With the first month of the college hoops season now closed, it’s the perfect time to take a look back at the month that was for each team in the conference. Without question there have been some surprise teams, both of the good and bad variety, as well as a number of players who have made terrific early impressions. We’ll take a quick snap shot of each club and assess what they’ve done thus far and what they need to keep up, or improve upon depending on the success of the club.
UMass #21 (6-0)- Undefeated, ranked inside of the top 25 and already with three quality wins under their belt ( LSU,#19 New Mexico and Clemson) UMass is on track to be undefeated come Christmas, which is exactly what I predicted here on CCT over a month ago. UMass leads the league in scoring and have improved their shooting percentage from a year ago so drastically that they rank third in the conference thus far. Maybe most shocking, Cady Lalanne leads the team in scoring at 17.8 per game while Chaz Williams is scoring it at 16 point per game clip. All is looking good in Amherst for a return to the dance through a half dozen games.
Dayton #25 (6-1)- The Flyers have the best win inside the conference this season by knocking off 11th ranked Gonzaga out in Maui and looked awfully good in their one point loss to 18th ranked Baylor the next night. The Flyers outside shooting (42%, best in the A10) and the addition of Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert (14.4 points) have powered their hot start. Devin Oliver has thrived with a spectacular average 14 points, along with 21 assists to just six turnovers in seven contests. Hedge your bets on Dayton just a big longer, but the Flyers might eventually morph into a top three team in the league.
Saint Louis (6-2) Six up and two down for the Billikens who lost on Sunday to 12th ranked Wichita State and, previous to that, 10th ranked Wisconsin a week ago. SLU lost the two games by a combined eight points; not too bad vs. a pair of top 12 teams. In the what-isn’t-new category, SLU leads the league in scoring defense at 58 points a game and Dwyane Evans is still a load down low. Mike McCall Jr. and Jordair Jett have each played well, and sophomore Austin McBroom (9.4 points, 92% FT) has been a bright spot for the Billikens who look every bit a top 3 team in the conference. If not for a challenging early schedule, SLU would be 8-0 as work our way into December.
George Washington (6-1) Six wins and coming off their biggest one in a long time in downing 20th ranked Creighton on Sunday, GW has only lost to 25th ranked Marquette and has been easily one of the bright spots of the league. Indiana transfer Maurice Creek has lead the way in scoring in averaging 14.9 points while big man Isaiah Armwood (13.6 points, 7.7 rebounds) has continued to do damage in a variety of ways on both ends of the floor. Our own Chris DiSano pegged GW as a potential breakout team this season and the early returns look good at Foggy Bottom. GW ranks top four in the league in turnover and rebounding margin which always helps win games.
Rhode Island (6-3) With six wins in their first nine games Rhode Island has won every game a realist would have hoped. Lopsided losses at SMU and against fifth ranked Arizona on the road hurt… and dropping a close one at George Mason was tough… but none were unexpected setbacks for a team continuing to integrate new talent into one cohesive unit. Not shockingly, URI ranks second to last in scoring offense at 70.4 points, a clear indication that the offense is a work in progress. The defense has been uneven and should improve some (8th in the league) but the Rams’ success will largely hinge on their ability to quickly find themselves within the half-court offense. Freshman E.C. Matthews (10.4 points, 4 assists, 31% from three) has shined in a group of talented newcomers for Dan Hurley’s club.
Richmond (6-2) Richmond continues to win games with the same old script: Awful rebounding tied in with exceptional defense and an excellent turnover ratio. Richmond’s losses to 24th ranked UNC and Minnesota are both of quality and Cedric Linsday (17.8 points) has been stellar offensively for the Spiders, which is really no surprise at all to those who know the guard. Keep an eye on sophomore Terry Allen (11.4 points, 7.3 rebounds). He has been impressive and could become of the league’s better post players in the years to come.
