Other 26 Previews: Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Joseph Dzuback on November 12th, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

As the Carousal Turns

After two quiet offseasons, three Atlantic 10 programs filled head coaching vacancies last spring. This matched the turnover rate from the 2012 offseason, the highest in over a decade. Two programs, Fordham and George Mason, released their veteran coaches, Tom Pecora (14 years, the last five on Rose Hill) and Paul Hewitt (18 years, the last four at GMU) respectively, in an effort to change the trajectories of their programs. Meanwhile, Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart left of his own accord for Austin to take the reins of the Longhorns’ program after Rick Barnes’ resignation. Changing their historic pattern of looking exclusively in the metropolitan New York coaching pool, Fordham athletic director Ed Roach turned westward and after a brief (and unsuccessful) courtship of Robert Morris’ Andy Toole, hired Eastern Kentucky head coach Jeff Neubauer. Neubauer, a collegiate point guard and 1993 graduate of La Salle, is no stranger to Northeastern basketball. Neubauer took his Colonials to five postseason tournaments (including two NCAA tournament appearances) during his 10-year tenure at Eastern Kentucky.

Former Bucknell head man Dave Paulsen is just one of many new coaches in the A10 this season. Paulsen will look to lead George Mason to a postseason berth. (The Daily Item)

Former Bucknell head man Dave Paulsen is just one of many new coaches in the A10 this season. Paulsen will look to lead George Mason to a postseason berth. (The Daily Item)

George Mason athletic director Brad Edwards hired Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen after a two-week search. Paulsen, a veteran head coach of 21 years, brings a 134-94 Division I record (highlighted by two NIT and two NCAA appearances) to a Patriots’ program that sorely misses the days of Jim Larranaga. Virginia Commonwealth athletic director Ed McLaughlin’s task was to find, in Smart’s successor, someone who would continue the momentum that the rising star head coach had established. His candidate pool came down to several former Smart assistants, and Tennessee-Chattanooga’s two-year head coach Wade Wilson fit the bill. Wilson’s variation of Smart’s HAVOC system (called CHAOS) carried the Mocs to two second place finishes in Southern Conference play (27-7) and a 40-25 overall record.

Predicted Order of Finish

Season previews have consistently identified three or four squads as the strongest contenders to earn the regular season title (and winning the conference tournament title, taking the NCAA automatic bid), but the conference-wide averages for returning points and minutes (above 70 percent in both cases) suggest that this season will not feature a dominant leader like from 2004-08. Expect another two or three team dogfight like the more recent conference seasons. It’ll be worth brushing up on the tie-breaker rules again this season. Projected conference record are shown in parenthesis; Atlantic 10 coaches poll rankings are shown in squared [] brackets.

  • T1. Davidson (14-4) [3]
  • T1. Rhode Island (14-4) [2]
  • 3. Dayton (13-5) [1]
  • 4. Richmond (12-6) [6]
  • 5. George Washington (11-7) [4]
  • T6. Virginia Commonwealth (11-7) [5]
  • T6. Saint Joseph’s (10-8) [7]
  • 8. La Salle (9-9) [9]
  • 9. St. Bonaventure (8-10) [8]
  • T10. Saint Louis (6-12) [12]
  • T10. Massachusetts (6-12) [10]
  • T12. Duquesne (5-13) [11]
  • T12. Fordham (5-13) [14]
  • 14. George Mason (2-16) [13]
Bob McKillop is proving once and for all that his program's success has much more to do with just Stephen Curry. (The Charlotte Observer)

Bob McKillop is proving once and for all that his program’s success has much more to do with just Stephen Curry. (The Charlotte Observer)

