By: Daniel Stettin
With non-conference play wrapping up in college basketball, it is much clearer about who’s who throughout the A10 and the rest of college basketball. There have been surprises both good and bad. Whether it be injuries, a tough schedule, or just poor play, some teams just have not lived up to expectations this year. Unfortunately for the A10, most teams fall under this category.
Tier 1 (Likely NCAA Tournament Team):
1. Rhode Island Rams (6-3, #16 RPI, #5 SOS):
Rhode Island has had quite the non-conference schedule, with 5 of 9 opponents being in the top 50 in RPI and 4 of those games have come away from home. Throw in that the only home game was against In-State Providence which brought in a number of fans, this team has played a touch schedule so far. Sitting at 6-3, they just got back EC Matthews from injury, but in his absence Freshman Fatts Russell has taken advantage of the extra minutes by putting up 20 in back to back games vs Brown and Providence. Just like last year when they nearly beat Final Four Bound Oregon, this is an extremely deep team that is balanced on both ends.
Tier 2 (On the Bubble NCAA Tournament Team)
2. St. Bonaventure Bonnies (8-2, #47 RPI, #153 SOS):
If someone saw that the Bonnies were 8-2 right now, they would assume it’s been all about Preseason All A10 players Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. The two are scoring a bunch, but their shooting percentage’s are both under 40% from the field. With an impending matchup against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, they are gonna need their dynamic duo to heat up offensively. That Syracuse game is their biggest opportunity left this season for a big SOS/RPI boost which really help them come down March.
3. Dayton Flyers (5-6, #55 RPI, #2 SOS):
Don’t let Dayton’s 5-6 record fool you, this is team that has played the second toughest non-conference schedule in the country. Almost all of their toughest games have come on a Neutral or Road court under Anthony Grant. They have struggled defensively this season, getting outscored by .3 every game and also being in the bottom half of the country in rebounds per game. Darrell Davis has made a huge jump as a senior as have Josh Cunningham in his redshirt Junior season. There was a lot of hype going into the year for Kostas Antetokounmpo (Giannis’s little brother), but he has looked like a Freshman at time, with his defense being what is keeping him as a role player.
Tier 3 (Likely NIT)
4. VCU Rams (7-5, #95 RPI, #50 SOS):
VCU continues the trend of A10 teams that have played very tough schedule’s but without the wins. Half of their schedule has come against Power Conference Schools, but they’ve only walked away with a win against California. Their trip to the Maui Invitational gave this squad experience against bigger stronger teams that will help come down the stretch of A10 play. Justin Tillman still doesn’t play much defense, but he is a force offensively, with 18 PPG on 56% from the field and 47% from downtown. He was 0-3 from downtown in his first three seasons so props to him for adding that shot over the offseason. Jonathan Williams has struggled scoring the basketball but has been wonderful running the VCU offense.
5. Davidson Wildcats (4-4, #132 RPI, #150 SOS):
One of the best offensive teams in the country, Davidson almost always has five guys on the court who are capable who shooting it from downtown. Despite losing Jack Gibbs, the Wildcats offense has actually improved. Peyton Aldridge is a stretch four that is near impossible to guard. Ask UNC or Virginia, who he averaged 21 PPG against or UNC Wilmington, who he dropped 37 points on. This man is tough to guard. When this team is hot, it is near impossible to beat them, making them a team that nobody wants to face down the stretch.
Tier 4 (Possible Postseason, Team’s that will Scare you)
This Tier will comprise the most teams. These teams are one’s that will will have the opportunity to participate in the smaller postseason tournaments like the CBI or CIT if they want to, but overall are teams that can catch you off guard if you aren’t paying attention.
6. La Salle Explorers (6-6, #56 RPI, #11 SOS):
La Salle compares very favorably to St. Bonaventure due to the two-headed monster of BJ Johnson and Pookie Powell, but they don’t have the bench production that the Bonnies have. Johnson, the transfer from Syracuse, has been the next great transfer for the Explorers putting up 18 PPG last season and bumping that up to 22 this season. They gave Villanova quite the scare, leading at halftime before falling by 9. This team has just been so inconsistent, looking great against Villanova and Temple while looking bad in games against smaller opponents.
