Atlantic 10 Season Preview

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on November 17th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Back

The schools in the Atlantic 10 broke a conference record by sending six teams to the NCAA Tournament last March. Although the seeds fell in a narrow range from #5 (Virginia Commonwealth and Saint Louis) to #11 (Dayton), the A-10 drew one bid fewer than the Big 12 (seven), tied the Big Ten and Pac-12 (six each), while outdrawing the American (four), the Big East (four) and the SEC (three). What a way to end a season that began with hand-wringing over the departures of Charlotte, Temple and Xavier. Although the conference standard-bearers Saint Louis and VCU did not survive the first weekend (VCU went from the hunter to the hunted, falling to Stephen F. Austin in an overtime Round of 64 game) and A-10 Tournament Champion Saint Joseph’s fell to eventual National Champion Connecticut, Dayton did advance to the Elite Eight before falling to Florida, 62-52.

Will Shaka Smart Be Interested In The Open Position In Westwood? (US Presswire)

It was a great year for Shaka Smart, VCU, and the rest of the A10 last season. (US Presswire)

Rumors swirling around the Barclays Center during the Atlantic 10 Tournament had the A-10 in negotiations with Barclays and the Atlantic Coast Conference over access to the venue for their 2017 conference tournament. The conference had Barclays locked up through 2017, but the ACC (with ESPN’s backing) wanted a New York City venue for its 2017 and 2018 conference tournaments. The A-10 eventually agreed to relocate its tournament site for the 2017 (Pittsburgh’s Consol Center) and 2018 (Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center) seasons in exchange for an extension at the Barclays for the 2019-21 seasons and a commitment for three conference double-headers to be staged annually there in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Reader’s Take


Looking Ahead

The Atlantic 10 extends its footprint southward with the addition of Davidson, located near Charlotte, North Carolina. A longtime member of the Southern Conference dating back to 1936-37 (a solid program during the 1940s and 1950s), the Wildcats prospered during Lefty Driesell’s 13-year tenure, compiling a 176-56 record while finishing in the AP top 10 four times and earning five NCAA Tournament bids. Driesell’s successor, Terry Holland, continued the run, compiling a 92-43 record in a span of five seasons that included an AP top 15 finish and four NCAA Tournament bids. In the 15-year interlude between Holland and present day coach Bob McKillop, the Wildcats drew a single NCAA Tournament bid (under Bobby Hussey, in 1985-86). After a three-year rebuilding period McKillop returned Davidson to the Southern Conference elites with a 22-win, second-place finish in conference play. He returned the Wildcats to the postseason (NIT) two seasons later en route to a 25-6 record. Over the next 18 seasons (1997-2014) McKillop has guided the Wildcats to 13 postseason tournaments (six NIT, seven NCAA), including, between 2002-09, eight consecutive bids (four each, NIT and NCAA). Success in their new conference will require that Davidson retain their very successful coach (McKillop will enter his 26th season at the helm) and expand their basketball budget. The Wildcats spent $1.7 million on men’s basketball in 2012, the second-highest amount in the Southern Conference but only $300,000 less than the smallest A-10 men’s basketball budget (La Salle), and about half of the average spent on men’s basketball in its new conference ($3.2 million dollars).

Bob McKillop and Davidson Sit Atop Our Latest Power Rankings (AP)

Bob McKillop and Davidson are faced with unknown challenges as the newest members of the A10. (AP)

Following the trend made popular in the last decade, the Atlantic 10 returns to an 18-game conference schedule that features home-and-away games with five conference mates and one game with each of the remaining eight members. The conference will play a slate of 126 total games to determine the seeds for the postseason conference tournament at the Barclays Center.

Predicted Order of Finish

Going back to 2011, the regular season champion has won 80 percent of its conference games. Every team has replacement questions, so 14 wins (77 percent) should be enough to take the #1 seed next March in Brooklyn.

