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Atlantic 10 basketball: The Best and Worst of 2013-14 So Far

Shaka Smart

Shaka Smart

The Atlantic 10 was one of the biggest losers in conference realignment. Losing Xavier, Temple and Butler robbed the league of three of its most high-profile and well-respected programs.

The A-10 may not have the stature it once did, but not all is lost at the top of the conference.

Thanks to surprising starts for Dayton and George Washington, the Atlantic 10 has scored early season wins over Gonzaga, New Mexico, Creighton and Virginia. At least five teams will enter conference play with hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament.

The story of the league, though, is UMass. The Minutemen, who haven’t reached the NCAa Tournament since 1998, are off to an 8-0 start and entered the AP top 25 for the first time in 15 years behind the play of dynamic point guard Chaz Williams.

Early Season Report Card: Atlantic 10

NCAA teams as of today: Dayton, George Washington, UMass, VCU

Bubble watch: Saint Louis

Best win: Dayton 84, Gonzaga 79

Worst loss: New Hampshire 84, Duquesne 83

Power rankings so far:
1. UMass
2. Dayton
3. VCU
4. George Washington
5. Saint Louis
6. Richmond
7. St. Joe’s
8. La Salle
9. George Mason
10. St. Bonaventure
11. Fordham
12. Rhode Island
13. Duquesne

Important non-conference games remaining:
La Salle at Villanova (Dec. 15)
UMass vs. Florida State (Dec. 21)
Providence at UMass (Dec. 28)
Dayton at Ole Miss (Jan. 4)

MVP so far: Chaz Williams, UMass

The 5-9 senior is finally starting to get national attention as UMass has jumped to an 8-0 start. Williams’ moxie was on full display Dec. 7 when the point guard scored 32 points and added 15 assists in a 105-96 win over BYU. Williams wasn’t afraid to mix it up with 6-10 BYU forward Eric Mika along the way. Surrounded by a veteran supporting cast, Williams is averaging a career-high 17.5 points and 7.6 assists.

Top freshman: DeAndre Bembry, St. Joseph’s

Fordham freshman Jon Severe leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring at 19.4 points per game, but our nod still goes to Bembry. The 6-6, 200-pound guard Bembry has heated up in Philadelphia Big 5 play with 12 points and nine rebounds against Temple and 17 points against Villanova. Bembry also scored 20 against Creighton. Now, all St. Joe’s needs are wins.

Top newcomer: Jordan Sibert, Dayton

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Sibert has stepped in to fill the void left by departed guard Kevin Dillard. Sibert never found his way into the regular rotation at Ohio State, but he’s averaging a team-best 13.6 points per game for Dayton. The junior wing led the way in the Flyers’ 84-79 upset of Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational with 23 points on 8 of 11 shooting.

Surprise player: Maurice Creek, George Washington

Like Sibert, Maurice Creek is another Big Ten-to-Atlantic 10 transfer leading his team in scoring. But Creek has to take the award for the biggest surprise. He signed with Indiana in 2009 in a class with Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford before injuries derailed his career. He’s found a home at George Washington where he’s led the Colonials to a surprising 9-1 start with wins over Maryland and Creighton.

Early season flop: La Salle

No one really expected La Salle to look like a Sweet 16 team this season, but the Explorers don’t look like a team ready to compete for the Atlantic 10 title after losses to Manhattan, Penn State, Providence and Northern Iowa.

Lingering concerns: VCU

VCU is an Atlantic 10 contender and probably an NCAA Tournament team, but the ceiling may be a bit lower than in years past. The Rams are still forcing turnovers at a high rate (second to Louisville in opponent turnovers per possession), but VCU’s offensive numbers are down. The Rams rank 66th on Kenpom in offensive efficiency when they tend to rank in the top 25. They’re also converting only 65.3 percent of free throws. VCU’s two losses are to Florida State in a blowout and by four to Georgetown.

Best NCAA resume: UMass

Few teams in the Atlantic 10 can be considered an NCAA lock at this point of the year. The bottom portion of the league is going to be a drag on conference RPI, and losses to teams like Fordham, Rhode Island and Duquesne would fall into the “bad losses” column. UMass doesn’t have a win as good as Gonzaga (Dayton) or Creighton (George Washington), but the Minutemen have four wins over top-50 teams on Kenpom (New Mexico, Clemson, BYU and LSU).