As we march towards November 8 and the official start of the 2013-14 basketball season, Mid-Major Madness will be bringing you conference previews on a regular basis to get you ready for tip-off. We'll also be highlighting these conferences and speaking with experts and coaches on our weekly podcast. We continue with the Atlantic 10.
The Atlantic 10 was once again a conference of change this past summer losing staples Xavier and Temple, newcomer Butler, and nomad Charlotte. George Mason joins some of it's Virginia brethren to supplement the losses and Davidson will be welcomed a year from now. Despite losing some talent, the A10 is still stacked from one to ten and it's anyone's guess on how the league ends up.
1. VCU Rams
Last Year: 27-9 (12-4), 2nd in A10, NCAA 3rd Round
Departures: Troy Daniels (12.3 ppg), Darius Theus (6.7 ppg), D.J. Haley (Transfer 1.9 ppg), Teddy Okereafor (TR 1.3 ppg), Justin Tuoyo (TR 1.1 ppg), David Hinton (0.7 ppg)
Key Returners: Juvonte Reddic (14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Treveon Graham (15 ppg), Rob Brandenburg (10 ppg), Briante Weber (5.4 ppg), Melvin Johnson (7 ppg)
For most teams losing two guys like Darius Theus and Troy Daniels would cripple a team, but not Shaka Smart's Rams. VCU returns the Atlantic 10's most talented roster and adds some newcomers who will make some serious noise right off the bat for the Rams. Big man Juvonte Reddic spent the summer at Amare Stoudemire's Big Man Camp and the LeBron James Skills Academy. Reddic is now a senior and a serious NBA draft prospect, the Rams do have unfinished business in the A10 but Reddic's draft stock may be a story-line as well. Reddic wasn't the only Ram with a busy summer as Treveon Graham played for Team USA in the World University Games and even started for Bob McKillop's team. Graham is expected to be the primary scoring threat on Broad Street this year.
Beyond Reddic and Graham the heart and soul of Shaka Smart's "HAVOC" defense is reigning Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year Briante Weber. Weber is a one man press and is one of the nation's bet on-the-ball defenders. His responsibilities will go up a bit this year as he's expected to play more of an offensive role as the team's point guard after last season's departures. Rob Brandenburg is another legit scoring threat at the two guard position and will also be relied upon this year. The Rams do have depth with sophomore Melvin Johnson and freshmen Mo Alie-Cox and Jordan Burgess, who will finally join the team after sitting out as partial qualifiers a year ago. The Rams "x-factor" may be Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon though. Shannon may start for the Rams and is known for his tenacity in the paint. The fifth year transfer averaged nearly 8 points and 6 rebounds per game for the Seminoles a year ago.
2. Saint Louis Billikens
Last Year: 28-7 (13-3), Atlantic 10 Champions, NCAA 3rd Round
Departures: Kwamain Mitchell (10 ppg), Cody Ellis (10 ppg), Cory Remekun (4.5 ppg), Jared Drew (TR), Christian Salecich (TR)
Key Returners: Dwayne Evans (14 ppg, 8 rpg), Mike McCall Jr. (9 ppg), Jordair Jett (9 ppg, 3 apg), Rob Loe (7 ppg)
Interim head coach Jim Crews and the Billikens shocked everyone last year by winning their first Atlantic 10 title since 2000. SLU has was it takes to repeat and compete with VCU once again via their stingy defense, but who will replace the over 20 points per game that Kwamain Mitchell and Cody Ellis provided? The answer may be a little unclear but seniors Jordair Jett and Dwayne Evans are two of the most hard-nosed, toughest players in the country. If anyone can will a team to victory, it's these guys. Mike McCall and big man Rob Loe can catch fire and bomb it from the outside, adding yet another level of difficulty for the Billikens opponents. Crews also expects a boost from Central Michigan transfer Austin McBroom who averaged nearly 11 points and 3 assists per game for the Chippewas two years ago.
Mid-Major fans need to mark their calendars for December 1 when St. Louis takes on fellow Mid-Major power Wichita State at home. The Billikens also will get VCU at home for their one regular season match up this year.
