It’s no secret that St. Joe’s is floundering heading into the start of Atlantic 10 play tonight, losers of eight of their last nine. They are one of only three teams in the conference that enter the conference slate with a losing record. Here’s what the rest of the A-10 looks like with conference play starting tonight:
Charlotte (10-3): The 49ers have an ugly loss to Old Dominion on the resumé, but balance that with a quality win, and a blowout at that, at then No. 18 ranked Louisville, 87-65. Two of their three losses have been to ranked teams (at Duke and against Georgia Tech their last time out), but they have another chance for a big win against a distracted Tennessee team today to bolster their postseason hopes with a strength of schedule that ranks 277th in the nation. Boston College transfer Shamari Spears has been just as big as his 245-pound frame indicates, averaging 17.0 points per game, while guard Derrio Green has the hot hand after 31 points, including seven three-pointers, against Georgia Tech.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=dayton+flyers&iid=4324942″ src=”a/a/7/7/NCAA_Second_Round_8818.jpg?adImageId=8822379&imageId=4324942″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]
Dayton (11-3): A tough early season schedule has Dayton in a strong position to start conference play. They started the season in the top 25, but consecutive losses to Villanova (then ranked sixth in the nation) and Kansas State (now ranked 10th in the nation) knocked them from the polls. They stuck close in both games, as well as a two-point loss at New Mexico, but do have a victory over Georgia Tech to their credit. The two Chris’s, Wright and Johnson, have been pacing the Flyers as their only two double-figures scorers. They’ll be tested early in the conference season, as they’ll travel to Xavier on Jan. 16 on national television (ESPN2, 11 a.m.) in the first of two battles for Ohio.
Duquesne (9-5): The Dukes have struggled for consistency despite a relatively weak schedule, suffering losses against powers like Western Carolina and IUPUI. Their trademark explosive offense also hasn’t been there, as they’re averaging just 66.7 points per game, good for 11th best in the conference. Some of their erratic play is attributable to the absence of sensational sophomore Melquan Boldin, who returned to practice just this week after recovering from a wrist injury in the season-opener that required surgery. Four other scorers are in double-figures, including Damian Saunders 13.7 points and 12.9 rebounds per game, but their lack of depth beyond the top guys is a problem.
Fordham (2-10): It’s no surprise the Rams are the conference doormat thus far, as it’s a spot they have owned in recent years. They rank last in the conference in scoring offense and 13th in defense, a combination that already has cost head coach Dereck Whittenburg his job early in December. At least the Jio Fontan saga has come to a conclusion with the former high school standout leaving the team after five game to pursue a transfer to USC, though the Trojans have yet to make an official announcement to that effect. Freshman Chris Gaston is a small glimmer of hope, averaging 18.4 ppg and 10.4 rpg.
George Washington (10-3): The Colonials’ record looks impressive, but that dims significantly when you look at who they’ve played. Their strength of schedule ranks 293rd in the nation, and none of their wins have come against top conference opponents (they fell in their only two opportunities against Oregon State and Providence, both likely to end up near the bottom in their respective leagues). Damian Hollis has been leading the way, as expected, at 15.3 ppg, while freshman Lasan Kromah has been a big surprise by chipping in10.0 a game.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=la+salle+explorers&iid=2723215″ src=”a/4/2/3/ef.JPG?adImageId=8822388&imageId=2723215″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]
La Salle (7-6): The Explorers, a team tabbed for a high finish, have been one of the bigger disappointments in the A-10 this year, struggling to keep their heads above .500. They are riding a three-game skid, including a loss against hapless Binghamton in their last outing, into a tough A-10 opener against Xavier. Rodney Green has been excellent this year, pouring in 18.9 ppg, but he has pressed because of a lack of support. The absence of senior guard and three-point shooting specialist Ruben Gillandeaux due to a stress fracture in his foot has limited him to just four game and his return is still unknown.
