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Quick hits: Super sophs, Spider bounce-back and the VCU advantage

CAN OFFENSE SAVE THE SPIDER MEN?

Richmond is off to a tough 2-3 start against a very challenging opening A-10 schedule. The Spiders have two home losses, which puts them in catchup mode and may force them to steal some road contests in order to be a top-four A-10 team by year’s end. But here’s why I think they are still a scary Atlantic 10 team: Richmond’s 58.3% A-10 effective field goal percentage, a percentage they’ve posted against a schedule that includes three of the conference’s top defenses (Rhody, VCU, Saint Joseph’s), is the best A-10 EFG% since Jameer Nelson and his Saint Joseph’s Hawks posted a 60.5% EFG% in 2004.

Richmond's offense is off to a historic start in conference play. But will their defense doom them this season?
Richmond’s offense is off to a historic start in conference play, but will their defense doom them this season?

The Spiders will however most definitely need to improve their defense (Saint Joseph’s defense ranked No.1 in 2004 as well). Doing so could put them on a similar track to say, the 2013-14 Dayton Flyers, who after starting 1-5 thanks to an almost mirror schedule to this year’s Richmond Spiders, finished the conference season at 10-6 (with an A-10 tourney loss to eventual champ, Saint Joseph’s), then made an Elite 8 run, all-be-it with a more balanced offense/defense comb than this year’s Spiders. Richmond’s offense alone however will make them no fun for opposing teams. So don’t be fooled by their sub-500 start to conference play, because before you know it, your team may very well be looking up at the Spiders in the conference standings.

VCU ROAD WINS COULD ALLOW RAMS TO PUSH A-10 PACE

If you want to compete for a top spot in your conference the formula is simple: hold serve at home, beat the teams you are supposed to beat and steal a good win or two on the road. So far VCU is off to a good start toward putting together a winning recipe, already securing the rarest of those ingredients in grabbing two top-100 road wins (at Saint Joseph’s, at Richmond) already in Atlantic 10 action. Those two wins match or better the amount to of top-100 A-10 road wins of six of the last 10 regular season conference champs (five of the last seven), including last year’s champ, Davidson.

Be sure to check out Chris DiSano’s Will Wade interview for more on the Rams.

SUPER SOPHS

Upperclassmen tend to dominate awards thanks to minutes while freshmen get their own conference team. So where’s the love for the sophomores? Here it is. Here are five sophomores having big years for their respective teams (in no particular order).

  1. UMass sophomore Donte Clark is one of the best players in the conference at getting to the free throw line for easy points.
    UMass sophomore Donte Clark is one of the best players in the conference at getting to the free throw line for easy points.

    Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure) – Swaggy J’s 123.6 o-rating is tops among A-10 players used at least 20% of possessions. He’s shooting a ludicrous 46.7% from deep (50% in A-10 play), does a great job of drawing contact and can distribute the ball. Future superstar for the Bonnies.

  2. Justin Tillman (VCU) – Tillman has a nose for the ball and one of the highest revving motors in the Atlantic 10. His minutes haven’t qualified him for conference statistical rankings but he’s been an absolute monster when on the floor, his 27-point, 10-rebound performance in 25 minutes against Fordham being a prime example. He is arguably the conference’s second best “pure rebounder” behind only Mason’s Shevon Thompson.
  3. Peyton Aldridge (Davidson) – Aldridge has been huge for Davidson in conference play, hitting 47.6% of his 21 three-point attempts over the past five games while finishing inside the arc at a 51.4% clip (he’s shooting 58% inside the arc on the season). Peep these A-10 averages: 16.4 ppg, 7.8 rebs, 2.6 assists, 58.6% efg%. Is there really any more you can ask for from a sophomore (or a senior for that matter)?
  4. Jarvis Garrett (Rhode Island) – Garrett has really elevated his game since his freshman season, increasing his numbers across the board and being a key to Rhody’s NCAA tourney hopes sans EC Matthews. He seems to have hit another gear in A-10 action as well, having hit 11 of his 18 A-10 three-point attempts (61.1%) while boosting his assist rate to get other Rams involved (4.8 assists per contest in A-10 play). The kids have been forced to grow up a bit faster in Kingston thanks to injuries and so far they’ve responded very well to the added responsibility.
  5. Donte Clark (UMass) – One of Clark’s strengths is my favorite underrated stat: dude gets to the free throw stripe. That’s a killer for opposing teams because it gives a team easy opportunities to score while handcuffing your own team with foul trouble. Clark gets there (3rd in A-10 play in fouls drawn per 40) and finishes (86.4% in A-10 games). Clark is averaging 7.6 from the free throw stripe alone so far in Atlantic 10 play this season.

THIS WEEK’S BEST GAMES

Set your DVRs, or better yet, watch these games.

Dayton at St. Bonaventure (Tuesday, 1/19 – 7PM, ASN) – Will the Flyers be grounded in snowy Olean? Kenpom has this one as essentially a coin-flip, predicting a one-point Bona win. A great way to start the week

Rhode Island at George Washington (Friday, 1/22 – 7PM, ESPN2) – Both teams will have had ample time to prepare for this battle at the Smith Center between two of the conference’s current top-four defenses. This is a grown-man game, so tuck the kids in early.

Davidson at Richmond (Saturday, 1/23 – 12:30PM, NBCSN) – This game is basically like starting your college hoops day with a triple-shot of espresso. Two teams that love offense and hate defense. Watch em score!

St. Bonaventure at VCU (Saturday, 1/23 – 2:30PM, NBCSN) – This one loses some sizzle after that Bona loss at Duquesne this weekend but will still pit two teams competing at the top of the conference. Bonnies apparently bringing the snow south with them as well with an expected 8-12 inches of the white stuff hitting Richmond on Saturday.