Men’s basketball will tip off its 2014-15 season in an exhibition game against Bloomsburg in just 10 days, but it will be a couple of months before the team begins Atlantic 10 play with a clean slate.
The A-10 is ripe with parity: Just 6.7 percent of league games were decided by 20 points or less last season, the lowest of any conference in college basketball, CBS Sports reported. That said, the league will have to sort itself out come March, and this is how we think the season will unfold.
The Rams are undoubtedly the top pick to take the conference this season, although they have yet to secure an A-10 Championship under head coach Shaka Smart. Boosted by one of the best recruiting classes in the country, two returning all-conference players in Treveon Graham and Briante Weber and Smart’s HAVOC defense, which led the nation with 374 steals last season, the Rams are the clear favorite to hold the league’s top spot.
Player to watch: Graham – The senior forward and preasconference player of the year will likely pick up the slack left by all-conference selection Juvonte Reddic.
The Colonials’ offensive efficiency improved immensely last year, and the team will start a core group of players led by last year’s most improved player in the A-10, Kevin Larsen, and Kethan Savage, who is predicted to be the team’s go-to scorer. The team will take a hit from the losses of Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood, but if the Colonials stay healthy and can receive solid production from senior John Kopriva and a few players from their freshman class, they should be in position to make a run at their first conference championship since 2007.
Player to watch: Patricio Garino – The junior guard/forward is a defensive menace and consistent double-figure scorer. Garino was named to both the preseason A-10 first team and all-defensive team earlier this month.
The Minutemen’s non-conference schedule, including games against Florida State, Notre Dame, Harvard, LSU and Florida Gulf Coast, could determine what kind of team they will be for the rest of the season. Preseason Second Team All-Conference big man Cady Lalanne and guard Derrick Gordon will be expected to fill the production void left by Chaz Williams’ departure for the Minutemen.
Player to watch: Jabarie Hinds – The transfer guard from West Virginia, and former New York state “Mr. Basketball,” appears ready for a break-out debut in the A-10 after playing two seasons with the Mountaineers.
Despite needing a late-season run just to make the NCAA tournament last season, the Flyers knocked off Ohio State and Syracuse to outlast every other A-10 team on their way to the Sweet 16. They’ve lost three starters, but Jordan Sibert and Dyshawn Pierre will lead Dayton under head coach Archie Miller this season.
Player to watch: Sibert – The OSU transfer didn’t disappoint in his inaugural season for the Flyers, averaging 12.2 points per game. Sibert, who shot 42.6 percent from the three-point line last year, is poised to take his game to the next level.
5. Rhode Island
Don’t be surprised if the Rams sneak into the top five after a 5-11 league record last season with seven of those losses by five points or less. The team will have to improve without last year’s top scorer, Xavier Munford, but head coach Danny Hurley will lean on last year’s All-Conference Rookie Team selections E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin for expected overall production.
Player to watch: Matthews – Last season’s conference co-rookie of the year averaged over 14 points and four boards in his freshman campaign, and is a sure star in the making as he prepares for his sophomore season.
The Spiders won 19 games last year and return many of their core, including scorer Kendall Anthony and defensive anchor Alonzo Nelson-Ododa. Richmond rarely turns the ball over, which could be key come conference play. Anthony and sophomore ShawnDre’ Jones make up a stellar backcourt, and if the team stays healthy, unlike last year, it should finish in the upper half of the league.
Player to watch: Terry Allen – He’s in Anthony’s shadow, but the 6-foot-8 forward has a strong post game, and shot the ball at .500 percent last season.
7. Saint Joseph’s
The Hawks lost three key senior starters, including the program’s second all-time leading scorer in Langston Galloway as well as big man Halil Kanacevic. But the return of forward DeAndre’ Bembry should help keep the defending A-10 champions afloat. The losses are probably too much to give Saint Joseph’s another 24-win season, and without a clear teammate to help Bembry carry the load, the Hawks will probably run into hardships this season.
