After nearly two weeks of Atlantic 10 basketball, enthusiasm is low on the potential for this conference. Three teams remain defeated and most teams have already suffered a bad loss on their tournament resume. Davidson, St. Joseph’s, and Saint Louis still look like potential NCAA Tournament teams, but the rest of the conference remains unpredictable. Here’s what we’ve learned from each team so far this season.
Games played: W vs. Cleveland State 83-63, W vs. Dartmouth 79-76, W vs. Wichita St. 57-53
What we’ve learned: There’s life in the new front court without Peyton Aldridge.
Davidson was one of many teams this offseason who lost their best player to graduation. Peyton Aldridge, the co-Atlantic 10 Player of the Year with Jaylen Adams, graduated in May and left Davidson with a massive void in the front court. After three games, Davidson’s shown there’s life in their front court without Aldridge.
Freshman forward Luka Brajkovic took over as the front court leader post-Aldridge. Brajkovic through three games is averaging 10 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. That’s currently third on the team behind Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson. Davidson is more than an elite backcourt. The Austrian forward arrived in Charlotte ready to play.
Games played: W vs. North Florida 78-70, W vs. Coppin State 76-46
What we’ve learned: No Josh Cunningham, no problem.
The Dayton Flyers began the non-conference schedule without its best player. Josh Cunningham, who averaged 15.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last season, is dealing with a wrist injury and missed the Flyers first two games. Freshman Obadiah Toppin replaced Cunningham in the starting lineup and lifted this team to a 2-0 start. Toppin averaged 18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game in those two games. He currently leads the Flyers in points per game and four scorers average 11 or more.
Anthony Grant will have a solid rotation to work with once Cunningham returns from injury. It’s not clear yet who Grant will demote to the bench, but the Flyers have seven legitimate Atlantic 10 basketball players in a conference that’s struggled out of the gate. Don’t sleep on the Flyers. I predicted them to finish fifth on the Schmidt Talking Podcast.
Games played: W vs. William & Mary 84-70, W vs. University of Illinois at Chicago 89-88 OT
What we’ve learned: Sincere Carry is the week one Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year.
On a previous episode of the Schmidt Talking Podcast, I predicted Saint Louis forward Carte’Are Gordon would win Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. After one week, that award is on pace to go to Sincere Carry.
Carry has been dominant for Duquesne through the first two games. He leads the Dukes with 18.5 points and 8.5 assists per game. His four most important points this season came in the final 11 seconds of regulation against UIC. That forced overtime and the Dukes went on to win that game.
The Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year race is far from over, but Carry’s made a nice name for himself to start the season. The emergence of Carry, Toppin, and Barjkovic made this race a lot more interesting.
Games played: W vs. CCNY 106-58, L @ Houston Baptist 75-72
What we’ve learned: Their road struggles continue.
Fordham was the worst road team in the Atlantic 10 last season and that weakness carried over to this season. The loss at Houston Baptist is the Rams fourth consecutive road loss trailing from last season. Their only road win in 2018 was at Duquesne on Feb. 10. That was also their only non-neutral site road win all of last season.
The expectations are not high for the Rams as they enter the 2018-19 season. As most Atlantic 10 fans already know, playing on the road in this conference is not easy. If these road struggles continue, the Rams will find themselves at or near the bottom of conference for the second consecutive season.
Games played: L vs. Pennsylvania 72-71, L vs. American 78-75, L @ Georgia Southern 98-89
What we’ve learned: They are not the Atlantic 10’s sleeper team.
What in the world is going on in Fairfax? George Mason was the offseason favorite as the Atlantic 10 sleeper. After their 0-3 start, it’s looking like they’re not the sleeper.
The Patriots have been awful in the second halves of games this season. They had the lead in two of their three games at the half and blew both of them. The lead against Georgia Southern was 20 before giving up 64 in the second half.
Atlantic 10 teams still can’t sleep on the Patriots. They have a majority of their top scoring back and sooner or later Otis Livingston II will start to average more than eight points per game. The Patriots opening week was one fans would like to forget. The schedule only gets more difficult.
Games played: L vs. Stony Brook 77-74 OT, L vs. Siena 69-61, L @ Virginia 76-57
What we’ve learned: The Colonials are the worst team in the Atlantic 10.
George Washington is off to an awful start to the 2018-19 regular season. The loss at Virginia was expected, but the two losses to Stony Brook and Siena at home show this team isn’t ready yet to compete in the Atlantic 10.
The Colonials are averaging 64 points per game through their first three games. That’s currently last in the conference by over four points. Terry Nolan Jr., the Colonials leading scorer, is also only averaging 13 points per game. Without a true top scoring option, it’s looking like it’ll be a long season in our nation’s capital.
Games played: L @ Temple 75-67, L vs. Lafayette 77-76, L @ Florida 82-69
What we’ve learned: Traci Carter’s defense is better than advertised.
Traci Carter as a freshman at Marquette finished in the top five in both assists and steals per game. Most teams hold on to those promising freshman, but Carter hit a sophomore slump and transferred to La Salle. Even though he slumped his defense remained consistent. He’s dominated on that half of the court at the start of the regular season.
Carter is averaging three steals per game so far this season. That’s tied for second in the conference, but he’s tied with Marcus Evans for first in total steals. La Salle now has Pookie Powell to score and Carter to defend in their backcourt. It’s the most underappreciated backcourt in the conference.