Saint Bonaventure (5-2) Despite a poor schedule, we’re still relatively impressed with the Bonnies 5-2 start. SBU lost a one possession game to rival Siena and nearly beat high scoring Louisiana Tech down in the Gulf Cost Showcase Classic, so they aren’t all that far removed from a 7-0 start. Their big hole to fill entering the season was scoring and senior Matt Wright (18.9 points) ranks third in the league as of Sunday. Wright’s hot start coupled with Bonas A10 best +7.1 rebounding margin has fueled the better-than-we-expected start for a club many thought could finish last in the conference. No one is suggesting the Bonnies finish in the middle of the table yet, but they’ve showed more progress than we projected through seven games.
George Mason (5-2) After a 4-0 start Mason came down to Earth a bit with losses to Iona and Princeton. Most recently, GMU downed URI in a non-conference game at home to snap the short two game losing streak. Senior guard Sherrod Wright (16.9 points) has been the scoring presence we all expected while sophomore big man Marko Gujanicic (12 points, 7.1 rebounds) is an early candidate for breakout player of the year. It is a bit troubling to see a team as experienced as Mason dropping games to Princeton and Iona, and even more worrisome that the Patriots rank dead last in scoring in the A10. Many outsiders took a “wait and see” approach on Mason because of the change in leagues and those minds may prove to be correct. Through seven games GMU is a bit behind schedule as far as we are concerned.
VCU (6-2) The Rams still lead the league in steals (12.7 per game) and notwithstanding their losses to Florida State and a tough Georgetown team, Shaka Smart’s crew is just fine. It’s been the same cast of winning characters for the Rams thus far (Reddic, Graham, Brandenberg) and point guard Briante Weber (11 points, 4 assists, 3.6 steals) has been solid. Weber ‘s A/TO Ratio is third best in the conference, settling the “whose going to nail down VCU’s point guard spot” debate. Despite falling out of the top 20, VCU is still as dangerous as ever. Also worth noting their famed band director, Ryan Kopacsi has returned to campus after talks he would be leaving this summer. Anyone whose seen VCU’s pep band, the Peppas, knows how awesome they are so we felt his return was worth mentioning here; the home-court advantage remains strong for VCU.
Fordham (3-2) Freshman Jon Severe (23.2 points) leads the league, yes the entire league, in scoring as of December the 1st. A freshman who many thought and hoped could turn the tide of Fordham basketball has impressed beyond words through five games. But, it has’t been just all Severe for the Rams. Backcourt mate and senior Branden Frazier is also scoring over 21 points a game giving the Rams the highest scoring backcourt in the A10. Fordham ranks 4th in scoring offense and 5th in field goal percentage defense as well as sixth in three point shooting; all improvements from last season.
Saint Joseph’s (4-2) The Hawks have won all the games you may have thought through November. A four point home loss to Creighton stings because they were so close, while the neutral floor blow-out vs. LSU is a different story. Fresh off their fifth place finish down in Orlando after beating Washington State, the Hawks now face three straight Philly rivals: Temple, Villanova and Drexel over the next two weeks. This trio of games should provide further clarity about this team that has been so hard to figure out the last few seasons. Individually, Langston Galloway and Ronald Robert Jr. are scoring 18 a piece while freshman DeAndre Bembry is averaging 9.2 points on 48% shooting.
La Salle (3-4) Without question the most disappointing start to the season belongs to the Explorers. With losses to Manhattan, Providence, Northern Illinois and Penn State, La Salle has given up a handful games a potential NCAA team cannot without crushing their resume. Heck, even their two of their wins haven’t been pretty: Siena (four points) and Quinnipiac (six points). What’s gone wrong so far? La Salle ranks dead last in field goal percentage (40%), 12th in three point defense and 11th in rebounding margin. La Salle has a lot to fix before January if they hope to compete for a league title like many expected back in October.
Duquesne (2-3) They are who we thought they were? Duquesne has only beaten Abeline Christian and Albany so color us not impressed at time of print. That said, there are some signs of potential hope going forward this season for the Dukes with senior Ovie Soko (18 points), Tra’Vaugh White (14.4 points), Derrick Colter and Dominique McCoy. Is this Duquesne team more talented than a year ago? Without question. Are they still a massive work-in-progress with very little pedigree for winning? Absolutely.
* * *