Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
OUTLOOK: Roster turnover is just a part of the college game. Unfortunately for the Atlantic 10 Conference, it seems that it is feeling the hurt of that reality more than most.
It is an easier bill to pay considering the conference had six NCAA Tournament teams last season, tying it with such major players as the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC for the second-most invites. Still, with players like Chaz Williams (Massachusetts), Devin Oliver (Dayton) and Juvonte Reddic (VCU) all gone, the upstart A-10 will feature a bit less star power this season, and with it, fewer postseason opportunities.
Of course, that doesn't mean there won't be any contending teams in the 14- team league, which welcomes in perennial Southern Conference titan Davidson this season. Once again, VCU is poised to be a national power despite losing Reddic and Rob Brandenberg. Treveon Graham and Briante Weber are both experienced players for a program that has quickly become a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament. Having Shaka Smart calling the shots from the sidelines also ensures an exciting and successful brand of basketball.
Last season's A-10 darlings in the Big Dance weren't the Rams, however. That moniker belonged to the Dayton Flyers, who stunned experts and fans alike by making a run to the Elite Eight. Archie Miller gets back Jordan Sibert and Dyshawn Pierre from that squad, along with a host of reserves who got plenty of playing time in a scheme that puts precedent on depth.
George Washington and UMass were also present in the NCAA Tournament picture, but will probably be fighting for NIT consideration this season. The Colonials lost big man Isaiah Armwood, but have the benefit of returning three starters, including Kethan Savage who missed time with an injury last season. Without Williams, not to mention Raphael Putney, the Minutemen need big campaigns from Derrick Gordon and Cady Lalanne.
Richmond didn't get a chance to show itself off on the national stage, NCAA Tournament or otherwise, despite a strong start to the season. The Spiders may remain on the outside looking in this year, unless Kendall Anthony realizes his immense promise. Rhode Island is laced with some promising talent as well, with E.C. Matthews the headliner. However, the Rams don't have Xavier Munford to lean on anymore. Also likely to fall into the middle of the pack are Saint Joseph's and La Salle, which have each made noise in the postseason recently, but have too much new blood to expect a real rise in the ranks.
For once, Duquesne presents some intrigue, with four returning starters and potential stars Micah Mason and Dominique McKoy. However, the Dukes have to prove themselves as they, like many teams in the league, are dealing with a major loss to the roster (Ovie Soko). On the flip side, Saint Louis looks uncharacteristically weak for a program that has been to three straight NCAA Tournaments, with not a single starter returning. It may take some time for the younger Billikens to mesh.
The league's basement will likely be inhabited by St. Bonaventure, George Mason, Fordham and Davidson, although each has some pieces that could lead to a finish a few rungs higher. Youssou Ndoye (SBU) is a ferocious big man, Patrick Holloway can light it up for the Patriots, Jon Severe is a potent scorer and one of four returning starters for the Rams, while the Wildcats are still led by coach Bob McKillop, who has built a tradition of excellence rivaled by few.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: VCU
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. VCU 2. Dayton 3. George Washington 4. Massachusetts 5. Richmond 6. Rhode Island 7. Saint Joseph's 8. La Salle 9. Duquesne 10. St. Louis 11. St. Bonaventure 12. George Mason 13. Fordham 14. Davidson
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
VCU: Smart and the Rams have come a long way since stunning the college basketball world en route to the 2011 Final Four. When they lost to No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin in the NCAA Tournament last March, the Rams found themselves in the odd position of being a team upset rather than the team doing the upsetting. It is a testament to how well Smart has built VCU's program. The Rams have won at least 26 games in all five seasons under Smart, and made it to the NCAA Tournament in the last four. The losses of Reddic (11.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Brandenberg (9.6 ppg) cannot be overstated, but Smart has shown time and time again that he can put a winning product on the floor. With the likes of Graham (15.8 ppg, 7 rpg), who is an easy bet for A-10 Player of the Year, and fearless guard Weber (9.4 ppg, 3.9 apg, 3.5 spg) still around, a league title and more are reasonable goals. Graham will pace the scoring, but will likely get help from 3-point marksman Melvin Johnson (10.4 ppg), who connected on nearly 40 percent of his long-range tries last season. Weber had 121 steals in 2013-14, which was more than twice as many as the next-best player in the league. His ability to disrupt and distribute make him a perfect fit in Smart's high-pressure scheme. In the frontcourt, Mo Alie-Cox (3.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.4 bpg) and Jordan Burgess (4.9 ppg, 2.6 bpg) have the most experience.
