Year in and year out, the Atlantic 10 is considered an underrated, talented conference. With Temple, Xavier, Dayton, and St. Louis, the Atlantic 10 is usually a deep, competitive league and this year it is no different. With the additions of Butler and VCU the league is much stronger. Right now, Butler and VCU are ranked in the Top 25 in both polls, Temple has beaten #4 Syracuse, hung around with Kansas at Kansas, and St. Louis, who recently had Kwamain Mitchell return, looks like a team capable of making a run in the NCAA tournament. It is an exciting time to be a fan of the improved A-10.
Butler- With wins against Indiana, North Carolina, Marquette and Northwestern, the Bulldogs had an impressive non-conference resume. Butler has begun A-10 play hot, winning their first three league games at St. Joe’s, at Dayton, and against Richmond. Butler, led by Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith, will have no problem making the NCAA tournament and will contend with VCU, St. Louis, Temple and St. Joe’s for the regular and postseason A-10 title. It won’t be a cakewalk for Butler. After the Bulldogs beat Gonzaga on Saturday night, the former Horizon league heavyweights lost a thriller to La Salle, and now go home against the always tough Temple Owls, then fly out to St. Louis in an eight day span. Butler then closes the season against St. Louis, at VCU, at UMass, and home against Xavier. Many experts picked Butler to finish around the 3-6 range; they’ve proven them wrong. They’re the most equipped team for tournament play in the A-10, but with a brutal schedule it will be hard for them to win the regular season title.
VCU- Recently ranked VCU is a fan favorite across the country. There up-tempo style of play, with the word HAVOC across the back of their warm-ups, has created a buzz around their potential of making a run in March. Last weekend the Rams took on St. Bonaventure in an entertaining basketball game. It was exciting to see such an athletic, hard-fought defense pressure, hedge, and cause havoc upon the opposition. VCU will do very well in the A-10. Sophomore Treveon Graham is a player to keep an eye on; the six-foot-five guard leads the Rams in scoring with 15.5 points a game. He also averages five rebounds a game. Troy Daniels, Juvonte Reddic, and Rob Brandenberg each average over 10 points a game for the VCU Rams who lead the A-10 in scoring with 77.9 per game.
Temple- Despite losing to St. Bonaventure last weekend, Temple gets the nod as the third-best team in the league. Temple, as everyone knows, beat Syracuse at Madison Square Garden right before Christmas. Khalif Wyatt is the clear go-to-guy for the Owls, but he has struggled big time (28 percent) from the 3-point line. Temple has the capabilities of making a run in the NCAA tournament. Jake O’Brien has been playing great basketball off the bench the last two games. Look for him, Scottie Randall, and Anthony Lee to help lower the burden on Wyatt as the Owls go deeper into Atlantic-10 play.
Xavier- After losing four straight before A-10 play, Xavier had many people wondering just how well they would do this season. Now, after four straight wins to kick off A-10 play, the Musketeers are tied with VCU at second in the standings. Freshman Semaj Christon has been stellar thus far, averaging 18.5 points per game in his first four A-10 games. Not only is he scoring the basketball, he hasn’t had a problem distributing the ball either, averaging six assists a game. Travis Taylor has provided senior leadership and upped his rebounding numbers since A-10 season began. High level play from Taylor is necessary for the success of Xavier as they move forward.
St. Joe’s- The preseason number one in the conference had a shaky start after beating Notre Dame in November. Hailed by many as the most complete team entering the season, the Hawks have struggled at times on the defensive end making stops in late-game situations. St. Joe’s held the lead against Butler deep in the second half, before giving it away, then took VCU to overtime, but couldn’t get the stops to win. St. Joe’s has the offense, averaging 70 points per game, which isn’t near the top of NCAA but it is far from the bottom. Wednesday night’s meeting with St. Bonaventure was a huge blow to their hopes of becoming an at-large bid. Halil Kanacevic is a big reason why many believe St. Joe’s was the best team in the conference before the season, but he missed the last three games because of his uncle’s funeral. He should be ready to go on Wednesday and St. Joe’s really needs him at his best if they want to compete for the championship.
Charlotte- This is how crazy the A-10 really is. I don’t really know what team to put here. Richmond beat Charlotte by 20, Charlotte beat La Salle by 11, but La Salle beat Richmond by 12. I am staying with Charlotte, especially because of how well they played in the nonconference season. They are an interesting team mainly because few people gave them much buzz after the 49ers started the season 9-0. Miami (FL) ran them off the court on December 14, but then Charlotte nearly beat Florida St. on December 22. Granted, Florida St. is having a down year, but Charlotte showed the capabilities of playing with bigger players. The 49ers are an excellent rebounding team (34th in the country with 38.9 a game) and they shoot at a modest 45 percent from the field. They don’t have a go-to scorer like many A-10 teams, but their nine man rotation is very balanced.