7. Massachusetts Minutemen (6-5, #118 RPi, #81 SOS):
UMass really has changed the publics perception of them in the past week with back to back wins at home over Providence and Georgia. First Year Head Coach Matt McCall has done a great job with this depleted roster who lost Maryland Grad Transfer Jaylen Brantley to a heart condition as well as four others to transfers. Luwane Pipkins has made a big jump in his Sophomore year and he dropped 30 points on Providence. This team is starting to gel at the right time going into conference play.
8. George Washington Colonials (5-6, #152 RPI, #44 SOS):
GW has played an insanely tough schedule in coach Maurice Joseph’s first full season as Head Coach. Outside of the loss at Penn State, GW has played tough in all of the matchup’s against power conference schools, including a win over Temple in the BB&T Classic. Senior Yuta Watanabe has continued to be one of the best defensive players in the country but he hasn’t made the jump offensively that many expected. Jair Bolden has done well as a shooter, but he has struggled running the point for GW. It’ll be interesting to see what adjustments MoJo is able to make with this team as the season goes on.
9. Saint Joseph’s Hawks (5-5, #201 RPI, #259 SOS):
Injuries to both Charlie Brown Jr. and Lamarr Kimble has really hurt this team as they were expected to help carry the load for the Hawks. Shavar Newkirk has taken a step back as a senior, with his scoring and percentages both dropping. Freshman Taylor Funk has been a pleasant surprise but overall its hard to tell with team until Brown Jr and Kimble are back.
10. Saint Louis Billikens (6-6, #146 RPI, #43 SOS):
Head Coach Travis Ford has done a great job of bringing in talent to Saint Louis, now we just have to see them on the court. An injury to Elliot Welmer and a sexual assault allegation against Adonys Henriquez, Jermaine Bishop, and Ty Graves have kept them off the court and all were expected to be major contributors this season. The Billikens have really struggled offensively with True Freshman Jordan Goodwin running the offense. We’ve seen what this team can do at their best when they beat Virginia Tech but they’ve also had poor games like the losses vs Detroit and Western Michigan.
Tier 5 (See Ya Next Season)
11. George Mason Patriots (5-7, #209 RPI, #131 SOS):
The loss of Marquise Moore and Jalen Jenkins has hurt Mason much more than anyone could have imagined. The Patriots are doing worse in almost every category as Otis Livingston has yet to make that big jump that so many have excepted him to do. This is an extremely undersized team that doesn’t really have any one strength that scares you.
12. Duquesne Dukes (8-3, #266 RPI, #344 SOS):
Duquesne Coach Keith Dambrot pulled a Patrick Ewing in his first year in Pittsburgh, scheduling a very easy non-conference schedule to get some easy wins and instill confidence into the program. The Dukes won just 10 games last season and will easily surpass that this season. The real question is how good/bad this team actually is. We really do not know because of their schedule. They have played all but one game at home, with the one non-home game being played PPG Paints Arena (home of the Pittsburgh Penguins), but that is 5 minutes away from the Palumbo Center. Conference play will answer these questions but this team is really a mystery.
13. Fordham Rams (4-6, #277 RPI, #240 SOS):
The Rams bring back Joseph Chartouny, one of the best defensive guards in the country. He’s been one of the nations leaders in Steals since his freshman year. He hasn’t shot well this year, but he does everything else so well. Will Taveras and Prokop Slanina both have made major improvements this season but the two haven’t been able to compensate enough for Fordham’s 342nd ranked offense. Fordham has showed in the past that they are capable of pulling off the occasional upset, like when they beat both VCU and Rhode Island last season, but don’t expect to many of those this year.
14. Richmond Spiders (2-9, #243 RPI, #48 SOS):
By far the biggest disappointment in the A10 this year. They lost at home to Delaware on opening night by 13 which shocked many, but then it got even worse when they lost at home again to Jacksonville State 94-61. The loss of TJ Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones has had arguably one of the most negative impacts in the country. This team went to the NIT quarterfinals last season and looked like they would be able to keep building on this young squad. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to, being one of the worst defensive teams in the country.