Every year I look forward to writing this article because it allows me to deep dive into the Atlantic 10 for the season ahead, dump on a few programs, and remind everyone that Fordham sucks and shouldn’t be in this conference any longer. It’s therapeutic and relaxing for me personally while also giving opposing fanbases the ammo they so desperately crave regarding my hot takes, to potentially send me to @oldtakesexposed at season’s conclusion. HOWEVER, rest assured, before we jump in, I hate being wrong and go to great lengths to ensure I avoid that outcome at all costs.
With that said, here’s what I have to say about this year’s A10 conference which kicks off their conference season with a full slate of 7 games on Wednesday, December 30th: (alphabetically so VCU can be last, as is customary)
Now that nonconference is complete, here are the A-10 rankings at KenPom— stu durando (@studurando) December 28, 2020
30. St. Louis
72. St. Bonaventure
79. Rhode Island
139. George Mason
166. St. Joseph’s
176. La Salle
246. George Washington
Best win: Rhode Island
Worst Loss: vs. Charlotte
What’s up with them? Davidson has been one of the strangest teams to me, in that, I still can’t figure out if they’re any good and I went into the season thinking they wouldn’t be any good. What I can confirm is that they might be decent but also might stink. What I also know is that Davidson plays an annoyingly deliberate brand of basketball right now, is not all that fun to watch, and deploys the slowest tempo in the entire country (meaning how many possessions they have in a game). Kellan Grady is back and is still the exact same player he’s been the last two seasons, Carter Collins is less injured than he’s previously been and Luka Brajkovic still isn’t really all that good in the post. Hyungjung Lee has been a nice bright spot as a sophomore, and then the rest of the roster just exists. Davidson gave Texas a tough game, lost a heartbreaker to Providence, a bed-shitter to Charlotte and then bounced back to beat URI fairly comfortably, as well as Vandy. What I can discern is that Davidson’s key to winning is making threes. Notice I did not say “taking” threes, they’re going to take them regardless. Four of five Cats wins saw them make 10 or more 3-pointers and they didn’t reach 10 makes in each of their three losses. That’s conclusive enough for me. Davidson is top 100 in almost all of the offensive categories, but when you absolutely need a bucket against them…you can probably get one. I don’t believe this will translate well into the A10 season.
Do they matter? I really don’t think so in the grand scheme of who’s competing for the conference. Davidson will win some games they shouldn’t, and also lose a few that fall into the same category.
Can they win the A10? Nah.
YOUR UNIVERSITY OF DAYTON FLYERS (4-1)
Best win: vs. Ole Miss
Worst loss: SMU isnt a bad loss, no bad losses to see here
What’s up with them? The Flyers wrapped up their shortened non-con schedule with their most important win of the year against the Rebels from Oxford, and it breathed new life into their at-large hopes. The Flyers will live and die this season with what their “core four” give them and only 53 points have been scored by the Dayton roster outside of Dirt Road Johnson, Chatman, Crutcher and Sleepy Watson. The Flyers started the season undermanned due to the torn-ACL of Dwayne Cohill, but luckily have added USC-transfer Elijah Weaver to the mix (due to the NCAAs ruling recently) as well as a freshman named Mustapha. UD struggles to rebound and turns the ball over as frequently as anyone in the country, but remain efficient in most other areas of the game, you know, when they aren’t giving the ball away. The key to the Flyers season will be how they close out games, because they seem committed to being just inept enough on offense to keep a game close. Luckily for UD, they start the A10 slate with La Salle, Mason and Fordham, which should be just enough bad-basketball-doing to either get their wheels greased or show their ass.
Do they matter? They better or else what the hell are we doing here?!?! I prognosticated on the podcast this week that 14-4 will likely be enough to get UD to the dance this season, if for no other reason than the program finally gaining some undeserved name notoriety from those outside of the A10 circles.
Can they win the A10? With the money, facilities and support behind the Dayton program in the current day, it will be a massive disappointment if they aren’t contending for conference titles annually, and the expectation in the Gem City should never be anything less. That said, whether or not they win the A10 will come down to the 5 games between VCU, SLU and Richmond, and I think it’s much more likely UD finishes 3rd than 1st. It’s not the Obi/Mikesell/Landers Flyers anymore, but this is a talented team capable of beating anyone in the A10 on any night.