3. La Salle Explorers
Last Year: 24-10 (11-5), 4th A10, NCAA Sweet 16
Departures: Ramon Galloway (17 ppg), Garvin Hunt
Key Returners: Tyreek Duren (14 ppg), Tyrone Garland (13 ppg), Jerrell Wright (11 ppg)
It was a special season for Dr. John Gianni's Explorers last year as they made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992. After beating Boise State, Kansas State, and thankfully ending Marshall Henderson's season by beating Ole Miss, the Explorers finally lost to eventual Final Four team Wichita State. Four out of five starters are back for La Salle, but it's the first time in a long time that the Explorers have serious expectation in Philly. Tyreek Durden and Tyrone Garland pack one of the nation's best 1-2 backcourt punches and Jerrell Wright has developed into one of the A10's best post players. The Explorers have depth too with Sam Mills, DJ Peterson, and Delaware transfer Khalid Lewis. The only thing that Gianni's squad lacks is a true presence on the wing, but if these Explorers can capture the momentum that they built last year then watch out!
4. UMass Minutemen
Last Year: 21-12 (9-7), 6th in A10, 1st Round NIT
Departures: Terrell Vinson (12 ppg), Freddie Riley (9 ppg), Javorn Farrell (TR), Izzy Freeman (TR), Jesse Morgan (13 ppg)
Key Returners: Chaz Williams (16 ppg, 7 apg)
There is no question who the most fun player is to watch in the Atlantic 10; it's 5'9 Chaz Williams. Williams was a first team performer last year and averaged over 35 points per game for the Minutemen. The Hofstra transfer not only averaged 16 points and nearly 7 assists, but he also averaged 4 rebound per game. Will Williams be a one man show or does he have what it takes to get UMass to their first NCAA tournament since 1998?
Big man Cady Lalame, who averaged over 8 points and 7 rebounds last year, may be the key for the Minutemen establishing a solid inside-outside game. Raphiael Putney also adds a dimension to the team after leading the squad in block last year. Coach Derek Kellogg is hoping Putney can reestablish his rhythm from beyond the arc. Like some of their A10 brethren, the wild card for the Minutemen is a transfer. Derrick Gordon averaged nearly 12 points and 7 rebounds per game at Western Kentucky and he can be a huge addition for the Minutemen this year.
5. Richmond Spiders
Last Year: 19-15 (8-8), t-8th A10, 2nd Round CBI
Departures: Darien Brothers (14 ppg), Greg Robbins (7 ppg), Jonathan Benjamin (0.6 pgg), Luke Moyer (TR), Luke Piotrowski (TR)
Key Returners: Cedrick Lindsay (12 ppg, 3 apg), Kendall Anthony (12 ppg), Derrick Williams (11 ppg)
There may be no team in the nation that is more ready to get on the basketball court than the Richmond Spiders. Richmond's season effectively ended with the wildest 4.7 seconds of basketball that anyone has ever seen. Pierria Henry of Charlotte made 8 foul shots in those seconds to down Richmond 68-63. Pierria's unbelievable stint at the line was a results of some questionable fouls and ensuing technicals. Adding to Richmond's anxiousness to get to November 8 is the fact that Richmond has totally renovated their arena and will host Delaware, Belmont, Minnesota, and Hofstra to open the new Robins Center.
The Spiders lost prolific scorer Darien Brothers and the uber-versatile Greg Robbins, but Chris Mooney still has a lot of talent. Cedrick Lindsay may be the conference's top traditional point guard and his running mate Kendall Anthony is a 5'8 sparkplug. Big man Derrick Williams is also fully healed from injury a year ago and should be one of the A10's premier big men. Sophomores Terry Allen and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa are also developing forwards who should become more of a presence for the Spiders. Mooney's biggest question mark is who will back up his talented backcourt. With that being said, the Spiders do have what it takes to make some serious noise in the A10.