Player to watch: Bembry – Last year’s co-rookie of the year with Matthews, Bembry does it all for the Hawks. Last season, he averaged 12.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
8. Saint Louis
Head coach Jim Crews has his work cut out for him if he wants to make a third-straight appearance in the NCAA tournament. Crews has lost all five seniors from last year’s team, including player of the year Jordair Jett. After winning two consecutive A-10 regular season titles, the reigning A-10 coach of the year will turn to guard Austin McBroom and forward Grandy Glaze, two relatively seasoned returners on the team.
Player to watch: Milik Yarbrough – One of six in the Saint Louis class of 2018, the dynamic wing player was the best scorer in Chicago Public School history. Don’t be surprised if Yarbrough, a late addition to the recruiting class, has an increasingly prominent role for the Billikens.
9. St. Bonaventure
The Bonnies have an interesting dynamic among their seven-footer in Yousse Ndoye (5.7 rebounds per game), forward Dion Wright (shot .500 percent from the field) and guard Jordan Gathers (1.3 steals per game), who will anchor the team and likely increase its production from last season. But after a 6-10 A-10 record last season and the loss of two top scorers, it may be tough for the Bonnies to make a run.
Player to watch: Ndoye – The 7-foot junior from Senegal can score and rebound, but his shot blocking also stands out (2.2 blocks per game last season). If Ndoye can hold down the paint, while increasing his inside scoring, he will give the Bonnies some life.
10. La Salle
The Explorers stumbled to a 15-16 mark last season, even though many of their main pieces were back from their Sweet 16 run in 2013. The team will run through last year’s conference leader in rebounds, Steve Zack, along with senior Jerrell Wright, who averaged 13.3 points per game.
Player to watch: Jordan Price – He sat out last season after transferring from Auburn. Price, who is the former 2009-10 Tennessee “Mr. Basketball,” and was a highly touted recruit, could potentially make a difference for the Explorers, who will be without last season’s leading scorers Tyreek Duren, Tyrone Garland and three-point threat Sam Mills.
The Dukes will run and gun under Jim Ferry, but the defense may appear virtually nonexistent. The team has experience but is likely to remain in the ballpark of last year’s 5-11 performance in conference play with the departure of the conference’s top scorer in Ovie Soko.
Player to watch: Micah Mason – Mason was the nation’s most efficient offensive player last season with a 5.69 assist-to-turnover ratio. Look out for more impressive threes from this sharp-shooter who led the league in three-point percentage.
It’s tough to gauge the Wildcats’ chances in their first season in the A-10, but any team under 26th-year head coach Bob McKillop will run a precise, calculated offense.
Still, the A-10 is unquestionably a big step up from the Southern Conference, and the Wildcats are likely to experience growing pains after going 15-1 in league games last year as well as enduring the loss of two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year De’Mon Brooks. Senior guard Tyler Kalinoski will be tested as a leader and as part of a backcourt that’s the strength of the team.
Player to watch: Oskar Michelsen – The 6-foot-9 freshman from Finland gained prestige in his own country, but it remains to be seen how he will adjust to college ball, especially when thrown into a tough transition year. The support Michelson and other bigs provide inside will determine if the Wildcats have a fighting chance in the A-10.
13. George Mason
After losing two of the top guards in the conference in Sherrod Wright and Bryon Allen, Patrick Holloway and last year’s all-rookie team selection Jalen Jenkins will have plenty of work to do for the Patriots. The two will also likely receive help from Georgia Tech transfer Julian Royal and a boost from big man Erik Copes.
Player to watch: Jenkins – After he was redshirted in 2012, Jenkins averaged seven points and six rebounds in his first season for the Patriots, including a 13-point, 11-rebound performance against GW in January.
The Rams return four starters, but that doesn’t mean much for a team that finished 2-14 in the league last year. Sophomore Jon Severe is the silver lining on the team, which will struggle to avoid the league cellar because of a lack of team depth and issues with the defense (Fordham is last in the league in team scoring and rebounding defense).
Player to watch: Severe – The all-rookie-team selection set the freshman scoring record at Fordham last year. The 6-foot-3 guard can shoot the lights out and was also second on the team in assists.