DUQUESNE DUKES (1-1)
Best win: The one they have, UNC Greensboro
Worst Loss: The one they have, Little Rock
What’s up with them? This year’s preview is particularly hard for a few squads like Duquesne, simply because they really haven’t played enough ball for me to draw specific on-court conclusions. What I will say is that it’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Keith Dambrot, who’s in year #4 in Pittsburgh, and has built a deep, experienced roster full of veterans. All the starters are upperclassman, and this is Duquesne’s best shot to finish in the top four of the league in at least the last decade.
Do they matter? I believe they do. DUQ is my dark horse pick to finish in the top four because I think they’re capable of beating any team in the league on a given night, simply due to their veteran roster tasting a healthy amount of defeat in their previous collegiate years. Luckily for us, that theory will be tested out of the gate as the Dukes open up on Wednesday with Saint Louis.
Can they win the A10? I would not be doing my job if I sat here and told you a team that lost to Little Rock to start the year can win the A10. So, no.
FORDHAM RAMS (0-0)
Best win: none
Worst Loss: can’t lose if you don’t play anyone!
Whats up with them? In what can only be classified as a humanitarian gesture to the struggling college basketball world of 2020, Fordham has yet to play a single game. Due to what I can only imagine is mental fatigue from being the A10 laughingstock for over 25 years now, Fordham went with the incredibly bold strategy of just not playing at all. Real galaxy brain shit going on here. I believe their thought was that fans MAY just forget about them if they never lace them up, and that was a chance they were willing to take. Alas, the jig is up and the Rams will indeed be forced into playing basketball once more on Wednesday night, and the A10 community will once again be reminded that Fordham should’ve left this conference years ago. The season will start, it will end, Fordham will play basketball, most of it will go unnoticed.
They dont matter, have never mattered, and will never matter in this conference. The sooner they leave, the better off they, and the league, will be. Period.
GEORGE MASON PATRIOTS (4-2)
Best win: They’re all kinda poopy, to be honest
Worst Loss: Norfolk State, which may have set their program back another 5 years, no joke
What’s up with them? Truth be told, I grow a little more annoyed with George Mason every season now. This will be season #8 for the Pats in the A10, and they have never finished higher than 5th. In each of those seven seasons, GMU has lost multiple games to KenPom +200 teams (including Fordham) and never had an offense or defense break the top 100 in the nation at any point. Only one season have they been over 500 in conference play, and they have never made even the semis of the A10 tournament. But worse than that, sadly, GMU has lost most of its core fanbase that surfaced around 2006 when they ran to the final four. People who cared, no longer care, average fans are long gone and even diehards are beginning to question what they’re doing here. This will surely be Dave Paulsen’s last season in Fairfax, and I really wouldn’t be shocked if they let him go before the season is over, even though you lose very little by just waiting until season’s end. It’s safe to say at this point that the A10 jump has not been a fruitful endeavor for the Patriots, and my hope is that the administration realizes how dire things are immediately, because the road back up from the bottom takes a long time and you need the right coach, just ask Dayton fans. In the first few years I held hopes that GMU would get things turned around under Paulsen, for the better of the A10, but those days are long, long gone. The sooner you start over completely, the sooner the rebuilding can start, someone run along and tell the AD at GMU. The fans who have stuck around deserve better.
Do they matter? The tone of the paragraph should’ve hinted to you that they do not.
Can they win the A10? Obviously not, but today I learned that George Mason owned a ton of slaves and even bequeathed them evenly to his children in his will. The more you know!
GEORGE WASHINGTON COLONIALS (1-6)
What’s up with them? Listen, I’m not going to waste your time here, GW…sucks…ass. They were a bad basketball team a week ago, and now 3 of their core players are leaving the program entirely to get away from the stench. Truth be told, I respect the brazen nature of those three kids. It takes a fair amount of cojones to say “Coach, we’re fucking terrible, I’m out” and just bail.
That said, GW will be lucky to win 3 games in conference play. They’re dead last in the A10 in KenPom rankings, mostly due to Fordham not playing yet, but are still projected to lose each of their remaining games. If Dayton, or SLU, or VCU, or Richmond loses a game to GW, it’s the type of loss that can fully keep you out of the tournament entirely. Such is life in the A10. Thankfully, they do get to play Fordham twice. Godspeed Colonials, it’s going to be a long year and next year probably won’t be much better now either.