Predicted Champions

  • Davidson (NCAA #8 seed) — The Wildcats return a conference-high 81.7 percent of their minutes and fourth-highest possessions per minute from the squad that won the conference regular season title, earned the #1 seed in the conference tournament, and was eliminated by tournament winner Virginia Commonwealth in the semifinals in Brooklyn last March. It is true that head coach Bob McKillop will not have All-Conference first teamer Tyler Kalinoski back, but sophomores Oscar Michelson and Jordan Watkins, along with senior Brian Sullivan, should provide McKillop with the rotation options that guarantee his high energy motion offense will continue to give opponents fits.
  • Rhode Island (NCAA #10 seed) — Coach Dan Hurley will open his fourth season in Kingston with arguably the most talented collection of players since Delroy James and Keith Cothran ran the Rams in 2009-10. Oddly Hurley has, with Hassan Martin at the forward spot and EC Matthews at the shooting guard, two players whose games are similar to James (a forward) and Cothran (an off guard). The squad returns four starters, 78 percent of the minutes and 79 percent of the points scored (and possessions) from the squad that tied for second in conference play and earned a #3 seed to the conference tournament. With the addition of Memphis transfer Kuran Iverson, a 6’9″ power forward who will step into the forward spot vacated by Gilvydas Biruta, the Running Rams will have a game ready advantage over similarly positioned A-10 programs going into November and December.
  • Dayton (NCAA #11 seed) — The conference coaches poll was taken before junior forward Dyshawn Pierre was suspended for the fall semester for a school code violation. His lawsuits appealing Dayton University’s decision have been heard (and rejected) in state and federal courts over the past six weeks. No question Coach Archie Miller worked wonders when he lost the Flyers’ power forward and center to expulsions last season, but Pierre’s ability to “play up” enabled the Flyers to bridge the height and rebounding gap those two left. The Flyers lost Jordan Sibert to graduation and if James Madison transfer Charles Cooke cannot fill the void, Miller will look to a committee of the three veteran guards who worked the backcourt rotation last season (Kyle Davis, Darrell Davis and Bobby Wehrli). Miller can regain the height lost last season if a trio of freshmen, a redshirt Steve McElvene and two true, Xeyrius Williams and Sam Miller, are ready to go. The Flyers have made successive runs to the Sweet Sixteen. No question Miller will have them, with or without Pierre, postseason ready by March. How quickly he can get the pieces to fit is the question.
Virginia Tech transfer Marshall Wood will be a nice addition to the Richmond roster. (Richmond Athletics)

Virginia Tech transfer Marshall Wood will be a nice addition to the Richmond roster. (Richmond Athletics)

Other Postseason Teams

  • Richmond (NIT) — Coach Chris Mooney lost starters Kendall Anthony and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, along with 30 percent of the points they contributed to the offense last season, but the best Spider squads of Mooney’s tenure tend to those that are healthy and more experienced. To the four returning starters (and three regular rotation players) Richmond adds transfer forward Marshall Wood from Virginia Tech, two redshirt and four true freshmen. Mooney should find enough offense and shot defense among the newcomers to at least match, if not improve upon last season’s 21-14 (12-6) record and quarterfinal NIT appearance.
  • George Washington (NIT) — The conference coaches liked the Colonials for fourth place, a significant spot because it suggests Coach Mike Lonergan will have his squad in position to earn a second NCAA bid in three seasons. The 22-13 (10-8 in conference play) squad advanced two rounds into the NIT but lost shooting guard Kethan Savage to transfer (Butler) and Jon Kopriva to graduation. Lonergan will try to make fifth year transfer magic again with senior Alex Mitola out of Dartmouth, who shot 37 percent from beyond the arc in his last season with the Big Green. Mitola will combine with senior Joe McDonald and sophomore Yuta Watanabe to stretch the floor for senior center Kevin Larsen and Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh to operate inside.
  • Virginia Commonwealth (NIT) — Coach Wade Wilson finds the cupboard stocked with four returning starters and three consistent contributors as he tries to keep the HAVOC going. Making the Rams signature trap and press defense work with undersized junior forward/center Moe Ali-Cox is the legacy challenge passed from Shaka Smart to Wilson. He will need stretch players like sophomores Terry Larrier and Justin Tillman to step up their contributions at the other wing/forward positions and a ball-hawk to replace Briante Webber who was injured in February and graduated in May in the backcourt.
Wade Wilson has ginormous shoes to fill. But he might just be the guy to do it. (VCU Athletics)

Wade Wilson has ginormous shoes to fill. But he might just be the guy to do it. (VCU Athletics)

