#JumpBall: Early Conference Surprises

#1 Dayton Outduels Rhode Island in A10 showcase

Without their best player, the Dayton Flyers call on Scoochie Smith to lead the team past Rhode Island for a 67-64 win.

Stepping into the lead role with Charles Cooke out, Smith had one of the best games of his career at UD Arena on Friday night, with 21 points, five rebounds, six assists, and four steals. Playing in all but two minutes, the 6’2” senior worked up and down the court to keep the Flyers in the game.

Early on it appeared Rhode Island (10-5, 2-1) was going to roll the Flyers from the start. Quickly in 11 minutes, all starters saw the ball through the basket and the Rams built a 19-9 lead. Throughout the contest, it appeared that the ball movement of Rhode Island was going to be too much for Dayton and the Rams were moments away from breaking it open.

Using 14 fast-break points and nine steals, Dayton (12-3, 3-0) remained resilient.

Kendall Pollard came up big for the Flyers, once Hassan Martin (seven points) made it to the bench. Consistently fed the ball, Pollard hit 8-16 while scoring 18 points.

The highly anticipated forward matchup was cut short to help nurse Martin’s quad injury as he was only held to 20 minutes.

Moving Kuran Iverson to the four slot, he responded with 14 points and 13 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Rhode Island would go on to assist on 19 of their 22 made baskets but fall short on Jarvis Garrett’s game tying basket attempt in the final six seconds.

This was the first showcase game of the season for the Atlantic 10 conference with two of their potential NCAA tournament teams squaring off for the first time. While Dayton was projected to win the conference, this will be one that Rhode Island wishes they could have back.

There should be no worries for the Rams as long as they can stay healthy.

Going forward, the Flyers look to be the clear favorite in the conference with the rematch being Feb. 10 at the Ryan Center.

#2 Tyler Cavanaugh off to a hot start

Somehow, following perhaps the worst off-season in George Washington men’s basketball history (link), the Colonials have remained in the heat of things thanks to Tyler Cavanaugh.

Earlier this week, the Colonials (9-7, 1-2) got their first conference win of the season, on the road, over the unsuspecting Davidson 73-69. It was the biggest upset of conference play so far this season.

Leading the way was the graduate forward, Cavanaugh.

In 33 minutes played, the 6’9” forward shot 6-9 from the field, picking up 20 points. He would add six rebounds and two assists for George Washington. The biggest asset of his game though was spreading the court as a big, 3-5 from behind the arc and 5-5 at the line.

So far in conference play, his stats have been the same game-to-game.

Averaging 17.3 points against Atlantic 10 opponents, Cavanaugh is in the top ten in scoring, mostly surrounded by guards. On the boards, he is tied for fourth with 8.7 rebounds and is a perfect 13-13 from the line.

From downtown he is 7-14, and in a guard heavy league he will open up a lot of options in the middle of the floor.

There might not be much of a ceiling for the Colonials this season, but with Cavanaugh on the court, they will be able to matchup against a majority of the conference.

#3 Spiders surge in conference play

There are only three teams left unbeaten in conference play, VCU, Dayton, and Richmond.

Yes Richmond.

A team that I wrote off for another mediocre season (along with many other Atlantic 10 reporters) is on pace to compete for the coveted double-bye in the conference tournament.

In only three games the Spiders (9-6, 3-0) have gotten two road victories in tough arenas; first at Davidson 82-80 and then this past weekend at George Washington 77-70. Both of which the team was without Marshall Wood and Grant Golden.

Thrown in the middle is of the road wins is a home 80-72 win over Fordham, but that should come as no surprise.

Without Wood, his replacement De’Monte Buckingham has been putting up all-conference honors-type numbers. As a freshman guard in conference play, he averages 17.7 points, 72 percent shooting, two steals, and has tied T.J. Cline for the most three pointers on the team in the stretch.

By a long shot, the Spiders have done this with the best field good shooting percentage in the conference at 56 percent. Averaging over 20 assists a contest, they are tied with the most efficient offense in the conference, Rhode Island.

Still the Spiders have a difficult schedule ahead of them, playing VCU twice, Dayton on the road, and Rhode Island and Davidson (again) at home. At best, even with Richmond playing their best, it is hard to see them earning more than two wins.

With Dayton, VCU, and Rhode Island all assuming to continue their successful seasons, it appears that final double bye slot will be a hotly contested spot. In the running are Richmond, Davidson (who now has two conference loss), and St. Bonaventure.

#4 Patriots Not Quite Where They Want to be

Splitting the week for George Mason, a home win against Massachusetts on Wednesday and a loss at St. Bonaventure on Saturday, the Patriots have shown that there is still plenty of work to be done.

On offense the team has become one-dimensional. Get the ball into the paint and score; whether driving into the lane, getting the ball to Jalen Jenkins in the post, or hitting a back-door cut.

Ball movement that was circling the arc is not there anymore.

Rotations to force mismatches, screens do not happen as much as they should be utilized against the defenses Mason is facing.

Much of these facets of the offense have gone away with the dominance of Marquise Moore. Still one of the select players in the country averaging a double-double, 18.0 points and 10.6 rebounds, the offense clearly now runs through the senior guard.

When Moore is feeling it, having him be the superstar opens up the offense. But when Moore cannot be the facilitator (or has a nagging injury), Mason is lost offensively shooting 42 percent in conference play.

The answer against Atlantic 10 teams who have forced the ball out of Moore’s hands is to mix up the offense. Get some pull up jumpers, let Otis Livingston II get into a rhythm by himself instead of forcing the scoring through him.

Having Jenkins play 20 feet away from the basket is a great example. With an underrated mid-range jumper, and the best field goal shooting percentage in the league (65.8 percent), it opens the door for other players to get to the basket.

On deck for the Patriots are two opponents they have to get past to stay competitive, at Saint Joseph’s (8-6, 2-1) and at home against St. Louis (4-11, 0-3). Both teams have two of the worst defenses in the league.

Looks like perfect chance for the Patriots to diversify their offense.

#5 Middle of the pack heating up

With Richmond and George Washington both beating Davidson, the middle of the Atlantic 10 is wide open.

There are four tiers in the conference this season:

Top: Dayton (3-0), VCU (3-0), Rhode Island (2-1)

Middle: Richmond (3-0), St. Bonaventure (2-1), Davidson (1-2), George Mason (1-2), Saint Joseph’s (2-1), George Washington (1-2), Massachusetts (0-3), La Salle (2-1)

Extra: Duquesne (1-2)

Bad: Fordham (0-3), St. Louis (0-3)

Coming into conference play, the Spiders were not projected to be doing as well as anticipated. They have two pivotal road wins against teams in their same tier.

With Davidson losing their two matches, they will now have to play catch up on the rest of the pack, along with Massachusetts who fell to 0-3 due to unfortunate scheduling.

Defending home-court will be pivotal over the course of the season and may be the difference in seeding come March.

Five must-see games this week:

1/10: George Mason @ Saint Joseph’s           7:00     ASN

1/11: St. Bonaventure @ Richmond               7:00     A10 Network

1/14: Richmond @ Saint Joseph’s                  12:30   NBCSN

1/14: VCU @ Davidson                                 2:00     NBCSN

1/15: George Washington @ La Salle            4:30     NBCSN

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