Defense wins championships, right? Well if this year’s Super Bowl was any indication, the age old saying certainly holds true. The Denver Broncos’ #1 defense entirely shut down Cam Newton and his electrifying Carolina Panthers offense this season. Winning the Atlantic 10 title will probably require a similar recipe. Offense might win a team games here and there, but defense can win every game, especially when the offense is clicking. In a tough conference like the A-10, most nights seem tough and far from perfect. With the defensive side of the ball proving itself so important, lets take a look at my Top 5 defenses in the A-10.
1. Dayton Flyers
The Dayton Flyers currently lead the A-10 in almost all defensive categories. So far this season, the Flyers are holding opposing teams to just 64 points per game which is good enough for 20th in the country. Led by a tough-minded head coach, Archie Miller, Dayton has put on some remarkably good defensive performances. On January 27th, the Flyers held Saint Louis to just 37 points. Yes, that was over the course of an entire game, Dayton won 73-37. They turned around the next game and held La Salle to a minimal 44 points to grab another double digit win. While Saint Louis and La Salle are not exactly offensive powerhouses to say the least, holding anyone to that low of scoring in back to back games is impressive. Dayton also ranks 13th in the nation when it comes to overall defensive efficiency. Junior guards Kyle Davis, Scoochie Smith, and shot blocking forward Kendall Pollard are most deserving of the credit for the Flyer’s dominant defense. With 6’11” redshirt freshman “Big” Steve McElvene anchoring the post, this Dayton defense could be scary good for years to come.
2. VCU Rams
Must anything even be said about the VCU defense at this point? Under Shaka Smart, the Rams brought an intimidating HAVOC style defense into every game. They pressed, forced turnovers, scored buckets, repeated. Now in his first year at VCU, head coach Will Wade has revolutionized the HAVOC defense. Instead of constantly pressing, VCU lets their guards fall back, making it very difficult for opposing teams to score in the paint. With a monster like Mo Allie-Cox waiting around the rim, most guards tend to shy away. I mean, the guy seems to hurt someone’s feelings with a highlight real block in every game he plays. This successful VCU defense has held opponents to 66.7 PPG this season. Good enough for 60th in the nation. Currently tied for second in the conference, this type of defense enables the Rams to make a run at both the regular season and tournament A-10 titles. Not to mention that the Rams also rank in the top 5 nationally in steal and turnover percentage, but who’s counting?
3. Rhode Island Rams
Even though Rhode Island has suffered an assault of injuries this year, they continue to put up strong defensive numbers. They sit right on Dayton’s tails for the #1 A-10 defensive ranking, holding opponents to just 64.1 points per game. At 21st in the country in opponents PPG, the Rams have put together a successful defensive season thus far. Having an intimidating player like Hassan Martin down in the post certainly helps a lot. He can match up with any opposing big and has great shot blocking ability. While the loss of star player E.C. Matthews has cost Rhode Island any hope of winning an A-10 regular season title, do not write them off the tournament contender list. Combine sharp shooter Four McGlynn with an outstanding defense like this, and URI becomes sneaky good. They might just have a shot at winning the A-10 tournament title if they get hot.
4. St. Joseph’s Hawks
The St. Joe’s Hawks are having themselves a breakout season. Nobody expected them to compete in the A-10 this year, yet here they are, tied with VCU at 2nd in the conference. A huge game awaits them tonight as they take on currently #1 Dayton at home. With star players like DeAndre’ Bembry and Isaiah Miles, everyone knows that St. Joe’s can put up some points. What most didn’t expect going into this season was the Hawks to put up solid defensive numbers. St. Joe’s is currently holding opponents to 67.2 PPG. While this mark appears relatively average on the national stage, it is good enough for 4th in the conference. If this Hawks’ defense continues to get better and better, they might just wind up winning the A-10 title.
5. Fordham Rams
Okay, does anyone else find it odd that three of the top five A-10 defensive teams have a ram as their mascot? Maybe those struggling defensive-wise in the A-10 just need to change their name in order to improve! Anyway, Fordham has floundered in the past and still is not having a great season. Despite this, these Rams have shown signs of improvement. Their defense has held opponents to 68.8 PPG this season and looks to keep getting better. Hopefully Fordham finishes this season strong and continues building upon their defensive foundation. With some talent coming in, the Rams could turn things around and start contending in the A-10 soon enough.