LA SALLE EXPLORERS (3-5)
Best win: Drexel
Worst Loss: @Army
What’s up with them? As you will surely learn on the award-winning Dayton basketball podcast Talking Out LOWD, and the upcoming recon for UD’s tilt with the Explorers on Wednesday, La Salle is fairly mediocre and wildly inconsistent, while still playing defense that’s just annoying enough to keep a game close without being entirely effective. Ashley Howard is in year #3 of rebuilding in Philly, and as such, has a roster loaded with underclassmen to go along with one senior. Like UD, La Salle loves to turn the ball over and has been decent from downtown, but unlike UD…they don’t really do anything else well and consistently play 10 or 12 warm bodies. The boys from Philly strike me as a team thats constantly throwing shit at the fan in the form of lineups and seeing what sticks, while coming up with very few answers in the process. While Fordham gets most of the hatred from the A10 community, La Salle would also be better suited moving back to a conference like the MAAC that afford them the opportunity to be competitive annually. Although, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that happening any time soon, either.
Do they matter? Not to UD fans. La Salle will end up in the bottom half of the conference (and given UD is playing them on night #1) they will largely be forgotten about in the Gem City by mid-January. That said, there’s still a chance they sneak up on UD on Wednesday, even if it’s small.
Can they win the A10? I can’t ever picture myself answering this question in the preseason with “yes” under any circumstances. Can you?
RHODE ISLAND RAMS (3-5) (0-1)
Best win: vs. Seton Hall
Worst Loss: Neutral vs Boston College
What’s up with them? When the season started, I felt URI was an NIT team. When I watched them start 0-2 I was convinced they were an NIT team, and I come to you today with steadfast conviction that the 2021 URI Rams will be in the NIT when all is said and done. This isn’t so much a knock on the Kingston Rams as an honest evaluation of a program that saw a ton of roster turnover in the offseason, and basically just brought back Fatts Russell and Jermaine Harris. Any program in their position would be thankful to get to the NIT, so it’s safe to classify this season into “rebuilding” territory for Cox & Co., who built this roster largely off the back of the transfer market. Unlike many of the other teams in the conference though, we’ve seen a great deal of variance of basketball-doing to get an informed position on URI: they lost a shootout with the Sun Devils, and then went 2-1 to a grouping of KenPom 100-ish teams to close out their stay in the Mohegan Bubble. They used a 15-2 second half run to break the will of a tournament-bound Seton Hall team, before getting comfortably handled by a Wisconsin team that looks like one of the best in the nation’s best conference. From there they lost to conference-front-runner Western Kentucky and a true head scratcher to Davidson. Verdict: Rhode Island is going to win some games they shouldn’t and lose a few games that leave you utterly bewildered. Sure sounds like an NIT team to me, doesn’t it?
Random stat: URI is 7th in the country at their ability to get to the free throw line, at 48.5% of possessions. Remember that when your team finds themselves in a close game with the Rams.
Do they matter? I think so! URI feels like a team that won’t necessarily win the league, but they’ll fuck around in the top half just enough that every good-to-average team will need to bring their best basketball to avoid catching an L.
Can they win the A10? Not unless Cyril Langevine figures out how to get another year of eligibility from the NCAA.
RICHMOND SPIDERS (6-2)
Best win: @ Kentucky or Loyola in Indianapolis, depending on who you ask
Worst Loss: vs. Hofstra
What’s up with them? About two months ago, I thought this was going to be Richmond’s year to completely lay waste to the Atlantic 10 in a lesser, but still similar fashion to the Dayton Flyers of 2020. But now heading into 2021…that prediction was incorrect. Richmond jumped out of the gate with an impressive win over Kentucky a month ago that gets less impressive by the day considering Cal’s Cats haven’t won a game since. On 12/13 they played a VERY good West Virginia team and got fully exposed for 40 minutes in a game that was never really close. After getting back on track at Vandy, and gutting out a tough game against MVC-front-runner Loyola, they lost a real head-scratcher to Hofstra (a team you will notice lost to Bonaventure below) leaving the jury fully out on the usefulness of this Spiders team. The cast is all the faces from last year, and Tyler Burton has filled in amicably for Nick Sherod, who (like Dwayne Cohill) was lost for the season before it even began. The Spiders are deep, experienced, still bring tenacious pressure on the defensive side of the ball and still have a complete disinterest in crashing the offensive glass, a Chris Mooney staple. If the Spiders are missing threes they are an extremely beatable team, and won’t match up well with anyone in the A10 who’s effective at getting to the bucket and scoring around the rim. In their 8 games this year, opponents are scoring roughly 65% of points around the bucket, meaning you don’t need a hot shooting night to beat UR, you just need guards who can slash and big men who can eat down low. That said, UR is still going to be one of the toughest outs in the league because they don’t beat themselves. Their offense limits turnovers (aside from Grant Golden who’s good for like, 4 TOs a game), capitalizes on the fast break as well as anyone, and runs an offense similar to Dayton’s last year thats founded on movement, passing, back door cuts, and taking the first open look available.
