Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joseph Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on November 19th, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the Rush the Court correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. 

Impressions From the First Week

Mike Lonergan and George Washington picked up one of the bigger wins the A-10 has garnered in recent memory last week.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Mike Lonergan and George Washington picked up one of the bigger wins the A-10 has garnered in recent memory last week. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

  • Best Win For a ProgramGeorge Washington over #6 Virginia. As one of the tip-off games for ESPN’s annual Marathon of Hoops, the George Washington’s win guaranteed that the Colonials — and by association the entire conference — had a full day’s worth of free national publicity. At the very least expect head coach Mike Lonergan’s program to gather a few well deserved votes in next week’s national polls. The Colonials have 27 or so more games to play before Selection Sunday, but if their frontcourt complement of Kevin Larsen, Tyler Cavanaugh and Yuta Wantanabe, along with all-purpose wing Pat Garino, can dominate opponents as well as they did the Cavaliers, expect this squad to be in the thick of the conference race and very much a part of the NCAA conversation. Should Virginia regain its RPI footing, the bonus will extend to the Colonials, and by association, everyone they play on their A-10 slate.
  • Best Win For the ConferenceTie. Davidson over Central Florida and Dayton over Alabama. True, most computer systems rate the Knights and Tide in the mid-100’s and a consensus of previews project them to finish somewhere in the middle third of their respective conferences, but these programs are both in conferences with higher national profiles than the Atlantic 10, which means these wins can only help the league’s overall profile. Dayton’s win over Alabama by 32 points may prove to be a bold statement about the relative health of the Flyers’ program in the absence of Dyshawn Pierre. Along with George Washington, expect both of these teams to be in the hunt for conference honors.

  • Worst LossRhode Island’s EC Matthews. The Running Rams’ wing, a consensus preseason All-Atlantic 10 first teamer, injured the ACL in his left knee 10 minutes into Rhode Island’s opening game, a 65-42 win over American. Matthews figured prominently in previews that projected a top-two conference finish for Dan Hurley’s squad. The Rams’ subsequent 58-55 loss to Horizon League power Valparaiso is a gauge of the impact Matthews’ loss will have on the program. The Rams are talented but shallow, and his injury presents a particular problem in who gets more playing time — an experienced but smallish Four McGlynn (6’0″ fifth-year senior guard from Towson) or taller freshmen Christion Thompson (6’4″ guard) and Nicola Akele (6’7″ wing).
Awful news out of Rhode Island, who lost their top guy E.C. Matthews to an ACL tear. (Getty)

Awful news out of Rhode Island, who lost their top guy E.C. Matthews to an ACL tear. (Getty)

  • Surprise LossRichmond’s loss to James Madison. Despite strong contributions from senior Terry Allen (27 points, seven rebounds), junior TJ Cline (13 points, four assists) and freshman guard Khwan Fore (seven points, two rebounds, two assists), the Spiders lost a game they were expected to easily win. Richmond characteristically controlled the pace — keeping the game at 65 possessions per side — but the squad failed to offer much defense by yielding 1.34 points per possession and a 60.2 percent field goal efficiency rate. The Dukes may well contend for the CAA title this season, but Chris Mooney’s man-to-man defense also failed in the Spiders’ bounceback win over Stetson Sunday, allowing 1.05 points per possession to an offensively-challenged opponent. If the Spiders are to move among the conference elites this season, Mooney has to see significant improvement in their standard man-to-man defense.

The Early Season Tournament Preview

Most early season tournaments will be played over the next two weekends as conference teams will have multiple opportunities to improve their resumes and elevate the conference’s overall profile. Nothing beats word of mouth, especially if that mouth is talking into a microphone of a nationally televised game. Only 11 of the conference’s 14 teams will compete in such tourneys this season, a feature that Commissioner Bernadette McGlade must improve going forward. Here are six tournaments we should pay close attention to, and why.


