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Looking Forward: Here’s what the Atlantic 10 has in store for the 2016-17 season

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Atlantic 10 over the next six months. 

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. Hot coaching names stay put: The A-10 doesn’t lack for quality coaches, with some being discussed for major coaching vacancies on an annual basis. Two that fit the mold are Dayton’s Archie Miller and Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley, with the latter facing some questions in regards to the Rutgers opening earlier this spring. Hurley decided to stay put in Kingston for another season, choosing a talented roster that’s approaching full strength after an injury-riddled 2015-16 instead of taking on a major rebuilding job in his home state. Miller, whose name seemingly comes up regarding every major opening, also has a deep roster to work with next season at Dayton. Unless the opening is a truly elite one, why mess with happiness? VCU’s Will Wade also opted to remain in Richmond. He was targeted by Vanderbilt after Kevin Stallings left for Pitt.

2. The conference’s battle for respect is a continuous one: For those who watch the Atlantic 10 on a consistent basis, there’s no doubt that this is a quality league. But Selection Sunday left a bad taste in the mouths of some, the result of VCU getting a ten-seed or regular season tri-champion St. Bonaventure being left out of the field completely. It would be nice to say that the remedy is to simply win more games, but when it comes to getting teams in the NCAA tournament field who really knows what it takes when discussing a conference like the Atlantic 10 (and the league rated well in out of conference RPI and strength of schedule). The good news for the league is that it has multiple teams capable of playing their way into the national polls and staying there, with Dayton and URI leading the way.

3. Saint Joseph’s getting used to life without top three scorers: Phil Martelli’s Hawks won the Atlantic 10 tournament title and gave top seed Oregon all they wanted in the second round of the NCAA tournament, with DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles leading the way. But those two, along with Aaron Brown, have all moved on meaning that Saint Joseph’s will have to account for the loss of their top three scorers from last season. The positive is that there are options, including guards Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble and forwards James Demery and Pierfrancesco Oliva, to call upon. But making that jump from supplementary piece to key cog in the attack can be a difficult one for some, and how the returning Hawks handle that shift will have a major impact on their season.

4. Incoming transfers will have a significant impact on the conference race: Many Atlantic 10 programs benefitted from the transfer market, whether it was the more conventional transfer (sit out a year before playing) or those of the grad student variety. Dayton (power forward Josh Cunningham) and Rhode Island (shooting guard Stanford Robinson) will both have transfers available, as will teams such as La Salle, George Washington (see below) and Duquesne. Duquesne’s most noteworthy transfer additions are of the grad student variety, with Kale Abrahamson (Drake) and Emile Blackman (Niagara) needing to be key contributors from the start with the Dukes losing the productive tandem of Micah Mason and Derrick Colter. Also adding immediately eligible transfers were George Washington (Patrick Steeves, Harvard) and Fordham (Javontae Hawkins, Eastern Kentucky).

Davidson's Jack Gibbs (12) tries to drive past Iowa's Mike Gesell during the first half of an NCAA tournament college basketball game in the Round of 64 in Seattle, Friday, March 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Davidson’s Jack Gibbs (12) (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