Do they matter? They’re one of the few teams that do. I would be shocked if UR wins less than 13 games this season.
Can they win the A10? This is Chris Mooney’s best chance since Kevin Anderson left campus about 10 years ago. If there was ever a year UR can fully rebound and win it all, this is the year.
THE BONNIES (2-0)
Best win: They’ve only beaten Akron and Hofstra soooo….
Worst Loss: ain’t got none!
What’s up with them? The Bonnies are unfortunately another program that’s been hit hard by the rona and spent the better part of the last 6 weeks in shut down mode. As such, it’s tough to make any sweeping conclusions about the Bonnies beyond the fact that, on paper, this looks like a team that can surprise some people and mess around for a top-4 A10 spot. Lofton, Welch and Osunniyi are as good of a trio as anyone has in the league, so for my money how far they go this season will depend on how productive the supporting cast can be on a nightly basis. I know the Bonnies won’t be in the bottom half, and I know they won’t be able to get enough meat on the bone of the resume now to be an at-large tournament team, but Mark Schmidt’s group should be respected just the same.
Do they matter? For sure. I will reiterate that this is a team capable of finishing in the top four if things start to click for them.
Can they win the A10? Nope.
ST. JOE’S HAWKS (0-5)
Best win: ain’t got none of those!
Worst Loss: @ Drexel
What’s up with them? They’re still pretty bad. At the time of this writing Joe’s has had the fourth hardest schedule in the country, and I’m not exactly sure why they chose to go that route this season, knowing the ineptitudes of this team. Joes took a decent Auburn team to OT to start the year, then got absolutely shellacked by Kansas, Villanova and Tennessee. Now, remaining fair, most teams in the A10 would get shellacked by that murderer’s row, making it all the more puzzling as to why Joe’s beefed up the schedule in a very clear rebuilding year #2. You may remember Ryan Daly? He’s back for his final go-round and I feel truly sorry for the kid because he’s one of the better pure scorers this conference has seen in the last 20 years, but he will likely end his career with a handful of A10 wins in two seasons after transferring from Delaware. The Joe’s rebuild is on, and it sure seems like it’s headed in the right direction, but they won’t be a threat in the A10 for another couple years.
Do they matter? (see above)
Can they win the A10? No but I did learn Dayton currently owns a 23-18 advantage in the series, which surprised me given all the losing Archie Miller did to Martelli a few years back (2-6). I also learned Joes loss to Drexel was particularly more embarrassing because previously they had won 33 of 40 games in the all-time series. This is why you read my A10 preview, these nuggets right here fam.
ST. LOUIS BILLIKENS (7-1)
Best win: vs. LSU and vs. NC State
Worst Loss: none, Minnesota is a damn tough team who just beat Iowa on Christmas and only loss has come to Illinois
What’s up with them? The Bills are the class of the league headed into A10 play. As you may have seen at the top of this article that you started reading hours ago, Goodwin, French and Perkins are the most productive trio in the league so far, and it’s not even really close. The entire SLU starting lineup has an offensive rating above 110 (that’s really good) and they deploy a deep lineup of up to 10 or 11 guys to keep the drink stirred. In KenPom, Sagarin, ESPN, etc etc etc SLU is analytically a very wide margin from the rest of the league currently, and owns arguably the conferences two best wins in LSU and NC State. Sporting a top 40 offense AND defense SLU is shooting the ball extremely efficiently and is the 14th best squad in the land at crashing the offensive glass. They’re sharing the basketball at about the same pace that UD was last season, creating lots of turnovers/fast breaks and they’ve even cleaned up their one glaring weakness from last year (FT shooting) into a very acceptable 73%. More simply put: this team has all the pieces to be the perfect model of what Travis Ford wants to build in a roster. SLUs physical game is present from the perimeter to the paint, and only 3 teams in the nation are playing better defense around the basket. If there is any weakness yet on this team, or a blueprint for how to beat them, it’s using their physical nature against them in the form of getting to the line. Minnesota was able to score 90 and beat SLU by getting to the line 41 times, and overall opponents are getting about 25% offensive production from the charity stripe. I’m not saying that’s all it takes to beat the Bills, but it’s a start. They are the only A10 team comfortably in the field right now.