Massachusetts (6-7): Year two of the Derek Kellogg era has only yielded a one-game improvement over its maiden campaign. They haven’t been able to string together more than two consecutive wins this year, and have lost their attempts at a third straight win by an average of over 17 points. They have a win over Memphis, but losses against Seton Hall, Michigan State, and BC. Ricky Harris (17.1 ppg) and Anthony Gurley (16.9 ppg) form one of the most potent 1-2 punches in the league, but it hasn’t translated into wins. Highly touted freshman Terrell Vinson has found it tough sledding so far, averaging just 9.5 points per game.
Rhode Island (12-1): The Rams enter A-10 play as the conference’s pace-setter with only a blemish against Virginia Commonwealth on the record. As winners of eight straight, they are also the conference’s hottest team (in fact the only team entering conference play with consecutive wins), and come off a long-awaited quality win over Oklahoma State on Jan. 2. Thus far, their powerful offense–second in the conference at 79.1 ppg with three double-figures scorers led by Keith Cothran’s 16.5 ppg–has been able to offset a defense that has been shaky at times. They have an opportunity to gain an early edge in conference play when they meet Temple on Jan. 10.
Richmond (11-4): A strong schedule has paid dividends for the Spiders, who have an RPI of 23 and look like one of the strongest A-10 contenders this year. They have quality wins against Missouri and Mississippi State (on back-to-back days, no less), as well as Florida, but will rue close losses to William and Mary, South Carolina, and Wake Forest. Defense has been the key for them, as they are second in the A-10 in scoring defense and third in field goal defense. Kevin Anderson has stepped into the upper echelon of scorers in the A-10, averaging 18.5 ppg. Dan Geriot may not be the player he once was, but has slotted in as a solid role player at 7.9 ppg and 5.3 rpg.
St. Bonaventure (7-6): The Bonnies’ record could be much different were it not for a few close games, like a one-point loss against St. John’s and a six-point defeat at the hands of Niagara. They also were able to stick close to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, leading late in the first half and trailing by only four at the break before the Orange pulled away late. Andrew Nicholson has developed into one of the league’s premier post players as just a sophomore, averaging 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game for a surprisingly potent offense that is sixth in the A-10 in scoring.
St. Louis (9-5): The Billikens haven’t struggled as much as many expected them to, even in the face of a decently difficult schedule (89th). Their chances for quality wins came all at once with a three-game stretch at the end of November, but they fell to Iowa State, Notre Dame, and Georgia, but they showed their resilience to rebound with three straight wins. Kwamain Mitchell’s 16.0 ppg and Willie Reed’s low-post presence at 13.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game have led a weak offense, but their defense, second best in the A-10 allowing 57.4 ppg, has been the stalwart.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=juan+fernandez&iid=7449643″ src=”c/c/5/e/Kansas_vs_Temple_8d5a.JPG?adImageId=8822396&imageId=7449643″ width=”234″ height=”249″ /]
Temple (11-3): It’s safe to say the Owls have been the story of the season in the A-10. They’ve been nationally ranked for three weeks, and are fourth in the RPI thanks to the third toughest schedule in the nation. They nearly toppled Georgetown, only losing in the waning seconds, but managed to finish the job against Siena, no. 3 ranked Villanova, and at Seton Hall before being taken behind the woodshed by no. 1 Kansas last weekend. Defense has been the name of the game for the Owls, who lead the conference in scoring defense to temper the league’s next-to-worst offense. Ryan Brooks is averaging 15.4 ppg, followed closely by Juan Fernandez’s 14.1 per game, including 33 in the upset of ‘Nova, but the consistent play of big man Lavoy Allen (averaging a double-double at 10.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg) has had arguably the greatest impact.
Xavier (8-5): Xavier’s record must be viewed in the light of their difficult schedule, the seventh hardest in the nation. They upset cross-town rivals Cincinnati and also wear able to take down LSU, but had near misses against Butler (by one point after a great comeback), Wake Forest, and Marquette, as well as falling to Kansas State. Jordan Crawford has proved to be the real deal, averaging 19.2 ppg, while Terrell Holloway has emerged as a solid point guard and is sporting a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Musketeers have used a balanced attack with eight players averaging over five points per game (though freshman Mark Lyons, who recently played his way into the stating lineup, will be out for at least a week), but someone other than Crawford will likely have to step up if they are going to be more consistent in conference play.
– Matthew De George ’10