That circle around March 1 keeps getting bolder.
VCU and Dayton both sit at 10-2 as we hurtle toward the teams’ rematch in Ohio. But there are two full weeks of basketball between now and then, and there’s no guarantee that the game will be as juicy as it seems right now.
So who has the nastier road? Let’s take a look:
|St. Joe's (home)||Saint Louis (away)||VCU|
|Richmond (away)||Saint Bonaventure (home)||Dayton|
|Saint Louis (home)||George Mason (home)||VCU|
|Rhode Island (away)||Davidson (away)||Dayton|
By my math, there’s a nice, symmetrical split, but this is where the A-10’s solid depth may show itself. Of the eight total games, only three seem like “gimme’s:” VCU’s home games against unfairly-depleted St. Joe’s and Saint Louis, and Dayton’s trip to Saint Louis (though the Billikens have won three of their last four).
VCU’s defensive upswing?
WOODY: Mo Alie-Cox, Rams show VCU's determination in battle for A-10 title https://t.co/N318wqm34q— RTDSports (@RTDSports) February 12, 2017
VCU’s game in hand on Dayton is an advantage. An improving defense may be just as key to an A-10 title.
“We certainly need to improve, we haven’t been as consistent defensively as I’d like us to be,” Will Wade said Monday on the league conference call. “We need to be a little more consistent if we want to truly be a championship level team.”
The Rams have certainly been stingy the last two games.
They held two good offensive teams to under a point per possession in wins against George Washington (0.90 PPP) and Davidson (0.89 PPP). This was in large part because they blanketed two great offensive bigs: Tyler Cavanaugh (13 points, 4-15 FG) and Peyton Aldridge (6 points, 2-13 FG).
When you think VCU and defense, you think of sticky-fingered guards and swarming traps. But this Rams team and its physical, athletic front court could be what lifts it to a championship.
Don’t forget about Richmond
In general, don’t forget about the Spiders. At 9-3, they’re very much in play, and are coming off solid wins against GW and still-Pookie-Powell-less La Salle.
But specifically, don’t forget about the Spiders’ defense.
Richmond’s defensive efficiency (98.7, 68th in the country) is a big step up from where it was a season ago (104.8, 192nd in the country). They’ve also done a good job keeping A-10 opponents off the offensive glass despite some size limitations.
“Their freshmen are physical and move their feet - they’re good,” Dr. John Giannini said about Richmond’s defense Monday. “Chris [Mooney] has done a great job teaching the freshmen, they’re playing a lot more pure man and doing a great job of it.”
Giannini would know; the Spiders held his talented team to just 0.69 points per possession last Saturday. And to his point, freshman De’Monte Buckingham has racked up 1.4 defensive win shares, good for ninth in the league.
Climbing the record books
Marquise Moore is getting some well-deserved, major attention.
The 6’2, improbable rebounding force is leading the A-10 in total rebounds (262), rebounds per game (10.5) and is third in total rebounding percentage (16.7). And his 587 career rebounds rank 17th in George Mason history (Jalen Jenkins is 15th).
Take out the rebounding and he’s still one of the league’s most improved players.
He’s been great finishing at the rim this season, and because of this has been much more efficient. Despite taking more shots per game (12.3 FGA against 10.0 FGA), his field goal percentage has skyrocketed from where it was a year ago (50.6% against 39.8%).
One of the first team All-League spots belongs to the senior.
Picking out a spoiler
Dr. John Giannini had some heavy praise for Davidson’s Peyton Aldridge on Monday’s league conference call.
“As a scorer, he can literally do it all,” he said. “He’s a 6’9 guy that can handle the ball and read a ball screen like a point guard. Picking and popping with him and [Jack] Gibbs is like Stockton and Malone, there’s no easy answer for it.”
The junior has carried a great non-con run into the A-10 play, where he’s averaged 20.1 points per game and knocked down 41.0 percent of his 61 three-point attempts.
There have been a couple of down games amid Davidson’s current three-game losing streak, and he and Gibbs may be running on empty after being relied on so heavily throughout this season.
But with games left against Richmond, Dayton and Rhode Island, the Wildcats are in prime position to play spoiler.
Coming into this season, St. Joe’s breakout potential relied on great play from Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble.
Both players indeed played great, but both have now had their seasons cut short because of injury.
Newkirk’s season ended after 12 games, and Kimble’s is now done too after breaking his foot against UMass. The sophomore posted impressive numbers (15.5 PPG, 4.5 APG, 4.0 RPG), and his absence leaves the Hawks severely-depleted at point guard.
“You can either fight this or flee it, and I like our locker room, I think we’ll fight. I just don’t know if we have enough basketball wherewithal,” Phil Martelli said Monday.
The bright side is that Newkirk and Kimble have eligibility left, and St. Joe’s young nucleus - led by reigning A-10 Rookie of the Week Charlie Brown - will get plenty of experience the rest of the season.