DAYTON: In Miller's second season at the helm, the Flyers broke a streak of five years with at least 20 wins, finishing 17-14. Miller's third campaign proved to be a major recovery, as the Flyers staked their way to a 26-11 overall record, while getting past Syracuse, Ohio State and Stanford on their way to the Elite Eight. What will Miller do for an encore? Well, an improvement on last season's finish is unlikely (Dayton hasn't been to the Final Four since 1967), but a return to the field of 68 is well within the realm of possibility. Jordan Sibert (12.2 ppg) led the team in scoring and 3- point shooting (.426) last season. He will once again be the feature scorer on a team that spreads the wealth. Dyshawn Pierre (11.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is another solid scorer, as well as a fine performer on the boards. Finding a new point guard and a replacement for Devin Oliver (11.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg) are tasks that need to be accomplished. Scoochie Smith (3.6 ppg) played all 37 games last season and should be the starter at the point, following Khari Price's transfer. Devon Scott (3.4 ppg) connected on 56.4 percent of his shot attempts as a supplemental player. Kyle Davis (2.0 ppg), Jalen Robinson (4.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg), Kendall Pollard (2.2 ppg) and freshmen Darrell Davis should give Miller a deep bench to work with yet again.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Steady construction and improvement really showed at George Washington last season. In Mike Lonergan's third season as head coach, the Colonials finished 24-9 and were one of the six A-10 teams invited to the NCAA Tournament, an accomplishment in of itself, which was magnified by the Colonials' 13-17 and 10-21 records the previous two seasons. The 24 wins were actually the most GW has had since 2006. Three starters are back from last season's team, although arguably the most important is not. Armwood (12.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg) not only scored from the paint, he also dominated the glass and helped the Colonials rank third in the conference in rebounds (37.2 rpg). He will be missed, as will Maurice Creek (14.1 ppg), who was last season's leading scorer. Savage (12.7 ppg) shot 51.8 percent from the floor in 19 games, but didn't play the full season due to an injury. He is healthy now and becomes the de facto top offensive option. Kevin Larsen (11.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg) is a decent finisher and rebounder. He has the tools to become a top-tier talent inside, and will need to be for the Colonials to compete as well as they did last season. Patricio Garino (12.1 ppg) is another scorer, who shot well from the floor, and Joe McDonald (8.3 ppg, 4.1 apg) is a steady presence at the point.
MASSACHUSETTS: Saying goodbye to Williams will be extremely difficult for coach Derek Kellogg and the entire Minutemen fan base. The 5-foot-9 dynamo led the team in scoring (15.6 ppg), assists (6.9 apg) and steals (1.6 spg) last season, while keeping the gas pedal down at all times. His work helped UMass lead the A-10 in scoring (75.8 ppg), while ranking second in assists (15.1 apg). Lost in the shuffle of replacing Williams, is the need to find bodies to fill in for Sampson Carter (10.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Putney (8.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg). The duo was a major reason the Minutemen were a top-25 rebounding team last season (38.4 rpg). Derrick Gordon (9.4 ppg) will be called upon to be the primary option in the backcourt. He is a solid finisher (.478 FG percentage) but he doesn't shoot well from the free-throw line (.528) and took just four shots from beyond the arc all last season. Trey Davis (2.6 ppg, 2.5 apg) is the next man up at point guard and will become a starter after playing only 9.2 minutes per game in 33 contests in 2013-14. Lalanne (11.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.2 bpg) is a stud in the middle, with his ability to score, rebound and block shots. He is the major building block for the team, which has its sights set on a fourth straight 20-win campaign. Jabarie Hinds, a transfer from West Virginia, could be an important contributor as well.
