped restore some confidence in this team. Shooting 56.4% from the field and holding your opponent to 27.8% is characteristic of VCU basketball. Forcing 18 turnovers while only committing 12 yourself is also something you like to see if you’re a fan of the Rams.

VCU got a balanced scoring attack on Friday, proving that it’s got scoring depth and ability outside of its top few guys. 8 players had at least 7 points against the Bearcats, and freshman De’Riante Jenkins led scoring and rebounding with 14 and 10. This confidence-booster is exactly what the Rams needed as they prepare to head down to the Battle 4 Atlantis this coming week. VCU has a first round meeting with Baylor, a team that just beat #4 Oregon in the college basketball tip-off marathon. The Rams will need to be sharp to beat the Bears.

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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 ...