We are officially halfway through the conference season and one game past that for four Atlantic 10 teams. Let’s hand out some awards!
Player of the First Half of the Year Award: TJ Cline (Richmond)
There is a reason Richmond is 7-3 and right on the heels of VCU and Dayton for the A-10 lead: TJ Cline. The senior forward does it all for the Spiders and is arguably the A-10’s most versatile player. Cline leads the league in both assist rate and defensive rebound percentage in conference play. Think about that. He ranks top-five on the year in points, rebounds and assists and is averaging 19.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists in conference play while his season numbers are outperforming those of last year’s A-10 Player of the Year, DeAndre Bembry, a first round pick in last year’s NBA Draft. Has your team played Cline this year and have you thought, “man, I can’t wait for him to graduate”? Well, that’s because you respect how good the guy is, so far the frontrunner for A-10 Player of the Year.
Coach of the First Half of the Year Award: Archie Miller (Dayton)
Some of you are probably thinking, “yeah but look how Paulsen is turning around Mason” or “Chris Mooney has Richmond…RICHMOND… in the running for an A-10 regular season title”, both fair points. But I don’t think a guy like Archie Miller should be penalized for recruiting well and consistently having his teams in the running for NCAA tournament bids. He should instead be rewarded for helping the entire conference. Miller’s Flyers put together the best non-conference resume and thanks to a nice start to A-10 play as well, are the league’s highest ranked team by both the RPI and Kenpom. Sure, they returned a bunch of talent, but UD has also had to win through injuries to key players, not to mention have had to play with heavy hearts after the recent passing of teammate Steve McElvene. Four of the Flyers five losses came against top-100 teams and all but once of UD’s losses were within five points. He’s my frontrunner halfway through the season and I think with an A-10 regular season title will claim the final Coach of the Year award as well.
Defensive Player of the First Half of the Year Award: Hassan Martin (Rhode Island)
Is there a badder mofo in this league than Hassan Martin? I’m not sure there is (although I’m not picking fights with Mo Alie-Cox or Rashan Holloway either). The senior Ram looks to defend his Defensive Player of the Year award from last season with even better defense, seeing his blocks percentage rise this year to a career-high 13.1%, good for fifth nationally and first in the Atlantic 10. What’s even more impressive is Martin not only blocks shots at an insane rate, but typically avoids foul trouble in the process. That’s hard to do. Martin crashes the defensive glass but also helps create easier boards for teammates Kuran Iverson and Cyril Langevine as well. Dude is just the truth and should be a lock for not only a Defensive Player of the Year award but for a First Team selection as well. Don’t be surprised when he makes his way onto an NBA roster next season as well.
Rookie of the First Half of the Year Award: De’Monte Buckingham (Richmond)
I said TJ Cline was the reason Richmond has been competitive in the A-10, which is true, but perhaps the biggest reason Richmond didn’t take a huge step back after losing Terry Allen this offseason has been the promising freshman campaign of Richmond native De’Monte Buckingham. While there are several worth candidates for this award (UMass’ Dejon Jarreau, Duquesen’s Mike Lewis, VCU’s Samir Doughty, etc), I ultimately go with Buck because the kid has been the most efficient of the group and basically does it all for Richmond. Buckingham has essentially stepped in as a 6’4 freshman in place of 6’8 senior Terry Allen and Richmond has been better. That’s impressive. The scary thing is just how good this kid can eventually be as well, progressing through the season to average 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in conference games while posting an A-10 true shooting percentage of 58.4%. Simply put, this isn’t just a volume freshman getting shots up on a bad team. This is an efficient contributor who is the future of Richmond Spiders basketball.
Most improved of the First Half of the Year Award: Jordan Roland (George Washington)
One of my current favorite “sleeper players”, Roland went from a rarely-used blip on the A-10 radar last season to a efficient contributor for this year’s rebuilding GW team. Roland averaged just 4.9 minutes as a freshman under Mike Lonergan, shipping in just over one free throw’s worth of points per game (1.2) while shooting just 24.4% from the field. After one offseason and one coaching change, he’s taken his offensive rating from 86.1 to an impressive 124.7, with a 124.3 A-10 o-rating that currently ranks fourth in the conference. Roland hit just two of his 14 three-point attempts last season but is now shooting a red-hot 46.9% in-conference, the third most accurate deep ball scorer in the A-10. In short, the guy has been more than twice as good as he was last year and has a very bright future ahead of him.