NOTABLE NEWCOMERS

  • La Salle’s transfers: The Explorers’ lack of depth last season placed too much upon the shoulders of Jordan Price, with the team struggling to get wins in spite of his lofty point totals. Dr. John Giannini won’t lack for option in 2016-17, thanks in large part to the transfers who will be able to take the floor. Pookie Powell, B.J. Johnson and Demetrius Henry will all be eligible after sitting out last season, and Arizona State transfer Savon Goodman is eligible to compete immediately as a graduate student. The question: how well will the pieces mesh together?
  • Jaren Sina, George Washington: Another transfer, the former Seton Hall guard will be a key figure for Mike Lonergan’s Colonials. As a sophomore Sina averaged 7.0 points and 2.3 assists per game, but with Alex Mitola out of eligibility and Paul Jorgensen transferring he’ll be asked to run the show for a team that welcomes back Yuta Watanabe and Tyler Cavanaugh.
  • DeJon Jarreau and Brison Gresham, Massachusetts: The two Louisiana natives wanted to attend college together, and in the end their desire to do so benefitted the Minutemen. Of the two Jarreau may be the more important figure early on, as the four-star guard will be asked to help fill the void left by the departures of Trey Davis and Jabarie Hinds on the perimeter.
  • De’Riante Jenkins, VCU: Will Wade landed a quality four-member freshman class, with the 6-foot-5 Jenkins being the crown jewel. Ranked 60th in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.com, Jenkins is the second-highest ranking incoming freshman in the Atlantic 10 (Jarreau is 39th). And with Melvin Johnson graduating, there’s room for the athletic wing to have an immediate impact at VCU.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • L.G. Gill, Duquesne: Not sure how surprising this move truly is, especially considering the current transfer climate. Gill graduates this spring, and with the rules being what they are he can use his final season of eligibility at another school. But the loss of his team’s leading rebounder from a season ago means that head coach Jim Ferry will have to account for the departure of his top three scorers from last season (Derrick Colter and Micah Mason being the others).
  • Paul Jorgensen, George Washington: With Alex Mitola and Joe McDonald both out of eligibility, it appeared as if “Prince Harry of Harlem” was in line for an increase in playing time (averaging just over 15 mpg as a sophomore) in 2016-17. Instead Jorgensen decided to transfer, as his style didn’t always seem to mesh with what GW wanted to do offensively, and he’ll complete his final two seasons of eligibility elsewhere. The move leaves Mike Longeran’s team with even less experience on the perimeter, with Jaren Sina competing with underclassmen such as sophomore Jordan Roland for the point guard spot.

COACHING CHANGES

  • Travis Ford, Saint Louis: After a busy spring in 2015 the Billikens made the lone coaching change in the Atlantic 10 this spring, with the former Oklahoma State head coach replacing the dismissed Jim Crews. Ford has his work cut out for him too, as SLU’s talent issues that resulted in Crews’ firing won’t be remedied overnight. Of Saint Louis’ top five scorers from a season ago three have moved on, with Mike Crawford (10.3 ppg) and Jermaine Bishop (8.9 ppg) being the leading returning scorers. Ford attracted his fair share of talented recruits while in Stillwater, and the hope at SLU will be that he can do similar things while also developing that talent into a team capable of winning in the Atlantic 10.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

G Jack Gibbs (Davidson) – Player of the Year
G E.C. Matthews (Rhode Island)
G Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure)
F Charles Cooke III (Dayton)
F Hassan Martin (Rhode Island)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEETS

1. Dayton: The Flyers return most of their key cogs, and a Charles Cooke III withdrawal from the NBA Draft would make them a Top 25 team.
2. Rhode Island: Health issues were the biggest problem for Rhody. With Matthews, Martin and Terrell among those back, URI can make a run at the A-10 crown.
3. VCU: Losing Melvin Johnson hurts, but VCU returns both experience and talent. They’ll be fine.
4. Davidson: Led by one of the nation’s top scorers in Jack Gibbs, the Wildcats return forward Peyton Aldridge as well.
5. Richmond: This is a big year for Chris Mooney, but he’s got some key pieces returning led by T.J. Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones.
6. George Washington: The Colonials have some key losses to account for, but returning Watanabe and Cavanaugh will help.
7. St. Bonaventure: Yes they lose Marcus Posley and Dion Wright. But Jaylen Adams returns, and it’s time to stop overlooking the job Mark Schmidt’s done as head coach.
8. Saint Joseph’s: Losing your top three scorers would hurt any team. The good news for SJU is that they’re rising sophomores are pretty good.
9. La Salle: The depth issues of last season have been remedied by the influx of transfers. But will all the pieces fit together?
10. Fordham: Jeff Neubauer has a budding all-conference player in Joseph Chartouny at his disposal, but the loss of Ryan Rhoomes hurts.
11. Massachusetts: The freshman class will help the Minutemen down the line, but this team needs to defend far better than they did a season ago.
12. Duquesne: Abrahamson and Blackman were productive stats-wise at prior stops, but can they help vault Jim Ferry’s team up the A-10 standings?
13. George Mason: Losing Shevon Thompson doesn’t help Dave Paulsen’s rebuilding efforts, but give him time. He’ll get Mason headed in the right direction.
14. Saint Louis: Speaking of needing time, Travis Ford is faced with quite the rebuilding project at SLU given the departures and their recent struggles.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: George Washington comes back, Wright St. wins

