By Blake Lovell
The A-10 will not be the best conference in college basketball this season, albeit, year-in, year-out it is a perennial Top 10 basketball league. However, don’t be surprised if it’s the most entertaining with as few as four or as many as seven teams in possible position to win the regular season title.
Let’s jump right in.
Storylines to Watch
1. So, who will win the A-10?
We might as well start with the question with the toughest answer. The contenders? Rhode Island, Davidson, Dayton, and VCU. As for what order that foursome will finish in, it’s anyone’s guess at this point.
Davidson won the league a season ago in its first year in the conference, and with physical guard Jack Gibbs leading the way, the Wildcats can do it again. VCU lost its leader in ultra-successful head coach Shaka Smart, but the new man on the block is former Smart assistant, Will Wade. The Rams have a dynamic duo in Melvin Johnson and JeQuan Lewis returning. Dayton has to replace the scoring production of Jordan Sibert (16.1 ppg), but there’s enough pieces in place for a team that came close to making the Sweet 16 and were in the Elite Eight two years ago. Finally, there’s up-and-coming Rhode Island, a team that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 1999, but boasts a talented lineup that features potential A-10 Player of the Year E.C. Matthews.
Which team wins the conference? We’re still not sure.
2. Can George Washington crash the party?
Fans of the Colonels may not like the fact that their team is being slotted just outside of the top four contenders. However, the good news is that GW can make that leap if it find some consistency. Three starters return from a team that reached the second round of the NIT, but there’s no doubt that Mike Lonergan is hoping to have his team back in the NCAA tournament this season. Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh will add to the Colonels’ depth, so another 20-win season seems likely. The question is, will it be enough to contend for the A-10 title?
3. Is DeAndre Bembry good enough to give St. Joseph’s a chance at a tournament berth?
The Hawks were 13-18 a season ago. Obviously, that’s not where Phil Martelli wanted them to be. It will be a complete shock if St. Joseph’s is back there again this year. DeAndrre Bembry has the most talent of any player in the conference, and if he can make those around him better, this team could take a huge step forward this season. Senior forward Isaiah Miles should benefit from the added attention on Bembry, which will certain help matters. If that duo plays to its potential, the Hawks should be able to beat anyone on any given night.
Both George Washington and St. Joseph’s have the opportunity to spoil the party for the A-10’s top four. The even better news for college basketball fans that love unpredictability is that there may be another team in even better position to vault into the league’s elite group. Richmond is a team with a lot of experience and a lot of balance. They should also be one of the best defensive teams in the conference, so there’s a lot to like about Chris Mooney’s squad. In fact, they may be a better bet at this point than anyone to somehow slip into conference title contention come March as the Spiders return four starters and six of eight players who came off the bench last season.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Davidson: After a lot of back and forth, the prediction is that the defending champions will repeat. There’s just a ridiculous amount of balance here for Bob McKillop.
2. Rhode Island: It’s hard to deny that the Rams are the most talented team overall in the A-10 as Danny Hurley has now totally turned over the program. But while coming up short of the conference title, they’ll be a NCAA tournament lock.
3. Dayton: Given the uncertain future of Dyshawn Pierre after being suspending from school for the first semester, it’s hard to put the Flyers on top. Still, there’s no doubt Archie Miller’s team will contend.
4. VCU: The Rams will still wreak “havoc,” night in and night out, but they may take a small step back for right now.
5. Richmond: The Spiders will make life hard for the top four with their more deliberate approach. The biggest question is whether or not a fifth-place finish will be enough to earn a trip to the Big Dance.
6. George Washington: GW has the pieces in place to win a lot of games. However, sixth seems like a safe bet.
7. St. Joseph’s: It would make sense to give the Hawks the bump up a few notches due to Bembry’s presence on the court, but the supporting cast will have to prove itself first.
8. St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies, under a vastly underrated coach in Mark Schmidt, could legitimately jump the Hawks and Colonels if everything falls into place. Marcus Posely will be fun to watch once again.
9. LaSalle: Jordan Price will obviously provide the scoring punch on offense, but lack of depth will prevent the Explorers from doing any serious damage.
10. Duquesne: 10th is probably the ceiling for a Dukes team that is still a year away from moving up the ladder.
11. Saint Louis: The Billikens should be able to put last year’s last-place finish behind them this season. Still though, there’s a ways to go for this program to get back to an elite level.
12. UMass: Losing Derrick Gordon and their two best big men makes this an understandable finish for the Minutemen.
13. George Mason: The Dave Paulsen era begins, but it’ll take a few years to get this team back on track.
14. Fordham: After leaving Eastern Kentucky, Dave Neubauer faces an uphill challenge in trying to lead the Rams to a winning season.