(Note: A10 coaches poll rank is shown in squared brackets [])

  • 1. Virginia Commonwealth (14-4) [1]
  • 2. George Washington (13-5) [2]
  • T3. Massachusetts (12-6) [4]
  • T3. Dayton (12-6) [3]
  • 5. Richmond (11-7) [5]
  • 6. Rhode Island (10-8) [6]
  • 7. La Salle (9-9) [7]
  • T8. Saint Joseph’s (8-10) [8]
  • T8. Davidson (8-10) [12]
  • T10. St. Louis (7-11) [9]
  • T10. St. Bonaventure (7-11) [10]
  • 12. George Mason (6-12) [13]
  • 13. Fordham (5-13) [14]
  • 14. Duquesne (4-14) [11]

Predicted Champion

Treveon Graham is one of the main reasons why RTC is selecting VCU as the A10's conference champ. (Getty)

Treveon Graham is one of the main reasons why RTC is selecting VCU as the A-10’s conference champ. (Getty)

  • Virginia Commonwealth (NCAA Seed #4) — The cynics will be vindicated (or not…) if the Rams fall short again. Tabbed as a team to beat when they joined the A10 back in 2012-13, Shaka Smart’s program has, despite highest-in-conference NCAA seeds, twice finished the regular season trailing Saint Louis and twice advanced to the conference championship game only to be thwarted by a more experienced squad. What makes the 2014-15 edition different? It starts with the Rams themselves — VCU returns 66.7 percent of their possession-minutes, the highest in the conference — they are the defacto “most experienced” squad in the A10 Conference. After two stellar (and somewhat unexpected) regular season runs, Saint Louis is due for a step back and every challenger (there should be three) has holes to fill. For the Rams, Juvonte Reddic and Rob Brandenburg have moved on, but Treveon Graham, a favorite to earn Conference Player of the Year come March will team with Mo-Alie Cox, a 6’6″ sophomore space-eater in the front court. Briante Webber, the most prolific ball hawk in Division 1 last season, Melvin Johnson, sidelined in the last two games VCU played in 2013-14 (both losses), along with a year-older JaQuan Lewis team up for possibly the best backcourt rotation in the conference. Freshman Jonathan Williams, a well-regarded local point guard is a rocket should earn some minutes in the backcourt alongside either Lewis, Johnson or Webber. Freshman Terry Larrier will compete with sophomore Jordan Burgess for time at the wing. Three freshmen, Justin Tillman and Michael Gilmore (both true) along with Antravious Simmons (redshirt) will compete the front court rotation. VCU’s recruits are ranked #14, so expect Larrier, who was recruited heavily by Connecticut (yes, that Connecticut), and at least one other to contribute more than closing-half minutes.

Other Projected Postseason Teams

The prediction here last season was four NCAA bids with two or three additional postseason appearances but the A10 pretty much blew that prediction out of the water with six NCAA Tourney bids. Four (NCAA) and two (maybe three other) postseason teams should be about right this season.

The return of talented Kethan Savage should be a big boost to GW's conference outlook. (DC Outlook)

The return of talented Kethan Savage should be a big boost to GW’s conference title aspirations. (DC Outlook)