George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan yells to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against DePaul on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015, in Rosemont, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Northern Kentucky 82, UIC 69 (OT)

The shorthanded Flames managed to get this game to overtime but they were unable to get the win on the road. Cole Murray led three NKU starters in double figures with 21 points while also grabbing five rebounds, and Lavone Holland II added 19 points and seven assists. UIC’s Dikembe Dixson led all scores with 24 points to go along with ten rebounds on the night.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES 

George Washington 62, Rhode Island 58: Mike Lonergan’s team trailed by as much as 18 in the first half, but they managed to come back and beat the Rams in the nation’s capital. Tyler Cavanaugh scored 13 points and grabbed ten rebounds and Patricio Garino added ten points for the Colonials, who are now 4-2 in Atlantic 10 play. Jarvis Garrett led URI with 15 points, but disadvantages in second-chance points (13-2) and points from the foul line (25-6) proved costly for the visitors.

Stony Brook 69, Albany 63: The Seawolves scored the game’s final seven points, beating the Great Danes in the teams’ first meeting since last year’s America East title game. Carson Puriefoy scored 20 points and Jameel Warney 17 for Steve Pikiell’s team, but the late-game contributions of Rayshaun McGrew (11 points, 13 rebounds) should not be overlooked either. Evan Singletary and Ray Sanders scored 14 points apiece to lead the way offensively for Albany, which now trails Stony Brook by two games in the America East standings.

Wright State 73, Valparaiso 62: Billy Donlon’s Raiders began the season 3-7. Since then they’ve won nine of their last ten, with the most recent being an 11-point home win over Valparaiso. Wright State, now tied with the Crusaders atop the Horizon League, scored 51 second-half points and Joe Thomasson accounted for 21 points and eight rebounds in the win.

STARRED

Duquesne’s Micah Mason: Mason scored 23 points and dished out five assists in the Dukes’ 86-75 win at George Mason.

Fairfield’s Curtis Cobb and Marist’s Brian Parker: 21 points, seven rebounds and four steals in the Stags’ 88-76 win at Marist. As for Parker, he accounted for 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in a losing effort.

STRUGGLED

Toledo’s Jonathan Williams: Williams scored just three points in the Rockets’ loss at NIU, shooting 1-for-12 from the field.

UIC’s three-point shooting: The Flames shot just 1-for-12 from three in their overtime loss at Northern Kentucky.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • Northern Illinois strengthened its standing atop the MAC West with a 58-49 win over Toledo. Mark Montgomery’s team is now 16-3 on the season, as Travon Baker led the way with 21 points and nine rebounds.
  • Iona managed to not allow a big lead to completely slip away at home, as they held off Saint Peter’s 64-58 to grab sole possession of first place in the MAAC. Isaiah Williams scored 19 points and Dayshonee Much 17 for the Gaels.
  • Yale completed a season sweep of Brown with a 90-66 win in Providence. Brandon Sherrod shot 9-for-9 from the field, scoring 24 points and grabbing seven rebounds to lead the way for the Bulldogs.

VIDEO: George Mason scores season-high 92 points at Saint Louis

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George Mason ended its four-game losing streak in impressive fashion Sunday afternoon, as they scored a season-high 92 points in their 13-point win at Saint Louis on NBC Sports Network.

Guard Marquise Moore led the way for the Patriots, scoring 22 points while also accounting for ten rebounds and three assists. Five George Mason players scored in double figures, and Dave Paulsen’s team scored an average of 1.28 points per possession in their best offensive performance of the season to date.

Mike Crawford led Saint Louis, which is now also 1-4 in Atlantic 10 play, with 22 points. The Billikens hadn’t scored 75 or more points in a game since their win over Alabama A&M December 12, and they’ve now lost eight of their last nine games.

WATCH LIVE: George Mason travels to Saint Louis on NBCSCN

Saint Louis guard Davell Roby (5) shoots while Kansas State forwards Dean Wade (32) and D.J. Johnson (4) defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Manhattan, Kan., Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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Two teams near the bottom of the Atlantic 10 standings play on Sunday afternoon on NBCSN. Saint Louis will host George Mason at 3 p.m. EST.