  1. Gotham ClassicDavidson will be matched against Pittsburgh in a single round of play at noon on December 20. The two teams’ playing styles could not be more dissimilar. The Wildcats will pass and circle while the Panthers will pack the lane. Pitt’s trademark strength in rebounding will mean little to Davidson which has joined a growing number of programs that eschew offensive rebounds in favor of defense. Davidson should be in the thick of the A-10 conference race while Jamie Dixon’s squad is expected to finish somewhere in the middle of the ACC. A win over an ACC team is good for the resume any day.
  2. 2k Classic Benefiting the Wounded Warriors Project — This is Virginia Commonwealth‘s best chance to demonstrate that the HAVOC system can survive a coaching change. The Rams are matched up with Duke in the opening round (November 20) with a championship or consolation opponent guaranteed to be either Georgetown or Wisconsin. Duke is the team to beat, which, along with Duke’s top 10 ranking and conference affiliation, makes this Friday night game especially important.
  3. Advocare Invitational Dayton appears ready to compete without Dyshawn Pierre, the junior wing who was suspended for the fall semester, and guard Jordan Sibert, who graduated last May. Their quarterfinal (November 26) opponent, Iowa, is definitely a step up in competition. The Hawkeyes are projected to finish in the middle of the Big Ten and could very well find themselves on the bubble in late February. Ratings services call this game a toss-up. The Flyers will face either Monmouth (which is unlikely to lie down, as the Hawks beat UCLA last weekend) or Notre Dame (a consensus upper division ACC team) in the second round. Notre Dame and Xavier are projected opponents for the championship game. If the Flyers can take down the Irish, the championship game could be an A-10 reunion.
  4. Barclays Center Classic — When the site and the conference representative (George Washington) are considered, this tournament may be the best opportunity for an Atlantic 10 team to grab a championship. The Colonials showed multiple scoring threats and tough defense as they beat #6 Virginia on Monday and they will play this tournament in the same arena that has hosted the A-10 Tournament for the past three seasons so his will not be an unfamiliar court. Their semifinals opponent in the “host bracket” will be Tennessee (November 27, 9:oo PM), followed by either Cincinnati — the tournament favorite — or Nebraska. Both second round opponents are power conference teams, but Mick Cronin’s Bearcats are the American’s best candidate for an NCAA bid.
  5. Cancun Challenge — EC Matthew’s injury has put Rhode Island‘s season under a cloud, but the Rams are still a solid second best team in the “host bracket” for this tournament. The Big 12 representative, turnover prone TCU, will be their semifinals opponent (November 24), with either Maryland (the bracket favorite) or Illinois State out of the Missouri Valley Conference, up next. Even with Matthews on the floor, Maryland would be a difficult (but not impossible) match-up for the Rams, but without him around a win here would be electric for Rhody and great news for the conference.
  6. Hall of Fame Tip-Off — This field features two potential NCAA teams in Florida and Purdue who, like Saint Joseph’s, are expected to be upper division teams (but not title contenders) in their respective conferences. The Hawks have a semifinals game with Florida (November 21 at 2:30 PM). that will pit experienced rosters against each other. Beat Florida and Phil Martelli’s squad would earn a spot opposite (most likely) Big Ten representative Purdue and a frontcourt that would present problems for the Hawks mobile but undersized counterparts.
The Rams have a couple of monster games coming up soon. (AP)

The Rams have a couple of monster games coming up soon. (AP)

The best prospects for a trophy for an A-10 team includes the Barclays Center Classic (George Washington), the Advocare Invitational (Dayton) and Gotham Classic. While it is very unlikely that conference representatives will win all three, the prospects for one, with deep runs in three or four of the others, is strong. The key will be to win those opening round games.

Five Games to Catch This Week

In addition to the tournament games listed above, there are five other games involving A-10 teams to note.

  1. George Washington at South Florida (Thursday 11/19 7:00 PM ESPN3) – The Colonials can pick up a road win here versus a struggling American program, and road wins look nice on a season-long resume. Road wins over bowl division conference teams (struggling or not) look even nicer.
  2. VCU vs Duke (at Madison Square Garden, Friday 11/20 7:30 PM ESPN2) – A difficult game for the Rams, but one that can yield significant rewards if HAVOC can prevail.
  3. Saint Joseph’s vs Florida (Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT, Saturday 11/21 2:30 PM ESPN3) – Is DeAndre Bembry talented enough to carry the Hawks this season? This game should give fans a clue on Bembry’s ceiling. The Gators are experienced but this will be new head coach Mike White’s first taste of competition at this level. Phil Martelli, on the other hand, is an old hand with these kinds of contests.
  4. Saint Joseph’s vs TBD (Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT, Sunday 11/22 TBD) – The Sunday opponent will be either Purdue (game time most likely 5:30 PM) or Old Dominion (game time most likely Noon). Either game should be worth a look — the channel is ESPN3.
  5. VCU vs TBD (at Madison Square Garden, Sunday 11/22 TBD) – The Rams’ opponent will be either Georgetown or Wisconsin. A win versus either on a neutral floor would be a major plus on VCU’s resume.
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