  • George Washington (NCAA seed #8) — The Colonials are, despite the loss of Isaiah Armwood and Maurice Creek, talented and deep enough to earn another trip to the postseason. Coach Mike Lonergan returns 55.2% of the team’s possession-minutes that includes a solid nucleus of four juniors led by a rehabilitated off guard Kethan Savage, a more mature Joe McDonald at the point, breakout candidate Patricio Guarino on the wing and 6’10” Kevin Larsen anchoring the post. Lonergan will most likely look first to senior forward Jon Kopriva and sophomore guard Nick Griffen as the fifth starter; Kopriva if he wants rebounds (replacing Isaiah Armwood) or Griffen if he wants outside shooting (replacing Maurice Creek). Success this season, however, will depend on how quickly the five-man freshmen class led by Yuta Watanabe (a 6’8″ import who logged time with the Japan National team and prepped at Thomas More before coming to GWU), 6’11” stretch forward Matt Cimino and 6’4″ wing Darian Bryant can contribute.
  • Massachusetts (NCAA seed #10) — Chaz Williams is gone, but Coach Derek Kellogg has West Virginia transfer Jabari Hinds, a 5’11” point guard who shares many of Chaz Williams’ skill set, ready to suit up. Add junior returnees Derrick Gordon and Trey Davis and the backcourt rotation should be solid. The Minutemen also lost wing Raphael Putney and low post contributor Sampson Carter. If Kellogg can find a wing who shows more consistency than Putney (queue senior Maxie Esho), a solid back up for center Cady Lalanne (junior Tyler Bergantino appears to be the best candidate) and Hinds can develop Williams’ instinct for when to pass and when to shoot (he did a lot of shooting for Coach Bob Huggins), UMass should stay in the mix again this season.
  • Dayton (NCAA seed #10) — Coach Archie Miller might be the most crucial 2014-15 “returnee” for the Flyer program. The fourth year head coach turned aside postseason feelers after breaking a four-year NCAA drought and running the Flyers to the Regional Finals. Miller will have to find a replacement for low post anchor Matt Kavanaugh, guards Vee Sanford and Khari Price (transfer) along with forward Devin Oliver, about 45% of the squad’s possession-minutes (54.4% of their possession-minutes return for the 2014-15 campaign). Look for Jordan Silbert and Scoochie Smith to anchor the backcourt with sophomore Kyle Davis and freshman Darrell Davis filling out the rotation. The frontcourt will feature returnees juniors Devon Scott and the well-regarded Jalen Reynolds, two undersized but active forward/centers along with sophomore Kendall Pollard and junior Dyshawn Pierre (more a wing than low post banger) to fill out the rotation. If Pierre and Reynolds play with greater consistency and (Darrell) Davis is a good as Miller advertises, the Flyers could move up in the rankings.

    Archie Miller might be the most important returnee of the entire A10 conference. (AP)

    Archie Miller might be the most important returnee of the entire A10 conference. (AP)

  • Richmond (NIT) — Losing Derrick Williams (left the program) and Cedrick Lindsay last season hurt, but the additional minutes distributed to Terry Allen, Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, Dion Taylor and Trey Davis should yield dividends this season. Although a backcourt of Kendall Anthony and ShawnDre’ Jones would be the quickest and best ball handling combination, thus giving Coach Chris Mooney multiple options on offense, neither tops 6′ and may have problems defending taller shooters. Mooney will have to develop a rotation that gives both opportunities to play while working a taller guard into the rotation. Freshman Khwan Fore and 6’4″ sophomore Josh Jones should get long looks in the early part of the season.
  • Rhode Island (NIT) — Third year coach Dan Hurley brought a talent infusion to the back court of the Kingston, Rhode Island school. With the addition of freshmen Jared Terrell, a top 100 shooting guard and Jarvis Garrett, who scored an average of 24.0 points per game for Notre Dame Prep, Hurley should soften the blow of losing workhorse Xavier Munford. The pair will join sophomore EC Matthews and junior Biggie Minnis (the likely starters), senior TJ Buchannan and sophomore Matthew Butler to give Hurley the option of playing a three-guard lineup. Jordan Hare, a 6’10” sophomore forward rejoined the squad and will fill out a frontcourt rotation that will include senior Gilvydas Biruta, junior Hasan Martin, juniors Jarelle Reischel and Ifeanyi Onyekaba (a 6’8″ space eater), four players who have teamed for nearly 60 games over the last two seasons. After taking over a 7-24 (4-14) program in 2012-13, Hurley has improved the win total each season, coaching last season’s squad to a 14-18 (5-11) record. Expect another improvement this season.
  • La Salle (NIT/CBI/CIT) — Although Dr. John Giannini brings back only 47.7% of last season’s possessions-minutes, he returns an experienced frontcourt rotation with senior trio Jarrell Wright, center Steve Zack — whose progress last season was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise let-down from the Explorers’ Sweet Sixteen run in March 2013 — and DJ Peterson. The backcourt will get a radical makeover as point guard staple Tyreek Duren, Tyrone Garland and Sam Mills move on. He will look to a pair of 6’5″ guard transfers, Clion Jones and Jordan Price, to fill out a back court rotation that will include returnee Khalid Lewis (a 6’3″ junior), junior wing Rohan Brown and 6’2″ redshirt freshman Amar Stukes. Lack of offseason training and loss of focus were two recurring themes in Giannini postgame press conferences last season; the lessons will not be lost on the 2014-15 edition of the Explorers. Should everyone stay healthy, expect a season that extends beyond the regulation 29 games (plus conference tournament).

