With Richmond's basketball season, here's The Collegian's preseason Atlantic 10 rankings from worst to first, followed by our preseason all-conference team.
14. George Mason
The Patriots had both the fourth-worst offense and defense in the conference last season, leading to the second-worst scoring margin among A-10 teams. Needless to say, bringing back mostly the same group as last year without any big recruits doesn’t exactly inspire confidence or excitement for George Mason’s prospects this season. New head coach Dave Paulsen is experienced and has been successful at various levels of coaching, but will likely spend this season experimenting with his roster. In any case, he shouldn’t be judged by this year alone – one in which George Mason could very easily finish last in the A-10.
The Dukes bring back most of their key contributors, but with no incoming freshmen expected to excel, this is a pretty bleak situation. This same group finished 11th out of 14 A-10 teams in scoring margin despite having the third-best offense in the conference, a product of the worst defense in the conference by a significant margin. Seniors Derrick Colter and Micah Mason form a nice scoring backcourt, but one that struggles immensely on defense. Barring a systemic change by head coach Jim Ferry, Duquesne will probably finish near the bottom of the pile with Colter and Mason in their last years and no breakout prospects to take their place.
12. Saint Louis
The Billikens’ offensive woes last season were well-documented and rightfully so, as Saint Louis was the only A-10 team to average fewer than 60 points per game (and almost 20 fewer than Davidson's per game). This team’s leading scorer was Millik Yarbrough, who only managed 10.0 points per game. Perhaps even more problematic for this team in particular is that Saint Louis finished just ninth in the conference in opponents’ points per game. The Billikens, never known for their offense, have established an identity as hard-nosed and scrappy defenders in recent years. Only time will tell whether this past season was an anomaly or if Saint Louis has taken a step back for real on defense. The Billikens aren’t competing for the conference championship, but regression to the mean would dictate that they’ll probably win more than three games this year.
The Minutemen led a well-balanced attack last year with six players averaging between 8.1 and 11.6 points per game. Regardless, three of their top four scorers from last season are gone now and it remains unclear who is going to pick up the offensive slack. Senior Trey Davis and sophomore Donte Clark will need to score in the mid-teens on good shooting to carry a UMass offense that finished fourth in the conference last year. It’s unclear who, if anyone, will take the rest of the shots, let alone score some points. Things are even bleaker on the other side of the ball as the Minutemen allowed the second-most points to opponents in the A-10 and have even fewer competent post defenders this season. Incoming freshman Luwane Pipkins is one of the better recruits in the conference and he will likely get significant playing time. He’s a good building block for the team’s future, but probably won’t be enough to help the Minutemen maintain their offensive ability from last year. Expect UMass to finish closer to the bottom of the conference and have one of its most frustrating years in recent memory.
10. La Salle
Redshirt junior Jordan Price, who averaged 17.2 points per game (second-best in the conference), is as valuable to his team as any player in the A-10 this season. He leads all returning Explorers in points, rebounds and assists on a per-game basis as well as free-throw percentage (minimum 20 free throws) and three-point percentage. Suffice it to say, he does it all for La Salle. The Explorers will finish with a mediocre record unless someone unexpected establishes himself as a legitimate second option. The conference tournament provides the potential for some truly memorable games from Price, but unless he can completely propel the offense, La Salle isn’t going anywhere this year.
The dominant headline of Fordham’s offseason was Eric Paschall’s decision to transfer to Villanova, leaving Fordham one superstar short of a rebuild. Paschall, a strong, athletic swingman who can jump out of the gym, was the Rams’ motor all season and his absence significantly hinders Fordham’s chance at a bounce-back year. New head coach Jeff Neubauer takes the helm of a team with several enticing pieces, but lacking a do-it-all type of player that Paschall provided. Regardless, senior Thomas Mandell can create scoring chances for himself, senior Ryan Rhoomes is a great rebounder and an efficient option in the post if Neubauer takes advantage of him and sophomore Christian Sengfelder is tough to handle in the paint. This core, combined with a pair of tantalizing incoming freshman point guards, admittedly has a chance to make a run. But without Paschall, this team has only the slimmest of chances of winning the A-10 Tournament and will likely finish in the bottom half of the conference.
8. Saint Joseph’s
Junior DeAndre’ Bembry led all A-10 players with 17.7 points per game, adding 7.7 rebounds per game and 3.6 assists per game with splits of 19.1/8.7/4.2 in conference play. Bembry has NBA potential and with improved shooting could become an even more dangerous offensive weapon. His supporting cast grew more comfortable as last season progressed and most of the Hawks’ core is coming back. That continuity combined with a promising pair of Philadelphia recruits indicates that Saint Joseph’s could top the middle of the pack, but if Bembry makes a leap this year, his team might too.
7. St. Bonaventure
The Bonnies improved in conference play last year, finishing 10-8. Seniors Dion Wright and Marcus Posley provide a nice tandem of high-caliber A-10 players, but there is not enough talent or depth around them. St. Bonaventure has been a fixture in the middle of the A-10 conference standings for the better part of a decade now. Despite having had several talented players, transfers and the timing of graduations have hurt the Bonnies and made it difficult to establish any type of continuity. Sophomore Jaylen Adams and Posley both need to shoot better from all over the court for this team to generate a more consistent and diverse offense. With two of last year’s starters graduated and no highly touted recruits, it seems unlikely for the Bonnies to overtake any of the teams ranked above them.
