Conference

#JumpBall: Bottom of Conference Pulls Their Weight

Duquesne Claims City Game for First time in 15 years

The Duquesne Dukes have finally beaten Pittsburgh.

No, that isn’t a typo.

If there was a time for the Dukes (4-5) to topple the Panthers (6-2), surely it would not have been this season.

Duquesne is in the midst of a rough non-conference schedule and are trying to find their identity after losing their two leading scorers from last season. Three of the five losses for the Dukes have come against three single bid conference teams.

The Panthers meanwhile look to be on mend. Even with an NCAA tournament bid last year, Pittsburgh is not the program they once were. Since the team joined the ACC conference in 2011, the Panthers have not made it past the second round of the NCAA tournament.

With Duquesne always being a middle tier team in the Atlantic 10, surely the Dukes could have knocked off the Panthers when they had a down season, but no it was this year.

The trio of Mike Lewis II, Emile Blackman, and Tarin Smith led the Dukes to a title Micah Mason never did in his time with Duquesne. Combined they scored 48 of their team’s 64 points.

Pittsburgh was held to only 33.3 percent shooting on the night, days after their massive victory over Maryland in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Now Duquesne still has problems; they do not have a go-to scorer (although Blackman has turned into one), the team’s best rebounder comes off the bench, and the Dukes average 16 turnovers a game. However, the Dukes just proved they could put it all together for one game.

This may not have been the most impressive victory for the Atlantic 10 conference this year, but it definitely was one of the most surprising.

Rhode Island Falters

First Valparaiso, then Providence; the past week was not good for the class of the Atlantic 10, Rhode Island.

The Rams (5-3) took on two moderate competitors and came up empty. While neither of the losses was bad for the Rams, it would have been encouraging to see Rhode Island claim a strong road victory over one of the two schools.

Valparaiso (7-1) was selected as the Horizon League favorite to win the conference. Last year the Crusaders had a school-record 30 wins and a berth to the NCAA tournament.

Providence (6-2) has been one of the top rivalries for the Rams, being an in-state contest. The Friars, hailing from the Big East, always tend to be a tough matchup in Providence.

Neither matchup was a bad game for the Rams; both were decided in the final minute.

Although this has shown what Rhode Island becomes when E.C. Matthews is shut down or does not have a productive night. In the two losses, the guard averaged 7.5 points and shot 6-22 from the floor. From three point range, it was even worse, 1-11.

Just coming off a knee injury, the Matthews from two years ago is not to be expected. On the court, he does not have the same speed or confidence that he did prior to the injury. While his defense has been solid, it is below what is expected.

Most of his play has been strong throughout the year, including his thrilling season opener, but limiting Matthews to keep him healthy before conference play may become an option.

Jared Terrell has been more than capable of picking up the slack. He had a 21 point performance against the Crusaders and followed it up with 14 at Providence. The junior guard cannot become the only option from deep otherwise the court becomes really small for the Rams.

    What is Wrong with St. Joseph’s?

A player gets drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft, and normally the program gets a boost for the next couple of seasons.

This has not been the case for the Saint Joseph’s Hawks (3-4) and losing DeAndre Bembry.

While the 2016 Atlantic 10 champions had one of the best years in program history last year, this year has become a slump. The team started off with three wins to single bid conference teams but has followed it up with four straight losses to Power 5 schools.

In addition to losing the 2016 Player of the Year, Bembry as only a junior, the Hawks lost two other starters to graduation. Losing the 6’6” guard may have set the program back a season.

The team is starting a junior, two sophomores and two freshmen in their regular rotation.

The inexperience was reflected in the preseason poll, which had the Hawks dropping to ninth in the conference. This is coming a year after losing in the NCAA second round by five points to a No. 1 seed Oregon.

Now there actually is not anything wrong with the Hawks. Besides a blowout from the 2016 NCAA champions, Villanova 88-57, all the other losses have been within striking range. The team has limited their turnovers and is shooting well, except from at the charity stripe.

The team is led by the lone junior starter, Shavar Newkirk, who averages 21.8 points per game and four assists.

4. George Mason gets Two Top-100 RPI Wins

Last season it was Ole Miss and Oklahoma State, this year it was Northern Iowa and Mercer.

Not the same name recognition for the George Mason Patriots (6-3), which pulled off upsets against the previously No. 4 and No. 79 teams in the RPI, but still monumental wins.

The victories have put the Patriots on a five game winning streak for the first time in four seasons and their best record in the Dave Paulsen era.

Most impressive from these wins was how Mason accomplished these two upsets. Both games were entirely different.

Against Northern Iowa (3-4), George Mason was called for five offensive charges in the first half. Essentially the team took out Mason’s biggest weapon, Marquise Moore (17.3 ppg) and forced the Patriots to turn into a jump shooting team.

As a result the Patriots only shot 36 percent from the field, but it was not just the Patriots who struggled as the Panthers shot 26 percent.

Despite the 18 turnovers, Mason took advantage with a 53-30 rebounding advantage and getting key stops defensively when the Patriots needed them.

Against Mercer (4-4), it was the complete opposite.

Mason shot 50 percent and Mercer shot 47, with a combined 11 turnovers from both teams in the game. The Patriots became a quick moving team with Otis Livingston II dishing out seven assists and three Patriots hitting double figures.

The dogfight for Mason continues with a Big Ten matchup against Penn State this Wednesday. The Nittany Lions have already beaten two A10 opponents Duquesne and George Washington but are facing one of the hottest teams in the country.

    VCU and George Washington Kick Off Conference Play on Saturday

Atlantic 10 conference play gets an early start in December. No, not New Year’s like fans are accustomed to, but rather the second weekend of the month

The conference tip-off will be between George Washington (5-4) and VCU (6-2) in Richmond this Saturday. The rest of the conference will start Atlantic 10 play on Dec. 30.

In the off-season this was going to be billed as a great start to conference action, now the A10 will be lucky it does not turn into a blowout.

An early conference matchup is the last thing the Colonials needed this season. George Washington may end up finishing in the top half of the Atlantic 10, but it will be because of a late season surge, not consistent play.

Despite a setback against Illinois, the Rams are on a path to compete for the conference title. The team has key wins against St. John’s, LSU, and Princeton, with a close loss against #20 Baylor.

With both teams playing a game the day before on Saturday, the edge clearly favors the Rams who are better built with experience to pull off two wins in two days against a conference opponent.

Last year these two teams split their season series with the road team winning each matchup.

Five Games to Watch:

12/7: Georgia Tech @ VCU: 7:00, ESPNU

12/7: George Mason @ Penn State: 7:00, BTN

12/7: Davidson @ North Carolina: 9:00, ESPN2

12/10: Rhode Island @ Houston: 1:30, ESPNU

!2/11: George Washington @ VCU: 6:00, ESPN2

 


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