The Billikens (6-10, 1-3) have three players averaging double figures this season as Ash Yacoubou (11.6 ppg), Mike Crawford (10.8 ppg) and Miles Reynolds (10.6 ppg) lead the way.

George Mason (6-11, 0-4) has dropped four consecutive games as they try to pick up their first conference win. Marquise Moore (11.7 ppg) and Otis Livingston II (11.2 ppg) are the team’s leading scorers to this point in the season.

CLICK HERE to watch this game on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Atlantic 10 Reset: Dayton, George Washington lead the way

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 09:  Archie Miller of the Dayton Flyers reacts to a call during the first half of a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Memorial Gym on December 9, 2015 in  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Atlantic 10.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jack Gibbs, Davidson

After averaging 16.2 points per game as a sophomore Gibbs has been even better this season, scoring 24.6 points per game to go along with 4.0 assists. He’s shooting better from the field than he did a season ago, upping that percentage to 52.8 percent from last season’s mark of 47.9, and shooting 38.9 percent from three is nothing to scoff at either. He’s the focal point in Davidson’s offense, and Gibbs has still managed to put up points despite opponents targeting him defensively.

ALL-ATLANTIC 10 FIRST TEAM

  • Jack Gibbs, Davidson
  • Melvin Johnson, VCU
  • DeAndre Bembry, Saint Joseph’s
  • Terry Allen, Richmond
  • Hassan Martin, Rhode Island

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. Injuries have done some damage to a formidable Rhode Island squad: With two of the conference’s top players in guard E.C. Matthews and forward Hassan Martin leading the way and the addition of multiple talents including Kuran Iverson and Four McGlynn, this was seen as the season in which URI would not only contend in the Atlantic 10 but also return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. Both objectives remain on the table for Dan Hurley’s team, but the injury bug has made the task far more difficult with Matthews out for the year and both Martin and Iverson dealing with ankle issues. That being said, it would be unwise to count out URI heading into conference play.
  2. With added depth, Dayton’s even more dangerous than they were a season ago: Dayton’s trip to the NCAA tournament last season was an impressive one, as they reached the field despite playing a seven-man rotation with no player taller than 6-foot-6. This season the Flyers are off to a 9-2 start despite the fall semester suspension of forward Dyshawn Pierre, and improved depth is one reason why. Steve McElvene has given them much-needed size in the post after sitting out last season as a partial qualifier, James Madison transfer Charles Cooke is the team’s leading scorer, and veterans such as Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard and Kyle Davis have picked up where they left off. The question at this point is how Pierre will fit into the rotation, with the Flyers looking to make a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
  3. Transfers have also been key at George Washington, which reached the polls for the first time since 2006: URI and Dayton aren’t the only teams in the conference who have benefitted from transfers, as George Washington added a high-impact newcomer in Tyler Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh (15.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg), who began his career at Wake Forest, leads Mike Lonergan’s team in scoring and is second in rebounding while shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. Dartmouth transfer Alex Mitola is also in the rotation, and the newcomers have fit in well with a veteran group led by forwards Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen and guard Joe McDonald.

