November and December have ended (thankfully), and as we venture into 2019, we get to watch a very interesting conference race where 5 or 6 teams could realistically take the crown. There is no clear at-large contender heading into the 18 game stretch of the season, so whoever wins in Brooklyn will likely be the only team headed to the Big Dance. So does A-10 conference play mean much of anything other than seeding? Not really. I suspect the league will have 3 or 4 teams with 12 wins come March, and the regular season champ is unlikely to surpass the 14 win mark. As important as “A-10 regular season champion” has been in the past, I don’t see an at-large case for any team unless VCU or Saint Louis wins 15 or 16 games without any detrimental losses. Without further ado, here’s my best guess at who’s got the best shot at winning the Atlantic 10.
VCU Rams: 24%
The Rams enter conference play 69th in Kenpom and feel like the favorite to win the league at this point. With the best defensive efficiency in the conference (9th nationally), VCU has stifled a good portion of its non-conference opponents and should do the same to sub-par A-10 teams. VCU’s bench runs deep, and its havoc defense is going to cause problems in league play, especially against young backcourts. I think the Rams will edge out Saint Louis and Davidson for the league crown.
Saint Louis Billikens: 21%
Saint Louis is interesting. The Billikens are undefeated at Chaifetz Arena and have wins over Butler at home and Seton Hall on the road. Yet, the Billikens have one of the most frustrating offenses in the league and have been pretty horrible in late-game execution. Most of that has been due to sub 60% free throw shooting as a team. The Bills are a tough bunch, but if they’re not hitting shots, they’ll drop some head-scratchers…
Davidson Wildcats: 19%
I like Davidson so long as Kellan Grady returns to the lineup soon. Without him, the Wildcats could fall in a bit of a rut. We saw this team struggle from 3 against Wake Forest in its worst showing of the season, and if guys like Luke Frampton and Carter Collins aren’t knocking down 3s, Davidson can be in trouble. I think the Wildcats have one of the better draws overall, so they should have a serious shot at winning the league. I will be very interested to see how this offense fares against SLU and VCU defenses.
Dayton Flyers: 15%
Dayton’s bench is a concern this year, and though the Flyers have shown flashes, they’ve hardly been dominant. The inability to hold a steady lead against inferior opponents has been concerning, and when Josh Cunningham gets in fouls rouble, the Flyers don’t have a lot of options. I think Dayton is a top 5 team for sure this year, but they’re not my favorite to take the title at this point. Brooklyn could be a different story.
Saint Joseph’s Hawks: 8%
The Hawks are the nation’s best at taking care of the basketball, which will be pivotal when they face off against lethal Saint Louis and VCU defenses. When this team is hot, it can knock down threes and run up the scoreboard, but recent poor shooting performances against Loyola Chicago and Wagner showed that SJU doesn’t stay hot every night. Walking into conference play with a 7-5 record and arguably the most prolific and capable scorer in the league, I might be too low on the Hawks at 8%.
Rhode Island Rams: 5%
Rhode Island is very young, and though the Rams took down West Virginia in a huge program win, there have been some head-scratching losses as well — notably Stony Brook at home. Cyril Langevine has arguably been one of the league’s best big men, and that should carry over into conference play. I’m hoping that Fatts Russell’s shooting can only get better, because he has really struggled this season.
Duquesne Dukes: 3%
Duquesne still feels like it’s a year away, and a loss to NJIT the other day speaks to that. Look for Duquesne to win 9, 10 (maybe even 11) games this year, but as far as winning the league goes, this team needs a bit more seniority. Dambrot has the Dukes on the up though, and that’s a great sign.
Massachusetts Minutemen: 2%
I really think Massachusetts was closer to 8-9% at the beginning of the season, but McCall’s bunch has certainly underperformed. A loss to Howard at home still weighs heavily against this team, and though they had some great halves of basketball (notably 2H against Providence), they’ve also had some awful ones. The most inconsistent team in the A-10 is likely to finish right in the middle of the league.
George Mason Patriots: 1%
It’s going to take a lot for the Patriots to finish at the top of the league. The silver lining for this team in non-conference play was a 1 point loss on the road against Kansas St. where the Patriots had a final possession to steal the game. Unfortunately, the record shows this team has had its fair share of problems, and while Mason felt like a league contender back in late October, the tables have turned for Paulsen’s club.
St. Bonaventure Bonnies: 1%
I thought the return of both Courtney Stockard and LaDarien Griffin would be an enormous boost, but after getting embarrassed on the road against Syracuse, I think this team is too young and turnover-prone across the board to do much damage in the conference. I think the Bonnies pull a couple of upsets in Olean and maybe spoil one of the top few teams when they visit. Other than that, it’s no rose garden for Schmidt and co.
Richmond Spiders: 0.5%
With Nick Sherod, this team’s prospects may have been slightly higher, but the depth and coaching just isn’t there for the Spiders. Grant Golden is so talented and maybe the best all-around player in the conference, but unfortunately, I don’t see the Spiders winning more than 5 games in the A-10 this season.
Fordham Rams: 0.2%
I’ll say that Fordham has looked better than years past, but that’s not saying too much. A recent loss to LIU Brooklyn was a real kicker for the Rams. I don’t think they’ll finish last… but close to it.
La Salle Explorers: 0.2%
La Salle will not win the league this year. Hopefully Coach Howard gets a few morale-boosting victories in conference play during his first season as the coach of the Explorers.
George Washington Colonials: 0.1%
I can’t remember a worse GW team. This will not be a fun start to 2019 for them.