- Jim Root
3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Jr., Davidson
Coach of the Year: Mike Rhoades, VCU
Newcomer of the Year: Marcus Evans, R Jr., VCU
Freshman of the Year: Obi Toppin, Dayton
1. Injuries Clobber Contenders
Two teams I ranked up in tier 1, George Mason and St. Joe's, were decimated by injuries, effectively removing them from the title picture. The Patriots played most of the year without Jaire Grayer, a key part of their small-ball lineup, and several other pieces (Goanar Mar, Greg Calixte, Ian Boyd, etc.) missed time as well. The Hawks were also ravaged: skilled big Pierfranceso Oliva sustained a season-ending injury in January, guard Lamarr Kimble missed 9 games in the middle of the A-10 campaign, and like Mason, others struggled with injuries at times (Anthony Longpre, Markell Lodge).
Hell, even SLU and Davidson dealt with issues themselves. Javon Bess played through a variety of ailments all year, while shooter Dion Wiley missed 8 games (not to mention the curious case of Carte'Are Gordon). Meanwhile, preseason POY pick Kellan Grady never seemed healthy for the Wildcats after a knee sprain caused him to miss four games immediately preceding conference play, and his efficiency tanked after a sublime freshman year.
2. VCU Rail-rhoades the League
Shockingly, the team whose star was recovering from a torn Achilles (Marcus Evans) turned out to be the healthiest heavyweight in the conference, and VCU parlayed that health into an outright league title. Mike Rhoades built a stifling defense around the quick hands of Evans, the switchability of his deep stable of wings (Vann, Crowfield, Jenkins, Simms, Williams), and the emergence of paint protectors in Marcos Santos-Silva and Corey Douglas. After stealing a few key non-conference wins (Temple on a neutral, @ Texas), the Rams became a juggernaut, ripping off 12 straight wins from January 26th through the end of the year.
3. Dayton Flies High
The middle portion of this league was nearly impossible to predict, and Dayton was a shining example of that in the positive sense (UMass, on the other hand...). Sophomore point guard Jalen Crutcher was a steady constant on the ball, but the Flyers really saw their ceiling rise when redshirt freshman Obi Toppin fully emerged in A-10 play. Anthony Grant was hesitant to play Toppin and senior post Josh Cunningham together early on, but eventually it become impossible to avoid, as Toppin proved to be a nearly unstoppable force in the paint.
14 teams at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, relatively standard format (akin to that of the Big Ten): seed 1-4 get byes to the quarters, 5-10 get one bye, 11-14 must win 5 games in 5 days to take the title. Lots of different networks for these games, so find your remote!
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
After the aforementioned 12-game tear, VCU is the clear favorite as the league heads to the Barclay's Center. The suffocating defense was the league's best by a wide margin, and the sometimes stuck-in-the-mud offense actually ranked third in A-10 play. Marcus Evans is a certified killer at the end of games (just ask a Dayton fan, although you might get punched in the mouth), and that's a significant advantage in a setting where games often become a grind.
The Rams have risen to an 8 seed on bracketmatrix.com, indicating they're almost certainly a lock to make the tournament, regardless of performance in Brooklyn. Winning the tournament could vault them up towards a 6 seed, though, positioning them far better for a potential Sweet 16 run.
Dark Horse Team
I could go with a variety of teams here, but my choice is Dayton. I love Bob McKillop and Davidson, but the Wildcats really lack athleticism and depth, and they match up extremely poorly with the Flyers' interior duo for a potential semifinal clash. SLU might offer a challenge in the quarters, but unfortunately, Travis Ford remains the Billikens' coach. Plus, Dayton gave VCU everything the Rams could handle in both matchups this year, and although the Flyers lost both, they should enter a third game with confidence.
(12) George Washington over (13) UMass
(11) Richmond over (14) Fordham
(8) Rhode Island over (9) La Salle
(5) George Mason over (12) George Washington
(10) St. Joseph’s over (7) Duquesne
(6) St. Louis over (11) Richmond
(1) VCU over (8) Rhode Island
(4) St. Bonaventure over (5) George Mason
(2) Davidson over (10) St. Joseph’s
(3) Dayton over (6) St. Louis
(1) VCU over (4) St. Bonaventure
(3) Dayton over (2) Davidson
(3) Dayton over (1) VCU