March is here. But before the madness, first comes the all-conference rewards. With a lot of very good players but few transformative ones, this is a tough ballot to fill out.
First, some ground rules. I don’t think specific positional boundaries are useful given that this is 2019. The positionless revolution and the devaluation of the classic center still haven’t hit college basketball as it has the NBA, but change is afoot. All conference teams should resemble a team- there shouldn’t be five point guards or three centers or some other arrangement- but there should be no stringent requirement for guards, forwards, centers.
Second, a not on how I am evaluating players. I think box plus minus and win shares are the most useful statistics overall. Box plus minus does a good job of measuring efficiency across a number of factors, with its biggest weakness that it continues to overvalue low usage big men. Win shares are also incredibly value, because it is the rare advance metric also taking account for quality.
PER is pretty good as well, though it can underestimate stalwart defensive contributors. Offensive and defensive rating are useful but can be noisy. e Classic quantity statistics also have a role to play obviously. I don’t care about wins and losses per se, but a team’s record can be a useful gauge on how good a player actually has been.
Finally, remember this is my ballot. These are not my predictions.
A-10 Player of the Year: Jon Axel Gudmundsson
In my first preseason column at A-10 talk, I wrote about how Jon Axel is the most underrated player in the conference. Laughably, he was listed as a third team all conference behind a bevy of good, but inferior players.
I suspect few people making such predictions looked behind the headline stats. Gudmundsson was a very efficient player- with a true shooting percentage of 60- who was playing third banana to A-10 player of the year Peyton Aldridge and Kellan Grady. His box plus minus was the highest of any returning player in the entire conference, and he was not far behind in win shares.
This year, Gudmundsson leads the conference in win shares. Given his impressive efficiency and significant work load, this is unsurprising. His box plus minus remains among the best in the conference. He somehow ranks in the top 5 in the conference in points, rebounds, and assists, and recorded Davidson’s first triple-double in over three decades. In a year where Kellan Grady has had his ups and downs, Gudmundsson nearly individually carried Davidson to wins over Wichita State and Louis.
The Icelander should win Davidson’s third Player of the year in five seasons.
A-10 First Team
Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Davidson
Marcus Evans, VCU
Javon Bess, Saint Louis
Obi Toppin, Dayton
Marcus Santos-Silva, VCU
Evans is a pretty obvious as the best player on the best team. He has a hit a number of big shots this season as well, including sealing one of the best games of the year at Dayton. The Rice transfer has also been a defensive revelation. I can’t vote him player of the year given his mediocre shooting, but his spot here is completely deserved.
Bess is also meritorious of the first-team honor. He is a strong defender, and I think box plus minus is underrating his contributions on this front. On the offensive end, he has been absolutely essential to SLU’s attack. His shooting statistics would be better, but Saint Louis opponent have really only had to key in on Bess for much of the year.
I am not sure Toppin or Santos-Silva will make the cut when the actual votes are cast. Other bigs have better headline numbers. But these two players deserve the honor: they rank first (Santos-Silva) and second (Toppin) in box plus minus. Toppin looks like someone NBA potential. He is shooting 68% from the field, which is awesome for someone who mainly dunks, let alone for someone who also has an array of post moves, mid range shots, and even three pointers in his arsenal (he is only taking .5 per game but is hitting over 53%.).
Santos-Silva is the player I go back and forth the most on. I worry the advanced metrics are doing his defense too many favors, and his headline stats are unremarkable. But he is a very good rim defender, and is averaging more than 2 steals and blocks combined in only 22 minutes a game. If he were playing more minutes his points and rebounds numbers would look like Cyril Langevine’s, so he gets the edge for first team.
Kellan Grady, Davidson
Jacob Gilyard, Richmond
Charlie Brown, Saint Joseph’s
Josh Cunningham, Dayton
Cyril Langevine, Rhode Island
Grady has the worst advanced metrics of the bunch. But the four games he missed are telling. Davidson failed to beat a Division I opponent during that stretch, and JAG struggled without his running mate. Opponents treat him like an elite scorer (and he is still among the league leaders in points per game), and that has been invaluable to Luke Frampton, KiShawn Pritchett, and JAG himself.
