A-10 Preview Men’s basketball starts Atlantic 10 play in conference rich with talent

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Guard Joe McDonald loses the ball due to a VCU double team last season.

At the start of the season, almost nobody expected GW to be 12-2 going into conference play – the third-best record in the Atlantic 10. But with the A-10 one of the top mid-major conferences in college basketball, GW has to keep momentum going if they’re going to grab an NCAA Tournament bid.

The conference, after a few years of realignment, has proven formidable. Five A-10 teams, including GW, are in the top 50 in Rating Percentage Index, which adjusts teams’ ranking for strength of schedule. Five teams got bids to the NCAA Tournament last season, with VCU and La Salle reaching to Sweet 16.

“There are a lot of teams up top right now doing really well, but there are other teams like St. Joe’s and La Salle who are starting to pick things up,” head coach Mike Lonergan said Tuesday. “We might not get five bids like last year but there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll get at least four.”

And who will those four be?

“I don’t know, I just hope GW is one of them,” Lonergan said.

Here’s our breakdown of the Atlantic 10:

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Then-freshman forward Kevin Larsen battles Saint Louis defenders at the Smith Center.

Saint Louis


This season: 13-2
Last season: 28-7, 13-3 A-10

The Billikens, who started the season ranked No. 21 in the country, haven’t fallen far from the No. 4 seed NCAA tournament team a year ago that won the most games in program history. Under head coach Jim Crews, the defending Atlantic 10 champion Billikens enter conference play having won their last seven games against non-conference opponents. Their losses are respectable ones, falling to No. 6 Wichita State and No. 4 Wisconsin.

Watch out for: The Billikens return three starters from last season’s team, highlighted by seniors Dwayne Evans (14.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Jordair Jett (10.5 ppg), who ranks second in the conference in assists.

Takeaway: The Billikens have to be viewed as a favorite to win the Atlantic 10, but they will surely be tested when they square off against the top teams in the conference.

(2013-14) GW at Saint Louis – Feb. 22 at 8 p.m
(2012-13): Saint Louis 66, GW 58

Dayton

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This season: 12-3
Last season: 17-14, 7-9 A-10

The Flyers had to cope with the departure of Kevin Dillard, who averaged 15.3 points and 4.5 assists per game a season ago. But it’s safe to say that a very balanced and experienced Dayton team has responded well to the challenge. Over a tough non-conference schedule, the Flyers pulled out wins over Georgia Tech, Cal and a three-point overtime victory over Ole Miss. Dayton made national noise in week five when they cracked the Top 25 with a win over Gonzaga, but were knocked out in week six after a disappointing loss to Illinois State.

Watch out for: The Flyers rank No. 39 in the nation in field goal percentage at .484 and second in the A-10 in three-point field goal percentage at 38.5 percent.

Takeaway: It’s safe to say that if Dayton carries it’s non-conference play into the A-10 play, the Flyers will be in the hunt for a regular season championship.

(2013-14) GW at Dayton – Feb. 1 at 12:30 p.m.
(2012-13): Dayton 80, GW 81 (OT)

George Mason

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This season:7-7
Last season: 22-16, 14-4 as member of the CAA

In their first season as a member of the A-10, the George Mason Patriots will look to make a statement under veteran head coach Paul Hewitt. The Patriots have won 20 games in five of the last six seasons, including each of the last three years, but undoubtedly will be facing tougher competition in the A-10. The Patriots started the season predicted to finish eighth in the conference, but enter conference play at the bottom with a 7-7 record. GMU played a tough non-conference schedule, losing to opponents like Oklahoma, Oregon State and an undefeated Iowa State team.

Watch out for: The Patriots are led by senior duo Sherrod Wright (13.9 ppg) and Bryon Allen (14.1 ppg).

Takeaway: With much more competitive conference opponents this season, expect GMU to see a drop in the win column and finish around the bottom end of the of the conference standings.

(2013-14) GW at George Mason – Jan. 25 at noon; George Mason at GW – March 2 at 1 p.m.
(2012-13): Did not play

Saint Joseph’s

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This season: 9-4
Last Season: 18-14, 8-8 A-10

Saint Joseph’s has been without Carl Jones and C.J. Aiken, who were responsible for a combined 25.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last year. Head coach Phil Martelli has called on a senior trio to step up for his ballclub, and they have done so sufficiently thus far this season. Senior Langston Galloway ranks fifth in the A-10 in scoring at 16.9 points per game, and second in the conference in three-point field goals made.

