Dayton Flyers, VCU Rams class of A-10 one month into season

Richmond’s success a surprise, while Davidson struggles

Ibi Watson soared high in the air to pick off a missed 3-pointer, slamming the ball with one hand to end the first half against Virginia Tech in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational last week.

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Watson’s play ranked third on ESPN SportsCenter’s top-10 plays of the day and assured his teammate, Obi Toppin, wouldn’t own all of Dayton’s flashiest plays this season.

“We had to steal one,” said Watson with a laugh a week later, back in Dayton.

That moment represented something more than two points for Watson, who has been known for his hops but hadn’t been able to show them off early in the season.

“I missed a lot of time in the preseason with a foot injury,” Watson said. “My legs just hadn’t been back in a while. Probably a week or two ago, I felt my legs were getting back. It felt good getting one.”

With Watson returning to peak form and center Jordy Tshimanga making fast progress after missing the first three games with a knee injury, there are plenty of reasons to think the best days still lie ahead for the Dayton Flyers. That’s bad news for the rest of the Atlantic 10 Conference. Dayton was picked to finish third in the preseason poll but has looked like its best team.

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Here’s how the 14 A-10 teams rank in the Ken Pomeroy ratings one month into the season:

1. No. 23 Dayton (6-1): The Flyers moved into the Associated Press top 25 this week at No. 19. A 90-84 overtime loss to No. 2 Kansas was as impressive as any of their victories. Their Pomeroy ranking is the highest in school history. The Flyers also have the favorite in the A-10 Player of the Year race: Obi Toppin, who leads the conference with 22.1 points per game.

2. No. 37 Virginia Commonwealth (6-2): VCU, the defending A-10 regular-season champion and preseason favorite, has the A-10's best win. The Rams beat LSU, ranked 37th by Pomeroy, 84-82 on Nov. 13 in Richmond. They suffered two 3-point losses to top-20 Pomeroy teams in the Emerald Coast Classic, falling 59-56 to No. 13 Purdue and then losing 72-69 to No. 22 Tennessee on a last-second 3-pointer.

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3. No. 71 Richmond (7-1): The Spiders are the A-10's most improved team. They were picked to finish sixth but have victories over No. 126 Vanderbilt, No. 56 Wisconsin and No. 148 Boston College. Guard Blake Francis, a transfer from Wagner, ranks fourth in the A-10 with 18.4 points per game.

4. No. 80 Duquesne (6-0): The Dukes have yet to play a top-100 team and won't until they enter conference play in January. They will play the entire season without Frankie Hughes, their fourth-leading scorer last season. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in the offseason.

5. No. 85. Davidson (3-5): The Wildcats, picked to finish second in the A-10, have a victory over No. 101 Nevada but have lost to four top-100 teams and No. 219 Charlotte. Jon Axel Gudmundsson, the A-10 Player of the Year last season, has seen his scoring average drop from 16.9 to 10.6.

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6. No. 91 Rhode Island (5-3): A 93-79 victory at home against Alabama, ranked 79th, highlighted November for the Rams, who have lost only to top-40 teams: No. 8 Maryland, No. 32 LSU and No. 34 West Virginia. Fatts Russell (21.1) is challenging Toppin for the A-10 scoring lead.

7. No. 114 Saint Louis (7-1): The defending A-10 tournament champions have lost only to No. 15 Seton Hall: 83-66 on Nov. 17. Two of the three players in the league averaging a double-double are Billikens: Hasahn French (14.5 points per game and 10.4 rebounds) and Jordan Goodwin (15.9 and 10.4).

8. No. 122 George Mason (9-1): The Patriots have lost only to No. 8 Maryland: 86-63 on Nov. 22. They won the Cayman Islands Classic by beating Old Dominion, Nebraska and New Mexico State. Three other A-10 teams on tournaments in November: St. Bonaventure (Boca Beach Classic); Duquesne (Junkanoo Jam); and La Salle (Gulf Coast Showcase).

9. No. 144 St. Bonaventure (4-4): The Bonnies opened the season 0-3 but have won four of their last five games.

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10. No. 160 La Salle (4-3): The Explorers are 0-3 against fellow Philadelphia teams, losing to No. 107 Penn, No. 63 Temple and No. 17 Villanova.

11. No. 181 Fordham (5-2): The Rams have the A-10's lowest-scoring offense (62.7) and stingiest defense (56.6).

12. No. 183 Massachusetts (5-3): After starting 5-0, the Minutemen have lost to No. 5 Virginia, No. 98 St. John's and No. 76 Rutgers. Guard T.J. Weeks (15.5 points per game) is the top freshman scorer in the conference. He's one of four players on the roster from Woodstock Academy in Vermont.

13. No. 234 George Washington (3-5): The Colonials own a victory over No. 176 Evansville, the team that upset No. 7 Kentucky in November, but have also lost to No. 294 Morgan State.

14. No. 253 Saint Joseph's (2-7): The Hawks beat No. 53 Connecticut 96-87 on Nov. 13 but have since lost six straight games. Guard Ryan Daly, a transfer from Delaware, leads A-10 newcomers with 20.9 points per game.

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