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A-10’s Upside-Down Start Points to Wild Conference Season

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Take a peek at Atlantic 10 Conference basketball records roughly a month into the 2015-16 season, and what you see is a list flipped upside down when compared to the many preseason projections.

The best records thus far, in terms of winning percentage, include George Washington — popularly slated for the middle of the pack — and Fordham. Yes, Fordham, that perennial cellar dweller.

Meanwhile, a preseason favorite like Rhode Island, and NCAA Tournament mainstay VCU, are stuck in the middle with a team like Richmond, which boasts two of the A-10’s best wins of the season, over Cal and Northern Iowa. Granted, Archie Miller’s Dayton Flyers are soaring once again, starting 6-1, and surprise 2015 A-10 regular-season champion Davidson suffered its only loss just this week against preseason Final Four pick North Carolina.

It’s not a completely topsy-turvy first month of the campaign, but the A-10 is nearing the start of its conference season amid some beautiful turbulence.

At the forefront is 8-1 George Washington, which made a statement in the season’s first week with a defeat of Virginia. The Cavaliers are likely contenders in the loaded ACC, but head coach Tony Bennett came away from that Nov. 17 meeting impressed with the squad from the A-10.

“We got outplayed. We got out-executed,” he said in his post game press conference, via the Associated Press. Bennett foreshadowed what visitors to the nation’s capital can expect this winter: “What a college basketball atmosphere…I was very impressed with that atmosphere.”

With an imposing home-court advantage and well-balanced attack — six Colonials average between 8.1 and 15.8 points per game — George Washington has the foundation for its best team since Pops Mensah-Bonsu led GWU in 2005-’06. However, the Colonials will still be a somewhat unknown commodity at the start of A-10 competition, the result of a mediocre schedule.

Their sole loss, a five-point decision against Cincinnati, was the Colonials’ only other foray into Top 25 competition.

VCU (5-3) and Rhode Island (6-3) have more blemishes on their record, but faced much stiffer opposition on the whole through the nonconference slate. The Rams of VCU lost to each of the 2015 national championship game participants, Duke and Wisconsin, as well as talented ACC dark-horse Florida State. Rhode Island dropped games to nationally ranked Maryland and Providence, and suffered a setback against Horizon League favorite Valparaiso just days after losing All-Conference caliber play-maker E.C. Matthews.

Rhode Island’s regrouped nicely without Matthews, including playing Providence within a bucket.

The A-10’s third set of Rams, Fordham, might be the biggest surprise of the A-10’s intriguing first month. Fordham’s never won more than 10 games in any season since 2009, and managed seven or fewer victories three times. The 2015-’16 Rams are already at seven wins, though, reaching 7-1 with Tuesday’s overtime defeat of LIU-Brooklyn.

Fordham hasn’t exactly played a schedule on par with that of VCU, Rhode Island or George Washington, but wins over 2015 MAAC champion Manhattan and the Big East’s St. John’s give the Rams some momentum in Jeff Neubauer’s first season as head coach.

“After the game, I told the team that the last six games, pretty much every one was going by our script. We were able to get out, get the lead and extend the lead…We ended up winning the last six games by about 20 points,” Neubauer said in his post game press conference, via YouTube. “Not every game is going to go by our script. It’s going to require toughness and grit, and our guys did do some winning things tonight.”

Fordham’s perhaps not quite in a position to contend with the top of the A-10, but the more the Rams learn to do those “winning things,” the more equipped Fordham will be to cause some upheaval in the race of the conference championship.

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