  • Saint Joseph’s (NIT/CBI) — Voted the preseason Player of the Year, DAndre’ Bembry is a consensus late first round NBA draft pick next June. Bembry will make his contribution but how high the Hawks soar this season will rest on the very youthful supporting cast Coach Phil Martelli has assembled. Martelli returns the conference-high 85 percent of the minutes and points scored in 2014-15 (along with four starters), but that team lost 18 games to finish below .500 for the third time in the last six seasons. This season’s 17-member roster includes six sophomores, four (one redshirt, three true) freshmen and a graduate transfer, who will have to contribute if the squad is to improve over last season.
  • La Salle (NIT/CBI) — The Explorers have not recovered the momentum from their Sweet Sixteen run in 2013. Dr. John Giannini has to find answers among the collection of transfers and foreign players. While Gianinni’s immediate need is a front court to replace the graduated veterans — Ukranian Yevgen Sakhniuk, a 6’7″ forward along with 6’10” sophomore center Tony Washington is a start — he still has to settle lingering issues in the Explorers’ backcourt. Jordan Price, an Auburn transfer, will have to re-balance his assist-to-turnover ratio (and a shoot first mentality) to bring fellow transfer Cleon Roberts (Georgia Southern), sophomore Amir Stukes and senior wing Rohan Brown into the offense.

The Others

  • St. Bonaventure — The Bonnies will rely on JuCo forward Courtney Stockard and three freshmen (principally Canadien wing Nelson Kaputo along with forwards LaDarien Griffen and Derrick Woods) to fill the voids left by (wing) Andell Cumberbatch and (center) Youssou Ndoye. Matching last season’s 10 conference wins (the second highest in St. Bonaventure’s 33 season A10 membership) would be easier if guard Jaylen Adams, named Rookie of the Week three times in 2014-15, has fully rehabbed from his season-ending injury. Having redshirt freshman center Jordan Tyson available (out indefinitely with a surgically repaired ligament tear in his left wrist) for some part of the season would help the frontcourt.
Malik Yarbrough will be counted on to play a much bigger role this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

Malik Yarbrough will be counted on to play a much bigger role this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Saint Louis — Coach Jim Crews brings back 80 percent of the minutes and 84 percent of the points scored from last season. This veteran squad won only 11 games (three in conference play) last season. The Billikens will need major progress from their four sophomores (best candidate — forward Malik Yarbrough), and immediate contributions from their four freshmen to regain the elite status in conference achieved by Crews’ first two rosters. Recovery is (at least) a season away.
  • Massachusetts — There is a reason UMass ranks last in Ken Pomeroy’s preseason conference list. The Minutemen lost their front court to graduation while point guard Derrick Gordon transferred out (to Seton Hall) during the off season. Coach Derek Kellogg looks to fifth year seniors and freshmen to return the remnants of this 17-15 (in 2014-15) squad back into the conference’s upper division.
  • Duquesne — Like Fordham, the Dukes return a large portion of their minutes (80%), points (79%) and starters (four) from a 2014-15 squad that posted a 12-19 record. Coach Jim Ferry, in his fourth season at the Pittsburgh school, looks to freshmen forward Nakye Sanders and Butler transfer Rene Castro to raise the program’s ceiling and win total. The Dukes’ highest finish under Ferry is 10th (in 2013-14). Ferry’s first recruits are nearing graduation; it is time for his rebuilding project to show progress.
  • Fordham – Though the Rams return an above average percentage of their possessions per minutes, progress under Jeff Neubauer will be limited by the loss of senior guard Bryant Smith (graduation) 2015 A10 Freshman of the Year Eric Paschall (transfer) — two players who accounted for 31 percent of the points scored in 2014-15.
  • George Mason — Head Coach Dave Paulsen did not find an empty cupboard with the departure of Paul Hewitt, four of the Patriots’ top five scorers return for the 2015-16 season. GMU’s freshmen cohort however, departed en masse, which limits the progress this squad will make over their 9-22 (4-14 in conference) record from 2014-15. Paulsen and staff recruited six freshmen, which suggests this season may be more a preview of coming attractions than a “feature presentation”.


Six and eight — remember those numbers. Since the 2007-08 season the conference has sent either six (five times) or eight (three times) teams to the four postseason tournaments. Usually about half of those draw NCAA bids, but when the conference does very well in November and December, the NCAA has extended five or six bids. The combined conference-wide average of returning minutes played and points scored is 70 percent, but nine of 14 teams return points below average. This uneven distribution means elite teams that return high minutes/points (Davidson, Rhode Island) should dominate play while lower division teams, like Saint Louis and Duquesne, may make some progress climbing towards the upper division. Right now three NCAA bids and five other postseason bids seem about right, but a strong showing versus the rest of Division I could put another couple teams in the NCAA discussion come New Year’s.

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