A10 Hoops: Ranks, Risers and Rivalries

Jeremy Sheppard
Jeremy Sheppard (3rd standing player from left) – Courtesy URI Athletics

BLUE RIBBON’S A-10 PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

For 40 years Blue Ribbon Yearbook has earned its reputation as the preseason Bible of College Basketball for its comprehensive breakdowns of every team in the land.

It’s been a pleasure writing Blue Ribbon’s Rhode Island preview for the past 10 years. While I’ve helped rank BR’s A-10 predicted order of finish in years past, I was not involved in this year’s 1-14 conference prediction where the Rams are slated 7th.

Here’s how BR’s Top 7 falls out and my thoughts:

  1. Richmond
  2. Saint Louis
  3. Dayton
  4. Davidson
  5. St. Bonaventure
  6. Duquesne
  7. Rhode Island

Quick take: No argument at the top. Richmond is loaded and veteran, and deservedly makes an appearance in BR’s preseason top 25.

SLU returns all five starters and its eight leading scorers, including two of the toughest the A-10 has to offer in seniors Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French.

The drink-stirrer of the A-10, Jalen Crutcher, is back to pace a Dayton squad that still possesses plenty of firepower and leadership from last year’s generational team (even if a guy named Toppin is gone).

I respect Davidson’s roster and pedigree, but they’re a touch high here for my liking. Kellan Grady is terrific, Luka Brajkovic is a skilled post option and I love Hyunjung Lee, but not convinced McKillop has top 4 depth.

Bonaventure is a fine pick at 5th with Kyle Lofton, Osun Osunniyi and others like Dom Welch, Justin Winston and Jaren [formerly English] Holmes giving Mark Schmidt versatility and multi double-digit scoring options nightly.

Duquesne is quietly deep and ready for breakout, led by Mr. Underrated himself, Marcus Weathers, who can play for me any day. Fortunately for him and his career aspirations, he plays for Keith Dambrot. All Dambrot does is win.

Then come the Rhode Island Rams, slotted 7th, a fair rank and above the likes of UMass, George Mason and VCU.

I can reasonably see Rhody pegged anywhere between 5-7 preseason with an ability to sneak above that range if David Cox and staff can quickly congeal a talented collection of newcomers in a deep Atlantic 10.

I encourage everyone to pick up the digital or print version of BR to read ‘em all.

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FIVE A-10 PLAYERS TO WATCH THIS SEASON

They might not be headliners yet, but these are five guys I’m keeping a close eye on in 2020-21.

Hyunjung Lee; 6-7 sophomore – Davidson. The aforementioned Lee can shoot it from anywhere and that doesn’t mean just from deep as it is colloquially used. It means anywhere. Inside the arc, outside it, and at the stripe. He moves well without the ball [like most Wildcats] and should flourish in year two at Davidson.

Jamison Battle; 6-7 sophomore – George Washington. Spend five minutes talking to GW head coach Jamion Christian and you immediately appreciate how purposeful he is in the way he runs his program, identifies talent, and charts a development path for his players. With 89 made threes in his first year, Battle set a school record. He’s just getting started. Look for his role, confidence, and production to continue rapidly expanding.

Jeremy Sheppard posed
Jeremy Sheppard – Courtesy URI Athletics

Jeremy Sheppard; 6-1 senior – Rhode Island. Sheppard may be a senior, but it’s his first year back at the D-1 level since 2016-17 when he made the American Athletic Conference’s All Rookie Team. Jeff Dowtin was a steady complement to Fatts Russell’s dynamic presence. Sheppard is dynamic himself. It will be fascinating to watch as he shakes off the rust and the two operate together on the perimeter.

Justin Winston; 6-8 sophomore – St. Bonaventure. The built-tough Winston is just scratching the surface, but the talent is undeniable. His aggressiveness on the boards picked up as last season progressed and he reached double-figures 13 times. He is an excellent accompaniment to Osunniyi.

T.J. Weeks; 6-4 RS freshman – UMass. I remember when then Saint Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said he couldn’t wait to walk Xavier standout Stanley Burrell across the graduation stage because of the fits Burrell gave them throughout his seemingly never-ending career. That’s how people will feel about Weeks as well.

Still a redshirt freshman because hernia surgery robbed him of the bulk of last season, Weeks was leading UMass in scoring and steals when the ailment struck. He also has unlimited range as his .485 3PT percentage will attest. He’s healthy again. Look out.

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PROVIDENCE VERSUS RHODE ISLAND

This is simple. When you have a rivalry game, you play it.

Is this a rivalry game? That is Question 1. For a host of reasons historical, geographical, and emotional, we know PC v. URI qualifies. If you need an additional nudge, understand that two athletic directors do not feel compelled to issue a joint statement on the cancellation of a game when it is not a rivalry.

If the answer to Question 1 is yes, then Question 2 which is, “How does “X” game fit into our strategic scheduling,” becomes moot.

The arguments related to metrics, taking care of our team, and tournament aspirations – like the ones we have heard since facts came to light about the no-play decision being driven by Providence – are cute and convenient. They are also nonstarters.

That is because Question 2 is an annual question. It is a fresh analysis that staffs must conduct, anew, each year when piecing their schedule together. It’s also the same analysis that the staffs at Providence and URI have ignored since Woodrow Wilson was President.

Why? Because rivalries transcend players, coaches, administrators, metrics and — not only years — but decades.

Rivalries are anything but annual. They are unassailably perennial, like the 132 game all-time series between these programs.

So, when you back into an annual argument attempting to justify the shelving of a century old, perennial engagement, expect the blowback.