RICHMOND: Prior to a knee injury to Cedrick Lindsay last season, Richmond appeared to be a team from the A-10 destined for postseason play. However, Lindsay only played in 21 games, after which the Spiders fell apart, finishing with losses in five of their last six games to end with a record of 19-14 overall and no prospects to play beyond the A-10 Tournament. Richmond will have to get used to playing without Lindsay, as the senior graduated following last season. It is a scary thought, considering the squad ranked last in the league in scoring (66.5 ppg), assists (10.6 apg) and rebounds (32.5 rpg) last season. However, they also had the fewest turnovers in the conference (10.6 pg) and ranked second in scoring defense (65.2 ppg). With Anthony at the point once again, Richmond should continue to be careful with the ball and possibly begin scoring at a higher rate. Anthony netted 15.9 points per game himself, despite shooting just 38.7 percent from the field. ShawnDre' Jones connected on 38.2 percent of his attempts from 3-point range, and will get a chance to be a primary scoring option as a starter. Terry Allen (10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is another solid returning scorer, and one who did so while shooting efficiently from the field (.502). In the middle, Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (6.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg) is an imposing force and there is even more depth from there. With consistent health and more players to work with, the Spiders should be in the thick of things this winter.
RHODE ISLAND: There were only six players who played more than 20 minutes per game for the Rams last season. On top of that, there were only two more who played more than 10 minutes per game. So few players logging so many minutes meant the Rams were often gassed and unable to finish games, leading to a 14-18 overall mark and a 5-12 league ledger. Still, the 14 victories marked a six-win improvement from the previous season, the first under Dan Hurley. The rotation should be expanded this time around, especially considering four starters are back to go with some solid newcomers. E.C. Matthews (14.3 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.3 apg) is now the go-to player for the squad. He won't be able to play off of Munford anymore, but that isn't necessarily the worst thing in the world. Matthews shot a better percentage than Munford and they had nearly identical marks in rebounds, assists and steals. It was an exceptional campaign for a freshman, who could be even better with a year of experience under his belt. T.J. Buchanan (5.8 ppg, 2.5 apg) and Biggie Minnis (4.7 ppg, 2.5 apg) will lend a hand in the backcourt. On the interior, the Rams have returning talent as well. Gilvydas Biruta (10.6 ppg, 7 rpg) led the team in rebounding last season and could develop into a consistent double-double threat. Sophomore Hassan Martin (6.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg) also possesses skill in the paint. One key will be limiting turnovers, as the Rams were last in the league in that category last season (14.1 tpg).
SAINT JOSEPH'S: This is year No. 20 for Phil Martelli as head coach at Saint Joseph's. There have been plenty of high points during the first two decades of his tenure, including six NCAA Tournament appearances. However, last season the Hawks won the A-10 Tournament for just the second time since he took over in 1995. The title came in a banner year for the program, which finished 24-10 (it's most wins since 2005) while entering the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 2008. Getting back will be no small feat. Seniors Langston Galloway (17.7 ppg), Ronald Roberts Jr., (14.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Halil Kanacevic (10.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 4.4 apg) were the main cogs for the Hawks. Martelli will now turn to DeAndre Bembry to be a leader. There are worse positions to be in, considering Bembry averaged 12.1 points per game as a freshmen. The 6-foot-6 forward has star written all over him. Chris Wilson (9.1 ppg) started in all 34 games last season, and provides some of the senior leadership Martelli is seeking. Papa Ndao (2.5 ppg) was the only player other than Galloway, Wilson, Bembry, Kanacevic and Roberts Jr. to start a game last season. He will get more opportunities this winter. Whoever fills out the starting lineup will need to maintain efficiency on offense. The Hawks led the A-10 in field goal percentage last season (.470).