6. St. Joseph's Hawks
Last Year: 18-14 (8-8), t-8th A10, 1st Round NIT
Departures: Carl Jones (15 ppg), Taylor Trevisan (1 ppg), Christopher Coyne (1 ppg), C.J. Aiken (Pro, 10 ppg)
Key Returners: Langston Galloway (14 ppg), Ronald Roberts (11 ppg), Halil Kanacevic (9 ppg)
St. Joe's took a blow when CJ Aiken left to go professional. Aiken's loss is compounded with leading scorer Carl Jones also moving one. Despite these losses the Hawks return a very talented, experienced frontcourt in Halil Kanacevic and Ronald Roberts. Kanacevic is a special player who needs to recapture his sophomore form when he was the Atlantic 10's top rebounder and also was in the top five of the conference in assists. Regaining that form does not come without risk for Kanacevic, as he was a bit turnover prone a year ago. Beyond the frontcourt the Hawks strength is in shooting guard Langston Galloway, who could leave St. Joe's as the Hawks most decorated scorer ever. The Hawks point guard position may be a bit of a platoon with junior Chris Wilson and talented freshman Kyle Molock. The guard that can feed Galloway the best and gel with the big men will likely get the lion's share of the minutes in Philly.
St. Joe's could jump start their season with a pretty mediocre out-of-conference schedule that doesn't pose too many tough match ups beyond some possibilities in the Old Spice Classic. Of course there are the typical Big 5 games for St. Joe's and they'll also host Drexel this year.
7. George Washington Colonials
Last Year: 13-17 (7-9), t-11th A10
Departures: Lasan Kromah (TR, 10 ppg), Dwayne Smith (7 ppg), Bryan Bynes (4 ppg), Jonathan Davis (TR), David Pellom (TR)
Key Returners: Isaiah Armwood (12 ppg), Patricio Garino (9 ppg), Kevin Larsen (8 ppg)
Mike Lonergan got a clean slate a year ago with five freshman playing for GW and four seriously contributing. The Colonials now have their best team of the post Karl Hobbs era and may be building for something even more special. Isaiah Armwood showed what he can do a year ago and is one of the A10's top big men. The rest of the team is infused by three sophomores that A10 fans better get used to. Patricio Garino is a big point forward who can score, rebound, and handle the basketball. Kevin Larsen is a developing big man who put up 8 points and 5 years ago, while complimenting Armwood well in the paint. Finally, Joe McDonald is a true point guard who distributed the basketball well for a young guard in the A10, a league that sports some of the nation's harshest defenses. The final puzzle for Lonergan's 2013-14 squad is Indiana transfer Maurice Creek. The 6'5 Creek has been injury plagued throughout his career, but has also shown that he can play at the highest level.
8. George Mason Patriots
Last Year: 22-16 (10-8), 5th CAA, CBI Finals
Departures: Paris Bennett (TR, 3 ppg), Vertrail Vaughns (5 ppg), Bryce Lewis
Key Returners: Sherrod Wright (17 ppg), Jonathan Arledge (9 ppg), Bryon Allen (8 ppg), Johnny Williams (7 ppg)
George Mason is the new kid on the block after bolting the CAA for the A10 and following their in-state rival VCU. Paul Hewitt's team returns nearly everyone from a year ago and has a lot of talent. Sherrod Wright has the ability to one of the A10's best players, but does he make the Patriots one dimensional? If Sherrod Wright has a bad night then can anyone else set up for GMU? Bryon Allen, Jonathan Arledge, and inside-outside forward Johnny Williams are key. If one of those veterans can step up on any given night then the Patriots have the talent to beat anyone in the A10, as they showed last year in the Governor's Holiday Hoops Classic versus Richmond.
9. Dayton Flyers
Last Year: 17-14 (7-9), t-11th A10
Departures: Kevin Dillard (15 ppg), Josh Benson (11 ppg), Matt Derenbecker (TR, 5 ppg)
Top Returners: Vee Sanford (12 ppg), Devin Oliver (9 ppg), Dyshawn Pierre (9 ppg), Matt Kavanaugh
Dayton has been in free-fall the past five years going from 27 to 25 to 22 to 20 to 17 wins. Archie Miller needs to right the ship and he'll have 6'10 center Matt Kavanaugh back to help him. Kavanaugh was suspended for the season a year ago and will now be a key piece if the Flyers are to get back to postseason. Georgetown transfer Vee Sanford will likely be the Flyer's primary scoring threat and the athletic Devin Oliver is a double-double waiting to happen. We'll find out a lot about Dayton early on as they head to Maui Invitational and play Gonzaga in the first round. The Flyers will then have some solid mid-major challenges against Iona, Murray State, and Winthrop.