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. Davidson’s ability to defend will dictate its title hopes: Bob McKillop’s Wildcats surprised those who pegged them to finish in the bottom half of the A-10 in their inaugural season, using one of the country’s best offenses to win the regular season title. With Jack Gibbs leading the way Davidson is once again difficult to guard, but there aren’t as many secrets this time around. What they’ll need is to make improvements defensively, especially considering how tight the race is expected to be. Off to an 8-3 start, Davidson’s won games despite having issues defending the three and keeping opponents off the offensive glass. They’ll win games for sure, but getting stops could mean the difference between simply contending and repeating as regular season champions.
  2. How Dyshawn Pierre fits into the rotation at Dayton: Pierre was one of the Atlantic 10’s best players as a junior, earning second team all-conference honors after averaging 12.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. But with that being said, Archie Miller isn’t going to risk upsetting his team’s chemistry just to get Pierre minutes. What kind of shape will he be in, both physically and mentally? What will his role be, and more importantly how will he adjust to/accept it? Pierre performed well Wednesday night in his season debut, and if that continues to be the case the Flyers will be the favorite to win the A-10.
  3. Does the progress made by Isaiah Miles make Saint Joseph’s a dark horse?: DeAndre Bembry is the first name out of most peoples’ mouths when discussing the Hawks, and rightfully so given his skill set and accomplishments to date. But he’s had more consistent help this season, with senior forward Isaiah Miles being the most noteworthy of those players. After averaging 10.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game as a junior, Miles is up to 17.3 and 8.0 this season while also blocking nearly two shots per game. His emergence means that opponents have to account for another consistent scorer, and the Hawks have been much better offensively as a result. A-10 dark horse? Maybe.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: VCU has lost five games on the season, but none of those defeats would be considered particularly bad. There was the 0-2 trip to New York to play Duke and Wisconsin, and three losses in December to Florida State, Georgia Tech and Cincinnati. VCU’s played a challenging slate, made even tougher by the fact that they’re getting used to a new head coach and life without two highly influential players in Briante Weber and Treveon Graham.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: At 9-2 there’s no denying that Jeff Neubauer’s Fordham Rams are off to a good start in his first season at the helm. However the Rams’ two defeats came against the toughest opponents on the schedule (UT-Arlington and Boston College), with their best win coming at the expense of St. John’s. Fordham has some talent and they’ve performed well in games that prior teams would have lost, which bodes well for the future. But don’t expect them to make a major leap up the standings in year one under Neubauer.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: After tallying 55 wins, two A-10 regular season titles and two NCAA tournament appearances in his first two seasons at the helm, Jim Crews’ Saint Louis program has hit a rough patch of late. After winning 11 games in 2014-15, the Billikens are currently 5-7 and will begin A-10 play on a four-game losing streak. The Billikens have struggled mightily offensively, ranking 318th in adjusted offensive efficiency thanks to a combination of poor turnover percentage (22.0) and poor perimeter shooting (30.8 percent 3PT).

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. Dayton: Unlike last season the Flyers have both depth and size, with 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman Steve McElvene joining an experienced rotation anchored by point guard Scoochie Smith and forward Kendall Pollard. The question for Archie Miller’s team moving forward is the role Dyshawn Pierre will play, and how that will impact the team’s flow.
  • 2. George Washington: Much-improved from a season ago offensively, the Colonials are off to an 11-2 start and were ranked before their surprising loss at DePaul last week. Tyler Cavanaugh and Alex Mitola have been key additions for George Washington, and the defensive prowess of Patricio Garino can cause fits regardless of which defense the Colonials use.
  • 3. Richmond: The Spiders didn’t look all that good in a loss at Texas Tech Tuesday, but that defeat shouldn’t remove UR from the list of A-10 contenders. The forward tandem of Terry Allen and T.J. Cline is a handful for opponents, and they’ve got experienced guards as well. But the defense, with teams shooting 45.8 percent from the field with an effective field goal percentage of 50.4, has to improve.

NIT teams

  • 4. Rhode Island: The Rams haven’t used injuries as an excuse, but there’s no denying the impact that the loss of E.C. Matthews has had on them. Four McGlynn has been a positive addition as has Christion Thompson, and they’ve got one of the nation’s best defenders in Hassan Martin. If URI is to make a run at the A-10 crown, Kuran Iverson and Jared Terrell will be key offensively.
  • 5. VCU: Despite the head coaching change the Rams are still turning opponents over, and in Melvin Johnson they’ve got one of the league’s best sharpshooters. But if VCU is to push for the top spot and a return trip to the NCAA tournament, they have to get better inside of the arc. The Rams are shooting just 44.6 percent from two this season.
  • 6. Saint Joseph’s: Phil Martelli has one of the nation’s best wings in junior DeAndre Bembry, and unlike last year there’s been consistent help for the A-10 POY candidate. Isaiah Miles has been excellent at forward, and the Hawks also have a good freshman class that can help both now and in the future.
  • 7. Davidson: Bob McKillop’s team are going to put points on the board, thanks to the combination of individual talents capable of knocking down shots (most notably Jack Gibbs) and their system. But can the Wildcats get the stops needed to repeat as A-10 regular season champions? That’s the question for Davidson entering conference play.