LA SALLE: Last year at this time La Salle was in a similar position to Dayton. The Explorers were coming off a stunning run in the NCAA Tournament and expectations were sky high. It all came crashing down for Dr. John Giannini and his team, which finished a game below .500 (15-16) following back-to-back 20-win seasons. Inefficient offensive play really sank the Explorers, who ranked 12th in the A-10 in both scoring (67.7 ppg) and field goal percentage (.413). Making sure the offense keeps running smoothly will be tough, as La Salle's strength shifts from the backcourt to the frontcourt. Jerrell Wright (13.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Steve Zack (8.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.9 bpg) are the leaders of the squad, following the departure of guards Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills and Tyrone Garland, who were the major players in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Wright finds ways to score in multiple ways, and Zack is a sturdy double-double threat. While the frontcourt is sturdy, Giannini needs to get a lot out of an inexperienced group of guards, led by redshirt freshman Amar Stukes and Auburn transfer Jordan Price (5.4 ppg). Rohan Brown (2 ppg) and Khalid Lewis (3 ppg) will receive an increase in playing time as well.
DUQUESNE: Aside from a few sporadic seasons of success, Duquesne has been one of the worst teams in the A-10 for quite some time. The Dukes didn't change much last season, tallying an overall record of 13-17, while finishing 10th in the league standings (5-11). However, the Dukes did improve their win total by five games. Now in his third season, head coach Jim Ferry has to keep the upward trend going. It may seem like an impossible goal considering the team lost top scorer Ovie Soko (18.4 ppg), who also led the way in rebounds. However, Soko is the only starter not back on campus. Of the returning starters, Mason and McKoy are the most exciting. Mason (10.6 ppg, 3 apg) is a lights-out shooter, connecting on 56.6 percent from the floor, including a national-best 56 percent from 3-point range. He was also second on the team in assists behind Derrick Colter (9.1 ppg, 3.4 apg). Mason and Colter's willingness to share the ball will be a key if Duquesne hopes to top the A-10 in assists again (15.2 apg). McKoy (9.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.2 bpg) will probably have quite a few double-doubles to his credit before the season ends. Jeremiah Jones (6.3 ppg) was also a starter in 2013-14, and he can play a number of spots on the floor despite his 6-foot-3 frame.
SAINT LOUIS: It may seem unbelievable to think that the Billikens will finish in the bottom of the A-10 this season. After all, they have been to three straight NCAA Tournaments, tallied at least 26 wins in each of the last three campaigns, and are coming off back-to-back A-10 regular-season titles. However, Saint Louis did lose five of its last six games last season and now, without any starter from a year ago, the team is simply too inexperienced to expect the continued success, unless the rebuilding process goes exceptionally well. Jim Crews, now in his third season as head coach, will still put an emphasis on defense and ball control. The Billikens ranked 19th nationally in opponent field goal percentage and third in the A-10 in assists. Austin McBroom (7.3 ppg) will go from solid bench scorer, to primary offensive option now that he isn't behind Jordair Jett (13.9 ppg), Mike McCall Jr. (9.8 ppg), Dwayne Evans (14 ppg) and Rob Loe (10.3 ppg). Senior Grandy Glaze (3.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg) appeared in all 34 games as well, and he will be a starter now. Villanova transfer Ash Yacoubou is a decent 3-point shooter, and 6-foot-8 sophomore Tanner Lancona will find himself playing more meaningful minutes.
