Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 30th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

George Washington’s Big Week

Mike Lonergan‘s George Washington squad swept its three games at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu last week to bring home the Atlantic 10’s lone early season invitational trophy this season. In the process the Colonials had to defeat 3-4 Ohio, from the MAC, 6-3 Colorado, from the Pac-12, and 8-1 Wichita State, from the Missouri Valley Conference. Given the team’s early season stumbles — versus Penn State, Seton Hall and Virginia — such an outcome was not preordained. Although George Washington carried legitimate expectations into this season, those losses had dampened enthusiasm about the team’s long-term prospects. Lonergan’s tandem of junior guards — Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage — had been a big part of the reason for the disappointment.

Mike Lonergan and George Washington have a big week coming up. (USATSI)

Mike Lonergan and George Washington have a big week coming up. (USATSI)

While Savage managed two strong efforts in Hawaii, different players scored the team-highs in each of the team’s three games. Junior center Kevin Larsen‘s 19 points paced GW in its 77-49 opening round win over Ohio (he also grabbed 15 rebounds to pace the team in both categories); McDonald’s 14 points spurred the Colonial’s 53-50 comeback win over Colorado; and Savage’s 12 points led the 60-54 upset over the top-10 Shockers. The key to these wins was not finding more offense from his pair of juniors, but instead that the Colonials’ defense was outstanding — the best that Ohio and Wichita State have faced so far this season (and second-best for Colorado). That three such stalwart defensive performances were posted on a neutral court has to be very encouraging for Lonergan’s team heading into conference play.

Games to Catch This Week

After a two-day hiatus the conference swung back into action on Sunday. New Year’s is a “play-through” and there are three non-conference games that could keep the momentum going from the Colonials’ sweep in Hawaii. Next Saturday marks the opening of the A-10 slate and, after a scrambled November and December; there are three more games that could give fans a sense of how their teams will fare through the last 10 weeks of the regular season.

  • Davidson at Virginia (Tuesday 12/30, 6:00 PM ET, ESPNU) — The top-five Cavaliers are expected to challenge for the ACC title this season, while no one outside of the greater Charlotte area thought Davidson would finish above 10th in Atlantic 10 play. Although junior forward Jake Belford is out with a foot injury, the Wildcats continue to roll. Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense will be tested, as Davidson boasts four players who average more than 10 points per game and the team has hit on 40.2 percent of its three-point attempts this season. Bob McKillop’s squad can survive a cold shooting night, but it must find a way to shut down a group whose effective field goal percentage is a sterling 54 percent.

    Bob McKillop and Davidson Sit Atop Our Latest Power Rankings (AP)

    Despite a predicted low finish in the Atlantic 10, Bob McKillop’s Davidson squad is once again right in the mix of things. (Getty)

  • Dayton vs Mississippi (Tuesday 12/30, 8:00 PM ET, CBSSN) — The Rebels collect their return date tonight after the Flyers won in overtime on Ole Miss’ home court a year ago. Coach Archie Miller has inserted sophomore Kendall Pollard into the starting lineup and the 6’6″ wing has responded with 26 points on 8-of-17 shooting (and 10-of-14 from the line). The bench — not to mention the roster — is shorter this time around, and therefore Miller will have to figure out how to make due with three “big men” at 6’6″. Freshman Steve McElvine, the only legitimate center on the team, is a partial qualifier. Ole Miss, with five 6’9″ bigs available, will preview how the Flyers will fare against the taller conference lineups.
  • Saint Louis vs Vanderbilt (Wednesday 12/31, 2:00 PM ET) — The Billikens host the 8-3 Commodores to close out their non-conference schedule. While 20-point losses to Mississippi State and Wichita State belie their 8-4 record, head coach Jim Crews‘ squad is starved for offense, a common problem with younger teams (SLU is the least experienced squad in the conference). The Commodores are a middling SEC team with a solid but not stifling defense, so this game should tell Bills fans how far the team has come (and still has to go).
  • St. Bonaventure at Massachusetts (Saturday 1/3, 4:00 PM ET) — Non-conference results for both of these teams were unexpected. The Bonnies may have overachieved (that nasty 82-80 loss to Maryland-Eastern Shore excepted), while the Minutemen have failed to build on last season’s success. Head coach Mark Schmidt (and the Bonnie Bandwagon) will get a hint on whether the backcourt/wing rotation of Dion Wright, Jaylan Adams, Marcus Posley and Andell Cumberbatch are for real. UMass has waffled around .500, as head coach Derek Kellogg continues to dabble with his rotation. Watch each team’s field goal efficiency here — when UMass allows the opponent to convert at a 50 percent or better rate, it loses (1-5); when the Bonnies convert at a 50 percent or better rate, they are 4-1.
  • George Washington at Saint Joseph’s (Saturday 1/3, 3:00 PM ET, CBSSN) — The Diamond Head Classic now behind them, the Colonials have to focus on their conference slate. The trip to Hawk Hill will be a good early test, as Mike Lonergan‘s squad is 0-3 in away arenas this year. Their opponents — Penn State, Seton Hall and Virginia — will post better records than Saint Joseph’s, but to establish their credentials (in both the conference and to the Selection Committee), George Washington has to win on the road, and that means junior guards Kethan Savage and Joe McDonald will need to show up.
  • Richmond at Davidson (Saturday 1/3, 5:00 PM ET, CBSSN) — The league gets its first look at Bob McKillop‘s Wildcats on Saturday. Picked to finish 12th of 14 teams, Davidson has turned heads with a strong non-conference showing. Track their turnovers and field goal efficiency in this one, as Davidson relies on both defensively, but Richmond head coach Chris Mooney‘s programs are never casual with possessions and their shooting has been strong this season. This result should provide a hint on how difficult a visit to Belk Arena might be for A-10 teams this season.
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One response to “Checking in on… the Atlantic 10”

  1. GE fan says:

    You have something wrong. GW has won on the road. By 17 at Rutgers.

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