St. Louis- I really thought this was the best team in the A-10. They still might prove to be, although I highly doubt it. The Billikens had a head scratching, two point home lose to Rhode Island on January 19, despite Kwamain Mitchell’s 29 points. Though not all is lost in St. Louis. Mitchell’s strong game, his best since returning from his injury, might be the start of something successful, because he’s got A-10 Player of the Year potential, so maybe if he can spark St. Louis.
La Salle- The Explorers were looking for a signature win and on Wednesday they got it against Butler. Led by the sensational guard play of Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren, and Tyrone Garland, La Salle has the firepower to beat any team in the A-10, but what holds them back is their size. Jerrell Wright (6’8”) and Steve Zack (6’11”) are essentially their only bigs, but in a league dominated by guards, the height shouldn’t play too big a factor. After Butler, La Salle is at VCU then home against UMass.
Richmond- It seems like an eternity since Richmond was in the Sweet 16 in 2011, but after last season’s failures, the Spiders look poised to make some noise and it all begins and ends with Darien Brothers. Brothers erupted for 39, including eight 3-pointers in a blowout win over Charlotte. Obviously Richmond can not expect that from Brothers on a nightly basis, but Brothers is a clear go-to-guy who has the capabilities to take over a basketball game. Aside from the senior star, Derrick Williams, who has missed five-straight games due to an ankle injury, Kendall Anthony, and Cedrick Lindsay can help carry the load.
UMass- The Minutemen did very well in last season’s A-10 tournament (upsetting Temple), and NIT (Final Four), which led many to pick UMass as a trendy A-10 title pick. But a season-ending injury to Jesse Morgan might put a damper on that. Morgan, who averaged 13.4 points per game before hurting his knee, will be a key loss for the Minutemen. UMass has seven players, excluding Morgan, who play 19 or more minutes a night. Chaz Williams, a five-foot-nine junior is still the heart and soul of UMass, averaging 16.3 PPG, 7.4 APG and 4.4 RPG. He is definitely one of the more exciting players to watch in all of College Basketball.
Dayton- Although they are 1-3, the Flyers are better than their regular season record indicates. Losses at VCU, home vs. Butler, and at La Salle, aren’t necessarily losses to be upset with. That is just life in the A-10. The Flyers just got their first win and should win home against Duquesnes before away games against Xavier and St. Louis. Kevin Dillard leads the Flyers in scoring with 14 per game. Devin Oliver, however, is the key player for Dayton. His near double-double numbers (9.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG) will be needed as Dayton tries to grind out wins.
George Washington- Despite going 6-7 in the nonconference season, the Colonials have begun conference play rather nicely. They beat St. Bonaventure by 21, lost to Xavier and Temple by a combined total of seven, and snuck away with a win on the road at UMass and Rhode Island. They won’t wow you with anything. They are a simple, average team, but unlike most A-10 teams, their best scorer is a big guy. Isaiah Armwood presents problems on the inside for many teams, although he doesn’t often dominate games (12 PPG) he is the Colonials most consistent option.
St. Bonaventure- The defending A-10 tournament champions are playing their best basketball right now. They just upset Temple and St. Joe’s. After their surprise win at Temple, their first win at Temple in 31 attempts, the Bonnies stayed in Philly and took down the Hawks. There’s no reason to look back at their six game losing streak because they are playing fantastic basketball. The Bonnies held around with VCU and led Xavier by five with less than three minutes to play. St. Bonaventure has the talent to upset some teams, with Matt Wright shooting the way he has (8-15 in A-10 play,) Chris Johnson (12. 8 PPG) and Demitrius Conger (13.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG) the Bonnies have no problem scoring the ball.
Rhode Island-The Rams are definitely heading in the right direction. Xavier Munford has been a joy to watch (17.8 PPG.) Despite being 6-11, Rhode Island upset St. Louis. Rhode Island won’t be one of the best A-10 teams for at least another year, but they are a team that could pull off an upset from time to time, which is definitely something to look out for.
Fordham- The other Rams have played well to kick off conference play after an awful 4-11 nonconference season. Fordham lost to UMass by four and Charlotte by six. Braden Frazier (16.4 PPG) and Chris Gaston (14.0 PPG and 8.1 RPG) are the two best players on Fordham. Sophomore Ryan Canty averages only 18 minutes a game, but his presence is felt when on the court (7.2 PPG and 7.1 RPG)
Duquesne- Well, I don’t know what this says about the Big 12, but a 7-12 A-10 team but West Virginia. The Dukes might have a tough time winning games this season in A-10 play, but like every team, they could make an upset on any given night. A player to watch on Duquesne is Sean Johnson (14.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG and 1.7 APG).