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Let the A10 Season Begin
Let the A10 Season Begin
Published by BeckysTXA
09-22-2019
Let the A10 Season Begin

Pre-conference tournaments are in the books and it’s time to prepare to battle for the regular season A10 Championship. UD enters conference play with a winning record at 7-6, sitting third in the standings. We’ve gone 2-1 for the last three weekends after a tough first weekend when we took two 5-set losses. But we rebounded, winning our last three 5-set matches. Our block, still a work-in-progress, has made huge improvements the last two weeks. Beating Illinois State’s fast offense with a block on the final point of a 5-set match was big. We will see more fast offenses in the A10.

We are a team still looking for the right rotation of players. Jamie Peterson and Maura Collins are probably a lock, but everything else could very well be up for grabs. The good news is we are deep and it appears pretty healthy. So competing for playing time throughout the A10 season might be a blessing. We aren’t going to be challenged a lot in conference. Having position and playing time challenges from within could be great for pushing everyone to be better.

The good news for the A10 is everyone did a pretty good job with OOC play. You have to give a nod to Fordham and Rhode Island, picked to finish at the bottom, but they scheduled to their level and picked up eight and six wins respectively. The following is a comparison of pre-season conference predictions vs winning records from pre-conference play. The first team listed is the conference poll rank and the second team listed is the order of current standings:

1. Dayton – VCU (9-5)
2. VCU – Ford (7-5)
3. SLU – Dayton (7-6)
4. LaSalle – SLU (6-7)
5. Geo Wash – Geo Wash (6-7)
6. DUQ – DUQ (6-7)
7. Geo Mas – LaSalle (5-6)
8. DAV – RI (5-7)
9. Ford – DAV (5-8)
10. RI – Geo Mas (4-8)

Let’s look at what VCU has done, going 9-5. Here are the teams they have beaten, their records and a couple comments:

8-3 Alabama – nice record but they haven’t beaten anyone.
7-5 Colgate
8-7 High Point
7-6 VA Tech – lost to Miami (OH), who UD has swept twice this season.
7-7 Lehigh
4-7 NC St
4-8 Radford
3-7 North Carolina – they too lost to Miami (OH).

And, lastly, 3-9 Wichita St – ironically, probably VCU's best win. WSU has played five Top 15 teams, accounting for more than half of their losses. They missed the NCAAs last year for the first time in a long time. The AAC is tougher than the MVC, but I think this team gets stronger as the season progresses. They certainly scheduled tough in OOC.

When VCU’s schedule came out, I looked at their OOC and wasn’t just surprised, but shocked they did not schedule to have a shot at the double bonus teams can earn in their RPI calculation by playing 50% of their OOC schedule against top 75 RPI teams. I used last year’s final RPI and also looked at some historical finishes. For example, WSU had a down year last year, but I thought they would have a chance to return to the Top 75 this season. Even batting 1000 on my estimates, they would not have qualified for the bonus. Based on the current figstats RPI, only three of their 14 OOC matches are in the Top 75 with a possibility one more team can move up for a total of four. They need seven. They will not be getting the double bonus.

It’s a mystery to me how a team that has finished first or second in the A10 the last three years does not give themselves a chance for an at-large bid. It not only cheats the student athletes out of the NCAA tournament experience, but it also hurts the conference that hasn’t had two bids for ten years. None-the-less, VCU will continue to look like they are riding high for awhile. They should not be challenged until November in the A10. They only play SLU and Dayton once this season, coming the last week of the regular season. If they drop conference matches before that, it will say a lot. They will probably lead the nation in blocking after this past weekend, averaging over 3.5 per set. Are they contenders or pretenders?

Saint Louis, on the other hand, can’t catch a break. Before last weekend, they were 6-4 having lost to Milwaukee (12-1), Marshall (9-4), SEMO (8-6) and Drake (6-7). Not bad losses. Last weekend they went up against No. Iowa, #8 Marquette and Green Bay. They went to battle without Maya Taylor, 2018 First Team All-Conference OH and 2017 A10 Rookie of the Year. Taylor is 30% of SLU’s offense and plays six-rotations. It seems like every year SLU has been hit by critical injuries to key starters. If Taylor is out for long, it changes the whole dynamics of the A10 this season. However, their schedule might help them if Taylor can get back in less than a month (and she might be back this weekend?). After Dayton on Friday, they play middle-of-the-conference teams for the month of October.

LaSalle promoted their assistant coach, Andrew Kroger, to head coach, replacing the 2018 A10 COY who did a great job moving this program into the top half of the conference. Even at 5-6 in OOC, I think he has done a good job so far this year. The Explorers have lost to Notre Dame (7-2), Wright State (11-1), No. AZ (7-5), UCSB (10-1), San Diego (7-4) and Princeton (4-5). None of these are bad losses, even Princeton who will win a lot of conference matches and end with a good record. All that helps the A10 RPIs. LaSalle is an experienced team with nine juniors/seniors on the team. I expect them to play well in conference.

The rest of the teams will battle for the final conference tournament spots. Fordham and Rhode Island have stacked up some OOC wins, but after playing each other the first week, they go on a four-week brutal schedule playing the top teams in the conference. We will know soon if those pre-conference records hold up. I thought George Mason would be better than they have shown so far. They had a young team that played well at times last year. And, they showed up to beat Maryland in five-sets for a big signature win. But, at 4-8 I would say they have under performed.

Conference play is always a challenge. It can be a two-month grind. We see VCU once, the last match of the conference season in November. We also will see RV Cincinnati on Oct 30th. The Bearcats are a Top 50 figstat RPI team right now. If VCU takes care of business in the conference, they might be a Top 50 RPI when we meet in November. Those are the only two chances we have to pick up another possible Top 50 win. All the other A10 matches, including two against SLU, even if they have Taylor back, will need to be matches we dominate in preparation for the Cincinnati and VCU matches and a chance to score one or two more Top 50 wins.

You never know how everything plays out, but sitting here today we are probably not an at-large team. We are currently at 72 in figstat RPI. If we roll through the A10 and take care of business we can change that. During the next six weeks this team will need to find it’s identity. We will need to solidify the rotation. We will need to improve areas of play. We won’t necessarily have tough competition. The greatest battles are probably those within the team. That could very well be the blessing that defines this season. The players control how they buy-in, work hard and learn from the challenges so far this season. The theme of Prepare, Play, Learn continues. All the goals are still in play.
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