Editor’s note: If you still have free time, be sure to check out the detailed history of the Arch-Baron Cup Rivalry with UD, here.
Do they matter? They matter the most. SLU is the team to beat right now, there’s absolutely no doubt about it.
Can they win the A10? At this point, SLU nation would be pissy if they don’t. It’s the Bills league to lose this year.
UMASS MINUTEMEN (2-2)
(I have never called them “Massachusetts and neither have you. It’s UMass, they fall under “U”)
Best win: Northeastern? I guess? But they also lost to them as well sooooo? Idk?
Worst Loss: Bryant, for certain
What’s up with them? Same old, same old, to be honest. Matt McCall is now in year #4 in Amherst and it’s harder to see him turning this program around than ever. While the McCall offenses have “improved” since his first year on campus, none of his teams have ever really been able to play defense worth a shit. The 176th ranked defense UMass sports right now is actually the best of McCall’s tenure so far, which should tell you how long it takes to crawl out of a basement that’s three stories underground. KenPom and Haslametrics both have the Minutemen as the 9th best team in the conference to this point, and I think that’s a perfectly reasonable prediction of where they’ll end up by the first week of March. They aren’t turning the ball over much and actually have perfectly average shooting numbers across the board, but UMass ranks in the bottom 50 in just about every defensive category that matters. I said a few weeks ago that UMass Nation is turning into the old bearded guy in the corner of the bar that’s there every night: he drunkenly tells stories of the old days to anyone who will listen, each time proclaiming that THIS YEAR will be different…but it never is. McCall has been outcoached on a nightly basis since he got into this league and there’s no reason to believe that’s going to magically turn around after losing games to Bryant and Northeastern. In his three years, UMass has yet to get to 15 wins in a campaign and sport an 18-37 record in A10 play. Even with one of the league’s best players in Tre Mitchell, this has the look of a team that will struggle to get to 9-9.
Do they matter? They matter to the great people of the Pioneer Valley…I think.
Can they win the A10? Not unless Coach Cal steps down at Kentucky and goes back to UMass next month.
VIRGINIA CONFEDERATE UNIVERSITY (7-2)
Best win: Neutral vs Memphis
Worst Loss: Penn State and WVU are both respectable losses, so none
What’s up with them? As you saw at the top, VCU, Richmond and Dayton are basically indistinguishable as far as the analytics go to tell us who has the edge this season. The foul-based HAVOC defense is back, holding opponents to 90 points per 100 possessions, good enough for 21st in the country. Mike Rhoades team looked overmatched against West Virginia (not a knock, WVU is very good) and probably should’ve beaten Penn State, but their resume keeps them in the hunt for an at-large heading into conference play. VCU is turning opponents over about 1 in 4 possessions and no team in the land is generating more collective blocks and steals. Bones Hyland is back to lead the way for the Richmond Rams and is blossoming into a POY frontrunner as a sophomore, and is joined by a cast of transfers and newcomers that have frankly surprised me to form a very suitable rotation that is DEEP (11 players scored against Penn State) but also hasn’t quite figured out which lineups work best yet. VCU has the guards, size, length to throw a little bit of everything at you, their struggle has just been what to throw at you, and when. The offense has looked like a disjointed guessing game at times, but a lot can be covered up when your defense is as effective as theirs.
Do they matter? After taking a year off of worrying about VCU entirely, we are right back here again. The VCU-Richmond games will be among the conferences best this season and viewers around the league should be paying attention anytime SLU or UD suit up against them as well, because it’ll have massive implications on who wins it all.
Can they win the A10? I think so, but they key will be finding lineup combinations that are able to generate buckets. I can’t ever remember an A10 team winning the league by having 10 guys score per night.
I’m not sure if this is my longest A10 preview ever, but it sure felt like it. I know now why I only do this twice per year. LaSalle recap coming up on 12/30, and head over to Talking Out LOWD to listen to my interview with the boys from LaSalle to hear all about how hard it is to support the Explorers. This column is my favorite to write during the calendar year, simply because I care about my A10 brethren, and I want to be sure that no one is lying to them about their teams chances.
Conference season is here baby! Wear red and be LOWD, it’s all I’ve ever asked.