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Atlantic 10 preseason power rankings: A shift of power, with Rhode Island leading the way

Dayton and VCU have been knocked from their familiar perch atop the league.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Sacramento Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The coaching carousel took a major bite out of the Atlantic 10 this offseason when Archie Miller and Will Wade left for Indiana and LSU respectively.

These coaching changes left a vacuum for other programs to overtake both Dayton and VCU. Rhode Island is the big winner here, but the second tier of the conference will be the most competitive it has been in years.

Atlantic 10 Preseason Power Rankings:

1. Rhode Island Rams:

The Rams are the clear favorite to win the league and it may not even be close. The defending Atlantic 10 Tournament champions return three starters from last year’s squad, including senior E.C. Matthews, who led the Rams with 14.9 points per game in 2016-17. The biggest question mark for Rhody is in the front court, with the departures of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson. Expect sophomore Cyril Langevine to fill the void.

2. St. Bonaventure Bonnies:

Returning four starters, Mark Schmidt’s squad could challenge Rhode Island for the top spot in the A-10. Senior point guard Jaylen Adams returns with his 20.6 points and 6.5 assists per game from last season. Adams should be the favorite for conference player of the year, and is a candidate for the Mid-Major Madness preseason player of the year (stay tuned for that). The Bonnies’ offense will look to stay proficient after leading the A-10 with 76.8 points per game in 2016-17.

3. Saint Joseph’s Hawks:

The Hawks were decimated last season, losing four key players --- Shavar Newkirk (ACL), Lorenzo Edwards (shoulder), Pierfrancesco Oliva (knee) and Lamarr Kimble (foot) — to season-ending injuries. If they can remain healthy, Saint Joe’s will legitimately compete for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore forward Charlie Brown could have a breakout year after a solid freshman season.

4. Dayton Flyers:

Anthony Grant comes home to Dayton after the Flyers lost a ton of talent. The core group of Scoochie Smith, Kyle Davis, Charles Cooke, and Kendall Pollard are all gone, but the talent remaining should still be good enough for Dayton to finish in the top five of the A-10. Xeyrius Williams is the leading returning scorer and could break out. Freshman forward Kostas Antetokounmpo (brother of Giannis) will be a rookie to watch.

5. Virginia Commonwealth Rams:

Mike Rhoades’ rebuilding job is steeper than many at VCU will let on, as Mo Alie-Cox, JeQuan Lewis, and Samir Doughty have all departed. Senior forward Justin Tillman is the leading returning scorer, having averaged 12.2 per game last season. Transfers Issac Vann and Khris Lane will be key to VCU’s success.

6. Saint Louis Billikens:

Finishing 12-21 (6-12 A-10) in 2016-17, the Billikens will be the most improved team in the conference. They bring in the top recruiting class in the A-10, made up of four-star guard Jordan Goodwin and three-star forward Hasahn French. Transfers Adonys Henriquez, Javon Bess and D.J. Foreman will help carry the load this season. Saint Louis is a year away from being a serious NCAA Tournament contender, but the NIT seems like an achievable goal.

7. Davidson Wildcats:

Senior forward Peyton Aldridge leads the Wildcats after averaging 20.5 ppg last season, and will definitely be a conference player of the year candidate. The biggest hole the Wildcats need to fill is in the backcourt, with Jack Gibbs’ departure. Sophomore Jon Axel Gudmundsson looks primed to break out at guard. The Wildcats will surprise people this season and they can potentially finish higher, provided they get decent production from their backcourt.

8. La Salle Explorers:

The Explorers were perfectly mediocre a year ago, finishing 15-15 (9-9 A-10) and senior guard B.J. Johnson returns after scoring 17.6 ppg. La Salle needs to improve on defense after finishing last in the Atlantic 10 in scoring defense and opponent field goal percentage. John Giannini’s squad appears in a similar spot as last year, with another 9-9 season a reasonable expectation.

9. Richmond Spiders:

The Spiders return both De'Monte Buckingham and Khwan Fore, but the team defense is the real concern for this season. Similar to La Salle, they had both a bottom-five scoring defense and opponent field goal percentage. To win games, they will have to simply outscore teams. On the bright side, any game involving Richmond should be electrifying to watch.

10. George Mason Patriots:

Dave Paulsen led one of the best turnarounds in the nation last year, and the Patriots return two players who averaged double figures in juniors Otis Livingston and Jaire Grayer. Marquise Moore’s departure leaves a big hole for the Patriots to fill. Expect Livingston to try and pick up where Moore left off, and for George Mason to have some growing pains early on.

11. George Washington Colonials:

Having a full offseason will help Maurice Joseph, but the Colonials lost two leaders in Tyler Cavanaugh and Jaren Sina. Senior forward Yuta Watanabe looks to lead this year’s team after averaging 12.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last year. If they can replace Cavanaugh’s leadership, they have surprise potential.

12. Massachusetts Minutemen:

First-year head coach Matt McCall has some tools to work with in Amherst, even if the team is a year away from truly contending. The Minutemen return seven players, bring in two freshmen, and have a talented grad transfer in Jaylen Brantley. The Minutemen will be a team to watch in 2018-19 after four transfers become eligible to play.

13. Fordham Rams:

Putting points on the board was a problem in the Bronx last yer, as the Rams were held under 60 points 10 times in 2016-17. It may sound extremely simple, but Fordham needs to score more in order to win. Only bringing back one double-digit scorer makes Jeff Neubauer’s offensive struggles even more of an issue.

14. Duquesne Dukes:

Last season was not kind to Duquesne — the Dukes finished 3-15 in the A-10 and coach Jim Ferry was shown the door. New coach Keith Dambrot does return the Dukes’ No. 1 scorer in Mike Lewis II, but losing two players who averaged double figures will have them struggling to win games once again.