Today is one of the absolute BEST days of the college basketball season. Why? Because it’s the point of the season when the rhetoric is highest while the proof on the floor is next to non-existent. That makes for some great preseason debate, and with today’s official 2015-16 preseason rankings and All-Conference Selections, that’s exactly what we get to do.
INITIAL RANKING REACTIONS
Biggest snub – Richmond
The Spiders were one of only two A-10 teams to finish in the top-five last in in conference play in both offensive (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). They also finished fourth in last season’s final standings due to head-to-head tie-breaking wins (2) over VCU before losing to the Rams in Brooklyn (barely). They ended last year’s regular season on a six-game winning streak including victories of both VCU and George Washington. TJ Cline, Terry Allen and ShawnDre’ Jones are as good of a trio as you will find in this conference and I think the Spiders probably deserved to be picked to finish 4th heading into the season.
Biggest reach – George Washington
Look, I’m not saying GW isn’t going to be good, but what drunk GW grad gave the Colonials a first place vote? Yes, the Colonials return some very nice pieces, Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino in particular, but the Buff & Blue finished 10-8 last season in conference including a 2-7 record against this year’s preseason top-6. Their two wins were both at home and both in overtime, not exactly convincing and certainly not enough to convince me they come anywhere close to being in consideration for a vote atop the Atlantic 10. Six of GW’s eight A-10 losses last season were by double digits. The Colonials lost eight of their last 13 games against Atlantic 10 opponents, the losses coming by an average defeat margin of 11.4 points. Teams like Davidson and Richmond seemed to be punished this preseason for losing key players like Tyler Kalinoski and Kendal Anthony while somehow voters managed to forget GW’s most used player and second leading scorer, Kethan Savage, now plays his college basketball at Butler University. I don’t get it.
Fordham v Saint Louis
I’m not convinced Fordham is the worst team in this conference. If anyone was paying attention they would have noticed the Rams trending in a pretty positive direction toward the end of last season, even without Eric Paschall when they almost upset VCU before the southern Rams went on to win the whole tournament. Fordham won five of their last 11 games, including an 18-point blowout win over SLU, a 14-point dub over Saint Joseph’s, a 15-point victory over La Salle and two double-digit wins over George Mason. Their losses were at Richmond, at Davidson, at UMass and at SBU with a bit of a home head-scratcher to Duquesne thrown in before Pecora’s bunch lost to VCU in Brooklyn by just six points after leading late. Saint Louis on the other hand won just three Atlantic 10 games last season, two of which were home overtime wins with the other being a single-digit home win against Duquesne. Their last two home games were losses to George Mason and St. Bonaventure by 28 and 16 points. I think SLU deserves the cellar more than Fordham, even if we still aren’t used to that yet.
Rankings with last season’s preseason ranking and A-10 finish
1. Dayton (3, 2)
2. Rhode Island (6, 3)
3. Davidson (12, 1)
4. GW (2, 6)
5. VCU (1, 5) (A-10 tournament champs)
6. Richmond (5, 4)
7. Saint Joseph’s (8, 10)
8. St. Bonaventure (10, 7)
9. La Salle (7, 9)
10. UMass (4, 8)
11. Duquesne (11, 11)
12. Saint Louis (9, 14)
13. George Mason (13, 13)
14. Fordham (14, 12)
-Three of last season’s All-Defensive preseason players made the All-Defensive team following that season (Garino, Martin, Weber, with Alie-Cox and Ndoye replacing Zack and Nelson-Ododa from the preseason list).
-Four of last season’s Preseason First Team were First Team selections that following March with Kalinoski replacing Garino and Weber falling off due to the mid-season injury that did not prevent him from making the All-Defensive team. That Davidson additions proved to be the party crashers throughout, with Kalinoski, Gibbs and Sullivan all earning All-Conference honors after being left of the preseason list.
TJ Cline (Richmond) – His 60.3% true shooting percentage was one of the best in the Atlantic 10 last season as the 6’8 forward connected on 60.5% of his 185 attempts inside the arc and 38.8% of his 129 attempts outside of it. Cline ranked eights in the conference in three-point percentage at 6’8 240 and is one of the most underrated passers in the Atlantic 10.
Dion Wright (St. Bonaventure) – Wright posted offensive ratings of 100 or higher in all of St. Bonaventure’s final 17 games and had only four games on the season where he dipped below 100. Statistically you just gotta love what the 6’7 forward can do and he’ll be an even more leaned on piece for the Bonnies this season in Olean.
Joran Barham (Davidson) – Barham is basically what happens when you have too many good players on one team, someone gets left out, sits in the shadows even though they deserve more recognition. Barham’s 120.3 o-rating last season ranked third in the conference behind two guys he played with named Gibbs and Kalinoski. His per-40 average of 21.9 points per contest was the best on Davidson’s team last season, making the explosive 6’4 guard/forward one of the most efficient players in the Atlantic 10. That’s not good enough for your First Team? I’ll take him on mine.
Derrick Colter (Duquesne) – You gotta love this guy. Forgetting for a second the magic he works on the court, Colter was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer that fights the lymphatic system, a cancer for Colter that is now on the losing end of the biggest win of Colter’s life. On the court the 5’11 guard returns as the Dukes leading scorer and an efficient one at that, finishing last season with a 42.6% three-point percentage after connecting on 60 of his 141 attempts from long range. Duquense won six of their final 12 games of last season including wins over the likes of Dayton and George Washington. If they can build on that you are certain to hear a lot more about just how good Derrick Colter really is.
Justin Tillman (VCU) – Tillman is your typical young player on a deep, good team, meaning they don’t get the freshman shine of the constantly rebuilding squads (for example: three of last year’s All-Rookie selections were from bottom-feeders Fordham and SLU), but are essentially superior talent buried on a deeper roster. The Detroit native averaged just 12.3 minutes on a Shaka Smart-led Rams team that rarely employed much size last season. This year Will Wade returns to VCU with a taste for beef, and that’s great news for the former top-100 prospect who was a high school stat machine. In a limited sample his numbers are virtually identical of those of the freshman version of Rhode Island’s Hassan Martin, who is physically almost identical as well outside of Tillman’s trademark afro. If he gets the minutes I expect him to get, he’s going to open a ton of eyes and create some of the league’s best highlights next season on both offense and defense (like Martin).