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1 Thing To Watch For: Atlantic 10 Edition

Can the A-10 send as many teams to the tournament as it did in 2014?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 12 Atlantic 10 Tournament - Massachusetts v Virginia Commoonwealth Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“It’s possible that the fifth-place team in the A-10 could be an NCAA Tournament team.” George Mason head coach Dave Paulsen said during the Atlantic 10 Conference media days.

It is quite possible. The A-10 is looking at its deepest league since they sent six teams to the tournament in 2014.

Nearly every fanbase has reason to be excited. Even Fordham!

With the COVID-19 pandemic looming, empty arenas benefit the mid-majors in comparison to the high majors. Can the conference pull off a couple more high-major upsets than usual?

Here is something to look at for every team in the A-10:

Davidson: Defensive improvements

Last year, the Wildcats had loads of potential but only went 16-14 with a seventh-place finish in the A-10. Many people had them projected at the top of the league. They obviously did not live up to those expectations.

Head coach Bob McKillop said during media days that pretty much everyone has improved, and Luka Brajkovic is really a player to watch for.

“This offseason, my focus was reading defenses better. Knowing what the read is in the post.” Brajkovic said.

The Wildcats had one of the most efficient offenses in the country, but a mediocre defense. They only gave up less than sixty points three times during conference play.

If they truly did improve on defense, with that strong offense they will once again be a top team in the league.

Dayton: Life without Obi

It is never going to be easy to replace a National Player of the Year and eighth overall NBA Draft pick. I know you return pretty much everyone else, but Obi Toppin is a generational talent.

Yeah you have Jalen Crutcher, but he cannot do it all by himself. Crutcher was Top 100 in ORtg%, eFG%, TS%, and FT% last year — becoming one of the best shooters in the nation.

Ibi Watson and the other guards will have to take a huge step to complement him. Watson has the potential, ranking 74th in the country in offensive rating, a year ago. No other returner finished in the Top 100 of any statistical category on the team.

Can Jordy Tshimanga develop into a Toppin type player — or anywhere near to his production and excitement?

It will be difficult to ever get back to what they were last season, but the future recruiting classes are very promising into making this program into a powerhouse. Too bad they could not come a year earlier.

Duquesne: Best team since 1977?

The Dukes return practically everyone and have threats on both sides of the ball. Michael Hughes is a top-five defensive player in the country, and they have a top-100 efficient offense.

Rather it be Tavian Dunn-Martin with the three ball off the bench, or Marcus Weathers around the paint, they are a threat on offense. Duquesne finished last year 29th in two-point field goal percentage.

Michael Hughes finished last season 10th in the country in block percentage. He really led the defense that gave up more than 70 points in less than half its games.

Dambrot has only made this team better and better since he has arrived on the Bluff. The last time the Dukes were ranked this high in the Preseason Poll (5th) was in 2010. They made the Atlantic 10 Tournament finals the year before.

Fordham: They have a defensive prowess; can they score?

“Our defense was the highest level in the country.” Fordham head coach Jeff Neubauer said earlier this month.

Fordham was a defensive stalwart last season, finishing 64th in the country in defensive efficiency. Opponents scored 70 or more only five times against Fordham. Their problem was offense where they had a bottom 10 one in the nation.

The Rams are expected to continue that great defense but have a couple positive signs on the offensive end.

Chuba Ohams is projected to return off a knee injury sometime in December. The local kid shot an impressive 48.8% from 2pt range when he did play before that injury.

Ty Perry was ranked nationally in three-point shooting and has looked to improve. Senior guard Josh Navarro said during media day, “Everyone individually got better from last year. You can just see it.”

This might be the year that the Rams get out of last place in the league.

George Mason: Can Greene and Wilson take the next step?

After a stellar 11-2 non-conference start, it was all downhill for the Patriots. They do return all five starters from a year ago though and have tons of promise at the top.

A.J. Wilson is one of the best unknown players in college basketball. The 2019-20 A-10 Most Improved Player ranks in the top fifteen of six A-10 KenPom categories. Last season, his 92 blocks were good enough to set a season record for the program.

“Last season he became increasingly comfortable scoring in a variety of ways for us and was able to make a tremendous impact on the defensive end of the floor. I’m looking forward to watching him take that development to another level during his senior season.” head coach Dave Paulsen said.

Javon Greene led the Patriots in scoring, assists, and steals, last season. The McDonough, Georgia, native ranked in the top 20 of nine A-10 KenPom categories a year ago.

An underrated player for the Patriots, Xavier Johnson, ranked 83rd in the country in free -throw rate a year ago. He has a very good chance of adding a key piece to that offense, tarting the final 18 games of the year.

George Washington: Depth and mayhem

If you do not know by now, head coach Jamion Christian runs one of the most interesting styles of basketball in the nation. It is called “Mayhem.”

Mayhem consists of full-court pressure and forcing turnovers — similar to the Shaka Smart havoc press. So practically not a second of basketball off.