The year so far: In non-conference play, the Hawks came away with key wins against Boston University, Washington State and Drexel, but suffered a setback with a loss to Siena. The rest of the Hawks’ losses have come at the hands of formidable opponents, such as then-No. 23 Creighton, LSU and No. 8 Villanova.

Takeaway: While Saint Joseph’s has yet to show the ability to take down a big name opponent, their proven capabilities on both sides of the ball will make them a competitive team in conference play.

(2012-13): GW 71, Saint Joseph’s
(2013-14): GW at Saint Joseph’s – March 5 at 9 p.m.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Former guard Lasan Kromah looks for an opening to dish the ball against Richmond last season.

Richmond


This season: 10-5
Last season: 19-15, 8-8 A-10

For the second straight season, the Spiders find themselves entering conference play with 10 wins. But head coach Chris Mooney and his team are looking for a better end to conference play than last year’s .500 finish. All five of Richmond’s non-conference losses were to teams that have at least 10 wins, including Ohio, No. 10 Florida, Wake Forest, North Carolina and Minnesota. Richmond still has a lot to work on, being outrebounded by an average of five boards per game – worst in the conference.

Watch out for: The Spiders return three starters from last season’s roster, including senior Cedrick Lindsay who is lighting up the scoreboard at 18.6 points per game, ranking second in the conference.

Takeaway: On top of the lack of rebounding, the Spiders are also the worst free throw and three-point shooting team in the conference – two factors that could hurt them in the standings if their conference second best defense doesn’t show up.

(2013-14) Richmond at GW – Feb. 18 at 7 p.m.
(2012-13): GW 64, UR 73

Rhode Island

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This season: 9-6
Last Season: 8-21, 3-13 A-10

The Rams have already eclipsed their win total from last season before entering conference play, and they did so in a big win over LSU on the road. But despite their success so far this season, head coach Dan Hurley and his team are still having offensive woes that carried over from last year, ranking 12th in the conference in scoring at 68.4 points per game.

Watch out for: URI is led by senior guard Xavier Munford, who ranks eighth in the conference in scoring at 15.8 points per game, and freshman E.C. Mathews (12.1 ppg 4.4 rpg) who has more than contributed in his first year with the team.

Takeaway: The Rams will have to improve their offensive production and keep opposing offenses at bay if they are to compete with the top contenders in the A-10.

(2012-2013): URI 65 , GW 66
(2013-2014) vs. GW: Jan. 11 @GW 2:30 p.m.

La Salle

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This season: 7-6
Last season: 24-10, 11-5 A-10

Last season, La Salle became one of the many cinderella stories of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, making it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. But this year they’ve lost a bit of their magic. Two of the Explorers’ six losses have come against teams that GW has already defeated in non-conference play: a 99-90 double-overtime loss to Manhattan and a 71-58 loss to Miami.

Watch out for: Seniors Tyrek Duren and Tyrone Garland – both of whom were named to A-10 preseason all-conference teams – have put up a combined 26 points per game for the Explorers. Even with three scorers in double figures, La Salle ranks last in the A-10 in shooting percentage, at 40.6 percent, and 11th in three point percentage, at 31 percent.

Takeaway: The six losses have certainly been an unpleasant surprise for the Explorers thus far, but the veteran leadership and experience of this team certainly keep them in contention for a deep A-10 run.

(2013-14) GW at La Salle – Jan. 9 at 8 p.m.; La Salle at GW – Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.
(2012-13): La Salle 80, GW 71; La Salle 84, GW 70

UMass

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This season: 12-1
Last Season: 21-12, 9-7 A-10

Coming into this season, the Minutemen were poised to be a wild card contender that could come in and steal one of the top three spots in the conference. Now, they have themselves labeled as the early favorite to grab the A-10 regular season title. Their lone loss of the season came against a very strong Florida St. team, while their long resume of wins includes Clemson, LSU and then-No. 19 New Mexico.

Watch out for: UMass is led by A-10 Player of the Year candidate, point guard Chaz Williams, who backs up his team-leading 15.5 points per game with an A-10 leading 7.7 assists per game. He commands the potent Minutemen offense that ranks first in the A-10 in scoring at 79.7 points per game.

