#1 Rivalry Week to Open Season
Opening weekend in college basketball is normally one with mixed expectations.
On one hand, there are the thrilling preseason tournaments that feature Sweet 16 teams from the season before. On the other, there are those laughers where the Kentuckys and Dukes of college basketball play the likes of Marist, Stephen F. Austin, and Canisius to get a tune up game.
It’s not rare to see a program take on a regional rival for mid major schools to attract local interest. For nearly an entire conference to schedule these regional rivalries? Pretty crazy.
All 14 teams in the Atlantic 10 tipped off their season this weekend. Rhode Island was the lone ranked team in the preseason polls and the conference was looking for a hot start after a relatively subdued season last year.
There were eight teams that faced a team located less than 115 miles from their main campus.
Some were literally down the street (La Salle vs. Temple) and some were cross state rivalries (Davidson vs. Appalachian State). Of the eight games, the Atlantic 10 won five matchups, although some were close…
Rhode Island vs. Dartmouth (W)
La Salle vs. Temple (L)
Mason vs. Towson (L)
Duquesne vs. Penn State (L)
Davidson vs. App State (W)
UMass vs. UMass Lowell (W)
Richmond vs. VMI (W)
GW vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore (W)
Don’t worry, the out-of-conference rivalries will not be a theme this season. Next week the conference will have teams in seven separate pre-season tournaments.
#2 E.C. Matthews Makes Strong Comeback
This year’s season opener started a lot better than last year for E.C. Matthews and Rhode Island.
2015: 10 minutes, zero points, two rebounds, and a season ending knee injury.
2016: 23 minutes, 21 points, three rounds, three assists, and no knee injury.
Heading into the 2015 college basketball season, Matthews was a favorite to be a contender for the Atlantic 10’s player of the year. The right knee injury on opening night against American ended any hopes of that.
Now coming back from injury is never an easy task, but that is exactly how Matthews made it look. Against a regional rival, Dartmouth, the junior led the Rams to an 84-61 at the Ryan Center. He led all scorers in points, shooting 9-12 from the field and 2-3 from behind the arc.
It was only the first game back, and against Dartmouth of all teams, but Matthews is back and could be even better than he was before the injury. This should serve as a warning to all schools with the #23 Rams on their schedule, because they are on track to be the class of the A10 this season.
Oh and Matthews was able to red-shirt last season, bad news for the rest of the conference.
#3 La Salle falls to Philly Phoe
La Salle had a great opportunity to steal a game (for themselves and the conference) on opening day. However, fellow Big 5 rival, Temple, held off the Explorers to avoid what would have been a huge upset to start the season in Philadelphia.
The defending American Athletic regular season champions needed overtime to knock off the Explorers 97-92. An Explorers team that finished dead last in the regular season standings last year.
Once the Owls got the lead in the extra period they never relinquished it. No chance for La Salle to break through.
This surprise result is not so surprising for many La Salle fans, who were waiting for three transfers to get started this season. RaShawn Powell (17 points, seven rebounds, four assists), B.J. Johnson (23 points, eight rebounds, three blocks), and Demetrius Henry (eight points) played their first ever minutes for the team and helped lead the team to near-upset. They joined the team’s offensive weapon from last year Jordan Price (22 points) who came off the bench.
The Explorers were projected to make a jump to seventh place in the Atlantic 10 based on the coaches preseason poll. After their performance against an NCAA tournament team in game one, seventh will not be the ceiling on these guys.
#4 Mason faces CAA Rival
It’s a Mason blog, so the Patriots season opener has to be addressed no matter how much the green and gold faithful want to just forget about the 67-61 loss to their former CAA rival Towson.
It was more of the same for the Patriots, just different players. Turnovers, foul trouble, and lack of finishing at the free throw line became a theme when the game was done. The only difference this season is that there is no big, Shevon Thompson, to clean up the boards for Mason.
The first half was indicative of what the young Patriots (six freshman and five sophomores) can be at the end of the season. The team limited their turnovers to seven in the first 20 minutes and the team was really stressing the increased ball movement. As a result it led to 10 assists in the game, four from the big man Jalen Jenkins (19 points, seven rebounds).
In the second half, the youth of the team began to show as they had trouble keeping up with the taller Towson Tigers. To make matters worse, the team could not make a shot. Otis Livingston II was 0-6 in the second half and DeAndre Abram was 1-6 and neither of them made a shot from beyond the arc.
The Patriots will get a relief in terms of schedule. This week they face Division III school, Lebanon Valley, on Tuesday to kick of the Gulf Coast Showcase and follow it up with a matchup with Mount St. Mary’s before getting into the heat of the schedule.
#5 Opening Day Outlook
Not too many jaw-droppers in the opening weekend. Rhode Island remains ranked after their victory and will probably be the team to carry the Atlantic 10 banner until conference play starts.
Davidson and Dayton will have their opportunities to make strides based on their schedule but the optimism of Matthews being back for the Rams gives them the advantage. Hopefully VCU and St. Bonaventure will take care of their easy schedules and boost the status of the conference.
The only true surprising results this weekend was Fordham getting throttled by East Tennessee State 96-59 and George Washington barely getting by Maryland-Eastern Shore, 75-71. As a whole the conference went 10-5 in the first weekend of the year.
Matchups to watch this week:
11/14: Massachusetts at Ole Miss 7:00 SEC Network
11/15: Dayton at Alabama 1:15 ESPN2
11/17: Davidson vs. Clemson (in Orlando) 12:00 ESPNU
11/17: St. Bonaventure at Florida 7:00 A10 Network
11/17: Temple at Massachusetts 7:00 ASN