With this, you need a deep bench because players — no matter how conditioned — will get tired. Christian is loving his squads depth this year though, saying “We’re expecting every person on the roster to produce. As you know with injuries and [COVID-19], they can just pop up.”

The offense primarily runs through Armel Potter but showed growth throughout the roster the whole year.

Christian thinks he has the type of team who can make an NCAA Tournament run. We will see what they’re made of early with a tough non-conference schedule.

La Salle: Young talent

Ashley Howard is in a tough situation right now. He needs to focus on growing his young roster into a contender maybe two-three years into the future.

They don’t return a single double-digit scorer, so it gives a freshman like Tegra Izay a chance to take a big step. He averaged a double-double in a tough Washington D.C Catholic League. Can he translate that to the A-10?

He’ll have veteran players like Christian Ray and Jack Clark to help him out on that. Coach Howard believes they’ll take big steps.

Rhode Island: Fatts Russell and Jeremy Sheppard

Three years ago when the Rams were an at-large team in the NCAA Tournament, Fatts Russell was the baby. Now he is the leader. Head coach David Cox even went out of his way to say how they have been beside each other since day one. They feel like an old married couple.

Fatts has a perfect compliment in ECU transfer, Jeremy Sheppard. Sheppard made the American All-Rookie team back in 2016-17 and will try to translate that to the A-10.

They will be one of the better starting backcourts in the mid-major ranks.

Richmond: Can they live up to preseason hype?

The Spiders are the media darling. They were picked first in the A-10 preseason poll, sixth overall in our Other Top 25, and got quite a few votes in the AP Top 25 poll. The only problem is, one of their best players, Nick Sherod, retired due to an injury over the offseason.

Richmond still returns the other four members of their starting five and should be a tournament team. I just do not know if they’re all that they’re set out to be.

Saint Joseph’s: Can someone other than Ryan Daly produce?

Not only was Saint Joes putrid on defense last year, but Ryan Daly also did all the work. He ranked top 35 in the country in both % of possessions and % of shots. Along with this, he averaged 20.6 points per game. Good for 29.86% of their scoring a year ago.

This is the perfect spot for someone like Cameron Brown to step up. He was the only other double-digit scorer a year ago, averaging 10.1 points per game. Brown also shot a very impressive 56% from inside the arc. He is expecting himself to be a glue guy, helping others score.

Other potential suitors could be newcomers, Jadrian Tracey and Dahmir Bishop. Tracey is an aggressive player, with a good shot. He was one of the best freshmen out of Florida. Bishop is a Xavier transfer who is an amazing passer, who can get hot quick. These four click and we could talk a massive improvement in the Hawks play.

Saint Louis: Free-throw shooting

The Billikens are my favorite to win the league. They return all five of their starters from a year ago and were a bubble team come the 2020 NCAA Tournament. The only problem is they were literally the worst team in the nation in free throws, shooting only 57.1% at the charity stripe.

“There are a lot of areas we’ve identified that are needed to be one of the better teams in the country – an elite team.” said head coach Travis Ford. “Obviously one of those is free throw shooting.”

On the bright side, Javonte Perkins returns after shooting 76% at the line a year ago. SLU can only go up from where they are.

Saint Bonaventure: Deep bench

The Bonnies are one of the most underrated teams in the country. They return preseason second team All-Atlantic 10 player, Kyle Lofton, along with preseason third team All-Atlantic 10 player, Osun Osunniyi.

Lofton touched on it during media day, “I definitely feel like we’re way much deeper, guard wise. Guys are going at it, competing for spots and minutes in practice.”

Not only is strong competition in practice good for teams. If you can pick players off your bench with little to no talent gap, you can contend with the best this country has to offer.

UMass: Tre Mitchell and a deep squad

Tre Mitchell’s stellar freshman season was really over shadowed by Toppin’s stellar play at Dayton. The offense ran through Mitchell, as he became one of the better shooting big men in college basketball. He thinks he’s added a lot to his game over the offseason and has even more to add. Scary news for the Atlantic 10.

T.J. Weeks only played 10 games before an injury derailed his season last year. Weeks was on pace to become one of the better 3-point shooters in the country, shooting 48.5% after putting up 66 shots.

Coming in from Wichita, Kansas, Noah Fernandes has made a huge impact on his fellow teammates. Senior Carl Pierre went out of his way during media day to say he was already the third-best shooter on the team.

UMass finished out Atlantic 10 play strong. This is a scary sign for the rest of the A-10. Can Mitchell make an Toppin type jump?

VCU: Can someone other than Nah’shon ‘Bones’ Hyland produce?

VCU made a drastic turn from a bubble team to finishing under .500 in the Atlantic 10 last season. They also lose their two key pieces from that team, and have seemed to leave Bones to become an early team leader.

Bones became one of the better 3-point shooters in the country a year ago, ranking 45th nationally. No other returner was ranked in anything in KenPom.

Freshman Ace Baldwin from Saint Frances Academy in Baltimore chose the Rams over plenty of Power 5 schools.

Also, big transfers in Brendan Medley-Bacon from Coppin State and Levi Stockard from Kansas State should help down low.