Best “Sleeper” Player of the First Half of the Year Award: Marquell Lodge (Saint Joseph’s)
You know what gets me off, I mean REALLY gets me off? Efficiency. Lodge isn’t really grabbing headlines but I got so much respect for a player who is young but efficient and kinda just does his thing. Lodge is averaging just 4.9 points and 4.1 rebounds as a sophomore but checks in at No.1 in the A-10 among qualified players with a 148.8 in-conference offensive rating. He’s season o-rating checks in at 132.5, technically No.1 among all A-10 players and No.15 nationally. What? Why? Well, for starters he has hit 79.3% of his 29 attempts in A-10 play and is shooting 73.4% on the season. He doesn’t turn it over and he crashes the glass on both sides of the ball when he’s in the game. Keep an eye on Lodge this year and next because I think there’s a decent chance down the road he could be a real breakout candidate for the Hawks. In the meantime I’ll just admire his quiet efficiency from my couch in Richmond, VA.
Favorite Player of the First Half of the Year Award: Rashaan Holloway (UMass)
Is he technically the best player? Maybe not. But I don’t know, maybe he kind of is. Either way, Rashaan Holloway may not end up as an all-conference player, but I love this kid’s game. You can’t coach 6’11 310 and when you get 6’11 310 to coach, then he ranks top-7 in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage, ranks third in fouls drawn and 10th in two-point percentage, you’ve got yourself a player to build around. Holloway is a force in the paint and the one college hooper I’ve seen both Mo Alie-Cox and Hassan Martin request help on. His ceiling is absolutely through the roof. If Dererk Kellog can continue to get this guy in even better shape while figuring out a way to limit his fouling, watch out.
Best Dance Team of the First Half of the Year: Gold Rush (VCU)
Mat’s Halfway There All-Conference First Team
TJ Cline (Richmond) – See above (no, not the dance team…the POY stuff). Cline has been sensational for Richmond and has won one national Player of the Week award already this season. He is one of the best offensive players this conference has seen and can score from anywhere on the court (minus maybe the free throw line, but still). Think of how well the Spiders are playing right now in the A-10 then try to imagine them without Cline.
Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure) – Pop quiz: How many A-10 players rank in the top-3 in the conference in points, assists and steals? Answer: one…Jaylen Adams. He’ll may be Cline’s biggest competition for POY come March.
Peyton Aldridge (Davidson) – Still somehow so underrated. Aldridge ranks second in the A-10 in scoring behind only teammate Jack Gibbs but ranks in the top-10 in rebounds, field goal percentage and three-point percentage as well. Aldridge’s 125.1 offensive rating in A-10 player check in at No.3 in the conference, as does his true shooting percentage of 64%. Unbelievable talent and a matchup nightmare in the A-10.
Hassan Martin (Rhode Island) – This may be my most controversial pick, but I just love the idea of having the league’s Defensive Player of the Year as a First Team selection. Martin is hands down the league’s best defender but has also been one of the conference’s most efficient offensive players as well. Underrated Martin stat: Martin’s 6.3 fouls drawn per 40 minutes ranks 3rd in the conference. So not only does he defend, but he gets other teams in foul trouble. The guy just does all the dirty work, all the little things, while the league’s top scorers are the ones that somehow always collect the First Team awards. There is so much more to basketball than being a volume shooter and I hope that is something the A-10 voters will recognize this March.
Final spot via fan vote: Marquise Moore (George Mason) – Choosing the five best players in the conference is hard, y’all! There are so many players worthy of a First Team selection but the four above were the ones I was most sure of. This final spot could’ve been filled but a number of folks including guys like ShawnDre’ Jones, B.J. Johnson and Matt Mobley but in the end I put this one out to vote among these four candidates: Marquise Moore, Jack Gibbs, Charles Cooke and Justin Tillman. 272 people voted in the two hours the poll was active and Moore came out on top with 30% of the vote, just beating out Cooke who pulled in 28%. Here’s the key stat for Moore: dude is 6’2 and he’s the only A-10 player with a double-double average, 17.4 points and 10.5 rebounds. Moore has had to carry a huge load for the Patriots and is a one of the main reasons they went from an 11-win team last season to a 14-win group so far with at least 10 games to go.