Atlantic 10 conference play has finally arrived at shore. 14 teams battle over the next upcoming months to claim the reward of the Atlantic 10 Regular Season Championship. So who’s looking capable of hosting the A-10 colors as champion this season? Here are my picks.
#14: La Salle (2-10)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #12
Starting the season with 10 consecutive defeats has the Explorers not looking too hot. La Salle bounced back by finishing non-conference play with two victories over Alabama A&M and Towson.
There’s a lot surrounding La Salle that makes the eyebrow raise towards my hairline. Lack of offense, no rebounding presence, and of course losing 10 games in a row to start the season. Even with Pookie Powell as La Salle’s only hope, the Explorers are at the bottom of the barrel in the A-10.
#13: George Washington (4-9)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #13
George Washington is going to be one of those teams with the ON or OFF button per contest. That button was off with 5 straight defeats however the switch was flipped in victory over Manhattan.
DJ Williams and Terry Nolan Jr. are going to have a heavy workload against better competition in the Atlantic 10 on the weekly basis. Hopefully the Colonials can find a way to nail down that on button because GW doesn’t look that great.
#12: St. Bonaventure (4-9)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #9
It’s been a rough non-conference slate for the Bonnies. 5 defeats in November then heading into conference play on a 4 game losing skid. Those losses were versus #17 Buffalo, Vermont, at Northeastern, and at Syracuse.
There are some offensive weapons in Kyle Lofton, Jalen Poyser, and Courtney Stockard. Two areas of concern at the beginning stages of A-10 play is rebounding and turnovers. If those areas become strengths, the Bonnies could prove this pick of mine wrong.
#11: Massachusetts (7-6)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #8
Even with a top 100 victory over Providence, UMass still has work to do. Luwane Pipkins (19.9 PPG) is playing at a high level which is a double-edge sword since Pipkins literally does it all.
He does have back-up with the starting rotation but the reserves could make or break UMass on point production. The Minutemen will be at war in the middle of the A-10 table this season and unable to find a seat.
#10: Fordham (9-4)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #14
The Rams out of the Bronx has shocked the Atlantic 10 and the usual suspect near the bottom is rising towards the middle.
Fordham has the highest three pointer percentage in the A-10 (35.8%) and the #19 ranked three point defense (28%). The Rams also rank in the top 50 at scoring defense (#46, 64.3 PPG).
Nick Honor is leading this young Fordham team that has good ball control, an improved three pointer, and defense. They may have not played against elite competition behind that 9-4 record but this Fordham team can pull an upset or two. I’ll type with confidence that Fordham will not finish in last place.
#9: Duquesne (9-4)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #11
Coaching meltdowns versus Penn State aside, Duquesne is a pretty good team. The Dukes ranked #13 nationally in turnovers forced (17.85) and the duo of Eric Williams Jr. (13.8 PPG) and Michael Hughes (12.9 PPG) are scoring nicely.
Before that Penn State contest, Duquesne was on a 4 game winning streak. The Dukes start A-10 play with games versus Davidson, Fordham, and Saint Joseph’s. We will see if the Dukes are for real out of the gates. Possible dark horse perhaps?
#8: Richmond (6-7)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #10
After the Spiders lost Nick Sherod for the year due to injury, Richmond was not looking competitive at all. Then a bounce back win versus Wake Forest showcased that UR is still decent.
While Coach Mooney and company are working towards finding viable scoring options, Richmond is taking care of the ball at #26 nationally in Assist/Turnover ratio (1.42) for the highest in conference.
The Spiders still have Nathan Cayo, Jacob Gilyard, and Grant Golden capable of bucket making. Major keys for Richmond is a below average defense and reestablishing a rebounding presence inside.
#7: George Mason (6-7)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #4, 1 First Place Vote
A pre-season Top 4 bound darling in George Mason is not looking so destined for a possible double-round bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Starting the season with 3 bad losses against Penn (#112), American (#225), and Georgia Southern (#139) had the Patriots looking vulnerable. Otis Livingston II is living up to his stature as a leader but needs more help out there besides Justin Kier.
A win versus Vermont (#128) was a good morale boost. The Patriots can compete for a Top 4 and possibly could stay there for a few weeks. A permanent stay? If that defense is game for conference play then it’s not impossible Mason could go up.
#6: Rhode Island (7-5)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #5
This is where this gets really fun. Rhody’s defense is undeniably a game changer which includes #9 ranked three point defense (26.6%). Rhode Island also sits in the top 10 for fewest turnovers per game on offense.
Rhode Island’s biggest win during non-conference was against West Virginia 83-70. Jeff Dowtin and Fatts Russell put up 18 points each and Rhody’s starters put up 11 points or more against the Mountaineers.
