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Atlantic 10 preseason rankings: Davidson sits atop a jumbled league

A more parity filled league should make for a fun season in the A-10

NCAA Basketball: Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Championship-Davidson vs Rhode Island Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Another year, another major coaching change in the Atlantic 10. There is a new landscape in the conference with Dan Hurley gone from Rhode Island, and the Rams losing their core of E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Stanford Robinson and Andre Berry.

This is a very tough year to pick out a preseason favorite, however, there is a clear top tier of Davidson, Saint Louis, Saint Joe’s and George Mason. Any of those four have a legitimate chance to take home the conference crown come March.

Without further ado, here are the rankings.

1. Davidson Wildcats (21-12, 13-5 A-10, Won Atlantic-10 Tournament, NCAA First Round)

So I might be a little higher on Davidson than most people coming into the season. The reason for that: Kellan Grady. The sophomore guard is going to make a major jump from his already great freshman season. Averaging 18 points in his first year, when since-graduated co-league POY Peyton Aldridge averaged over 20, means his workload and output will be even greater.

One of this website’s favorite players, Jon Axel Gudmundsson, is still one of the toughest players in the country and is an elite distributor. This looks like one of the rare times a team loses the conference player of the year and somehow gets even better.

2. Saint Louis Billikens (17-16, 9-9 A-10)

Travis Ford’s team fell short a season ago from some pretty high preseason projections, finishing 7th in the A-10. But this season, the Billikens will be in a great spot for an at-large bid, or for winning the conference outright. There is a great case to be made that Saint Louis has the most talented team within the conference as they return Javon Bess, Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French, while adding a stud freshman in Cart’Are Gordon.

3. Saint Josephs Hawks (16-16, 10-8 A-10)

The Hawks are an NCAA tournament caliber team when healthy. That’s the key word: HEALTHY. Last year Saint Joe’s was respectable without both Lamarr Kimble and Charlie Brown, but with those two on the court they are a top tier team. Their health is paramount to their success especially with the departures of Shavar Newkirk and James Demery.

In the frontcourt, sophomore Taylor Funk and redshirt junior Pierfrancesco Oliva had solid years last season and should grow after the offseason. Phil Martelli needs to do whatever it takes to keep his guys on the court this season.

4. George Mason Patriots (16-17, 9-9 A-10)

The Patriots return every starter from last year’s squad. Otis Livingston II averaged 17 points and 4 assists per game last year, and slots in with Justin Kier and Jaire Grayer to make up a formidable backcourt in Fairfax. Having the most experienced team in the conference will allow for them to compete for the league title. The biggest area of strength may be on the boards, as George Mason could be one of the best rebounding teams in the A-10.

The biggest drawback comes on the defensive end, where the Patriots finished 13th in the conference in points allowed last year (78.5 per game). On the flip side, they averaged 75.2 points per game, so expect to see a lot of shootouts this season.

5. Rhode Island Rams (26-8, 15-3 A-10, NCAA Second Round)

Losing your head coach is hard to comeback from. Losing your best players the same year? Even harder. URI is looking at that very challenge this coming season. Former assistant David Cox being promoted to head coach, however, should keep up the momentum that Dan Hurley started in Kingston.

Specifically for this year’s team, the trio of Jeff Dowtin, Fatts Russell, and Cyril Langevine become the new core and leaders for the next couple of years. They should be able to stay near the top of the league but a slight drop off should be expected after that many departures.

6. VCU Rams (18-15, 9-9 A-10)

Year number two for Mike Rhoades in Richmond, and the middle of the pack seems to be the place where they are going to stay this year. Losing Justin Tillman’s 18.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per game is a big blow to the Rams. De’Riante Jenkins is the lone returning player who averaged double figure scoring with 12.9 points per game. Rice transfer Marcus Evans is coming off an Achilles injury but averaged 19 points per game in his most recent season in 2016-17.

The Rams need to improve from the charity stripe in order to move up in the conference after shooting 69.1 percent last year, which was good for 262nd in the country. They also turned the ball over 253 times in conference play, which was the worst in the league. However, a strong amount of assists gave them a respectable 1.11 assist to turnover ratio.

