As conference play draws near, GTG took the opportunity to briefly review the other 13 A10 teams, in no particular order. Seriously. I used random.org to generate the order by which I reviewed each team. First group today, next group tomorrow morning. I like to spread out the e-meth to keep you guys coming back.
Temple Owls (7-2)
Despite the loss of three starters; Dionte Christmas, Sergio Olmos, and Semaj Inge, the Temple Owls look like a team in the early mix to contend for an A10 title. Lavoy Allen has been solid on both ends of the court averaging 12.0 ppg. And 9.4 rpg. Stepping up to replace the loss of scoring with the graduation of Christmas are Sr. Ryan Brooks (13.7 ppg) and So. Juan Fernandez (10.6 ppg). The Owls have performed well against a pretty tough schedule, battling Georgetown to the wire before losing by 1 and a 7 point loss to St John’s at the Palestra. Temple’s managed solid road wins @ Miami(OH) and Western Michigan, and got a very tasty BCS scalp whipping VT 61-50.
Despite being a not-so-stellar team shooting the ball, Temple is outstanding on defense, forcing opponents into shooting just 37% from the field, and limiting possessions by excelling at taking care of the basketball. At this early juncture it’s hard to gauge how strong a contender Temple might be for the A10 crown, but upcoming contests against Villanova, Seton Hall, and Kansas will us plenty about the Owls and their post-season chances.
Fordham Rams (2-5)
You know a season is off to a rough start when just weeks after ending the university’s administration sent a letter of support for its basketball programs. Despite managing to hold-off the transfer of Jio Fontan, the Rams began the season with a listless 1-5 start including losses to powerhouse programs Maine and Hartford. That auspicious start (your sarcasm meter should be exploding) prompted Fontan to leave the program a second time, finally securing his release from the Fordham administration. The next day zombie-in-training Dereck Whittenburg was finally canned by the AD, ending 7 years of frustration. Although Whittenburg had some nice moments (2005-2006 season where he lead an inexperienced team to a winning season) the mood has steadily deteriorated. Despite the firing of Whittenburg, one has to wonder how committed the university’s administration is to its sports programs, particularly basketball. One look at Fordham’s lack of success and its stagnant facilities are all one needs to question if the A10 is really the right league for Fordham.
In more positive news, interim head coach Jared Grasso lead the Rams to a suprising 93-77 victory over a respectable Stony Brook team. Word has it Grasso intends to play at a quicker tempo than his recently deceased, I mean departed, predecessor, something that worked well for Ron Everhart in his first year at Duquesne. Despite the departure of highly regarded Fontan, the cupboard isn’t completely bare at Fordham. Chris Gaston is a terrific young forward, averaging 17.3 ppg, 11.6 rpg, and 2.7 bpg in his freshman season. Sr. guard Brenton Butler is also scoring the ball well (13.3 ppg) , however, this is coming with a stagnant 31.8% from the field. Fordham has a roster loaded with youth, however it’s a bit early to weigh in on their performance, particularly with a recent coaching change. With upcoming games against Saint John’s and Villanova coming up, things do not get any easier for the Rams; however, there are a few winnable road games to close out the non-conference slate against Hampton and Kennesaw State.
Saint Louis Billikens (5-3)
Not so svelte coach Rick Majerus has a roster full of young talent in Saint Louis, though the prize of the class is yet to play for the Billikens. In a move reminiscent of several 49er signings past, the NCAA has yet to clear Cody Ellis to play this season. Across the first eight games, the Billikens have performed as you’d expect many young teams; winning at home and losing the road/neutral contests. Saint Louis is led by a pair of sophomores in Willie Reed and Kwamain Mitchell. Reed has been excellent in his second season averaging 14 ppg and 10.6 rpg. His best performance came against pre-season All-American Luke Harangody with a 20 point, 15 rebound performance in a loss. Another forward, Brian Conklin, has also posted quality performances in the early season with strong games against Nebraska and Iowa State.
The task to compete in the A10 will be tough for Saint Louis relying on such an inexperienced roster (the only upperclassman is out for the season). Things though are looking up for Saint Louis and I would not be surprised for them to play spoiler for an A10 team looking to get a conference tournament bye or NCAA tournament bid. The Billikens are young, dangerous, and likely on the rise, especially if Cody Ellis gets eligible sooner than later. That’s if Majerus can focus on coaching and not complaining about the geography of the A10 conference.
Saint Bonaventure Bonnies (4-3)
Saint Bonaventure gets a lot of flack on Ninernation.net, and I don’t think it’s all deserved (I like to pick on them, but that’s mostly because of Olean, NY… dreadful town). The Bonnies are a respected program that’s given the Niners more trouble than we’d like to admit, and has done a good job of rebuilding from the ashes of Weldergate under the direction of Mark Schmidt. In early season action, St. Bonaventure has posted a 5-3 record with losses against Saint John’s, Illinois State, and Mississippi State. The only surprise thus far was the magnitude of the loss in Starkville, a 52 point thrashing at the hands of the Bulldogs. The Bonnies return to action against DII Le Moyne tonight, a game they should easily win. As a side-bar, the A10 should not be permitting regular season games against DII schools, particularly when the mascot is not indigenous to the region.
