#1 VCU hangs on against Middle Tennessee
There were a lot of great college hoops games on Saturday; Kentucky vs. North Carolina, Butler vs. Indiana, Ohio State vs. UCLA, but in the next tier of games Middle Tennessee at VCU highlighted the pack.
It was a mid-major clash between the Atlantic 10 and Conference USA. Both programs have strong non-conference resumes that put both solidly in the NCAA tournament as at-large teams.
VCU was the one that was able to add to that resume on Saturday night with the 80-77 win in the Sigel Center.
All game long the Rams (8-3) and Blue Raiders (10-2) went back-and-forth with 12 lead changes and five ties. Each team proved capable of putting on a balanced offensive and defensive attack, but the talent spread among each roster prevented large runs.
It was a fairly clean game with neither team having shooting droughts.
Although the Rams were a better shooting team and limited their turnovers, Middle Tennessee took advantage of their rebounding advantage (39-28) and a strong night from behind the arc (8-14)
JeQuan Lewis had 20 points for the Rams in only 21 minutes, shooting 7-11 (3-7 3pt). Mo Allie-Cox (15 points) was kept out of the rebounding column on the night with his counterpart, JaCorey Williams having 14 rebounds to go with his 17 points.
Williams was one of four Blue Raiders to score in double figures, led by Giddy Potts (25 points). Potts missed a game-tying buzzer beater that would have tied the game at 80.
This was perhaps the Rams largest out-of-conference win on the year with LSU being a close second.
#2 Northwestern hangs Dayton out to dry
If only on team was going to break through for a big win on Saturday it was going to be Dayton over Northwestern. Just no one expected the Flyers to lay an egg in the first half and end any chance at the win.
They are Dayton (7-3) though and made the game interesting late, but it was the Wildcats that held on 67-64.
Building a 23 point lead at half-time, Northwestern (10-2) quickly found themselves in trouble in the second half. After holding Dayton to 4-28 shooting and only 17 points, the Flyers were back within four with a 90 seconds remaining.
In a span of less than eight minutes, Dayton erased the lead with a 22-4 run.
Their comeback was stemmed by none other than the team’s energizer, Scoochie Smith. In the second half he scored 16 of his 18 points and gave the team extra possessions with five steals.
Charles Cooke was behind Smith with 12 points.
Shooting for only 14 percent in the opening 20 minutes was just too much to overcome. Hitting six of eight at the charity stripe in the final two minutes was enough to hold Dayton at bay.
Normally a good rebounding team, the Flyers were out-rebounded 44-30, of course due to their poor shooting. They allowed the Wildcats to get eight offensive boards.
#3 Davidson cannot hang with Kansas
There was a point on Saturday that Davidson was the only team on track to win against a Power 5 team, and they were playing the No. 3 team in the country.
With a one point lead at halftime, Davidson (5-4) had Atlantic 10 fans rallying around the Wildcats. A season full of disappointments across the conference had the A10 clinging to any team that had a strong non-conference showing.
For Kansas (10-1) though, it was merely a sloppy first half. The Jayhawks went 0-8 from behind the arc to start the game with Davidson rebounding the ball well and extending the length of their own possessions. However Kansas cleaned up their act with 6-13 and forced the ball to only go through the hands of Davidson’s scorers, Peyton Aldridge and Jack Gibbs.
Combined the dynamic duo scored 34 points with Aldridge (22 points) hitting five three pointers. It was Gibbs though who struggled with a 3-14 shooting performance.
They could not keep up with their counterparts of Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson recording 18 points each.
Kansas went on to win 89-71, including a 31-13 scoring run to finish the game.
This match is indicative of what Davidson had been, and will be, the remainder of the season. Two incredible scorers can individually pull out a win against nearly any team in the country, but a supporting cast that fails to pick up slack.
A result that would not shock the conference: a team that is good enough to beat Rhode Island on the road but also bad enough to lose to Duquesne at home.
Yeah, them Cats are wild.
#4 Mason makes it Eight
No team in the Atlantic 10 is hotter than the George Mason Patriots right now.
Heating up right before conference-play kicks off, they have won eight straight games with their most recent being a laugher against Longwood 97-60.
George Mason’s (9-3) success has come with the new unselfish attitude that radiates across their depth chart. It is not the same three scorers leading the team each night; normally it is Marquise Moore and two others.
One thing that is astounding about Moore (17.9 ppg), until the Penn game he had been scoring relatively quietly. Often in college basketball it is hard to go unnoticed when putting up 10+ points a contest, but his teammates and the system put together by Dave Paulsen have allowed a player like Moore to thrive.
His quick attacking speed and ability to finish at the rim makes him an easy target for the Patriots. With their confidence and ‘pass-first’ attitude, Moore is not forced to do half of the work. Instead he receives the ball on a rotation and drives to the rim.
No isolation. No decision making.
As shown by LeBron James in the NBA, a star-player makes the rest of the roster look great. Forward, Jalen Jenkins is having his best season as a senior because of the attention Moore attracts.
He is seventh in the country with a 70 percent field goal percentage.
While being the point guard, Otis Livingston II is the team leader in three point baskets (20). He is also second in the NCAA with a 97 percent free throw percentage, while making 30 in a row (a Mason record).
The freshmen are also averaging 16 points a game.
Enjoy it while you can Mason fans, a transition out of this year will be a tough one. But before that becomes an issue, know that this team is special and the work that they have put in deserves your support.
#5 Conference continues to falter
Each week it the same story for the Atlantic 10: could have, would have, should have.
Combined as a conference the Atlantic 10 has a 91-61 record. Not bad, but not great either. This is as of all games on Dec. 20. For the remaining of this post the stats are from the same date.
Here are the conferences combined records against teams based on their RPI:
There is no record on this list that looks particularly good. The top-50 RPI record would be fine if the other records were strong, but they are not. Granted the difficult schedule has come with the national attention the conference garnered in the 2012-15 NCAA tournaments.
Right now seven teams are in the top-100 RPI with three more in the top 150.
One week remains on the non-conference schedule. Opportunities will be against Miami, Mercer (again), William & Mary, and 12 other contests where the Atlantic 10 should be able to bolster their overall record.