A midseason look at the Atlantic 10

The college football season just ended, the non-conference schedules are mostly complete, and it is finally time for Atlantic 10 basketball.

The college football season just ended, the non-conference schedules are mostly complete, and it is finally time for Atlantic 10 basketball. The depth of VCU’s new home is quite remarkable: VCU, Butler, Saint Louis, or even Temple are capable of winning the league. The next tier boasts some fantastic teams including preseason conference favorite Saint Joseph’s and La Salle, a team that is poised to make moves going forward. Richmond and George Washington rank 9th and 10th despite having won 10 games each.

In a little more than two months and a whole heap of good basketball from now, twelve teams will head to Brooklyn for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Until then, sit back, relax, and enjoy one of the premier conferences in college basketball: The Atlantic 10.

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1. VCU (12-3)

Coach Shaka Smart never earned a #1 seed to the CAA Tournament during his first three seasons, but HAVOC! has a great shot at being top seeded on March 14th in Brooklyn. The Ram’s defense will win them a fair share of games, even on bad shooting nights, but it’s scheduling that gives VCU a golden opportunity. #14 Butler and Saint Louis must play each other twice while VCU will play two, still very competitive games, against University of Richmond. Coach Smart and Co. will want to build an early lead because their final five games will be battles: at St. Louis, at Xavier, vs. Butler, vs. Richmond, and at Temple.

2. #14 Butler (12-2)

Butler is already 0-1 in the A-10. Well, sort of. Because of their expedited departure from the Horizon League, they lost a weird conference/non-conference game to Xavier 62-47 in early November. Brad Stevens is an incredible coach, and his teams are capable of beating anyone (two National Runner-Ups and a victory over #1 Indiana come to mind) but the 15-point loss at Xavier is disconcerting. Roosevelt Jones, Khyle Marshall, Andrew Smith, and Kellen Dunham are all very talented players, but can Butler win tough games when Rotnei Clarke shoots like a mere mortal?

3. Saint Louis (11-3)

The Billikens enter conference play as an experienced (three seniors, six juniors) defensive force capable of beating anyone. What makes SLU so scary is that they played the first 11 games without senior point guard Kwamain Mitchell. His return should allow their backcourt to play in their more natural positions while their offensive efficiency should improve.

4. Temple (10-3)

After beating #3 Syracuse on a neutral court and taking #6 Kansas to the wire in Lawrence, point guard Khalif Wyatt and co. have proven they are capable of hanging with anyone. At the same time, a 23-point loss to Duke and a 10-point loss at home against Canisius (!?!) leaves many questions unanswered about the Owls. Temple can make the NCAA Tournament, but in their final A-10 season they don’t seem like the kind of team that can win 14 conference games.

5. La Salle (10-3)

The Explorers are one 7-point loss to Central Connecticut away from being a top tier team. One of the better 3-point shooting teams in the conference, La Salle boasts a serious backcourt: Senior guard Ramon Galloway (17.8PPG) and junior guard Tyreek Duren (15.3PPG) are scoring machines. The backcourt went from great to better when VT transfer Tyrone Garland (14.7) joined the team six games ago.

6. Saint Joseph’s (8-4)

One of the few disappointments this season in the A-10, the Hawks entered the season as the conference favorite. At 8-4 Saint Joseph’s garners less enthusiasm, but the season is long and they could make some moves now that it matters more than ever. Carl Jones and Langston Galloway are very capable scorers, but the team needs to rebound better and force more turnovers on defense.

7. Dayton (10-4)

Good point guards can carry a team a long way in conference play. Senior Kevin Dillard is a great point guard. Averaging 15PPG, 4.9APG, and 1.4SPG, Dillard leads the team in all three categories and he will undoubtedly lead his team to many victories. The Flyers have the toughest start to conference play. They travel to VCU, host #14 Butler, and visit La Salle in their first three games.

8. Charlotte (12-2)

Picked to finish 12th in the conference, Charlotte started their final season in the Atlantic 10 a perfect 9-0 behind a really impressive defense. Everyone has been waiting for their season to derail, but losses to Miami and Florida St. are understandable while a 73-69 victory at Davidson adds some weight to their otherwise soft 12-2. The conference slate will be tougher on Charlotte, but maybe the 49ers have a little more surprise left in them before they join Conference USA.

9. Richmond (10-5)

The Spiders have yet to beat a team that would finish in the top half of the A-10. Their perimeter players and 3-point shooting will undoubtedly steal them some wins, but Richmond doesn’t have the defense to finish too far above .500 in the conference. Their low ranking is a testament to the depth of the league rather than an indictment on the strength of the team. Richmond is a quality basketball team with a quality coach.

10. Massachusetts (10-3)

UMass is the A-10’s total enigma. They are perfectly mediocre in every statistical category, but point guard Chaz Williams has led the Minutemen to seven straight victories and a 10-3 record. They boast quality wins over Harvard, Providence, and Ohio, but one point victories over Siena and Miami OH are reason to worry. UMass looks like a classic early season overachiever, and things are about to get a lot more difficult.

11. Xavier (7-6)

Xavier made the NCAA Tournament nine times in the past ten years including the Elite Eight in 2004 and 2008, so they were due for a rebuilding year. They made the Sweet 16 last year, but this season they are battling attrition. They lost senior All-American Guard Tu Holloway, senior center Kenny Frease, senior forward Andre Walker, junior Guard Mark Lyons (who is having a sensational season at #4 Arizona), and freshman guard Dezmine Wells (who is having a good season at Maryland). Despite the circumstances, Xavier started strong including quality wins over Butler and Purdue, but they have lost their last four including bad losses to Wofford and Wake Forest.

12. George Washington (6-7)

The Colonials boast the 35th best adjusted defense in the nation which also ranks third in the Atlantic 10. George Washington can defend but they have the worst offense in the conference by a fair amount. They rank 335th nationally in 3PT% and they turn over the ball at an incredible rate. Offense is basically two things: the number of shots a teams attempts and the percentage of those shots they make. George Washington is awful at both.

13. St. Bonaventure (7-6)

Behind conference player of the year Andrew Nicholson, the Bonnies won last season’s A10 Tournament and lost a battle to Florida St. in the NCAA Tournament. With Nicholson now in the NBA, times have been tough for his former team. Last season’s big finish is gone and the Bonnies are now on a 3-game losing streak including a 19-point loss to Iona and a 21-point loss to Colorado St.

14. Duquesne (7-7)

Duquesne is 7-7 with a quality win over West Virginia, but there are plenty of reasons to panic. Recent double digit losses to Robert Morris, Louisiana Lafayette, and Penn St. (don’t confuse B10 with good) show that the Dukes are entering conference play in trouble. Freshman point guard Derrick Colter is putting up somewhat impressive numbers, but he is turning the ball over like crazy. Duquesne is young and they could make moves in the A-10, just not this season.

15. Rhode Island (5-8)

Rhode Island plays at the 288th slowest tempo in the nation, they shoot an abysmal 42.5% from 2-point range, and their opponents shoot a very low .461% EFG. All of this adds up to make the Rams the most boring team to watch in the Atlantic 10.

16. Fordham (4-11)

The Rams (not to be confused with VCU or Rhode Island) are the black sheep of the deep and talented A-10. Outside of offensive rebounding, it’s tough to say what they do well, and outside of beating Princeton they haven’t accomplished much. There’s a silver lining: through 14 games Fordham has already topped their win totals from 2003 (2), 2009 (3) and 2010 (2).

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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