Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 18th, 2016

The Atlantic 10 regular season is winding to a close but much is still to be decided. Four teams (Dayton, VCU, Saint Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure) have a legitimate shot at taking home the crown this season, and all (save Dayton) will be fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives in the coming weeks. Before things get too tense, let’s take a look at several of the young players who have made this season in the Atlantic 10 a special one.

Early All-Freshmen Leaders

All-conference awards will be announced in about three weeks. While a few of the preseason picks are on track, there have also been a few surprises. Several years ago, the conference was loaded with wings and combo forwards. This season marks a return to what the conference has always been known for — tough, smart guards. The pool of candidates for Freshman of the Year is decidedly guard-heavy, so expect the All-Freshmen Team to feature guards over bigs. One member of the group below is likely to take home Freshman of the Year honors, and they are listed from most to least likely to do so.

(Fordham Athletics)

  • Joseph Chartouny, Fordham, G: If these picks had been made on January 1, Chartouny would have won in a landslide after receiving three Freshman of the Week nods and an Honorable Mention in the season’s first seven weeks. Skill meets need is the best description of Chartouny and Fordham’s relationship. The freshman averages 9.9 points per game with a team-high 98 assists and a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is the top assist man in the conference and ranks third in steals, sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio and ninth in defensive rebounds per game.
  • Steve McElvene, Dayton, C: The redshirt freshman has become a fixture among the weekly honorable mentions (seven times through 14 weeks) while averaging 6.3 rebounds and 6.2 points per game. McElvene also leads the Flyers in offensive rebounds (46) and blocked shots (46). He is the highest-ranked freshmen among conference rebounding leaders, ranking second in blocked shots and 14th in offensive rebounds per game.

  • Otis Livingston, George Mason, G: Livingston’s stock took off with conference play as he has received three of the conference’s first six Freshman of the Week nods since then. And with Patriots’ point guard Marquise Moore sidelined with a high ankle sprain, expect this freshman to take on an even larger role moving forward. Livingston averages 11.4 points per game in just over 33 minutes per contest, and he leads George Mason in assists (86), steals (18) and free throws made (66) this season. He ranks 10th in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio and 14th in assists.
  • Jermaine Bishop, Saint Louis, G: Another late-bloomer, Bishop’s role increased dramatically at the start of conference play. He has averaged 11.2 points per game since January, as a shift to a guard-oriented scheme combined with an injury to center Austin Gillmann and the suspension of forward Brett Jolly has given him more playing time. The gifted freshman has made the most of it, earning two Freshman of the Week awards for outings versus Duquesne, George Mason, Davidson (a 96-87 upset) and Massachusetts (an 86-75 win).
  • DeAndre Abram, George Mason, G/F: Abram took two quick Freshman of the Week awards in late December and has, with injuries, suspensions and departures, seen his minutes consistently climb over the last two months. He averages 6.8 points per game in just over 20 minutes per contest. He will probably split All-Freshmen votes with teammates Livingston and Jaire Grayer.
Nelson Kaputo is the next in the line of outstanding student-athletes from Canada. (USA TODAY Sports)

Nelson Kaputo is another outstanding Canadian playing college basketball. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Nelson Kaputo, St. Bonaventure, G: Another strong prospect who rolled out of Mark Schmidt’s Canadian pipeline, Kaputo comes off the bench as part of the Bonnies’ three-guard rotation. He averages 5.5 points per game, ranks third on the team with 53 assists, owns a 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio and converts from beyond the arc at a 37 percent clip.

Others to watch — George Mason’s 6’4″ guard Jaire Grayer has started 24 of George Mason’s 25 games and has averaged 9.6 points per game. Rhode Island’s Nicola Akele, a 6’7″, 210-pound forward hails from Italy. He has appeared in all 25 games for Dan Hurley’s injury-riddled squad this season, starting six and scoring 67 points so far. Pierfrancesco Oliva, a Saint Joseph’s stretch forward, splits low-post time with senior Papa Ndao. Oliva’s passing skills match well with Phil Martelli’s inside-out catch-and-shoot motion offense, but he will have to bulk up more to contribute in coming seasons.

Two Games to Catch This Week

This week is Dayton’s turn “in the box.” The Flyers have had several tough games already this season, but the current three-game run versus a trio of challengers in desperate need of signature wins will determine seeding for Brooklyn. The first of the three games — last night at St. Joseph’s — resulted in a nine-point loss.

Another week, another big game for Archie Miller and Dayton. No surprise for one of the country's premier programs. (Getty)

Another week, another big game for Archie Miller and Dayton. No surprise for the program fast becoming the A-10’s standard-bearer. (Getty)

(All times EST)

  1. St. Bonaventure at Dayton (Saturday, February 20, 12:00 PM NBC Sports Net) — The Flyers beat the Bonnies in Olean earlier this season but that does not make the return game a cakewalk. St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams (46% three-point rate) and Nelson Kaputo (37% three-point rate) combine to give its offense a long-range dimension that could force the Flyers to defend more space than normal. Dayton makes a decent 36 percent of their own three-point attempts, but they take less than 30 percent of their shots there. If the Bonnies can consistently connect from three, this could be a very interesting and entertaining game.
  2. Rhode Island at Davidson (Tuesday, February 23, 6:00 PM CBS Sports Net) — Nobody will hang their postseason chances on the outcome of this game, but it should help to break up the deadlock in the middle of the conference standings. The tie-breaker produced here could mean the difference between facing George Mason or a near-home Fordham on Thursday in Brooklyn. Last October this looked like a game between contending elites, but injuries and a lack of defense have derailed both of these preseason contenders. The Rams have patched together a rotation without the services of EC Matthews, and have lost Hassan Martin, Kuran Iverson and Jarvis Garrett for several games in the last month. Davidson lost Jake Belford early while Jordan Watkins, Jordan Barham and Brian Sullivan have also missed time. Davidson’s biggest casualty this season, though, has been its defense. KenPom ranks the Wildcats’ defense at 230th overall, negating what has been one of the most efficient offenses in Bob McKillop’s 27-year tenure at the helm.
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