The View from the Top of the A10

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We are off and running with the 2015-16 season and so far it looks like it is going to be a good one.  While the usual suspects in Duke, UNC, Kentucky, Michigan State, and a handful of others from the Power 5 Conferences are ranked in highly in the Top 25; there has to be a sense of optimism for smaller schools this year to be able to make a serious run in March.  Everyone is beatable.  Everyone has flaws.  The Atlantic 10 has had a solid out of conference performance this year.  Maybe not spectacular, but there have been plenty of quality wins for nearly each team in the conference and perhaps just as important, fewer bad losses than last season.  The top of the conference once again looks pretty darn good and the A10 shouldn’t have any problem getting multiple bids to the Big Dance in March.  I was checking out kenpom yesterday and was kind of surprised with where a few teams in the A10 rank in some key categories.  It is definitely more promising than last season.  Here’s how I’m seeing the top tier of teams as we get closer to the start of conference. Not every win and loss will be listed for each team.

Dayton (6-1) Kenpom #43

Dayton has looked a lot like how I thought Dayton would look this season.  Solid.  That is saying something considering Dyshawn Pierre hasn’t played a single minute this season.  Defensively Dayton ranks 32nd in adjusted defensive efficiency (95.5) and 14th in 2-point% defense (39.9).  Those are very solid numbers for the Flyers as to be expected when you have defenders like Davis and Pollard on your team.

Losses:  One ass-whuppin at the hands of Xavier is a bummer but nothing to worry about.  Xavier is really, really good.

Wins:  Solid wins over Iowa and Monmouth in Orlando look really nice right now.  Big opportunity against Vanderbilt on Wednesday for another resume booster.

I like this Dayton team. I know they got crushed by Xavier but games like that are going to happen every once in a while. Scoochie Smith is developing into a top tier point guard, shooting 50% from 3-point distance (12-24).  I love his ability to control tempo and just his overall feel for the game. Even if Dayton isn’t making shots, it is getting into its offense smoothly and quickly just about every possession because Smith runs the show like a guy who knows what he is doing.  The pickup of Charles Cooke from JMU was huge.  Cooke is a plus athlete, can guard multiple positions if needed, and plays with an edge to his game like he has something to prove to everyone.  I saw it against Iowa and Monmouth.  Those kids wanted to win but he had to have it and wasn’t going to be denied. He is off to a good start for the Flyers offensively and should be a key piece for that team all season. Kendall Pollard could very well earn 1st Team All A10 honors this season.  I was really impressed last season with his improved ball handling, especially going to his left.  The show he put on against VCU in Richmond was outstanding.  I just don’t see anyway that Dayton isn’t in the top 3 of the conference this season battling for a championship. This team has a little bit of everything and is poised to possibly make another magical run in March.  And all of this is happening without Dyshawn Pierre!  Hopefully he gets back soon and then everybody will need to WTFO as he will be going off on some fools.

George Washington (7-1) Kenpom #46

Excellent start for the Colonials this year. The UVA win was enormous and will carry them a long way this year.  GW is currently 60th in offensive adjusted efficiency (107.9) and 48th in defensive adjusted efficiency (96.8).

Losses: Losing to a Top 20 Cincy team in Brooklyn by 5?  Not a problem.

Wins: UVA, Tennessee, and Seton Hall.

The addition of 6-9 PF/C Tyler Cavanaugh has taken GW from a solid A10 team to one that could possibly contend for a conference title this season. He leads the team in Percentage of Possession Used at 26.4.  With Larsen in the post and Cavanaugh playing inside and out, the Colonials have something working that most teams are going to struggle to stop. Two quality bigs is a luxury most teams don’t have.  Yuta Watanabe continues to develop and at 6-8 is tough on the perimeter to defend.  Patricio Garino is a great defender on the wing and can fill it up if he is in a good rhythm.  Joe McDonald is just a good college point guard.  Nothing flashy but tough and the consummate floor general.  The bench is providing quality depth as the Colonials can play 8-9 guys on a given night.

When George Washington defeated UVA, everyone in the country took notice. Larsen, Garino, and McDonald have played a ton of basketball together over the past four seasons.  I think they will steal a couple of road wins that they couldn’t get last season.  Lonergan is a solid coach and their match-up zone can give teams fits.

Davidson (5-1) Kenpom #59

Bit of a mixed bag for Davidson so far this year.  They don’t have any bad losses but there isn’t a stellar win either.  Getting crushed by UNC isn’t a whole lot of fun but the Tarheels are going to crush more than a few ACC schools as well this year.