6. George Washington
George Washington was decent in many areas last season, but absolutely dominant on the glass, averaging the most rebounds per game and giving up the fewest to opponents. The team lacks any one true star and four players averaged between 9.9 and 12.4 points per game last season. For this reason, the Colonials often find themselves without ways to score at the end of close games, which hurt them a few times last year. With Kethan Savage no longer on the roster and a particularly weak incoming class, look for George Washington to take a small step backward this season, especially if none of the seniors prove capable of singlehandedly carrying the team through its inevitable scoring droughts.
Leading scorer Treveon Graham is gone, but the bigger loss for the Rams is likely Briante Weber. Though neither was drafted, these two were the focal points of VCU’s offense and defense, respectively, and will be missed dearly this season. Remaining talents include senior guard Melvin Johnson as well as junior guard JeQuan Lewis, but without Weber, the Rams’ notorious Havoc defense will be a half-step slower and a whole lot less tenacious than it was before he got hurt last season. Perhaps even this isn’t as important as the loss of head coach Shaka Smart to the Texas Longhorns over the offseason. In his place, the Rams hired former Smart assistant and Chattanooga head coach Will Wade who runs a defense called chaos, which is supposedly similar to Smart’s Havoc. VCU also brought in three impact freshmen and it will be especially interesting to see what kind of role talented incoming point guard Samir Doguhty is given in running the offense in his first season. The losses are huge for VCU, but they still have enough talent to finish in the top five if Wade can pull off a reasonable Smart impersonation.
The loss of Kendall Anthony and the void that leaves at point guard have been the biggest concern of the Spiders’ offseason, something that will likely continue early in the season. On a team that struggled to score, Anthony was the only Richmond player who consistently put up a high volume of shots and points every game, even on his off nights. Regardless, this team still has the pieces to seriously compete atop the conference and dismissing the Spiders because of Anthony’s graduation would be a mistake. Junior T.J. Cline is an ace shooter from deep with a nice touch around the rim, junior ShawnDre’ Jones emerged as a scorer off the dribble and a solid primarily ball handler last season and senior Terry Allen has a nifty post game with some range as well. The loss of Alonzo Nelson-Ododa and the indefinite suspension of Josh Jones hurt the defense, but incremental improvements across the board should counteract those absences. The Spiders need to outdo their minus-six rebounding margin, worst in the A-10 by a wide margin, if they expect to seriously contend for a conference championship.
The team that shocked the rest of the conference last season returns all of its key contributors with the exception of leading scorer Tyler Kalinoski. Despite the absence of Kalinoski’s shooting and playmaking, the Wildcats figure to nearly replicate last season’s gaudy offensive numbers. Though he and junior Jack Gibbs were comparable left season, Gibbs is a superior defender and can score in more ways. It will be interesting to see whether or not he can handle a larger offensive burden. Senior Brian Sullivan has proven himself a capable distributor and figures to help coach Bob McKillop’s offensive scheme again this year. Overall, the A-10’s top dogs (or Cats, rather) lost their best player but retained their team leader, as well as most of their core, and figure to finish near the top of the conference standings.
The Flyers finished tied for second just one game behind Davidson, but were the only team in the conference to make it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament, upsetting Providence before losing to Oklahoma. Dayton has shown in recent years that it can compete with just about anyone, with multiple big-game upsets against top programs. This year’s squad is playing without the graduated Jordan Sibert and Dyshawn Pierre, two key cogs from previous seasons. The incoming freshmen will likely need time to settle in, but Sam Miller and John Crosby are potentially starting-caliber at the power forward and point guard positions and will be called on to contribute this season. This season, the team will rely heavily on junior forward Kendall Pollard, an athlete who can complete highlight-reel finishes and defend other forwards well. Dayton suffered tough losses to graduation, but only time will tell whether the Flyers have taken a step forward or backward this offseason.
1. Rhode Island
The Rams did some remarkable things on the defensive side of the ball last year, especially closing out on the perimeter, allowing opponents to shoot a minuscule 26.5 percent from three-point range, by far the lowest number in not only the A-10, but all of Division I. While that statistic is exceptional and speaks to Rhode Island’s depth of defensively capable guards and wing players, this defense truly is built from the inside out. Junior big man Hassan Martin blocked more than three shots per game, posting the sixth-highest average in the nation, and masterfully anchored a defense that doesn’t send much help to the post. Their defense allowed the fewest points per game in the conference last year, but to separate themselves from the rest of the pack atop the A-10, the Rams will have to score a lot more. Junior E.C. Matthews averaged nearly 17 points per game despite suffering from nagging injuries for most of the year and figures to take on even more of a scoring load. Rhode Island would be wise to feed the ball into Martin for more post-up opportunities as he has proven an efficient scorer. This team will certainly miss the departed Gilvydas Biruta and T.J. Buchanan, but its depth should help the Rams overcome these losses and finally take hold of the top spot in the conference.
E.C. Matthews, Guard, URI
Jack Gibbs, Guard, Davidson
Jordan Price, Guard, La Salle
Deandre’ Bembry, Forward, Saint Joseph’s
Hassan Martin, Forward, URI
Contact sports assistant Walter Abrams at email@example.com