#1 Richmond Slowed Down
Richmond was rolling but the team next in their way was the face of the Atlantic 10, Dayton. Winners of their first five straight in conference play, all of a sudden the Spiders appeared to be favorites for one of the conference’s double-byes.
As one of the best shooting teams in the conference, Richmond (11-8, 5-2) was primed to make their stake as the conference’s best team. A win against the Flyers would certainly give consideration against the thought.
Dayton (15-4, 6-1) brought the Spiders back down to Earth.
Quickly the Flyers took out the team’s shooting arsenal by forcing a smart matchup zone. Throughout the possession, Dayton would work back out to man coverage and confuse the flow of the Spiders offense. As a result Richmond went 2-20 from three point range, coming in the team was near 40 percent in conference play.
Offensively Richmond (11-8, 5-2) only had two players produce. T.J. Cline had 21 points and Khwan Fore added 19 while shooting an impressive 8-9.
The rest of the team combined for 19 points with 7-30 field goal shooting.
An all-around effort from the Flyers gave the Spiders little to work with as four players finished with double figures, Charles Cooke (17), Scoochie Smith (15), Darrell Davis (11), and Ryan Mikesell (11).
As a team the Flyers converted on 21 of 26 attempted free throws, eliminating any comeback threat by the Spiders.
Freshman star DeMonte Buckingham was limited to seven points but had 11 rebounds in a losing effort. It was his lowest production since becoming a starter.
Dayton reestablished themselves as the conference favorites and should cruise to one of the top four seeds in the league, if not the No. 1 seed. The loss for Richmond is a tale-tell sign of what is to come for the Spiders as the season continues against better teams. They will hope to battle just to remain in double-bye contention.
#2 Building on the Iverson Name
All the hype built around the Rhode Island Rams prior to this season was based on the top tier talent in their starting rotation. Each player has turned into a formidable asset that many Power 5 schools would love to have as a role player or coming off the bench.
One player in particular has the name recognition that forces all scouts to take notes: Kuran Iverson.
Yes, Kuran is the second cousin of famous Philadelphia 76er guard Allen Iverson.
This season Iverson has become one of the key players for Rhode Island (12-6, 4-2). With a start-studded roster including E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Hassan Martin, and Jarvis Garrett, it has become difficult to stand out, especially in a guard favored league.
In conference play the senior forward has emerged as one of the difference makers in Rhode Island’s games. Iverson is averaging nearly a double-double, like his famous cousin, with 13 points and eight rebounds every night in Atlantic 10 play.
Not only does his stats make him an asset, but he is a mismatch for all team’s defensively that runs the four guard system.
Slowly it is being made evident that teams who can score inside the arc will emerge at the top of conference, unlike years past. If this trend continues, more talk of Iverson at Rhode Island will emerge.
#3 One Rams Team Stuns Another
It was just any other ordinary night in the Atlantic 10, VCU traveling up to Fordham to face a team they had never lost to before. Predictable result right?
Antwoine Anderson had something to say about that.
Hitting a dagger game winning shot in overtime, Anderson became the Rams big-man on campus. With 15 seconds left and the game tied at 67, the 6’1” junior pulled up just above the free throw line and shocked VCU 69-67.
He would go on to score 15 points in the game and played all but five minutes. Anderson was one of four Fordham Rams to finish in double figures.
It was not just the buzzer beating shot that shocked VCU; Fordham (9-11, 3-4) controlled the contest from the opening tip. Throughout the entirety of regulation, Fordham prevented VCU from taking the lead. A total of 22 turnovers kept the Richmond based Rams from sparking a comeback and the balanced scoring attack spread the havoc defense out thin.
Justin Tillman was the only starter to score more than eight points (he finished with 20) for VCU and the team lost the battle of the glass 37-30.
For the top teams in the conference, there are always one or two games throughout league play that will trip you up. Unfortunately for VCU (15-5, 5-2) this was not their only loss to an Atlantic 10 opponent with their earlier loss to Davidson.
To make matters worse, they still have Dayton twice on their schedule, Richmond, and Rhode Island. This loss hurt their at-large chances into the NCAA tournament and now will probably have to win two of those contests to even have a chance at consideration.
No room for errors going forward for VCU.
#4 Mason Spreads the Offense
Only one game for George Mason this past week and it was a big one.
In front of a sold-out Mullins Center, the Patriot offense woke up after dropping the ball against St. Louis the week prior. Shooting just under 47 percent in the game, George Mason posted 49 points in the opening half at 57 percent.
And the best thing for the Patriots, it was not just Marquise Moore and Jalen Jenkins providing the offense, well at least for the first half.
Big three pointers by each of the Mason deep shooters helped get the team a twenty point lead early in the second half. Coming out of halftime the team was 5-11 from long range and not showing any sign at slowing down.
But they did and Otis Livingston II fell back into the shooting slump that he has been in since the start of conference play. In the contest he shot 4-12, including 0-5 in the second half. In conference play he is shooting a mere 27 percent.
It was not just Livingston though as Jaire Grayer only had nine points after putting up 12 shots as well.
Moore would record his 12th double-double of the season with 25 points and 13 rebounds, while Jenkins brought in another 16 to keep the team afloat late in the game.
To get Livingston out of his funk, the best option is to let him keep shooting the open jumpers, which the team let him do. A solid 4-7 start showed encouraging signs but the final half was a different story.
Eventually they will fall in but the team has to have that third scorer when Livingston is not the finding the ball in the net.
#5 The Maze at the Center of the Conference
To say the first third of conference play has been unpredictable would be an understatement.
Sitting at the top is Dayton (6-1), with VCU (5-2) closely behind. After that, there are 10 teams jockeying for position (and potentially killing team’s slim chances for at-large bids), then there is Duquesne (2-5) and Saint Louis (1-6).
With great starts by La Salle (5-2) and Richmond (5-2), they have positioned themselves well for the remainder of the season. Behind them are some teams that are better than the Explorers and Spiders, but have to play catchup from now until Pittsburgh.
Teams playing below their potential, that are anticipated to improve, are Davidson (2-4), George Washington (2-4), Saint Joseph’s (2-4), and Massachusetts (2-5). Those teams currently sit at ninth through 12th in the standings and have even more pressure on them to avoid playing in the play-in round of the tournament.
Fordham (3-4) playing well has also thrown a wrench into the conference outlook, as they will no longer be an easy win for middle of the pack teams.
Look for Rhode Island (5-2) to separate themselves from the pack as conference play moved forward, but the team has not done enough to show they are better than the rest of the team sitting around them.
Also sitting right in the middle of the conference is St. Bonaventure (4-2) and George Mason (3-3).
Five must-see games this week:
1/24: Saint Joseph’s @ St. Bonaventure 7:00 ASN
1/25: George Washington @ George Mason 7:00 ASN
1/25: Rhode Island @ Richmond 8:00 CBSSN
1/27: Dayton @ VCU 9:00 ESPN2
1/28: St. Bonaventure @ Rhode Island 2:00 NBCSN