When people talk about Davidson, they usually start with either Jack Gibbs or Steph Curry.  The fact that Gibbs has pulled of a Curry-esque game already this season leads me to believe that the narrative won’t change anytime soon.  And I’m good with that since I love both of those guys. Gibbs is freaking ridiculous. Davidson’s offensive efficiency rating is 111.8 which is good for 24th in the country. Davidson’s turnover percentage on offense is 11.2 which leads all of Division 1 hoops.

Losses: UNC (obviously not a bad loss)

Wins:  Ehhhh?  Charleston, Mercer or UCF I guess?

Davidson has match-ups with Pittsburgh and California on the horizon and it could really use a win in at least one of them.  Even if they don’t get one, they could be OK if they can do what they did last year in league play or something close to it.  Gibbs is a star and is going to get a ton of hype.  His line for the Charlotte game: 8-10 2Pt, 6-7 3PT, 7-9 FT, 2 Steals, and 3 assists. Baller status right there folks.  I like how Brian Sullivan plays along side Gibbs.  He is fearless and will kill you if you give him any space.  A smart player, kind of redundant I know since all of these kids are smart, and quicker than I originally gave him credit for, Sullivan is a crucial piece to the Davidson puzzle.  Jordan Barham is listed at 6-5 but I think he is closer to 6-3.  But then he does stuff like this and your just like WTF man!  Kid can fly!  He is a plus defender as well and brings some toughness to the court.  An undersized kid who never backs down is always easy to root for.

My legs are like pogo sticks

Peyton Aldridge had a really nice freshman season and after a slow start, seems to be getting things going. The 6-8 forward has a great range and nice touch around the basket.  If he can take the next step in his game and become a bit more consistent scoring and a little stronger in the post, the Cats will be wild yet again.

Richmond (5-3) Kenpom #66

The Spiders are doing some stuff on offense this year. Big time stuff.  Richmond’s Effective field goal % is 56.0, 28th in the country. Its offensive turnover % is 14.6, 16th in the country.  Richmond’s overall adjusted offensive efficiency 111.0, good for 33rd in D-1 hoops.

Wins:  Wake Forest, California, Northern Iowa

Losses:  West Virginia, Florida, James Madison (that one hurts)

Once again the Spiders had an early season slip up against a CAA team; losing on opening night to JMU.  A neutral court loss to West Virginia and a road loss at Florida are nothing to worry about.  The road win at Wake is great and beating California in Las Vegas will look good in March.  The home win vs. Northern Iowa was very impressive. The Spiders ran UNI off the court. 12-23 from 3-point range will do that to you.

Terry Allen is the best player in the A10 that nobody talks about.  Well, people are talking now so that statement really isn’t true.  Allen is a 6-8, 240 pound nightmare of a forward for anyone to try and stop.  He puts the ball on the court and attacks the rim from the wing as well as anyone in the conference.  He can backdown smaller guys in the paint and finish.  A solid rebounded and defender, Allen is playing at an all-conference level right now.  TJ Cline is fantastic passing 6-9 forward with a nice shot and a high basketball I.Q.  He makes the right plays at the right time more often than not.  ShawnDré Jones, the reigning 6th man of the year in the conference has helped fill the void left by Kendall Anthony’s graduation nicely.  Jones is quick as a cat and gets his shot off over bigger guars with a quick release. Virginia Tech transfer Marshall Wood is 17-40 from 3-point range this year.  With all of their scorers and ability to spread the floor with shooters, Richmond is as dangerous of an offensive team as you will see this year in the A10.  The question for the Spiders is whether its defense and rebounding will be up to the challenge.

The JMU loss was tough and it will be even tougher when March rolls around but the quality wins definitely help take some of the sting out of it.  Richmond has games coming up against ODU and on the road vs. Texas Tech.  Spiders need to get at least one of those two in the win column.

Rhode Island (5-3) Kenpom #47

Obviously the EC Mathews injury has changed the game in more ways than one for the Rams.  However, Danny Hurley and his team are not looking for your sympathy or condolences though.  Those guys are just going to work and getting after it, as per the usual with his teams.  A couple of brutal losses in tight games have been unkind but the Rams are still in the mix for spot at the top of the conference thanks to some tough defense.

Rhody’s adjusted defensive efficiency is 93.8, good for 22nd in the country.  The Rams turnover % on defense is 22.7 and its block % on defense is 14.0.  Both of those stats are good for 31st in the country.  Basically when you are getting ready to play Rhode Island this year, pack a lunch.  And maybe a bag of hammers.  These guys get after you on the defensive side of the ball.

