#1 Rhode Island Shines in Hall of Fame Tournament
Rhode Island’s best performance over the weekend was not in a win, but rather a loss.
The Rams (4-1) were able to keep up with the top ranked team in the country, Duke (4-1), in a 75-65 loss in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. It came after the team beat another ranked team, #24 Cincinnati (2-1) 76-71, the day before.
Against some of the best competition the Atlantic 10 will face this year, Rhode Island carried the banner for the conference. The team just proved to the conference, and the country, that they will be the favorites to win the Atlantic 10 when March comes around.
Against two nationally ranked opponents, the starters for the Rams played their hearts out. Both teams had the Rams scouted and were able to limit E.C. Matthews as best as any team could. As a result it led to junior, Jared Terrell averaging 18 points in the tournament, leading the team including 22 against the Blue Devils on Sunday.
When the Blue Devils would normally stomp on the throat of their opponents, Rhode Island fought back. Twice with less than ten minutes to go, Duke extended their lead to 18 but the Rams would not let them pull away.
In fact, Duke was forced to keep their starters in for the duration of the game. Only two bench players saw action for a combined 12 minutes.
Defensively, senior Hassan Martin blocked the Blue Devils seven times, while also generating 15 points in the paint. The 6’7” forward added six rebounds and a steal to help the Rams defensively.
This was the first major test for the Rams, and the last until conference play begins at the end of the year. The biggest blip on the radar will be in-stat rival Providence on Dec. 3.
#2 A10 gets Mixed Results in Preseason Tournaments
Besides Rhode Island, the rest of the conference has not looked bright in preseason tournaments. Combined as a league, they are 7-5 in tournaments thus far, including three wins from Fordham (4-1) hosting a single-bid conference teams.
Preseason tournament are the perfect chance for mid-major conferences to shape the mold for the NCAA tournament in the spring.
Last season, the conference only picked up seven Power 5 wins in the first half of the year, their lowest since conference realignment. As a result only three teams made the big dance last year. Unless the conference picks it up this week, it may be a repeat.
After Davidson (3-1) started with a disappointing loss to Clemson, the Wildcats rebounded and got wins over Missouri and Arizona State to finish fifth in the Tire Pros Invitational.
St. Joseph’s (3-1) lost to Ole Miss and will play NC State on Monday for a chance at third place in the Paradise Jam.
And to wrap it up, Duquesne (2-3) is 0-2 in the Bluegrass Showcase with losses to Kentucky and Canisius. The team will play Cleveland State and UT Martin later in the week.
Seven more Atlantic 10 teams will kick off their respective preseason tournaments this week and will look to pull in bigger wins for the conference.
#3 Massachusetts Shows Off Recruiting Class
Before the start of the season, Massachusetts quietly pulled in the 27th best recruiting class in the nation according to ESPN.
The Minutemen brought in six recruits, three four-star and three three-star players. By far it was the best class in the conference, with no other school breaking into ESPN’s top 40.
This weekend, everyone was properly introduced to the class of 2016.
Two of the freshman started for Massachusetts (3-1) this weekend against two NCAA caliber opponents, Ole Miss and Temple. They were two four star guards Dejon Jarreau and Luwane Pipkins.
In both games, Jarreau led the way. The 6’5” guard had 25 points against Ole Miss and 16 against Temple. He was a matchup nightmare for opponents, driving to the basket when played tightly and pulling up when his defender played off of him. He could not be stopped this weekend.
Not only can he score but he can give it up to his teammates. A combined 13 assists in those two games, for the season he averages six in every matchup.
Pipkins could be the play maker for the Minutemen however they needed. Against Ole Miss in a loss, he had 18 points and a single rebound, against Temple in a win, he only had six points but nine rebounds. Take into account he is listed as 5’11” on the roster.
Both Tyrn Flowers and Chris Baldwin also saw time this past weekend off the bench. Together they had seven points, 13 rebounds, and two blocks.
The remaining freshmen, Brison Gresham and Unique McClean appear to be on their way to red-shirted seasons as they have seen no action this year in four games.
Forget about Massachusetts being a threat in the Atlantic 10 in the upcoming years. They are already a dangerous team.
#4 Mason Sophomores Struggling Early
Last season George Mason appeared to putting together a young, talented team. The team had two freshmen starters, with two others being regular role players for the team.
In 2015-16, the now sophomores have struggled to put up the numbers.
The main trio of players includes Otis Livingston II, Jaire Grayer, and DeAndre Abram. As freshmen they averaged 28 points a game, shooting 37 percent on the season. They also would dish out just short of five assists per game.
Stepping up for their sophomore seasons for Mason (1-2), the numbers have not improved with Abram now as the expected starter. They still average 28 points a game but are shooting better at 46 percent.
A huge difference for this team last season was the presence of 6’11” center, Shevon Thompson on the court. As one of the most talented players on the court, Thompson would gather double and triple teams inside the paint, leaving one of freshman guards open on a wing or corner.
Without Thompson, these guys are going to have to generate more plays themselves to get involved in the scoring. Jalen Jenkins will not attract as much attention inside the paint as Thompson, so the sophomores will have to find ways to get open and finish contested jumpers.
The season is still young for the Patriots who are playing with a new scheme, in addition to losing Thompson. It will not take much for the team to turn it around.
#5 Class of the Conference
There are only two teams that remain undefeated for the conference, George Washington and VCU who are both 3-0.
Neither team has garnished a big win but has done what has been asked of them.
That is more than Fordham can say at 4-1 with all five of their games being walk-overs (which their loss should have been).
No question Rhode Island is the top followed by Dayton, but Davidson and Massachusetts have a case for the next tier. The Wildcats have gotten two big wins over Missouri and Arizona State to result in their fifth place finish in the Tires Pro Invitational. Later in the season they will play against in-state rival North Carolina and Kansas, both who are ranked in the top 10.
The Minutemen meanwhile have not played a bad game this season. Although freshmen are in their starting lineup, which may lead to inconsistencies, they have a good balance of experience among their starters. It led to a win over 2016 NCAA tournament team, Temple.
Dayton nearly came back against #17 St. Mary’s College missing Kendall Pollard and Josh Cunningham. The team also has a win over Alabama and a string of strong, winnable game on the horizon.
Matchups to watch this week:
11/21: St. Louis vs. BYU (in Las Vegas) 8:30 YouTube
11/23: Baylor vs. VCU (in Bahamas) TBA ESPN2
11/24: Dayton vs. Nebraska (in California) 8:30 ESPNU
11/25: Richmond vs. Maryland (in New York) 9:30 ASN
11/26: Penn State vs. George Washington 4:00 A10 Network