Jacob Gilyard is among the more underrated players in the conference. He is averaging 17 points per game, and doing so efficiently (49% from the field, 38% from three, 75% from the line). He also leads the conference in steals. Gilyard is certainly the biggest reason Richmond has held its own in conference this season.
Charlie Brown leads the conference in point per game and it’s not through meaningless chucking. He’s hitting 37% of his three pointers and 84% of his free throws. With his team racked by injuries, Brown has led Saint Joseph’s above average offensive attack.
Josh Cunningham has graciously started playing a more secondary role to freshman phenom Obi Toppin but he remains an impact player himself. He is putting up 14 boards and 7 rebounds a game, and hit the game winning free throw in Dayton’s best victory at Davidson.
Cyril Langevine is the only player in the conference averaging a double double. While his monster per-minute numbers have decreased as his minutes have nearly doubled, Langevine has shown new facets to his game. He loses out to Santos-Silva for a spot on first team because of the advanced metrics difference. But in a way this is penalizing Langevine for playing more minutes and having teammates who couldn’t hit the Green Monster from three point range.
Isaac Vann. VCU
Justin Kier, George Mason
Eric Williams Jr., Duquesne
Courtney Stockard, Saint Bonaventure
Osun Osunniyi, Saint Bonaventure
Isaac Vann gets a nod from me. He is VCU’s most underrated player: not as good or flashy a scorer as Marcus Evans, as dominating a defensive force as Marcus Santos-Silva or Corey Douglas, nor as good a shooter as De’Riante Jenkins. Yet Jenkins lacks any glaring weaknesses, and his advanced metrics are impressive across the board, with a BPM over 5 and 3.5 win shares.
Early on in conference play, Kier looked like a player of the year candidate when he was put up huge numbers across a string of games. He has fallen back to Earth since then but remains worthy of this honor. His defense is under appreciated and Kier has the ability to both shoot from deep and get to the hole.
A number of Duquesne players could have nabbed a third team spot and Sincere Carry was the likely candidate until his late season injury. But Williams leads an impressive Dukes squad in both points and rebounds, and his blend of athleticism and shooting makes him a dangerous threat to any conference opponent.
Saint Bonaventure has been carried by four players during the conference season: Courtney Stockard, Kyle Lofton, LaDarien Griffin, and Osun Ossuniyi. If we were going by conventional statistics, Stockard and Lofton would probably make it. Advanced metrics say Griffin and Osunniyi. I’ll split the difference.
Stockard will probably on the first or second team of the actual honors. There are defensible reasons, most importantly the team struggled mightily early in the season without him and he leads the Bonnies in scoring. This is enough for me to nab Third Team Honors. But the high turnover rates and subpar shooting numbers keep him from climbing higher.
Griffin has been a key senior leader for but he has missed a lot of games, which counts against him. He also seems the last impactful overall. Lofton has been a revelation as a freshman, and has a hit a number of enormous shots this season. He undoubtedly was an awesome find for Mark Schmidt. But he is a subpar defender at this point.
This leaves Osun Ossuniyi. While average less than eight boards and eight rebounds a game, this understates his impact on the game. He is an absolute beast on the defensive end. He is averaging 2.6 blocks per game, and his long arms have flustered opponents all season long. His box plus minus is the third best in the conference. Ossuniyi deserves an all conference spot.
Honorable Mention: De’Riante Jenkins, Jordan Goodwin, Jeff Dowtin, LaDarien Griffin, Kyle Lofton, Sincere Carry.
Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Davidson
Javon Bess, Saint Louis
Corey Douglas, VCU
Marcus-Santos Silva, VCU
Osun Osunnniyi, Saint Bonvanture
Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year
After VCU missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years last season, there had to be concern that Mike Rhoades would be unable to recapture the magic of the Shaka Smart and Will Wade eras. Any such fear appears to have been terribly misplaced.
Though the team is a mix of players that predated Rhoades, Rhoades’ Rice platers, and Rhoades’ own VCU recruits, the team has melded together into an awesome defensive force. Though a number of coached deserve credit for impressive and unexpected performances this season, Rhoades’ job this season stands atop the pack.