Games played: W vs. Bryant 97-63, L vs. @ Charleston 66-55
What we’ve learned: The rebuild will be a roller coaster ride.
No Atlantic 10 team suffered bigger losses this summer than the Rhode Island Rams. The Rams lost four of their top six scorers to graduation and Dan Hurley signed with UConn. David Cox, Hurley’s associate head coach, took over the program with an exciting freshman class and a solid core of juniors. Without the senior leadership, the rebuild will be a roller coaster ride.
We saw two complete different Rams teams over the first week. They demolished Bryant, but didn’t show up offensively in their first road test against Charleston. The inexperience will lead to two different Rams teams all season. This team will be scary next season.
Games played: W vs. UMass Lowell 83-75, W vs. New Hampshire 104-75, L vs. Harvard 74-71
What we’ve learned: The transfers are ready to contribute immediately.
Matt McCall’s scouting in the transfer market last summer is paying dividends for his team this season. UMass signed Fairfield transfer Curtis Cobb and Rutgers transfer Jonathan Laurent. Both are now eligible to play and began the regular season in the Minutemen starting lineup.
Cobb and Laurent are both averaging more than 10 points and four rebounds per game this season. With Luwane Pipkins and Rashaan Holloway, the Minutemen have four scorers averaging 10 or more points. Carl Pierre is at 9.7, so there’s a possibility the Minutemen could improve that to five.
McCall did a great job building his roster for the 2018-19 season. An improved Pipkins makes the Minutemen the new Atlantic 10 sleeper.
Games played: L vs. Longwood 63-58, W vs. Saint Francis 88-66
What we’ve learned: Depth is a major concern.
It’s tough to evaluate two games, but Richmond’s depth looks like a major weakness. The depth was a weakness last season, but two former starters, De’Monte Buckingham and Khwan Fore, are no longer with the team. Jake Wojcik and Nathan Cayo replaced them in the starting lineup.
In the season opener against Longwood, the Spiders bench combined for three points and zero assists. Against St. Francis, they combined for eight points and one assist. The Spiders record will be dependent on starter production.
Games played: L vs. Bucknell 88-85 OT, W vs. Jackson State 67-36, L @ Niagara 80-72
What we’ve learned: The future is bright, but the present will present growing pains
The St. Bonaventure Bonnies are off to a tough start to the non-conference season. Courtney Stockard and LaDarrien Griffin have combined to play in one game, so head coach Mark Schmidt is relying on a lot of first-year players to carry his team. Without the senior leadership, the Bonnies struggled late in games and on the road. It’s clear they have a lot to learn, but the freshmen didn’t back down from the challenge.
Freshmen Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi are off to excellent starts to their Bonnies careers. Lofton is averaging 13.3 points and 3.7 steals per game while Osunniyi averages a team-high four blocks per game. Dominick Welch, another freshman, has started all three games averaging over 30 minutes per game.
The new-look Bonnies are under a lot of pressure early. They’ve shown they can play, but patience will be key. Schmidt’s done a great job recruiting his post-Jaylen Adams roster.
Games played: W vs. Old Dominion 79-64, W vs. Monmouth 78-63, W @ Wake Forest 89-69
What we’ve learned: The backcourt looks healthy.
Saint Joseph’s starting backcourt combined to play one game last season. Lamarr Kimble injured his foot in the season opener and Charlie Brown Jr. injured his wrist last October. Both missed all of last season, but look like they’re at full strength this season.
Brown Jr. and Kimble lead the Hawks with 22.3 and 16 points per game, respectively. It’s currently the fourth best scoring duo in the conference and Brown Jr. leads all forwards. Brown Jr. led the Hawks with career-high 26 against Wake Forest. The Hawks look like an NCAA Tournament team. A healthy Brown Jr. and Kimble will take them there.
Games played: W vs. Southeast Missouri State 75-65, W vs. Troy 62-58, W vs. North Alabama 69-58
What we’ve learned: Saint Louis will have the best team defense in the Atlantic 10.
Travis Ford made a name for himself as a head coach for what his teams brought defensively. His teams are active on the perimeter, aggressive in the paint and disruptive in passing lanes. His Billikens team in 2018 does just that.
Jordan Goodwin, Tramaine Isabell, Javon Bess, and Hasahn French have been excellent on defense this season. Goodwin, Isabell, and Bess each average 1.7 steals or more per game. French also leads the Billikens with 1.3 blocks per game. The Billikens have dominated defensively this season. They are the clear-cut top defensive team in the Atlantic 10.
Games played: W vs. Gardner-Webb 69-57, W vs. Hampton 69-57, W vs. Bowling Green 72-61
What we’ve learned: Marcus Evans is the real deal, but VCU must stay patient.
VCU struck gold two summers ago signing Rice transfer Marcus Evans. He averaged 19 or more points per game in both seasons, so he transferred to VCU to run the floor after Jonathan William. Since the transfer, he’s torn both his Achilles tendons. His most recent was in June.
Mike Rhoades put him on a minutes restriction to start the season. He’s only averaging 15 minutes per game and he’s yet to even crack the starting lineup. Even with the restrictions, Evans still leads the Rams with 11.3 points per game. Evans is in excellent position to take over as the new face of Rams. They must stay patient to prevent another serious injury.