The Others

  • Saint Joseph’s — The Hawks’ losses did not stop with Ron Roberts, Halil Kanasevic and Langston Galloway — all anticipated — but losing senior forward/center Papa Ndao (medical redshirt, no details), a key substitute in 2013-14 and projected to take a starting spot this season, and freshman Markel Lodge (academics) means Phil Martelli’s projected replacement frontcourt will not materialize this season at least. Sophomore wing DeAndre Bembry, senior point guard Chris Wilson, West Virginia transfer guard Aaron Brown should, along with a grab-bag of five (eligible) freshmen and two redshirts, be enough to dodge the program’s third 20-loss season in the last six years. Martelli will need time to find the right chemistry.
  • Davidson — Bob McKillop returns 55.2% of the squad’s 2014 possession-minutes for a team that won the Southern Conference regular crown but lost to Western Carolina in the conference tournament semi-finals. The Wildcats dropped their first round NIT game (85-77 to Missouri) and packed their bags for the Atlantic 10. A new, more competitive conference coupled with the loss of senior forwards De’Mon Brooks, Tom Droney and Chris Czerapowicz means the scoring emphasis will shift to the wing and backcourt as McKillop will look to senior Tyler Kalinoski, junior Brian Sullivan and sophomore Jack Gibbs to step forward. Gibbs and Sullivan are sub 6′ guards; McKillop will need 6’4″ junior Jordan Barham to contribute in the backcourt. Freshmen Oskar Michelsen and Jordan Watkins will need to contribute immediately as part of a frontcourt rotation that will most likely start Kalinoski, junior Jake Belford and sophomore Andrew McCauliffe. McKillop will see this group into the middle of the conference, but Davidson’s administration will have to get resources to the program if they expect the Wildcats to be competitive long term in this conference.

    Jim Crews can smirk a little after leading the Billikens from afterthought to league champions. (USATSI)

    Jim Crews has a whole gang of standouts that he needs to replace. (USATSI)

