Early A-10 Conference Play Through the Looking Glass

St. Louis vs URI (Photo Credit: St. Louis University)

With Davidson’s Tuesday night loss at previously win-less Saint Joseph’s, only two Atlantic 10 teams – Saint Louis (4-0) and Dayton (3-0) – remained undefeated in league play with the conference season not even at its quarter pole.

Seven teams carry either 2-1 and 1-2 records forward into this week and, while it’s early, expect the league to play out this way all season long as parity reigns supreme — particularly this season.

Conference road wins are always tough to pocket. Davidson and Saint Louis are perfect at home on the year, while Dayton and VCU (who coincidentally meet at VCU Wednesday evening) have just one home blemish each. Combined, the four squads are 35-2 in their own gyms on the year. Not welcoming committee stuff.

The primary reason road wins will be difficult to snare for many A-10 programs is youth. The A-10 took some lumps in non-conference play this season, with several schools either rebuilding or reloading (perhaps depending on your semantic preference) and flush with youth.

As a general rule youth simply doesn’t play, away. It’s a rite of passage for teams to mature by experiencing hostile environments, being taught lessons, and learning to not repeat awareness-related mistakes related to time, score, possession, decision-making, and care-taking in close-and-late situations.

Despite the baptism by fire, that same youth offers promise and a spate of reasons for optimism moving forward. Scan the list of individual league leaders and here’s what you’ll see as of today’s date:

  • Only 2 of the top 10 scorers are seniors (Josh Cunningham; Dayton | Pookie Powell, La Salle)
  • Only 2 of the top 10 rebounders are seniors (Cunningham, Javon Bess, Saint Louis)
  • Just 1 of the top 10 assist leaders is a senior (Otis Livingston II, George Mason)

So then, this year of learning for the young talent is about midway through overall. We’ll see what postseason bids are in the offing, with VCU leading most of the significant metric categories. In the meantime, dial in on the progress of the youngsters and let’s see how it develops.

Elsewhere in the A-10…

Grow-up time.

URI Rams head coach David Cox went on record this week saying “I’m done with excuses,” after the Rams uneven effort against George Mason last Sunday.

Essentially, Cox’s message was steeped in it being time for all – from 15 game tried freshmen on up – to play with a greater sense of urgency each and every game. As I discussed on the B101.5 postgame radio show post-Mason, this team has talent but must recognize – as any winning team should – that it can’t take any plays off.


Intensity is a trait that can and must be carried game to game, whether the shots are falling or not. Hitting the deck for loose balls, communicating defensively, relentlessly pursuing rebounds, running to help teammates up who have fallen, and remaining engaged on the bench while not in the game should all be “givens.”

These are culture intangibles whose impact transcends, and ultimately influences, how those box scores play out. Cox was one of the principal orchestrators who helped instill that culture over the past several years. Now he’s doubled-down on it and must preserve it.

Hawks dig deep.

Perhaps no team has been stung more by the injury bug over the past few seasons than Saint Joseph’s.

While the Hawks were under-performing on the year before last week’s calls to the infirmary, the injury gods were once again cruel.

First, junior forward, Pierfrancesco Oliva (3.7ppg, 5.6rpg) exited the Duquesne game with a nasty left knee dislocation that will require surgery and sideline him for the year.

In the same game, second leading scorer, junior Lamarr Kimble (16.3ppg, 3.4rpg, 2.6apg) sustained a hand injury that will shelve him indefinitely. The one-point loss put the Hawks in an 0-4 conference hole. How’d they respond? Well, naturally in the unpredictable A-10 they protected their home court on Tuesday night against arguably the conference’s top team, defeating Davidson 61-60.

Senior guard Chris Clover was immense, scoring 18 points on efficient 6-11 shooting from the field and nailing what would be the game-winning three-pointer with a shade over a minute remaining.

Chris Clover (Photo Credit: St. Joseph’s University)

What the box score won’t translate directly is Clover’s impact on both sides of the ball, particularly the defensive end. Matt Martucci, SJU’s radio play-by-play voice told me after this one that Clover “played the game of his career on both ends of the floor.”

His defense on all-conference talent Kellan Grady was (pun intended) hawkish, and while Grady worked free for some open looks, Clover did an exceptional job limiting Grady’s paint touches and helping to hold him to 5-14 shooting from the floor, including just 1-6 from deep.

In a season that’s been fraught with disappointment for the Hawks, they showed tremendous resolve in digging deep and guarding their home floor. Who said road wins were easy?

Traction.

Season delaying injuries to two key senior starters in preseason all-conference selection; Courtney Stockard (15.5, 5.1rpg) and LaDarien Griffin (10.5ppg, 5.0rpg) resulted in SBU entering the ring with one arm duct taped to start the year.

Stockard has been back 11 games now and Griffin six, and along with promising 6-10 freshmen Osun Osunniyi (7.2ppg, 6.1rpg; current A-10 frosh of the week) and 6-3 guard Kyle Lofton (13.7ppg, 4.1apg), they’re going to ruin some dreams for others.

The Bonnies sit at 6-10, 2-1 entering play at Rhode Island, but expect the Reilly Center to become an even more raucous and unfriendly environment for foes as Mark Schmidt molds this convalescing group.

Justin Kier (Photo Credit: George Mason University)

A word (or 184 words) about Kier.

George Mason junior guard Justin Kier is playing his way firmly onto an all-conference team — and I don’t mean 3rd team either.

Averaging 34 minutes per game for a Dave Paulsen coached team that’s seen its own fair share of injuries to major producers, Kier sports a 15ppg, and 6rpg average — and has exploded of late. In four conference games, the 6-4 Kier is scoring 19.5 per night while hauling down 12.5 rebounds from the guard spot.


His athletic frame, slippery game, and toughness serve him well on both ends. Offensively, he’s been off-the-charts, as he understands not only how to efficiently move without the ball, but also how to smartly create his own opportunities off the bounce.

He appreciates floor spacing well and does a ton of damage in and around the elbow, taking what’s given to him and using a mid-range touch and clever footwork to succeed. He also gives Paulsen another option in “shot-clock” situations to generate a quality look for himself or a teammate.

On the year, Kier is now shooting 52% from the floor, 39% from 3pt range, and 82% from the line — and he’s only getting better.

“The David Cox Coach’s Show” is on YurView live Thursday, January 17 at 6PM EST, Cox Channels 4 and 1004 in Rhode Island, and can be viewed streamed live on yurview.com.