10. Rhode Island Rams
Last Year: 8-21 (3-13), t-14th A10
Departures: Andre Malone (10 ppg), Nikola Malesevic (10 ppg), Ryan Brooks (2 ppg), Alwayne Bigby (1 ppg)
Top Returners: Xavier Munford (17 ppg), Mike Powell (9 ppg)
There isn't a more trendy team in the A10 this year than Dan Hurley's Rams. Xavier Munford is a scoring machine and is among the best players in the conference. Beyond Munford, the Rams will sport plenty of new names. Gilvydas Biruta, Jarrelle Reischel, and Biggie Minnis have transferred from Rutgers, Rice, and Texas Tech respectively. Ifeanyi Onyekaba will join the Rams after sitting out as partial qualifier and freshmen Matthew Butler, EC Matthews, and Hassan Martin are expected to contribute. The Rams certainly have talent, but how fast can it gel?
11. Fordham Rams
Last Year: 7-24 (3-13), t-14th A10
Departures: Chris Gaston (14 ppg), Khalid Robinson (1 ppg), Fatty McMillan (3 ppg), Jeffrey Short (6 ppg), Luka Zivkovic (2 ppg)
Top Returners: Branden Frazier (14 ppg), Mandell Thomas (10 ppg), Bryan Smith (8 ppg)
Tom Pecora is still trying to figure everything out at Fordham and build a winner for a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2007. Branden Frazier is a guard that can play the point or the two and is the clear cut first option for the Rams. Bryan Smith and Mandell Thomas are the other options for Fordham and should continue to grow into solid players. The most excitement in Rose Hill is being generated by freshman Jon Severe who turned down Rutgers, Pittsburgh, and Wake Forest to join Pecora's squad. Severe was considered New York's top high school player and was even named Mr. Basketball. Fordham is still a couple of years away from competing in the A10, but will Pecora still be there?
12. St. Bonaventure Bonnies
Last Year: 14-15 (7-9), t-11th A10
Departures: Demitrius Conger (14 ppg), Eric Mosley (13 ppg), Chris Johnson (13 ppg), Michael Davenport (3 ppg)
Key Returners: Matthew Wright (7 ppg)
The Bonnies blew it last year when a trip to Brooklyn and the A10 tournament were on the line last year losing to Fordham on the final day of the season. Now Mark Schmidt has to rebuild after a couple of encouraging years in the not so distant past. All that St. Bonaventure really has left is Matthew Wright a 6'4 guard. Newcomers Jalen Adams, Xavier Smith, and JUCO transfer Chris Dees may be relied on heavily this year and may be solid building blocks for the future. Overall, it may be a long year in southwest New York.
13. Duquesne Dukes
Last Year: 8-22 (1-15), 16th A10
Departures: Sean Johnson (12 ppg), Andre Marhold (6 ppg), Martins Abele (TR, 3 ppg), Marvin Binney (TR, 3 ppg), Mamadou Datt (TR, 2 ppg), Derrick Martin (TR, 1 ppg), P.J. Torres (TR, 3 ppg), Quevyn Winters (TR, 10 ppg)
Key Returners: Derrick Colter (14 ppg), Jeremiah Jones (8 ppg)
I guess the good news for Duquesne is that they can't finish sixteenth again this year? There was a a max exodus this offseason as players just seemed like they just wanted to get away, one player even stayed enrolled at Duquesne but joined the Dukes soccer teem. Derrick Colter, a sophomore, is the lone bright spot for the Dukes after averaging nearly 14 points and over 5 assists per game a year ago. He's a point guard that a team can rebuild around and Jim Ferry's biggest building block right now. UAB transfer Ovie Soko should help out some and can be a solid big man for the Dukes. Two JUCO transfers Tra'Vaughn White and Dominque McKoy will also give Duquesne a boost. Canadian freshmen Jordan Robinson and Isaiah Watkins, along with Richmond, Virgina native L.G. Gill will also give Ferry some new toys to play with.