If Rhode Island can take that firepower and make consistency come alive, the Rams can crack the top 4 with no problem. That problem is an OK one to have with their striving defense capable of winning games by its lonesome.
#5: Dayton (8-5)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #6
Leading the Atlantic 10 in assists (224) and field goal percentage (#8, 50.6%), Dayton will be a formidable foe at the top of the A-10 table.
The Flyers made believers with a win over Butler in the Battle 4 Atlantis. After that was two consecutive defeats at the hands of Virginia and Oklahoma bringing the Flyers crashing back to Earth.
Josh Cunningham is showcasing why he was chosen in Atlantic 10’s Preseason First Team. Coach Grant also has Jalen Crutcher, Trey Landers, and Obi Toppin for a starting five that can go toe-to-toe on GAMEDAY.
Which is why I’m picking Dayton just short of the Top 4. The Flyers need more from their bench players on all fronts. If the reserves can keep up the pace while the starters have a water break…look out for the Dayton Flyers.
#4 Saint Joseph’s: (7-5)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #2, 4 First Place Votes
Ahh…the Top 4! Let’s start with the Hawks out of Philadelphia. Saint Joseph’s were a heavy favorite in the preseason to grasp the A-10 crown and backed up that claim.
As the #2 nationally ranked team in fewest turnovers (96), the Hawks practice what the preach in taking care of the basketball. It wasn’t until SJU was upset at William & Mary that showed that Hawks were beatable.
SJU was unsuccessful against West Virginia, Temple, Princeton and #21 Villanova for their 5 losses. Charlie Brown has been a constant powerhouse leading the Hawks with 20.5 PPG.
Even with 4 starters averaging 10 PPG including Brown, Saint Joseph’s lacks reserves. Pierfrancesco Oliva is SJU’s leading scorer off the bench with…wait for it…4.7 PPG. Historically the Hawks don’t have a deep bench but on this occasion that could haunt Saint Joseph’s A-10 title hopes.
#3: Davidson (9-4)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #2, 6 First Place Votes
One of the best rebounding units in the A-10 averaging 27.54 per contest. Add that with Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson leading the charge and Davidson is looking like a near complete team.
Davidson was tested early in the Charleston Classic. After beating Wichita State, the Wildcats lost to #23 Perdue by 11 points. Northeastern felt the Wildcats wrath on two separate occasions led by Gudmundsson.
Signs of golden Davidson showcases teams that control the ball well, pass and shoot threes consecutively. This year Davidson has that once again plus rebound in addition to a good bench. Looking just outside the top 100 in the NET rankings, Davidson will have their ups and downs while finishing with the bronze.
#2: Saint Louis (9-4)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #1, 15 First Place Votes
When these A-10 preseason rankings were shared, I instantly shrugged off Saint Louis as a contender…let alone possible A-10 champion??
The Billikens changed my mind with two wins over Seton Hall (#46) and Butler (#49). SLU has the highest ranked defense in the A-10 at #24 (62.3 PPG). Javon Bess is as advertised as the Billikens’ leading man in scoring and rebounding.
Jordan Goodwin and Tramaine Isabell Jr. create a heavy triple threat for SLU that can shoot from nearly anywhere on the court. Inside the paint lays Hassahn French who’s a working rebounder and second chance creator under the lights.
Even with an embarrassing 22 point loss versus Florida State, I am envisioning Saint Louis trading for the lead back and forth with the likes of Davidson, Dayton, Saint Joseph’s and my #1 pick.
#1: VCU (9-4)
A-10 Preseason Rank: #7
There’s something about the Black & Gold heading into A-10 play. As the season got started, I saw VCU in the mix at the middle of the table possibly finishing 5th of better.
Then VCU beat Texas at Austin. Following that was a good showing in a losing effort at #4 UVA. A-10 title hopes started gleaming realistically after making Wichita State look elementary with HAVOC and scoring coming together as one.
Defense is no concern for VCU with one of the nation’s best perimeter defense and second highest scoring defense in the A-10 (63.1 PPG). The biggest weakness for the Rams is the three ball ranked #326 nationally at 29% from the spot.
Strength comes in the form of Coach Rhoades’ Ram Army. With Marcus Evans and Issac Vann leading the troops, this team is improving and seeing the results come to life at almost the perfect time. With a roll of the dice into A-10 play, VCU could end up with a lucky 7 and an A-10 championship.
So those are my Atlantic 10 picks as we reach the dawn of conference play. These will be set in stone thanks to the Internet and I await being wrong on possibly everything…except for La Salle.
What are your A-10 picks? Who you got as your Atlantic 10 Champion and why? Leave a comment and hit up VCUSports.com on Twitter! Conference Play is Back in all of it’s GLORY!!!