Coming off a stretch of earning 11 bids in two seasons, with a Sweet 16 from LaSalle and an Elite 8 run from our Cagers, it was only natural to expect the A10 to see a significant drop off in 2015. After a poor showing in November, we began to wonder if the league had lost all of the momentum of the past two seasons. As I sit here on February 1st, I don’t think it has. With eight teams in the RPI top 100, and potentially five in the top 50 by season’s end, I get the feeling that the league is still on stable ground.
Ultimately, this feels like a three bid season. VCU, Dayton, and GW were all expected to be at the top of the league and compete for bids and/or single-digit seeds, and all three are doing just that. Davidson has been a pleasant surprise, and the middle tier is doing what the middle tier usually does, compete with almost anyone but find ways to lose a few too many games. All in all, I think the A10 is at least marginally better than what we thought we saw back in November. Cue the hot takes, it’s power ranking time.
NCAA Tourney Status: Lock
A career ending knee injury to Briante Weber, who was just 12 steals shy of the NCAA career record, certainly causes some concern, but it would be ridiculous for us, proud members of the Sweatervest Army, to write off VCU simply because of an injury. Shaka still has the best player in the A10 in Treveon Graham, a rising star in Melvin Johnson, a quality sophomore PG in JeQuan Lewis, and a cast of talented role players. Havoc is going to make the NCAA tourney, and it may well still be the best team in the A10, but their ceiling is almost certainly lower without Weber.
NCAA Tourney Status: Any combination of 25 wins by Selection Sunday will lock it up. 24 wins is probably good enough, too. 23 wins and buttholes will clench.
We know their story. They are short on height and have six and a half scholarship players. The tourney sheet has no huge wins, but also no bad losses. If they simply win out at home and beat the bad teams on the road, they will dance with room to spare. Steal a win at GW or VCU and Dayton has a chance – a chance – to jump to the 6/7 seed line and open up hopes for a run to the second weekend in back-to-back years. I’m a fan, and I always hope, but they have no chance to beat a #1 seed. Not this year. An 8 or 9 seed would be a bit deflating, which I realize sounds ridiculous given the roster situation. Sue me, I enjoyed Memphis and am now greedy and irrational. 8/9 is a pox.
NCAA Tourney Status: Square on the bubble. Need a couple of big wins to feel safe.
GW was picked to finish second in the A10 and make the dance, and for the most part, they have lived up to that billing. A Christmas weekend win over Wichita State in Hawaii more than makes up for a terrible loss at Penn State. But even with a solid resume the Colonials would likely just barely miss the tournament as of today. Opportunities abound, starting with Dayton at home on Friday night. They also host Davidson and VCU, and travel to Richmond. If GW can split those games and avoid bad losses, they will probably find their name on the happy side of the bubble, perhaps even opening up in Dayton.
NCAA Tourney Status: Much like the Nationwide kid, Richmond’s at-large hopes died before they even got to kiss a girl.
Richmond is the perfect example of the thin line that exists for A10 teams. On the surface their resume looks weak, and it is. But take a closer look and you will see just how close the Spiders are to threatening the bubble. They lost to Wake Forest at the buzzer, to Northeastern by 1, by 5 at Northern Iowa, and in the final minute at James Madison. Teams in the A10 don’t have the luxury of in season growth like Nebraska last year, you make your bed in November and December.
Richmond has no real chance at an at-large, but they are a rapidly improving team. They hammered Davidson, gave Dayton a major scare in the dungeon, and had full control at VCU even before Briante Weber got hurt. TJ Cline is the robot son of a women’s hooping legend, and the kid can play. Kendall Anthony is just so dang fun to watch. Look out for this team in Brooklyn. If the A10 ends up with a 4th bid, it will probably be because Richmond won the A10 tourney. It might happen.
NCAA Status: Maybe can afford one more loss. Will lose at least two more games.
Danny Hurley’s squad is scrappy as hell, and will lock you down with the 8th ranked defense on KenPom. The problem? The Rams have the second worst offense in the league (249th overall), ahead of only Fordham. Playing at a snail’s pace without the ability to put the ball in the basket will not lead to you reaching your ultimate goals.
EC Matthews is a first team all-league talent, and Hassan Martin is a freak athlete and the best defensive player in the league as of today, but the supporting cast just isn’t enough to get them over the hump. They will be dominant at home, but I can’t see them beating many good teams on the road. They are the Brian Gregory Dayton teams, at least for this year.
NCAA tourney outlook: Must beat VCU at home, split with GW, and avoid another bad loss to have any chance.
Davidson came into the A10 as a complete unknown, but it became clear very early that the Cats belong. The offense is free flowing motion that is incredibly difficult to guard because everyone can shoot, but the defense is above 200 on KenPom. Make no mistake, Davidson is a very good team that could well finish as high as 2nd, but I put them here because I worry about them wearing down. The A10 will never be confused with the ACC, but coming from the SoCon, Davidson can’t be used to a league where the 10th best team (St Joe, who beat them on Saturday) has a legit NBA prospect and a handful of grown men athletes on the floor.
Is Davidson ready for the grind of playing important, physical games every 4th day in the 7th or 8th best league? We shall see. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m betting they have more growing pains.
NIT Outlook: On the bubble
UMass, like Richmond, saw their NCAA at-large hopes die in November. A very difficult non-conference schedule was too much for this team, as they have stumbled to a 12-9 record. Even with that record UMass has an RPI of 47, showing just how close they were to building a potential bubble resume. Flip around close road losses to BYU and Harvard, and this would be a top 35 RPI team with a couple of solid road wins, home wins over Dayton and Rhody, and a chance to do more damage. Life in the A10 can be so cruel.
Talented team, but inconsistent guard play holds them back.
See: La Salle
DeAndre Bembry is worth the price of admission, but the rest of the team can’t shoot or defend. Might be good again in a couple years, but probably not. Last year felt like Martelli’s swan song, I’m just not sure anyone told him.
Young team with some talent, but they don’t have the horses to win more than 4 or 5 league games this year. Keep an eye on Milik Yarbrough. Quality freshman.
They fire Paul Hewitt yet? Shevon Thompson is the best player I had never heard of until today.
You still reading this?
Paschall and Sengfelder are the kind of freshmen that can elevate a moribund program as they matriculate. Alas, this is Fordham, where good freshmen become underwhelming sophomores, terrible juniors, and forgotten seniors. They will fire the coach and hire some other guy from NYC who will win 30 games in 7 years, as is custom.