Three was a magic number for the Atlantic 10 last year, with a trio of league schools (Dayton, Saint Joseph’s and VCU) making the tournament.
Three should again be a pivotal number this year, as Dayton, VCU and Rhode Island (which gets a healthy E.C. Matthews back) begin the season as the clear top tier in the conference.
The rest of the league is not as clear, but plenty of teams have the pieces and potential to make a run toward the top and, ultimately, the NCAA Tournament. These teams need look no further than 2015-16 Saint Joseph’s for inspiration, as the Hawks were picked seventh in the A-10 preseason poll, but had a memorable season led by DeAndre’ Bembry.
Atlantic 10 Preseason Power Rankings
Charles Cooke pulled out of the NBA Draft and joins Scoochie Smith in what will again be a dynamic backcourt. Four of five starters are back (assuming Kendall Pollard’s good health), and coveted Bradley transfer Josh Cunningham gives the Flyers a roster that can win the A-10.
2 Rhode Island
Rhode Island returns the bulk of a team that defended well last year (Kenpom 63rd defensive efficiency), and gets the high scoring Matthews back (15.4 career points per game) after he missed 2015-16 due to injury. The talented Rams could break an NCAA drought that goes back to 1999.
Will Wade returns a solid core of JeQuan Lewis, Mo Alie-Cox and Jordan Burgess from a 25-win team that gave Oklahoma all it could handle in the NCAA Tournament. Junior Jonathan Williams could slide into the starting lineup to give VCU a two point guard lineup full of possibilities. The defense will be a strong suit (again) and the Rams will be in A-10 and NCAA mix (again).
4 George Washington
This is where things get murkier. The Colonials have had an eventful few months, as their offseason began after an NIT title, and was then consumed by the accusations levied against Mike Lonergan. Lonergan was ultimately dismissed in mid-September, and assistant Maurice Joseph took over on an interim basis. On the court, they’ve got the pieces to challenge for the league’s upper tier behind Tyler Cavanaugh, assuming transfers Jaren Sina and Patrick Steeves contribute right away. But with all the turmoil, can they be expected to reach their potential?
Jack Gibbs is likely the best scorer in the league, and Peyton Aldridge is a good frontcourt complement. But the Wildcats will need several role players -- such as Jordan Watkins and Boston College transfer Will Magarity -- to make big leaps if they hope to be in the NCAA conversation. International recruiting whiz Bob McKillop fields a roster with players from seven countries.
6 St. Bonaventure
Picking the Bonnies this high requires a hefty amount of trust in Mark Schmidt, who just received an extension. Marcus Posley and Dion Wright are gone from a team that finished 28th in KenPom offensive efficiency. Junior Jaylen Adams, an efficient scorer at all three levels, will be the new star and should be in the running for A-10 Player of the Year. Central Connecticut transfer Matt Mobley, a high volume shooting guard and proven scorer, joins the mix.
Seniors TJ Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones will headline another efficient offense, but the Spiders will need to drastically improve a defense that allowed opponents to shoot 36 percent from three last season. Freshmen guards D’Monta Buckingham and Nick Sherod are local products that should become fan favorites, and will be pressed into early action on what figures to be a thin roster.
Derek Kellogg brings in a top-25 recruiting class highlighted by four-star guard DeJon Jarreau, who could be an immediate starter. He and Donte Clark should form one of the best backcourt duos in the league, but the Minutemen are likely a year away from realistically competing for the NCAA Tournament. All of the depth should let UMass play at a frenzied pace.
9 Saint Joseph’s
Bembry is the biggest loss facing any A-10 team, but Phil Martelli also goes into 2016-17 without departed seniors Isaiah Miles and Aaron Brown. Teams can come out of nowhere — like the Hawks did last season -- and Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble should be an exciting backcourt duo. But this will likely be an understandable step back in Philadelphia, especially with the recent announcement that sophomore Pierfrancesco Oliva is out for the year.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if sophomore Joseph Chartouny (a) records a triple-double, (b) makes the A-10 first team or (c) does both. He’s an ultra-promising star for Jeff Neubauer to build around and should, along with junior Christian Sangfelder and graduate transfer Javontae Hawkins, keep the Rams competitive throughout the season. There’s the potential for some fun lineups with the additions of two athletic wings: 6’6 JuCo tranfser Will Tavares and 6’8 three-star freshman Chuba Ohams (a Bronx native).
The Explorers are hard to peg. Leading scorer Jordan Price is back, along with most of the team that struggled mightily in 2015-16. But much of that was due to depth issues, and Dr. John Giannini has three high-major transfers becoming eligible, including former Memphis guard Pookie Powell. This group had included former Arizona State big man Savon Goodman, but he withdrew from the university over the summer.
The Dukes won their most games under Jim Ferry last season (17), but a decent offense loses its top three scorers, including prolific three-point shooter Micah Mason. Ferry landed two impact graduate transfers in Kale Abrahamson (Drake) and Emile Blackman (Niagara), but there are a lot of holes to fill in order for the Dukes to improve on last season’s win total. Ferry should roll out a team that holds its own on the glass.
13 George Mason
Dave Paulsen is still, as he described it, in the long process of laying a foundation. Sophomores Otis Livingston, Jaire Grayer and DeAndre Abram are the first wave in that process, and got plenty of experience last season. Freshman Kamari Newman should add a jolt of shooting to a team that ranked 328th in effective field goal percentage last season.
14 Saint Louis
The Billikens are down to just nine scholarship players after the usual churn of departures after a coaching change. This will likely be a rough debut season for Travis Ford, but he’s already done a good job adding talent for the future, such as Michigan State transfer Javon Bess and 2017 four-star guard Jordan Goodwin.