ST. BONAVENTURE: Seniors Andell Cumberbatch and Ndoye give Mark Schmidt a nice inside-outside combination for the Bonnies. Cumberbatch (8.2 ppg) was a solid scorer in the backcourt and, assuming a jump in minutes (he played 22.9 per game last season), a leap in scoring production should be on the way. It will certainly be needed. Matthew Wright (16.2 ppg) and Charlon Kloof (11.8 ppg, 5 apg) were the top two scorers for the Bonnies last season, but both are gone. Wright and Kloof's scoring won't be all that the Bonnies need to replace. They also need to find some players to set up teammates, as Wright and Kloof combined for 8.2 assists per game. Cumberbatch could help in that area, while Jordan Gathers (8.2 ppg, 2.1 apg) is expected to be a prominent figure in the backcourt as well. Newcomers Marcus Posley and Iakeem Alston also figure to be in the mix at guard. Ndoye (10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.2 bpg) holds down the fort in the frontcourt. He protects the rim well, but needs to become a better scorer and a more productive rebounder. The Bonnies had a record of 18-15 last season, but that included a 6-10 mark in league play. Expect the team to take a few steps back in overall production.
GEORGE MASON: Paul Hewitt may be coaching for his job this season. It is a dire thought, considering the Patriots had at least 22 wins in Hewitt's first two years at the helm. However, the wheels fell off in 2013-14, as George Mason finished at just 11-20 overall, its worst record since 1998 when it went just 9-18 in Jim Larranaga's first season. Hewitt's job would be a lot easier if Bryon Allen (15.4 ppg) and Sherrod Wright (15.6 ppg) were set to keep the offense on track, but both were lost to graduation. There is not a single double-digit scorer left on the roster. That will obviously change, with Holloway (8.7 ppg) the top candidate to be the guy. As a sophomore, Holloway did most of his damage off the bench, scoring in double figures 15 times last season, including a streak of seven straight games from Dec. 22-Jan. 11. Jalen Jenkins (7.2 ppg, 6 rpg) was thrust into a major role as a freshmen and he held his own, leading the team in rebounds. Erik Copes (4.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) was also a decent contributor on the glass, but the Patriots really had trouble securing loose balls, ranking 12th in the A-10 (34.6 rpg). They were also 12th in turnovers (13.6 pg) and assists (10.9 apg).
FORDHAM: Although they came in last in the A-10 last season (2-14, 10-21 overall), the Rams did feature one of the most explosive scoring duos in the conference. Only half of the combo is back, with sophomore Jon Severe (17.3 ppg) left behind by departed Branden Frazier (18.2 ppg, 4.3 apg). For Severe to take the next step, and for the Rams to start contending, he needs to become a more efficient shooter. He connected on only 33.1 percent of his shots from the floor a year ago, including 34.2 percent success from beyond the arc. Getting more help in the scoring department also is necessary. Mandell Thomas (11.9 ppg) is another scoring guard who will be expected to be more of a leader in this, his junior season. Ryan Rhoomes (6.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and Ryan Canty (3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) team up on the inside, while a number of imports, such as Nemanja Zarkovic (Serbia) and Dekeba Battee-Aston (Australia) give the Rams an international flair. Improved shooting and defensive pressure are areas in which Fordham needs to improve. The Rams were last in the A-10 in scoring defense (78 ppg) and field goal percentage (.393) last season.
DAVIDSON: In the years to come, Davidson should become one of the better programs in the A-10. The Wildcats completely dominated the Southern Conference over the last 20 seasons, winning 13 regular-season titles. McKillop should make them a contender in the future, but the first season in a new league may be tough sledding, made no easier by the loss of two-time SoCon Player of the Year De'Mon Brooks. Tom Droney and Chris Czerapowicz are other major pieces that need to be replaced up front. Andrew McAuliffe (2.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg) is the most experienced forward on the roster, but he isn't nearly as versatile as Brooks. Questions may litter the frontcourt, but the backcourt should still be solid. Tyler Kalinoski (11 ppg, 5 rpg, 3.4 apg) and Brian Sullivan (12.9 ppg) play well together, with Kalinoski the top playmaker. With Kalinoski running the point, the Wildcats ranked among the top-30 in the country in scoring (78.5 ppg) and field goal percentage (.477) last season. There is depth at guard as well, with Jack Gibbs (6.8 ppg) and Jordan Barham (5.8 ppg) providing solid options off the bench.