#1 Davidson vs. North Carolina
The inter-state rivalry between Davidson and No. 7 North Carolina has always been an entertaining one. While the Tar Heels won this round 83-74, it was not without a strong effort from the Wildcats in Chapel Hill.
The two leading scorers for Davidson (5-3), as always, was Jack Gibbs with 30 points and Peyton Aldridge with 22. All season the Wildcats have relied on Gibbs and Aldridge for scoring, on average they have 44.3 points per game which is more than half of what the Wildcats average total on the year (74).
Keying in on this, the Tar Heels (10-1) shut down the rest of the Davidson lineup, allowing only four other players to get involved. When Aldridge and Gibbs had a drought on the court, North Carolina was able to pull away in the second half.
Unlike other opponents that the North Carolina, Kentucky, and Dukes of college basketball face, Davidson did not let the Tar Heels pull away.
On the road, the Wildcats were able to make it a three point game with two minutes to go. Experienced free throw shooting iced the game for the Tar Heels who were playing without their star point guard Joel Berry.
Without him the Wildcats held the Tar Heels to only 37.7 percent field goal shooting, but with Davidson only bringing down 33 rebounds in the contest they were never able to take advantage.
When evaluating the Wildcats late in the season, a nine point loss in Chapel Hill will not hurt their chances. In fact it may end up boosting them into the tournament against a school that may end up having a better record.
#2 Surprising Results?
College basketball is a strange sport. George Washington (7-4) and Davidson proved just that this past week.
This week the Colonials took on Florida State and Temple, the Seminoles in a ‘neutral location’ at the Verizon Center and the Owls on the road. As a backdrop to both of these matches, Temple beat Florida State 89-86 in the NIT season tip-off and is the Seminoles only loss on the season.
In essentially a home game for the Colonials, they shot only 22.6 percent from the field, even worse from three point range, and committed 18 turnovers against Florida State (10-1). It led to a 67-48 blowout of George Washington.
Turn around to a weekend matchup against Temple (7-3), who again beat Florida State earlier in the year, George Washington led nearly the entire contest. Shooting was quickly turned around where the Colonials shot 47.2 percent from the field and 50 percent from behind the arc. Although the Owls would come back to tie the game, Tyler Cavanaugh, 20 points, would hit the game winning three.
The same situation applies to Davidson who played the high ranked Tar Heels tough on the road, but days before lost by 15 to the College of Charleston (7-3). It was a poor shooting night for both Gibbs and Aldridge, which set the Wildcats back.
#3 La Salle Pushes National Champs
There was another strong performance for the Atlantic 10 this week with La Salle pushing No. 1 Villanova to the brink with the Wildcats winning 89-79.
Up until the final 12 minutes, the Explorers were in a heated back-and-forth thriller against their Philadelphia rivals. Even still La Salle never let the Wildcats expand their lead larger than 12 and pulled within four points late.
For Villanova (10-0), the team was forced to play with a small rotation that only included seven players, with four starters playing 33 plus minutes. Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart scored 26 and 21 points respectively as the Wildcats shot and impressive 50.7 percent.
La Salle would one-up Villanova with 52.5 percent shooting but 11 turnovers compared to the Wildcats six proved costly.
The trio of transfers for the Explorers has not been the explosive force they were in opening weekend but two were able to turn it around this week. Off the bench the Memphis transfer, RaShawn ‘Pookie’ Powell had a game-high 27 points, when the rest of the starters could not get the ball moving. B.J Johnson would add 13 along with a game high eight rebounds.
This is another encouraging result for the Explorers to go with their five point loss at Temple and 11 point win at Drexel. However a loss to Texas Southern and a 15 point loss to Georgetown, at home, has left question marks on the identity of this team.
#4 Rise of George Mason
George Mason (8-3) has never had a player record a triple-double until Marquise Moore did this past week.
In a 79-60 win at Penn, the senior had 17 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists.
This is nothing new for the double-double machine, who had already record six prior to this matchup. He averages 18.0 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game. His rebounding average is 17th in the nation as of Sunday night and he is the top rebounding guard in the country.
On top of Moore putting up All-American type numbers, he has put the Patriots on an seven game winning streak. The program’s longest streak since Jim Larranaga was their head coach.
Now the 6’2” guard has not done it alone, Otis Livingston II has averaged 14.4 points per game with 3.3 assists per game and fellow senior Jalen Jenkins has 11.4 points per game.
He is however becoming the go-to player the team needed after the loss of Shevon Thompson. Mason has not had a guard be the team’s reliable force since Sherrod Wright from three seasons ago.
Moore can help propel Mason to their best season since he has been on the team. In his three previous seasons, Mason’s highest win total has been 9 (2015) and the team is now three wins away from eclipsing that mark. Eleven wins though is far from what Mason’s goals are, a .500 record and a postseason tournament are not out of the question for this George Mason squad.
#5 A look at NCAA tournament bids
It is almost time for conference play (apparently the George Washington vs. VCU game last week was not scheduled despite what the conference schedule said). In 2016, the Atlantic 10 only had three teams make the NCAA tournament, the third most from a mid-major conference.
This year the conference does appear to be any more impressive with Rhode Island (6-4), Dayton (7-2), and VCU (7-3) as the clear NCAA tournament teams.
Unless there are some surprising results over the next three weeks, these are the only schools that have a strong change at an at-large bid into the tournament. If another team was to win the conference tournament, then perhaps it may be a four bid league.
There are four teams right on or near the bubble and a strong conference performance may be enough to push them in, but in return could push out one of the top three.
Davidson (5-3) is the only A10 team with two Power 5 wins over Arizona State and Missouri. The team also has losses against two strong ACC teams, Clemson and North Carolina, but a bad loss to Charleston. There is a non-conference matchup against No. 3 Kansas that could end up boosting the Wildcats.
Massachusetts (6-3) has never had a bad game. Their best win is only against Temple, but has lost by a combined 11 points to Ole Miss, Providence, and UCF, the only three losses on the season. The Minutemen are on a path with four more easy contests before league play starts, with a two or three wins over the top three, they jump into the tournament conversation.
St. Bonaventure (6-3) has not done much to show what the team can do this season. The biggest wins were against Central Michigan and Hofstra and closely lost to Florida. With a bad loss to Little Rock and a game they could not pull out over UNC-Wilmington they do not look good. This is a team though that always looks good in conference play.
George Mason (8-3) has good wins to cancel out their bad losses. While the team has looked impressive over the past three weeks, they will need to prove it against the Atlantic 10. If the team wants any NCAA consideration they must get a 9-9 record in conference, or better. That is provided they win their next two non-conference games.
Games to watch this week:
12/14: Saint Joseph’s at Princeton: 5:00, ESPNU
12/15: UCF at George Washington: 7:00, A10 Network
12/17: Florida Gulf Coast at La Salle: 2:00, A10 Network
12/17: Dayton at Northwestern: 7:00, Big Ten Network
12/17: Davidson at Kansas: 7:00, ESPN2