As conference play begins across the country, SI is resetting the races in the top nine leagues. Next up is the A-10:
Top three contenders
The Colonials had cracked the Top 25 before falling to DePaul and have put all their talent together so far, sporting a balanced offense driven by Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh (15.7 points per game), who’s physical inside and an able shooter. Patricio Garino, another of the conference’s best shooters, patrols on the wing. They earned some strong non-conference wins as part of their best start in a decade and have emerged as a favorite.
Last year’s champs are in pretty good shape entering conference play, with their only three losses coming to major-conference opponents in UNC, Pitt and Cal. The dynamic Jack Gibbs leads a well-rounded attack. The Wildcats tend to be in the mix when it counts, and a repeat is certainly possible.
Dyshawn Pierre’s suspension has been lifted, making Dayton a very serious threat. Archie Miller’s team boasts a strong blend of talent and toughness, and adding Pierre alongside Kendall Pollard gives the Flyers a formidable pair of forwards. Plus, they already have quality wins over Alabama, Iowa and Vanderbilt to their name.
Fordham. We originally projected the Rams to finish in the league’s bottom three. Whoops. As it stands, Fordham leads the conference in margin of victory (+16.7), more than seven more points better than any other team, and has held opponents to a league-best 62.5 points per game. Then again, its wins include an inexperienced St. John’s team and a host of small-conference opponents, that soft schedule contributing in part to the league’s best three-point percentage and three-point defense. Surprising, yes, but proceed with caution.
Rhode Island. This pick begins and ends with E.C. Matthews’s season-ending injury in Rhody’s first game. Though losing perhaps the conference’s top talent and a contender for player of the year hasn’t fully hampered the Rams given their enviable backcourt depth, his absence is palpable. It sure wouldn’t have hurt to have him on the floor one-possession losses to Valparaiso, Providence and Nebraska—results that don’t look bad by any means, but perhaps illustrate some of the upside this team has lost. There’s plenty of season to go, the Rams are guarding effectively and have all five starters averaging in double figures, but it’s tough to consider them the conference favorite any longer.
Cal Sport Media/AP
Player of the year so far
Jack Gibbs, Davidson. This one’s easy: the junior guard has put together one of the more impressive seasons anywhere in college hoops, averaging a league-high 26.6 points with 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 54.3% from the floor and 38.6% on threes. He’s topped 35 points four times and scored 41 twice, galvanizing the league’s top offense (81.7 ppg) and preventing any real letdown for least year’s conference champs. Gibbs ably took on on an increased role after the departure of Tyler Kalinoski, last year’s A-10 player of the year, and just might make it two in a row for Davidson if his ridiculous pace holds.
Best non-conference win
George Washington over Virginia, 73–68 (Nov. 16). The Colonials put themselves on the map early in the season with this stunner over No. 6 Virginia, holding the Cavaliers to 40% shooting and leading to the season’s first court-storm. Though Malcolm Brogdon hung 28 on them, GW kept everyone else’s contributions to a minimum and took care of a team with Final Four potential. Cavanaugh and Garino continued to prove themselves an effective one-two punch.
Must-see game in January
George Washington at Dayton (Jan. 12). Dayton hosts Davidson earlier in the week before GW comes to town, and if you have to pick one of the two, this should be a fun matchup with big implications. It’s the only regular-season meeting between the Flyers and Colonials, pitting a deep, skilled backcourt against a loaded frontcourt. Tasty.