Welcome to A10 Talk’s Top Pre-Season Top 25 Player Countdown for the 2016-17 season. Each day, we’ll be publishing a new article counting down our best 25 players for the coming season. Today, we feature #6 T.J. Cline of Richmond.
What He’s Done
T.J. Cline has done quite a bit in his tenure with the Spiders. The rising senior was undoubtedly underrated, averaging 18.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. Cline had 12 performances with at least 20 points last season, and he notched a career-high 36 points against Dayton in early March. Yet, T.J. Cline didn’t receive all the credit he deserved. The junior only made the A-10 All-Conference Third Team despite his incredible 2015-16 season with Richmond.
When you think of T.J. Cline, you always think of efficiency. As a junior, Cline shot 63.5% from two point range which ranked 35th in the nation in that category. His 28.1 assist rate ranked 126th in the nation; though he committed 2.3 turnovers per game, he was still very effective whenever he had the ball in his hand. According to Kenpom, Cline had the 10th best offensive rating in the conference last season. As a 6-9 forward who can shoot the ball from anywhere, Cline poses as a very dangerous threat going into the 2016-17 season.
If you need to be reminded just how good of a player Cline was last year, check out his junior season highlights.
What He’ll Do
So where does Cline go from here? He’s already proven himself in terms of his stats; it’s unlikely that any of his numbers are going to rise significantly, though he may pick up some scoring slack left by the absences of Terry Allen and Trey Davis. But it’s not in the stat line where T.J. Cline has to take the next step to becoming one of the best in the league. T.J. Cline is going to have to win his Spiders some key games this season.
Richmond seemingly had all of the pieces to the puzzle last season: a solid backcourt, effective shooters, and two major scoring threats in T.J. Cline and Terry Allen. One of the biggest surprises of the A-10 last year may have been that the Spiders were unable to break .500 overall. All in all, Richmond played the conference’s best teams well but was unable to sneak away with an upset win. The Spiders went 0-5 against the conference’s top 3 teams, and they also lost to George Mason twice. That right there is enough to keep this team far away from an NCAA Tournament berth.
T.J. Cline has as much skill as any other player in the league, but it seems like this may be his year to take things to the next level. If Cline can emerge as a clutch player who takes control of games and finds a way to pull some big upsets, he and the Spiders could move in the right direction. We’ve seen the leadership in Cline, and if anyone’s fit to bring this team back to the Big Dance, it’s gotta be him. It certainly won’t be easy for Richmond to take a leap forward this season, but it’s certainly not out of the question. Cline is going to need to bring this team together and continue being the star performer that he is. If Richmond finds a way to win some close games and pull out victories over the tough teams, they’ll have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament once again.
Previously: #7 JeQuan Lewis