Autobid or bust

  • 8. Massachusetts: The triumvirate of Trey Davis, Donte Clark and Jabarie Hinds can put points on the board for Derek Kellogg’s Minutemen, and as a team UMass takes care of the basketball. The issue is rebounding, but the return of Antwan Space (9.0 rpg in three games) alongside Zach Coleman will help.
  • 9. St. Bonaventure: Mark Schmidt’s Bonnies aren’t the best shooting team but they do hit the offensive boards hard, tied with VCU for the top offensive rebounding percentage in the conference (34.6). But only three teams in the conference (UMass, Davidson and La Salle) have been worse on the defensive glass than SBU, something that has to change in league play.
  • 10. Duquesne: The perimeter tandem of seniors Derrick Colter and Micah Mason is one of the best in the A-10, as they combine to average 33.9 points and 8.7 assists per game. But the Dukes will need to do a better job of defending the three in conference play as opponents are shooting 41.5 percent from distance.
  • 11. Fordham: Jeff Neubauer’s Rams haven’t played a “murderer’s row,” but they are winning games that prior Fordham teams would have found a way to lose. Ryan Rhoomes leads the A-10 in field goal percentage, and Joseph Chartouny has been one of the league’s best freshmen as he leads the conference in assists.
  • 12. George Mason: Dave Paulsen’s Patriots have made some strides in his first year at the helm, most notably reaching the Charleston Classic title game. Shevon Thompson is one of the A-10’s best big men, but the offensive issues (last in the A-10 in field goal and three-point percentage) will be tough to overcome.
  • 13. Saint Louis: With their offensive issues being what they are, SLU has to work even harder defensively to make up for the lack of scoring punch. Mike Crawford leads four players in double figures at 11.1 ppg, but not having a standout who can get them buckets in a pinch hurts.
  • 14. La Salle: The Explorers have one of the nation’s best scorers in Jordan Lewis, but they’ll struggle to get wins. They don’t have much in the way of depth, which has impacted Dr. John Giannini’s team adversely on both ends of the floor.

Atlantic 10 Preview: Can Rhode Island unseat Davidson?

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Last year, many people were reminded never to bet against Bob McKillop. The Davidson coach, in a new league for the first time in 23 years, took little time navigating his way to the top of the conference standings, leading the Wildcats to the Atlantic 10 regular season title.

Davidson graduated Tyler Kalinoski, the A-10 Player of the Year, but there’s reason to believe the Wildcats can repeat in the A-10 this season. The back court is anchored by Jack Gibbs and Brian Sullivan, both of whom averaged double figures and finished top-3 in the league in assists. Jordan Barham, as 6-foot-4 senior who led Davidson is rebounding, adds another upperclassmen on the perimeter. The front court will build off of last year’s experience with six forward logging 10 or more minutes, including Payton Aldridge and Jake Belford, who was missed all but six games last season.

The Wildcats may be a favorite to repeat, but no team in the A-10 has as much upside as Rhode Island. The Rams are coming off a 23-win season, bringing back all-conference selections E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, along sophomores Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett. The roster was bolstered by the additions of graduate transfer Four McGlynn, who will help with the Rams’ deficiency behind the 3-point line, and Kuran Iverson, the ex-Memphis forward and former top 30 recruit, who will create matchup problems for opposing defenses.

The Dayton Flyers have become a team no one wants to be paired with on Selection Sunday. Archie Miller’s team has won five games in the last two tournament appearances and is primed for another postseason appearance with Kendall Pollard, Scoochie Smith and Kyle Davis returning. James Madison transfer Charles Cooke and redshirt big man Steve McElvene could both make an immediate impact. At the moment, Dyshawn Pierre is not with the team. It’s a blow to the roster, but remember, Miller was able to guide the Flyers to a 20-7 finish after dismissing two players last winter.

The major offeseason storyline in the Atlantic 10 occurred in April when Shaka Smart left for Texas. Chattanooga head coach and former VCU assistant Will Wade takes over a program dealing with the graduation of two of the program’s all-time greats, Treveon Graham and Briante Weber, and departures of some of Smart’s top recruits (Terry Larrier and 2015 commits Tevin Mack and Kenny Williams). However, Melvin Johnson, Mo Alie-Cox and JeQuan Lewis is a solid core to have in Wade’s first season.

