We’re 5 games (6 for Mason and St. Joseph’s) into the conference season, and there haven’t been too many surprises yet; Saint Louis, VCU, Davidson, and Dayton are a combined 17-3 with only one loss coming to a team outside of that group (Saint Joseph’s over Davidson). George Mason and Duquesne are a combined 9-2 as well with 0 losses to anyone other than the 4 aforementioned teams. The top dogs have taken care of the bottom feeders thus far, and that’s not something we often see in conference play. Usually, someone with a poor record trips up someone with a strong record, and everything unravels. But, to reiterate, we are just 5 games into the conference season, and a lot of top teams have tricky tests ahead of them. Who’s going to see their early success flop, and who’s going to improve?
Before anyone gets wildly confused by this post, I want to emphasize that “buy, sell, hold” is referencing where a team’s conference record is likely to go from here. Note: if I say “buy Massachusetts,” and “sell Saint Louis,” that does not mean I think the Minutemen are going to finish higher than the Billikens. It just means that a 5-0 start for SLU isn’t likely to hold through upcoming rough patches of a conference schedule and Massachusetts’ 0-5 record is bound to get better with some cupcakes on the horizon.
Sell: Saint Louis (5-0)
If you didn’t skip the last paragraph, I should’ve given you a spoiler alert. At 5-0, you should probably sell Saint Louis, but not all of its stock, as the Billikens are still a sexy pick to take the conference crown. I’m loving the girt this team displays, and I’ll even go as far to say that this team looks better without Carte’Are Gordon (I think team chemistry and morale is up big time). However, this team entered conference play at 83 according to Kenpom and has now fallen to 91, meaning its not covering its spreads. Look at the Fordham game as evidence for that. I’m not saying SLU has to beat teams like Fordham by 20 to be a conference favorite, but the way inferior opponents have stuck around is a bit concerning. In the next 4 games, SLU has to face Rhode Island and Duquesne on the road as well as Davidson at home. I think it’s safe to say we’ll know a lot more about this team in 2 weeks; if Saint Louis gets to 7-1 or 8-0 after that stretch, that would be a major positive for this group.
Sell: George Mason (5-1)
4 of George Mason’s next 3 games are on the road, and 2 of those 3 are against VCU and Dayton. I can’t help but think that Mason’s 5-1 start (though very impressive) won’t lead to a 2nd place finish in the Atlantic 10. The Patriots survived disaster on Saturday night, taking down Fordham at the buzzer thanks to Otis Livingston II. While GMU has been great on the road, and Rhode Island was probably their best win of the season, they’ll have to prove their legitimacy against the top 4: SLU, Davidson, VCU, Dayton.
Buy: VCU (4-1)
I’m buying VCU where its at, and if the Rams can survive 2 road games against Duquesne and Rhode Island this week, you’ll see that stock price shoot up even more. The Rams don’t have the most difficult schedule remaining, as they get to face SLU at home but also have to travel to face Dayton, but they’ll certainly be tested away from home. From a Kenpom perspective, VCU is the best team in the conference, and from an at-large perspective, they’re the most likely to make the NCAA Tournament. For those reasons, as well as the majority of the road game against Davidson, I have to think VCU is still the favorite to win the conference this year.
Hold: Dayton (4-1)
I might buy Dayton for the next 4 games and sell them right after, but long term, I think we’re holding this team’s stock. At 4-1, Dayton is pretty much where we’d expect it to be, and a 2OT win over the Bonnies in Olean makes 4-1 feel a lot better than 3-2. The next 4 contests represent some great chances for wins where the Flyers will be favorites: at home against Mason, Saint Joseph’s, and Duquesne, and then on the road against Fordham. But the conference schedule will get difficult after that, and Dayton is going to have to win some battles. Realistically, I think Dayton finished around 3rd or 4th in the conference, but they could easily win the league too.
Buy: Davidson (4-1)
With arguably the easiest schedule remaining, this is the biggest buy in my book. Davidson already survived George Mason on the road and VCU at home, and after a SLU road trip this week, their toughest remaining games are on the road against Rhode Island, on the road against St. Bonaventure, and at home against Dayton — all of which will be winnable. Davidson (somewhat) lucked out in only having to play Dayton, VCU, George Mason, and Saint Louis once. I say “somewhat,” because the Wildcats don’t give themselves many opportunities to make any sort of at-large case by beating teams like Fordham and Richmond twice. However, it means Davidson has a real good shot at the regular season conference title. Unfortunately, in terms of NCAA Tournament implications, a regular season crown doesn’t mean a whole lot in a down Atlantic 10.
Sell: Duquesne (4-1)
I love Duquesne and what this program has been doing, but I gotta sell them at this point. They’re next 2 games are at home against Saint Louis and VCU, and then the Dukes have to face Dayton twice, Saint Louis again, and George Mason on the road. Duquesne has been very solid with a strong conference record, but their 163rd Kenpom ranking indicates to me that they’ve honestly gotten a little lucky. At 3-0 in OT games this year, you can count on the Dukes closing it out in tight battles. Will they slip up against one of the bottom teams? Only time will tell.
Hold: Rhode Island (3-2)
I’ll hold the Rams where they are, as I think URI is going to finish right in the middle of the pack this year. Rhody has taken care of business on the road in games it should win: La Salle and Richmond (oddly both by a score of 78-67). The Rams have one of the more difficult schedules remaining, and they’re going to get some battles. Lucky for them, some of those games are at home, and they’ll have a chance to steal some wins over the top 4-5.
Hold: St. Bonaventure (2-3)
I’ll also hold St. Bonaventure. I like the Bonnies, and Courtney Stockard almost single-handedly derailed the Dayton train on Saturday, but I’m not sure the Bonnies have enough role players to make any noise higher than 7th or 8th when the final conference standings roll around. This week will be very telling in 2 straight road games against similar opponents.
Sell: George Washington (2-3)
The Colonials have made clear improvements and have played with more toughness in recent games. A near comeback win over Duquesne in Foggy Bottom speaks to that. However, as the last ranked team in the Atlantic 10 in Kenpom, I have to think GW will regress and fall down the standings, especially with a difficult schedule coming up.
Hold: Richmond (1-4)
Richmond’s got home games against George Washington, La Salle, and Fordham remaining, which makes me think they’ll get somewhere between 5-7 wins this season. I’m not sure I see many beyond that, but the Spiders aren’t going to get it done unless Grant Golden is firing on all cylinders. He wasn’t much of a factor in the 2nd half of a game at Davidson.
Hold: La Salle (1-4)
I’ll hold La Salle’s stock at 1-4. They almost beat VCU on the road, they put up a heck of a fight against Saint Louis at home, and they had GW at home for awhile before the Colonials made a comeback. I think this team is playing slightly better than its 1-4 record indicates.
Buy: Saint Joseph’s (1-5)
Saint Joseph’s is bound to win more basketball games, and it is the only reason Davidson has one loss on its record. The Hawks are one of those teams that are streaky enough with their shooting to either get crushed or pull off a big upset. The former was the case against Saint Louis this past Friday, but it looks like this team is starting to figure things out.
Buy: Massachusetts (0-5)
It will get better for Massachusetts. They’ve looked a heck of a lot better than 0-5, considering they’ve already played VCU, Dayton, and Saint Louis on the road. The Minutemen will have a softer schedule coming up where they’ll start to put some wins together.
Hold: Fordham (0-5)
I’d maybe consider buying a bit of Fordham stock, considering they’ve played their last 4 opponents very close and probably should have beat George Mason. A home game against La Salle this week is a solid opportunity to get that first win of the conference season.