Losses:  Maryland, Valparaiso, and Providence

Wins:  TCU is the only Top 100 win for Rhody

The losses suffered by the Rams are all to teams who should most likely make the NCAA tournament.  The Valpo and Providence games were heartbreakers and two games the Rams could have definitely won.  The problem here isn’t the loses but the lack of some quality wins.  Right now TCU is the best Rhody has on the ledger.  Games coming up against Houston, Old Dominion, and Nebraska will be critical for the Rams to win.

Hassan Martin is a bad, bad man. This made me lose my mind for a little while the other night   Hassan says get the F off of me!  Love me some Hassan but does he have the offensive game to carry Rhode Island?  I don’t know.  Kuran Iverson, Jared Terrell, Jarvis Garrett, Four McGlynn, and Earl Watson have to give him help.  Iverson is starting to show people why he was such a highly rated recruit coming out of high school.  He is 6-9 and handles the ball like he is 6-1.  He’s got a solid shot and should be able to get looks from the block or the wing this season as teams will have to focus on Martin in the post.  Terrell had his best offensive performance of the season in the Rams last game against Providence so hopefully he is starting to round into top form.  Four McGlynn is a shooter with serious range and not afraid to take big shots.  Earl Watson is an enormous human being and not someone you should mess with.

I love the toughness and the passion that Rhode Island constantly brings to the court when it plays.  These guys have an “us against the world” mentality and it servers them well, especially this season with the loss of Mathews.  I’m definitely not counting these guys out of anything at this point.  Too much toughness

VCU (5-3) Kenpom#39

Definitely a mixed bag for the Rams so far this season. Tough losses to Duke, Wisconsin, and Florida State where VCU fell just short definitely sting. The Rams had 2nd half leads in all of those games but couldn’t quite make enough plays to get wins.  VCU looks to be finding its identity a bit under new coach Will Wade.  The Rams are still playing fast and “HAVOC” didn’t travel with Shaka to Texas but we are seeing some different wrinkles with Wade as he has guys playing some match-up zone while still looking to pressure the ball.

VCU adjusted defensive efficiency is 94.3, good for 24th in the country.  The Rams defensive turnover % is 24.9 which is 12th nationally and its steal % is 15.8 which is good for 2nd in D-1 hoops.

Losses: Florida State, Duke, Wisconsin

Wins;  Old Dominion, Middle Tennessee(has a chance to be a top 100 win by March)

The Rams play Georgia Tech and  Cincinnati before conference play gets started.  They are going to need to get at least one and maybe both of those after only having one top 100 victory so far this year.

VCU has been tough to figure out this season.  Melvin Johnson is one of the great scorers in college basketball, putting on a hell of a show Sunday in Atlanta vs. Florida State.  8-14 from 3 point land is pretty sick.  Johnson just needs some consitent help from his friends.  JeQuan Lewis shows flashes of brilliance but also struggles mightily with his decision making at times.  Mo Alie-Cox has taken a big step forward offensively as VCU has made a concerted effort to get the ball into the paint more.  Transfers Korey Billbury and Ahmed Hamdy have been bright spots and clutch performers that the Rams absolutely need to continue to perform at a high level.  Forwards Michael Gilmore and Justin Tillman have shown flashes of big time talent but nothing on a consistent basis.  Jordan Burgess and Doug Brooks are high energy defensive guys at this point.  Brooks has shown an ability to score and is definitely a  streaky shooter and a “heat check” type of player.  VCU plays a lot of guys but after Johnson and Alie-Cox, they aren’t making tremendous impacts at this point.  What VCU can do to opponents is wear them down by throwing bodies and pressure at them for 40 minutes.  They are still looking to run whenever they can and they definitely have some guys who can get up and down the floor.  Things are still being worked out in Richmond and that is to be expected.

I like Kenpom and how he breaks down basketball efficiency.  I don’t think it is the end-all-be-all when it comes to seeing how good a team is or what players bring to the table for their respective squads.  It does show us some interesting trends and helps give you definitive information as to where teams struggle and succeed on the court.  There is a ton of hoops left to be played and somebody not in that group mentioned above could very easily finish in the top 4 of the conference.  Saint Joseph’s has Mr. Bembry.  Mr. Bembry will be playing with Mr. James, Curry, Durrant, and a bunch of other incredible basketball players next year.  St. Bonaventure has Dion Wright, Jaylen Adams, and Marcus Posley.  Those 3 can play with anybody in the league.  I’ve been pleased with the season thus far and I am hoping things only get better as we get ready for conference play.

 

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Brian Keiper is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a M.Ed from University of Richmond. He teaches, coaches, and spends way too much time involved with local basketball in Richmond, Virginia but wouldn't have it any other way.

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