George Washington and Richmond headline a list of teams that could fight to round out the top fiver. The Colonials have one of the best starting fives in the league, but depth could be a concern. The Spiders return Terry Allen and T.J. Cline, but lose Kendall Anthony. ShawnDre’ Jones will step into that role after earning A-10 Sixth Man of the Year honors.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Shaka Smart gone, Havoc remains: Texas was able to uproot Shaka Smart from VCU this spring. VCU was quick to hire Smart’s former assistant, Will Wade, who had built Chattanooga into a Southern Conference contender in just two seasons. In Wade’s introductory press conference, he made it clear, “Havoc still lives here.” Wade served on Smart’s staff for four years, which included the 2011 Final Four run.

Will Wade (AP Photo)
Will Wade (AP Photo)

2. Dyshawn Pierre suspended: The 6-foot-6 senior forward was suspended for the entire fall semester back in September. He was the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder at 12.7 points and 8.1 boards per game. The Flyers could be without the versatile forward for marquee non-conference games against Vanderbilt and at the AdvoCare Invitation in Orlando, which includes potential matchups against Notre Dame and Wichita State/Xavier. He is currently fighting this suspension.

3. Rhody rising: The fourth year of Dan Hurley’s tenure in Kingstown is expected to end with the Rams first NCAA tournament appearance since 1999. Rhode Island finished third in the A-10 standings last year, but settled for an NIT bid. Rhode Island has the most talent in the league, bringing back E.C. Matthews, Hassan Martin, Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garett, while adding transfers Kuran Iverson and Four McGlynn, both of whom immediately eligible. Is that enough to dethrone Davidson and stave off Dayton and VCU?

4. Coming off a ‘down year?’: Following back-to-back seasons in which the league earned five and six NCAA tournament bids, the A-10 sent just three (Davidson, Dayton and VCU) to the Big Dance in March. Entering this season, you’d expect all Davidson, Dayton, Rhode Island and VCU to be in the conversation.

5. A big slate on NBCSN: Twenty-four Atlantic 10 Conference games, in addition to two rounds of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, will be aired on the NBC Sports Network.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE:

  • Favorite: “I think someone has to prove that they’re better than Davidson. I know they lost a good player, but their style of play is never predicated on a star system or on a single player. I’d have to go with Davidson until someone proves otherwise.”
  • Sleeper: “I’d say George Washington or Richmond. Those are two teams I’d really keep my eye on.”
  • Best player:
    • “DeAndre Bembry. When people use the phrase, ‘he does everything,’ it’s usually exaggerated. It’s not exaggerated in his case. He’s outstanding at just about every area of basketball. He can rebound, he can defend, he can pass, he obviously can score, he can make threes, he can finish. … I really think he’s a great NBA prospect.”
    • “Bembry. He can shoot the three, he post up, he can get offensive rebound. I think he can do it all. I think he’s the complete package. He’s too big for most small forwards to guard him and he’s too versatile and skilled for power forwards.”
  • Most underrated player:
    • “I think Kendall Pollard should have been all-league. I don’t know how underrated he is, but I think a guy who doesn’t get as much attention is Hassan Martin at Rhode Island. I think he’s terrific.”
    • “Probably, [Patricio] Garino. Are people talking about him? I think he’s gotten better every year. He had a great summer against a high-level of competition.”

PRESEASON ATLANTIC 10 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: DeAndre Bembry, Saint Joseph’s

Giving a guy on a sub-.500 team player of the years honors is a tough sell. Perhaps that’s why Bembry wasn’t named Atlantic 10 Player of the Year as a sophomore. No player in the Atlantic 10 has more of an impact on his team than 6-foot-6 forward. Bembry logged a ridiculous 38.6 minutes per game (tops in Division I) and won the A-10 scoring title at 17.7 points per game. He finished in the top-10 in points, rebounds, assists and steals.

