Honestly, this is the first time in the last few years that I don’t have a “good feeling” about Atlantic 10 POY mid-February. Particularly, the last 2 weren’t too tough to guess. DeAndre’ Bembry and T.J. Cline made compelling cases in 2016 and 2017 respectively, and coming down the wire, it didn’t look like either award would go elsewhere. But enter the 2017-18 season: a confusing mess altogether.
You have Rhode Island, a team that’s running away with the league crown, but the Rams have one of the deepest backcourts in the nation, and it’s tough to pick one guy as the leader, despite URI being the obvious best team in the conference. Then, you’ve got guys like Peyton Aldridge, Justin Tillman, and Jaylen Adams who are certainly deserving, but who’s made the best case thus far? You see where this is a difficult prediction to make.
Does the best player have to come from the best team?
Certainly not. That being said, it’s hard to make a case against Rhode Island, seeing that the Rams have dominated unlike any Atlantic 10 team in recent memory. Considering the A-10 is fitting the mold of a one-bid, mid-major conference this year, it’s hard to look at another team for the league’s best player, especially from an outsider’s perspective. Then again, the league champion didn’t produce the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year in 2016 or 2017. Heck, last year’s A-10 POY didn’t even make it to the NCAA Tournament…
Can Rhode Island push Jared Terrell through for the award?
Jared Terrell has been an incredible player, and in terms of team value, he’s probably been the best in the league this year. What do I mean by that? In my opinion, JT’s ability to single-handedly take down Seton Hall, the best win for any A-10 team this season, weighs more heavily than a player scoring a few more points per game in RPI-depleting conference games (no offense to the league this year).
That being said, it’s hard to push for a player who ranks 7th in the league in scoring, and doesn’t rank in the top 25 in assists or rebounds. Again, he’s been an incredible player and probably the league’s best asset, but with URI’s depth, no single player has been doing it all. Terrell has a lot of company in the backcourt, and although he may be the most talented player in the league this year, winning this award might not happen.
Who can we count out?
I have nothing against B.J. Johnson, but a La Salle team that’s slipped very far and likely won’t finish in the top half of the league is not going to win Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Unfortunately for LuWane Pipkins and Massachusetts, the same is true. Interestingly enough, the Atlantic 10 Conference all-kenpom.com team has Jon Axel Gudmundsson ranked 3rd right now behind Peyton Aldridge and Jared Terrell. Gudmundsson and Pipkins are sophomores who are much-improved, but they’ll be in the race for POY in future seasons.
A case for Jaylen Adams
The St. Bonaventure senior missed a portion of the season, and I don’t know if that hurts him at all when looking at his POY chances. One thing I will say is that Adams is making quite the push in the last few weeks. The Bonnies are finally winning again, and he’s had back-to-back 40+ point performances in the month of February already. Adams has the 5th best three point shooting percentage in the nation and continues to deal out assists at a high rate. However, Adams has had a few off nights this year and can share a lot of stardom with Matt Mobley. Depending on how the Bonnies finish in the league, I think Adams has a real good shot.
A case for Peyton Aldridge
Peyton Aldridge has been dynamite throughout his career as a Davidson Wildcat. Now, he’s got a chance to lead his team to a 2nd place finish in the A-10 conference, and if URI somehow slips enormously, the Wildcats could even win the league, though that’s very unlikely at this point. Aldridge fills up the stat sheet in a number of statistical categories, and an enormous 29 point performance in one half of basketball showed how deadly Aldridge can be from three point range and inside the arc. Though Peyton hasn’t shot the ball as well this year than previous seasons, he’s been impressive on the boards and rarely turns it over. Whether or not his scoring is eruptive enough to beat a guy like Adams is yet to be seen, but Aldridge does it all for the Wildcats.
A case for Justin Tillman
The double-double machine can’t be stopped on the interior, and 37 points against Dayton in the Rams’ most recent contest makes Tillman a strong candidate for this year’s A-10 POY. He’s the clear leader in rebounds per game, and Tillman is also the 5th best scorer in the Atlantic 10. As far as consistency goes, Tillman has a strong case as the best in the league. Night-in and night-out, he’s a productive force inside and affects all facets of the game. I like Tillman’s chances a little better if VCU manages to finish 3rd or better in the conference standings. Because there is so much competition for POY in the league’s top 4 teams, it might be tough for Tillman to reach that goal unless the Rams make a few moves here at the end of conference play.
I really have no idea… I guess I’d have to take Jaylen Adams, especially if the Bonnies have a strong finish to conference play. But honestly, this race is as tight as I’ve seen it, and this award could go anywhere.