Takeaway: With continued success in conference play, UMass is hoping to get over the hump of two straight NIT bids and make it back to the NCAA Tournament.

(2012-13): GW 79, UMass 76; GW 72, UMass 77
(2013-14) UMass at GW – Feb. 14 at 2 p.m.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Patricio Garino lays it in against Fordham last season.

Fordham


This season: 7-6
Last Season: 7-24, 3-13 A-10

Despite two prolific scorers, the Rams still find themselves just a game over .500 heading into conference play. And the reason, once again, points to the defense. Fordham has the worst scoring defense in the A-10, giving up 77.1 points per game.

Watch out for: The biggest surprise for the Rams this season: sharp-shooting freshman Jon Severe. He has burst onto the scene as the current A-10 scoring leader at 20.5 points per game, eclipsing the 30-point mark twice already this season. He is accompanied in the backcourt by senior guard Brendan Frazier, who ranks third in the league at 18.5 points per game.

Takeaway: This duo certainly packs a hard punch on the offensive side of the ball, but unless Fordham can find a way to get some stops on defense, their high-powered offense will only get them as far as the bottom half of the A-10 standings.

(2013-14) Fordham at GW – Feb. 8 at 4 p.m.; GW at Fordham – March 8 at 4:30 p.m.
(2012-13): GW 68, FU 60

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Guard Joe McDonald loses the ball due to a VCU double team last season.

VCU


This season: 12-3
Last Season: 27-9, 12-4 A-10

Preseason picks to take the A-10 Championship, the Rams haven’t given critics many reasons to think they can’t achieve that feat. After a rough patch at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off – in which they lost to both Florida St. and Georgetown – VCU has won eight of the last nine games to get its season back on track before conference play. As per usual, under head coach Shaka Smart, the Rams are winning games with their defense. Their “Havoc” defense has garnered 13 steals per game – five more than any other team in the A-10 – while allowing just 64.7 points per game.

Watch out for: Two preseason All-Conference First Team members, Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic, once again lead this Rams team, with junior Briante Weber assuming the role of starting point guard very well, averaging 8.5 points and 4.5 assists per game.

Takeaway: Despite the early losses in non-conference play, expect VCU to handle most of their tougher A-10 opponents and find themselves in the race for the regular season championship.

(2013-14) VCU at GW – Jan. 14 at 7 p.m.; GW at VCU – Feb. 12 at 7 p.m.
(2012-13):GW 57, VCU 84

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St. Bonaventure


This season: 10-4
Last Season: 14-15, 7-9 A-10

The Bonnies’ 10 wins so far are surprising for a team picked to finish second-to-last in the conference, but when you take a closer look at the team’s non-conference schedule, it may make sense. The Bonnies took on just one major conference foe – Wake Forest – losing to them 77-62, with arguably their biggest win of the season coming against a 7-6 Delaware team.

Watch out for: Senior Matthew Wright leads a very inexperienced St. Bonaventure team, that lost all three of its leading scorers from a year ago, averaging 16.2 points per game. Stepping up to the plate this season have been two other guards – Charlon Kloof and Andell Cumberbatch – who are averaging 12.8 and 11.3 points per game, respectively.

Takeaway: With the lackluster non-conference schedule in mind, it’s likely that St. Bonaventure will see a drop off in wins during A-10 play and find themselves once again at the bottom of the standings.

(2013-14) GW at St. Bonaventure – Jan.18 at 7 p.m.
(2012-13): GW 78, SBU 59

Duquesne

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This season: (7-5)
Last Season: (8-22, 1-15)

Under second-year head coach Jim Ferry, Duquesne suffers from a potent offense that just can’t seem to score enough points to make up for its bad defense. The Dukes boast the second-best scoring offense in the A-10 at 79.2 points per game, ranking third in field goal percentage and second in assists. Trying to stop opponents is a complete reversal, though, where they rank last in the conference in both steals and blocks, giving up 74.4 points per game along the way. Duquesne though got through a reasonably tough non-conference schedule with a four-game winning streak coming into A-10 play.

Watch out for: Senior Ovie Soko fuels the high-scoring offense, putting up 18.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.

Takeaway: It’s hard to say that whether will fulfill its preseason predicted finish of last in the A-10, but they will certainly be in the bottom tier come the end of the year.

(2013-14) Duquesne at GW – Feb. 5 at 7 p.m.
(2012-13): GW 79, Duquesne 57

– Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

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