7. Dayton Flyers (14-17, 8-10 A-10)

Josh Cunningham is one of the best players in the A-10, averaging 15.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last year. But other than Cunningham, there is no help on the boards. The Flyers only had 968 rebounds last season which was good for 340th in the country. This lack of size is a major problem for them and will keep them in the second tier of the league, despite having a player of the year candidate on the roster.

8. UMass Minutemen (13-20, 5-13 A-10)

Matt McCall’s first season was purely a rebuilding year in Amherst. The emergence of Luwane Pipkins, however, is why the Minutemen jump to eighth. His 21.2 points and 4 assists allowed the Minutemen to shoot up five spots from the previous season. C.J. Anderson is the only major loss, as UMass returns its two highest scorers in Pipkins and Carl Pierce (12.4 PPG). Adding two key transfers in Curtis Cobb (Fairfield) and Jonathan Laurent (Rutgers) will create great backcourt depth.

They need to improve on the defensive end after finishing dead last in seven categories last year, including allowing the most points in conference play (79.8). However, they are an extremely good three-point shooting team, shooting 40 percent from long distance a year ago, the 16th-best mark in the nation.

9. St. Bonaventure Bonnies (26-8, 14-4 A-10, NCAA First Round)

Unlike Davidson, the Bonnies will be the usual case of losing the player of the year and taking a step back. The two-headed monster of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley are no longer suiting up in Western New York. UNLV transfer Jalen Poyser will be tasked with leading the backcourt. Courtney Stockard and LaDarien Griffin are the two highest returning scorers for the Bonnies, making the frontcourt the strength of the team.

Expect a big drop off from their number one offense in the A-10 a year ago. The Bonnies are difficult to grade overall, and are the most likely team to either shoot up the board or fall drastically.

10. Richmond Spiders (12-20, 9-9 A-10)

Richmond was a bit of a surprise last season after an atrocious non-conference slate. After starting 2-10, the Spiders went 9-9 in the league, and with five double-digit scorers things were looking up. Then the offseason happened. The best rebounder on the roster, De’Monte Buckingham was dismissed from the team for violating athletics department policy. Then Khwan Fore decided to transfer and is now at Louisville.

What they do have is a trio of Grant Golden, Nick Sherod and Jacob Gilyard. Golden will have to do all the lifting down low after averaging 6.7 rebounds per game. Other than these players there is not much proven production left on the roster.

11. Duquesne Dukes (16-16, 7-11 A-10)

The fact that Keith Dambrot led the Dukes to seven conference wins in 2018 says a lot about how well he coached that team. They do have their two top players returning in Mike Lewis II and Eric Williams Jr., who both averaged over 14 points pre game. They do, however, lose their two leaders in assists in Tarin Smith (graduate transfer to UConn) and Rene Castro.

The question is how they fill those holes and how they will distribute the ball. Transfers Marcus Weathers (Miami of Ohio) and Frankie Hughes (Missouri) are the most likely players to fill that void. They will also have to become more efficient having one more turnovers (383) than assists last season (382).

12. La Salle Explorers (13-19, 7-11 A-10)

The Explorers gave John Giannini the axe this offseason, and former Villanova assistant Ashley Howard takes the short trip to this Big 5 program. B.J. Johnson’s time in Philly has ended and Pookie Powell will step into the spotlight as the leader of La Salle. Powell averaged 16.9 points and 4.3 assists per game. However, there isn’t much else on this roster and it will surely be a rebuilding year for Howard.

13. George Washington Colonials (15-18, 7-11 A-10)

Yuta Watanabe graduating is the biggest loss to any team in the A-10. GW does not have much left after this past season, with Terry Nolan Jr. the highest returning scorer (9.1 PPG).Charleston Southern transfer Armel Potter will have to contribute right away as he averaged 12.7 points and 3.1 assists per game in 2016-17. This is a rebuilding year in the nation’s capitol and as the Colonials try and stay competitive with the rest of the league.

14. Fordham Rams (9-22, 4-14 A-10)

This is the easiest ranking to give in the conference. Fordham will come at the bottom until the Rams can show that they can finish above last place. The Rams only have one double digit scorer returning in Prokop Slanina with 12.6 points per game. The Rams best player last season, Joseph Chartouny, is at Marquette. This season will be another year in the basement for Rams from the Bronx.