The Bonnies are led by a pair of transfer seniors, Chris Matthews (12.1 ppg and a crowd-pleasing 48% from behind the arc) and Jonathan Hall (12.1 ppg, 2.9 apg) and a very talented So. big man Andrew Nicholson. Nicholson has improved both his scoring (14.6 ppg) and rebounding (8 rpg) without sacrificing his shooting (still above 60%). Pretty impressive for a Canuck (had to get a dig in on J Felt). Top reserve Michael Davenport has also played well averaging just over 9 ppg on 54.9% shooting. Overall the Bonnies are one of the best shooting teams in the country thusfar (field goal percentage-wise) and have rebounded the ball quite well. This though has come against somewhat weak competition and after tonight’s game the non-conference slate gets tougher with games against Syracuse and Niagara. They also need to do a much better job defending the perimeter. Regardless, the Bonnies continue to improve under Schmidt and could be a middle-of-the-pack A10 team once conference play begins. Oh, and check this out.
Richmond Spiders (7-1)
I hate Richmond. A lot of us hate Richmond. They seem to have had our number since joining the A10. It’d be easy to blame style and the Princeton, er, Richmond offense but the Spiders are more than a frustrating offense. They’ve got players and one heck of a young coach. So far this season, they’ve played in my opinion the best basketball in the league, particularly over the last three games. Following an early season hiccup against William & Mary, the Spiders have turned it up, with wins against Mississippi State, Missouri (very impressed by that one), and upcoming Niner opponent Old Dominion. Perhaps most impressively for the Richmond Spiders has been their defense. According to statsheet.com the 36% opponents FG percentage ranks in the top 10 in the country.
Richmond is led by a terrific backcourt pairing Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez. Anderson is leading the Spiders in scoring with 17.1 ppg and Gonzalvez second with 12.6 ppg. Despite Anderson’s ability to fill the basket, he’s still a bit of a liability behind the arc, again shooting below 30% from 3 point land. But where Anderson struggles, Gonzalvez thrives, again hitting more than 40% of his long distance attempts. What’s really scary about Richmond is they’re playing well despite Dan Geriot’s sluggish return from injury last season. The post player with the normally deft shooting touch has seen his scoring drop below double figures (8.5 ppg versus 14.3) and his shooting has dropped nearly 10% (38.7% versus 47.3%). Should Geriot start rounding into form, Richmond could go from scary good to downright terrifying, and in my opinion thus far is the team to beat in the A10.
Rhode Island Rams (6-1)
What’s with the A10 and horned animals? Anyway, Rhode Island… yeah, these guys aren’t too bad. Despite the loss of a large chunk of their scoring from last season (Jimmy Baron and Kahiem Seawright) URI has managed a 6-1 start with a nice win over Providence and a defeat of the champions of moral victories, Davidson. The lone loss comes to a stout Virginia Commonwealth team by 2 points on the road. The schedule to date hasn’t been particularly difficult, but some tests are ahead including a road game at Boston College (who lost to Harvard again) and against Travis Ford’s OSU Cowboys at the Mohegan Sun.
The roster is a nice blend of returning players who are stepping up and some new pieces that could be very good contributors down the road. Delroy James (12.4 ppg ) and Keith Cothran (16.7 ppg) are a nice inside-outside pair that lead the Rams in scoring, though both would well served to improve their rebounding and assist-giving respectively. Lamonte Ulmer has seen nice gradual improvement throught his time at URI and provides another option for the Rams in the low post. New addition Akeem Richmond is a familar name for Niner fans as a former recruiting target and has played well thusfar for URI, averaging 8 ppg in just 15 minutes/game of action. Rhode Island is a fairly deep team (9 players getting more than 10 minutes/game), which serves them well given their usual up-tempo style. Though the Rams are still a bit unproven this season, they could definitely make noise in A10 play. Picked to finish 8th overall, it would not be too big of a stretch to see them compete for a conference tournament bye, though I think they are more likely to finish somewhere between 5th and 8th.
George Washington Colonials (6-2)
Following a dismal 10-18 season (4-12 in league play) that was their second losing season in a row, Karl Hobbs has perhaps started to turn things around in Foggy Bottom, and in turn cooling off the hot seat a bit. Ironically the improved play comes with a tougher non-conference schedule than GW has been accustomed to under Hobbs, and may be a prognosticator of a better performance once league play begins. The key for the Colonials so far this season has been strong defense, in particular, dominating rebounding (almost +10 versus their opponents). Upcoming road games at Fat Pat’s Towson Tigers, ECU, and Harvard should give a clear indication of whether the quick GW start is for real or a fluke.
The Colonials are led by Sr. forward Damian Hollis (14.6 ppg, 5 rpg) and impressive Fr. guard Lasan Kromah, who in his first season is putting up 14.5 ppg. on 53% shooting from the field and 47.6% from beyond the 3 point arc. In just 23 minutes per game. Not bad at all. Aaron Ware, Tony Taylor, and Tim Johnson are a trio of guards that also see significant playing time for George Washington with Joseph Katuka getting the starting nod at center, despite playing just 11 minutes per game.
Click HERE for Part 2.