There have certainly been surprise candidates playing well this year, but there have also been rock-solid players that haven’t faltered from the preseason A-10 POY race. We often get lost in what teams are playing well in the non-conference, so it’s important to step back and remember what players are exceeding expectations as well. We’re a long way from A-10 POY awards, but here’s how the race looks right now:
Who’s in the lead right now? You guessed it. Not only has Obi Toppin started appearing top 10 in NBA Draft projections; he’s also putting up ridiculous numbers for the Flyers. He’s leading the conference in scoring at 22.1 points per game and is shooting an effective field goal percentage of 72.5% (that’s 14th in the nation). He’s also top 5 in the conference in blocks per game, proving he can be effective on both ends of the floor. Yes, Dayton has played its fair share of cupcakes, but Toppin didn’t falter in the Maui Invitational against tougher defenses. The sophomore dropped 49 combined points in wins over Georgia and Virginia Tech and even put up 18 against a Kansas defense hell bent on shutting him down.
Making a Case
The Rhode Island junior has been a great surprise after what could be described as a sophomore slump. Russell is averaging 21.1 points per contest for the Rams and has willed this team when other guys aren’t playing well (see most recent 2nd half against West Virginia). Compared to sophomore season, Russell is shooting much better from 2 and 3 and currently has the 15th best steal percentage in the nation. Rhode Island has been close to some big victories but has yet to pick up anything monumental. Beating Providence and Western Kentucky in the next few days would prove this team belongs in the NCAA Tournament bubble conversation, and Fatts Russell is going to be the guy to get them there.
It’s tough to imagine any one guard from Richmond having a chance at A-10 Player of the Year because there’s so much parity: Blake Francis, Jacob Gilyard, and Nick Sherod are all playing so well this year, especially shooting the three ball. If I had to pick one, Francis is leading the pack. Francis is shooting 42.4% from deep this year and has arguably been the most vital in marquee matchups. The junior scored 19 against Wisconsin and 29 against Hampton most recently; though he was somewhat of a non-factor against Auburn, no one on Richmond really shot the ball well that game. Francis is a great shooter who’s been taking care of the basketball as well. He’s not just a three point threat though; when he drives the lane and gets fouled, he’s shooting free throws at an 81.8% clip.
Saint Louis’ 6’3″ guard is tied for 2nd in the conference in rebounding with teammate Hasahn French at 10.4 boards per contest; Goodwin is also 7th in the league in scoring at 15.9 points per contest, meaning the guard is comfortably averaging a double-double through 8 games. Goodwin, like most players under Travis Ford, is as good on defense as he is on offense, and he’s been making opponents pay for poor passes and sloppy dribbling. Goodwin’s free throw shooting is an uphill battle he’ll look to continue working on as the junior does get to the line often. With Javonte Perkins rising up as a go-to scorer as well though, some of the pressure will be taken off Goodwin’s shoulders on that end of the floor.
I thought Marcus Evans’ name would be on this list at this point, but Marcus Santos-Silva has clearly been VCU’s best player this season. The junior is leading the Rams in scoring and rebounding at 13.8 points and 9.5 boards per contest. He’s currently 2nd on the team in steal percentage behind De’Riante Jenkins, and and he’s shooting 62.5% from the floor this season. My only complaint with VCU is when they don’t get him the ball often enough; he’s been such a spark in the low post, and he cleans up his teammates’ misses on the offensive end at an impressive rate. Santos-Silva will keep bullying his opponents on the block.
Considered, but some work to do
Kellan Grady, Jacob Gilyard, Cyril Langevine, Sincere Carry, Marcus Evans, Hasahn French, TJ Weeks