Last Word On Basketball

The Resurgence of the Atlantic 10 Conference

LAHAINA, HI - NOVEMBER 26: Obi Toppin #1 of the Dayton Flyers celebrates after throwing down a dunk during the second half against the Virginia Tech Hokies at the Lahaina Civic Center on November 26, 2019 in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

The Atlantic 10 Conference is looking strong as non-conference play comes to a close in college basketball. While it is often considered a mid-major league, the Atlantic 10 is routinely expected to be a multi-bid conference. However, last season was a down year. That led many to question just how good the league would be going forward. This year, the conference looks poised to send a few teams into the tournament without sweating the bubble.

Atlantic 10 Resurgence

Atlantic 10 Conference Strength

The Atlantic 10 is one of the premier mid-major conferences in the country. The league sent three or more teams to the NCAA Tournament from 2007-08 to 2017-18. This included a peak of six teams reaching the Big Dance during the 2013-14 season. Dayton made it to the Elite Eight that year. Last season, the conference would have only sent one team if Saint Louis had not stolen the conference tournament title. As this college basketball season progresses, last year is starting to look like an anomaly.

Through December 19th, 12 of the 14 league members were .500 or better. It is also currently ranked as the 8th best conference according to KenPom. That ranking puts the league ahead of fellow mid-major powerhouses such as the WCC and Mountain West. That’s also an improvement in their final ranking of 11th by KenPom last season. The Atlantic 10 currently has seven teams in the top 100 of both the KenPom and NET ratings. While there is still plenty of basketball to be played, things are pointing in the right direction.

Sure Bets

Dayton Flyers

The Dayton Flyers currently sit at number 13 in the AP Poll, making them the only ranked team in the conference at the moment. The Flyers are also beloved by both KenPom (12th) and the newly released NET (10th). Dayton’s offense is explosive. They are shooting 53.7 percent from the field, which is the best percentage in the country. Their 84.8 points per game are seventh-best, while their 120.5 points per 100 possessions are the best in the nation.

Obi Toppin is the catalyst for the Flyers, averaging 20.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. The sophomore forward can singlehandedly dominate games, making him a potential All-American and a big NBA prospect. Jalen Crutcher is the commander on the court, and he is a great free-throw shooter, hitting 92.9 percent of his attempts. The Maui Invitational was the coming-out party for the Flyers, only losing to Kansas in overtime. Their impressive wins over Georgia, Virginia Tech and Saint Mary’s will only be added on as Dayton piles up wins in conference play.

VCU Rams

VCU currently sits at 9-2 while carrying a ranking of 43 by KenPom and 55 in the NET. The Rams are a defensive-minded club, only giving up 61.9 points per game. They also force 20.2 turnovers per game, including forcing 25 or more turnovers in three of their games.

Junior forward Marcus Santos-Silva is the go-to guy, averaging 13.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. VCU’s biggest win was against then 23rd ranked LSU. The Rams missed two opportunities in the Emerald Coast Classic, losing to Purdue and Tennessee. Still, a strong showing in conference play should get them into the tournament this season.

On the Bubble

Duquesne Dukes

Duquesne is one of the four remaining undefeated teams in the country, sitting at 9-0. The  NET loves them at 20, while KenPom remains a bit more skeptical with a ranking of 59. This is the Dukes best start in 50 years, with the program carrying a 41-year tournament drought. Duquesne’s defense is only allowing 56 points per game, 8th best in the country. They can defend both the paint and the three-point line too. The Dukes have 57 blocks while also only allowing opponents to shoot 25 percent from three.

Sincere Carry’s 11.6 points per game lead three other starters who average double figures in scoring. Marcus Weathers and Michael Hughes own the paint for the Dukes, averaging eight and seven rebounds per game respectively. While the impressive start is nice, Duquesne has yet to be truly tested. They will play in the St. Pete Shootout before beginning Atlantic 10 play. The Dukes will need to prove themselves over the next few months.

Richmond Spiders

Richmond is sitting at 10-1. Like Duquesne, the NET loves them with a ranking of 22. However, KenPom is a little more weary with a ranking of 69. The Spiders’ 114.4 points per 100 possessions are 12th best in the country. They are also shooting well, with a 49 percent clip from the field and a 41.5 percent clip from behind the arc. This is Richmond’s best start in 34 years.

The Spiders have four starters who average double figures, with Blake Francis leading the team with 18.2 points per game. Jacob Gilyard is an assassin from three, shooting 50 percent. He’s also putting in 16.2 points per game. Richmond’s best win is against Wisconsin, though the Badgers don’t appear to be as formidable as in past years. They’ll need to play well during the conference season and also hope Wisconsin performs better.

Jury Is Still Out

Rhode Island Rams

Rhode Island’s 6-3 record is underwhelming when you consider the rest of the teams in this article. However, they sit on the fringe of the ratings which gives them the opportunity to improve. KenPom puts the Rams at 81 while the NET has them at 78. They are middle of the road when it comes to both their offense and defense, though they do keep teams from getting to the free-throw line. Opponents have only shot 134 free throws, 28th best in the country.

Fatts Russell is the unquestioned leader of the Rams. He’s scored 20 points or more in seven straight games. The junior guard averages 21.4 points per game. Cyril Langevine is Rhode Island’s inside threat, averaging 11.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. The Rams’ wins over Alabama and Providence probably won’t carry much weight, making their performance in Atlantic 10 play crucial. Russell’s ability to carry them makes them a dark horse.

Saint Louis Billikens

The defending conference tournament champions are off to a 9-2 start this season. The Billikens will not be a surprise this year. Still, the rankings are lukewarm, with KenPom putting them at 94 and the NET at 62. Saint Louis crashes the boards hard, averaging 42.7 rebounds per game. They have 162 offensive rebounds this season, sixth-best in the nation.

Junior guard Jordan Goodwin averages a double-double, with 15.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Fellow junior Hasahn French also averages a double-double with 13.8 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. That junior duo can help Saint Louis make a second straight tournament appearance. While the Billikens played tough against Seton Hall and Auburn, their best win is against Belmont, who is not as good as they were last season. They’ll have to earn a bid during conference play and open up against Duquesne.

George Mason Patriots

George Mason is currently 10-1, though the rankings don’t believe in them yet. The Patriots are ranked 75th by the NET and 120th by KenPom. There isn’t much that stands out about either side of the ball, though their 60 blocks are 13th best in the nation. Still, it’s that middle-of-the-road performance as a team that makes many think George Mason is a pretender.

The Patriots are led by Javon Greene’s 13.4 and Jordan Miller’s 13.2 points per game. Greene is a scrappy guard who also gets 6.9 rebounds per game. Like a few of their Atlantic 10 counterparts, they also have four starters averaging double-figure scoring. This team has no big wins and a poor showing against Maryland in their only loss. They open conference play against VCU, where a win may legitimize their push for a tournament spot. Still, there’s a lot to learn about this squad.


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