  • St. Louis — Virtually all of Rick Majerus’ players have moved on after giving the Billiken faithful two terrific seasons of conference-leading basketball. Last season’s run was a pleasant surprise, but Jordair Jett and Dwayne Evans have departed and Coach Jim Crews will have to replace nearly 75% of the possession-minutes from last season’s squad. With eight freshmen and five (largely underutilized) sophomores, name tags were most likely the order of the day October 15. Crews will build around senior forward Grandy Glaze, Achraf Yacoubou, a 6’4″ guard/forward transfer out of Villanova who sat last season, senior center John Manning and junior point guard Austin McBroom. Among the sophomores 6’8″ Tanner Lancona and 6’6″ guard Mike Crawford logged the most minutes. Lancona was the more efficient of the two, expect him to take a larger part of the front court rotation with Manning, Glaze (and perhaps) Yacoubou, as Crews has to find scorers in his collection of players. Crawford will fill in at the shooting guard while the three freshmen guards (Marcus Bartley, Davell Roby and Miles Reynolds — most likely to secure a spot in the rotation early) work their way into the rotation. Crews has to develop scoring before the conference season begins, or this could be a painful year for the Bills.
  • St. Bonaventure — Returning 51.8% of the possession-minutes from 2013-14, Coach Mark Schmidt has a better starting point than several of his colleagues. Though the front court lost Marquis Simmons, Schmidt still has 7′ senior Youssou Ndoye and teammate 6’8″ (260 pound space eater) Chris Dees to rotate through the low post. With a 1.16 point per possession efficiency last season, expect junior Dion Wright to play a larger role in the offense, especially if Schmidt can find a solid replacement at the point guard spot. Schmidt must forge a serviceable point guard rotation with 6’0” freshman Jaylen Adams and 6’2” JuCo Iakeem Alston and hope that guard/forward Andel Cumberbach begins to recognize when to pass and when to shoot/drive if the Bonnies are to get back to the conference’s upper division.
  • George Mason — Coach Paul Hewitt may claim that last season’s squad performed better than he anticipated, but the prospects for this season’s squad, lacking the departed Sherrod Wright and Byron Allen, are even worse. Junior guard Patrick Holloway and forward Jalen Jenkins, an All-Conference Rookie First Team honoree, will form the nucleus this season, but there are too many points to make up with only 50.3% of the possession-minutes returning for 2014-15. Hewitt will look to Georgia Tech transfer Julian Royal and four freshmen — Isaiah Jackson, Eric Lockett, Therence Mayimba and Trey Porter (at 6’10” consider him a stretch #4) — to contribute right away. Hewitt is better known for recruiting than player development, game preparation and in-game adjustments. His team underperformed last season, struggling in particular at home (1-7 in conference) and against longer teams. Four seasons after Jim Larranaga’s departure for Miami, Mason fans, already frustrated with Hewitt’s hands-off style, unhappily mull the prospects of a second consecutive losing season — something they have not experienced since the mid 1990s. This could be a warm winter in Fairfax.
  • Fordham — The Rams return 62% of the possession-minutes from the squad that went 10-21 (2-14) last season. Starting point guard Brandon Frazier and a number of rotation players have graduated and Coach Tom Pecora brings in a five man freshmen class headed by 6’6″ guard Eric Paschal, a Bayonne, NJ native who took a prep year at Thomas More in Connecticut. Paschal will pair with sophomore Jon Severe, a 2013-14 preseason favorite for conference Freshman of the Year honors who developed a bad shoot-first habit. Pecora did not lack offensive options last season, just the guards needed to get them the ball in scoring position. 6′ 8″ junior forward Ryan Rhoomes was the Rams’ most efficient scorer last season, but touched the ball in only one-of-every-eight possessions when he was on the court. Despite losing senior center Ryan Canty (back) for the season, Pecora has a frontcourt talent upgrade in red shirt freshman Manny Suarez, a 6’10” forward and German-import Christian Sengfelder, a 6’8″ forward who averaged 18.7 points and 10.4 in his last season at Urspring Academy in Schelklingen, Germany. If Paschal and Severe can involve the full rotation of guards (Pecora favors a three guard lineup) that will include senior Bryan Smith, junior Mandal Thomas and Canadian-import Nemanja Zarkovic and forwards in Fordham’s offense, the Rams should improve their standing in the conference.
  • Duquesne — The Dukes return 57.4% of their possession-minutes, just above the conference average, but Coach Jim Ferry is tasks with making up the points scored by departed fifth-year center Ovie Soko who accounted for 25% of the Dukes’ points and 23% of their rebounds. Senior forward Dominque McKoy, a JuCo (who logged a season at Rhode Island before enrolling at Cowley Community College) and sophomore guard Micah Mason were two of the most efficient players nationally (per Ken Pomeroy), benefiting no doubt from the distraction caused by Soko’s prolific scoring. How will these players fare when they become the focus of opponent’s defenses? The Dukes’ scored 13 wins by simply outracing their opponents (scoring 1.10 points per possession vs 1.09 ppp for their opponents). Ferry must develop a more balanced attack (and tighten Duquesne’s defense), or this Duquesne squad will be Ferry’s third that fails to log a .500 or better overall record. Four of the 15 players listed on the Dukes’ roster are 6’8″ or taller, two of whom are freshmen. It could be a long season on the Bluff.

Final Thoughts

Crucial to the conference’s bids last March — Massachusetts, Saint Louis and George Washington compiled non-conference records that put those (normally) overlooked programs into the thick of the bid scramble. The teams that fizzled early (George Mason, La Salle, Fordham, Duquesne) did not recover during conference play to ding the bid chances of those teams that started slowly but did not log bid-killing losses (VCU and Dayton). Although Dayton lost early in the conference tournament, the Flyers had largely secured their bid before losing to eventual winner Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks, the conference’s sixth bid, would not have made the NCAA field without the automatic bid secured in Brooklyn, and needed to beat two teams already in the field (Dayton and VCU) and St. Bonaventure. Can the conference stage a repeat performance this season? A four-bid season is more likely, but conference fans should keep an eye on how A-10 teams perform versus the Atlantic Coast Conference, which is scheduled to play 13 games this season. The ACC is the consensus second/third strongest conference going into the season and securing a .500 or better record against ACC teams will benefit all of the members during conference play.

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