It felt great to have the A-10 back on the court with 10 Atlantic 10 schools in action on Friday night. We’ll get our first look at four more schools today, but first, here’s some premature judgement based off just one game of action for the 10 teams that tipped it up last night.
WELCOME BACK, E.C.
It was one game and a game against Dartmouth, but what I loved about the Rams yesterday was the efficiency from EC Matthews. Matthews has gotten a lot of love nationally but struggled with turnovers and three-point shooting his first two seasons of DI ball. Last night was a bit of another story however, as EC connected on nine of his 12 attempts including 2-3 from distance while only fumbling it twice on offense. The result was a 147 o-rating on the game, his second highest of his career. Again, it’s Dartmouth and the Rams went an ugly 5-20 from deep, but you gotta love what a healthy EC Matthews does for both Rhode Island and the conference in general.
HOLLOWAY HAS BIG GAME FOR UMASS
We saw flashes of what Rashaan Holloway could do for UMass toward the end of last season and saw what Minutemen will now expect after a big game last night. The 6’11 335 sophomore led UMass with a game-high and career-high 21 points in last night’s 90-76 win and offers up a glimpse of how dangerous UMass could be in the future. Despite a so-so showing in his nine seasons at UMass, head coach Derek Kellogg has been landing some huge pickups for the Minutemen on the recruiting trail as of late. We know that the potential for those guys is great, but to see what Holloway — an under-recruited monster out of Elmer, NJ — did last night, suggests the Minutemen could eventually elevate the middle/bottom of the conference, making the A-10 an even deeper league and a conference that will compete for even more NCAA tournament bids going forward.
SPIDERS SURVIVE BUT AGAIN SHOW SERIOUS FLAW
It was one game, but combined with a preseason matchup against Virginia Union and a 2015-16 season of lots of the same, Richmond’s rebounding issues should give UofR fans serious concern. The Spiders got a huge night out of seniors ShawnDre’ Jones (31 points) and TJ Cline (15) and played a deeper bench than usual, but saw a tie game before Jones sealed it at the line with just three ticks left in the 72-69 win. Once again Richmond lost the battle of the boards and narrowly escaped a bad VMI team in a home win despite a solid shooting night and the huge scoring performance from Jones. It was the same formula from the previous season but now with a team that doesn’t include key big Terry Allen. The Spiders will need an improved showing Monday night or their first L is on deck against in-state rival ODU at the Robins Center.
GW SHOWS SIGNS OF POTENTIAL ROLLER COASTER SEASON
I think last night’s narrow win over a terrible UMES team was a snapshot of perhaps what we can expect from this year’s completely rebuilt GW group. The Colonials started the game strong, stretching a 10-point halftime lead all the way to 19, only to see the Hawks claw back to make things interesting with two minutes to play. I think that’ll be GW this year. They’ll be up-and-down. Behind Tyler Cavanough, Maurice Joseph’s group could knock off the best of the A-10 on a good night or perhaps lose to the worst team on their schedule. They host Sienna this Tuesday with kenpom giving them a 59% chance of victory. My money would be on the Saints in that one, but a Colonials home win would be a welcome sign and reason for optimism.
LA SALLE SHOWS IMPROVEMENT IN BIG 5 ROAD LOSS
While the Explorers couldn’t pull of a road win last night, they showed they will compete in this year’s Atlantic 10. Transfers Pookie Powell and BJ Johnson combined for 40 points to help Jordan Price and Co. dump 92 on the Owls in an OT loss. Long story short: the Explorers have reloaded and should be a top-half A-10 team, as expected, this season. Gimme the Fightin’ Gianninis in their next five games for what should be a 5-1 start (although we all know that’s never how things work out).
VCU SIMPLIFIES, BOUNCES BACK
VCU’s strength coming into this season after losing leading scorer Melvin Johnson was found in their frontcourt. The Rams got away from that in their exhibition opener and dropped a stunner to DII Queens on a game winning Royals bucket. Will Wade made it a point of emphasis to play a more controlled, frontcourt oriented game in the Rams’ home-opener against last year’s Big South champ, UNC Asheville, and that’s exactly what they did. VCU went inside to to bigs Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman for a combined 29 points on 12-18 shooting in a 15-point win, connecting on 55.4% of their field goals as a team. If the Rams do more of the same going forward they should be just fine and once again an NCAA tournament hopeful.
SLU, FORDHAM DROP EXPECTED LOSSES BUT IN DISAPPOINTING FASHION
Here’s the reality: both Fordham and SLU were SUPPOSED to lose last night. But what stings is not only did they lose, they were embarrassed. Travis Ford made his Billiken debute with a 21-point home loss to an underrated Ball State team. Fordham went on the road to get annihilated at East Tennessee State. Both were respectable opponents despite their low Q ratings, but both shouldn’t have beaten up A-10 teams that badly. Fordham’s loss came thanks to a Swiss cheese D that I could’ve scored double-digits on. SLU didn’t come close to resembling a DI offense and unfortunately did so at the same time Ball State couldn’t miss from deep. Rams, Billikens, ya looked terrible.
DUQUESNE IN FOR A LONG SEASON
Good news: Dukes won. Bad news: They look terrible. Duquesne survived Loyola MD, leading by just a bucket with 3:05 to play. It’s the second straight game they’ve looked bad against a bad opponent, previously dropping their exhibition opener to DII Mansfield. “But Mat, VCU lost to a DII team and you like them!” It’s true, the Rams lost to DII Queens in their opener but there are a few differences here: 1) VCU is coming of a Round of 32 NCAA tourney season where they loss a tournament road game by 4 to a Final 4 team 2) VCU bounced back by beating a 2016 NCAA tourney team by double-digits and 3) Queens was a DII NCAA tourney team last year that averaged 86 ppg and received votes in this year’s preseason poll (they can shooter the leather off the ball) while Mansfield went 6-21 last year in Division II. We’re rooting for the Dukes but the sample we’ve seen from them this year suggest their only strength from last season (a bit of offense) no longer exists. Expect Duquesne to compete for a 14th seed in this year’s A-10 tournament.
DAYTON ANSWERS EXHIBITION CONCERNS
An A-10 theme early this season has been teams struggling against DII teams in exhibition openers. Dayton is a part of that group but bounced back big with a throttling of Austin Peay. The usual suspects did what we’ve come to expect while newcomer Josh Cunningham added some extra excitement to this year’s team. Cunningham will hope to become the new Charles Cooke (alongside Charles Cooke) and will look to ease the loss of Dyshawn Pierre. So far so good. Cunningham’s foul trouble hampered him against the Governors but his 13 points (5-6 shooting) and 6 rebounds in just 19 minutes should scare a lot of A-10 teams. The Flyers hope to have senior Kendall Pollard rejoin the lineup this week, just in time for a tricky road contest at Alabama, a team UD beat by 32 points this past season.