THE REST OF THE ATLANTIC 10 FIRST TEAM:

  • Jack Gibbs, Davidson: The junior point guard went for 20 or more six times (missed seven games to injury). He also led the A-10 in assists at 4.8 per game
  • Hassan Martin, Rhode Island: The 6-foot-7 forward was a second-team A-10 selection, corralling 7.7 boards and blocking 3.1 shots per game, sixth-best in the NCAA.
  • E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: URI’s top returning scorer averaged 16.9 points per game and like Martin second team A-10 selection
  • Jordan Price, La Salle: The redshirt junior was second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring at 17.2 points per game.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Patrico Garino, George Washington
  • Melvin Johnson, VCU
  • Kuran Iverson, Rhode Island
  • Kendall Pollard, Dayton
  • ShawnDre’ Jones, Richmond

BREAKOUT STAR: Donte Clark, UMass

The 6-foot-4 freshman was inserted into the starting lineup in early January. He had his ups-and-downs scoring, but ending the season averaging 14.4 points per game in the last five games. Clark could be a big part of UMass’ future, one that has one of conference’s top recruiting classes coming in.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Jim Ferry, Duquesne

Ferry received a contract extension at the end of June despite failing to finish better than 10th in the A-10 standings in three seasons at the helm. While he doesn’t appear to be on the hot seat, that act of good faith comes with the expectations that the Dukes will improve this upcoming season.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The same old same old, arguing about the A-10 getting too many bids, or not enough bids

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Is there another surprising team?

Last season, newcomer Davidson was slotted 12th in the preseason before winning the regular season title. In 2013, George Washington, picked 10th in the preseason, reached the program’s first tournament in seven years. From the coaches’ quotes above, George Washington and Richmond will be in the conversation. But what about that next tier of teams? St. Joe’s and La Salle both benefit by having two of the top scorers in the league, while St. Bonaventure and Duquesne each have experienced lineups. Will any of those teams defy preseason projections?

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 16, Virginia at George Washington
  • Nov. 20, VCU vs. Duke (in New York)
  • Nov. 26, Dayton vs. Iowa (in Orlando)*
  • Dec. 5, Providence at Rhode Island
  • Dec. 6, Davidson at North Carolina

*Dayton could renew a rivalry with Xavier at the AdvoCare Invitational

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @CDiSano44

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Davidson: Yes, Tyler Kalinoski is gone, but Bob McKillop returns three guards who averaged double figures, including Jack Gibbs. Wildcats also have a experienced frontline.
2. Rhode Island: The Rams is the most talented team in the A-10 led by E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin. But that February slate is brutal. URI is at VCU, at Davidson and at Dayton in three of their last six regular season games.
3. Dayton: The Flyers were expected to return four starters, but as of right now, the status of Dyshawn Pierre remains uncertain. Dayton still has the chemistry and depth to make a run at the A-10 title.
4. VCU: Depending on how graduate transfer Korey Billbury fits in to the offense alongside JeQuan Lewis, Melvin Johnson and Mo Alie-Cox, this could be a really good first year for Will Wade.
5. George Washington: A veteran lineup of brings back Joe McDonald, Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen and adds 6-foot-10 transfer Tyler Cavanaugh. But do the Colonials have the depth to support a talented starting lineup?
6. Richmond: The loss of Kendall Anthony is tough, but the trio of ShawnDre’ Jones, Terry Allen and T.J. Cline make the Spiders a real sleeper in the A-10 this season.
7. St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies could be another surprise team, returning Marcus Posley, Dion Wright and Jaylen Adams.
8. La Salle: The Explorers took an early foreign tour to Prague in May, hoping to jumpstart a 2015-16 campaign in which players are stepping into larger roles alongside the returning Jordan Price.
9. Duquesne: Derrick Colter and Micah Mason, two of the better 3-point shooters in the A-10, will have no issues putting up points, but the Dukes will need to focus on limiting points on the other end. Duquesne gave up the most points per game in the A-10 last season.
10. Saint Joseph’s: The Hawks have arguably the best player in the conference, but DeAndre Bembry will need some help.
11. Saint Louis: Four starters back could lead the Billikens to a higher finish. In order to do so, Saint Louis will need to make major improvements to its offense, which ranked the worst in the conference.
12. UMass: A streak of three straight 20-win seasons was snapped in 2014-15. Despite a stable back court, Minutemen are likely enter a rebuilding season after losing Cady Lalanne, Maxie Esho and Derrick Gordon.
13. George Mason: A rebuilding effort begins under Dave Paulsen, who is taking over a program that will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Final Four run this spring. The Patriots return three starters, including 6-foot-11 center Shevon Thompson, who averaged a double-double last season.
14. Fordham: Jeff Neubauer inherits a 10-win team that saw Eric Paschall, the 2015 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, transfer to Villanova.