Night of upsets leaves conference race wide open

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What a crazy night of hoops. Three favorites at the top of the league fell, leaving a four-way tie for first and half of the league very much in the mix with seven games left in Atlantic 10 play.

Three of last night’s five contests were decided by two points or less with another needing double-overtime to decide a winner.

VCU and Rhode Island both dropped opportunities for a one-game lead in conference play. The black and gold Rams dropped a home game bounce-back opportunity to La Salle as VCU’s young core continues to struggle without seniors Briante Weber and Treveon Graham. Rhode Island let a golden opportunity slip when Saint Joseph’s guard, Chris Wilson, nailed a three-point dagger with seven seconds to play.

That leaves VCU, Dayton, Rhode Island and UMass all notched up at 8-3, with Davidson and GW just behind at 7-4 and Richmond, St. Bonaventure and La Salle all lurking just behind at 6-5.

VCU STRUGGLING WITHOUT SENIOR LEADERS

Ram fans knew there would be some drop in production without senior leaders Treveon Graham and Briante Weber, but in two games without the dynamic duo, the Rams have looked like a bottom-half A-10 team. VCU has hit just 35.3% of their buckets in their two full games without those key starters. As a new team that would rank dead last in the conference, 5% below the Rams of Fordham. Defensively the Rams are holding teams to 44.1% shooting without the two, a stat that would put them 11th in the league. Graham is day-to-day for the Rams. A loss this Saturday at GW would give VCU their first three-game losing streak since the 04-05 season.

HAWKS PLAYING SPOILER IN HOME GAMES

Hagan Arena hasn’t shown much brotherly love to visiting teams in A-10 play this season. Saint Joseph’s knocked off Rhode Island in a minor upset Wednesday night, giving the Hawks their fifth consecutive A-10 home win. Three of those wins have come over the likes of Rhody, Davidson and UMass, three teams vying for a top-four seed in this year’s conference tournament. Unfortunately for Martelli and Co., that winning hasn’t translated to the road as SJU is a winless 0-5 in A-10 road games this season. They have proven capable of beating the conference’s top teams but will they play spoiler to the likes of Dayton, UMass and Rhode Island, three key road games left on Saint Joseph’s schedule?

SPIDERS SURVIVE FORDHAM WITHOUT NELSON-ODODA

Richmond avoided what would have been a brutal home loss last night, outlasting Fordham, 73-71. The Spiders played their first game without shot-blocker, Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, and perhaps not surprisingly surrendered 55.5% shooting inside the arc to Fordham. This could be a troubling stat/sign for Richmond fans as the Spiders are very much in the mix at 6-5 but have back-t0-back road games against two very large teams in St. Bonaventure and George Mason, followed by a home contest against George Washington and VCU. Is a collapse imminent?

JORDAN PRICE DOMINANT IN WIN

La Salle’s Jordan Price was simply brilliant in the Explorers road win at VCU last night. The sophomore posted an insane 34-point, 18-rebound performance, adding five assists in the win. What’s more, Price scored all 12 of the Explorer’s 12 points in the second OT to carry La Salle to the win. Price currently sits at third in the conference at 17.3 points per game and is making a serious case for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year in just his first season in the league.

UMASS A-10’s HOTTEST TEAM

Don’t look now, but the Minutemen have reeled of five consecutive wins after last night’s 2-point W at St. Bonaventure. UMass attacked the paint and were able to hit 53.1% of their 2-point attempts against a Bonnies team that ranks 60th nationally in defending those shots. UMass was just one game over .500 prior to this run and after hosting Duquesne on Saturday hit the road to play games at Rhode Island and VCU.

DOWN YEAR FOR THE A-10

Let’s face it, this isn’t the best season for the league. With VCU’s loss Wednesday night the conference most likely is headed completely out of the top-25 and has zero teams in kenpom’s top-30. VCU still ranks 13th in the RPI and has a lofty strength of schedule but is the only Atlantic 10 team in the top-35 of the RPI. The league’s best bet for multiple bids could be a strong finish from Shaka Smart and Co. but a tournament trophy to another team. Otherwise the league could be flirting heavily with one-bid status just a season after sending six teams to the NCAA tournament. ESPN analyst, Joe Linardi, has just two teams currently in his bracket: VCU rapidly dropping in seeding as a 6-seed with Dayton in as a 9-seed. Strong finishes from VCU and Dayton with a surprise tourney title run from someone else could be the league’s best-case scenario for three.

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About Author

Mat Shelton-Eide has been involved in college athletics since 2007, starting as a co-founder of VCURamNation.com where he covered the Rams all the way to Houston as the one-time CAA darling shocked the hoops world with a historic run to the Final 4. He has worked within two Atlantic 10 athletic departments, first as a graduate assistant in the VCU Sports Information Department during the '09-'10 basketball season, then after receiving his M.Ed. from VCU's Center for Sport Leadership, as a ticketing and marketing intern in the University of Richmond's athletic department during the inaugural season of Richmond's Robins Stadium, months before the Spiders 2011 Sweet 16 run.

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