Conference Preview: Atlantic Ten

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The Atlantic Ten found a way to put three teams into the Big Dance last season, as regular season champion Rhode Island was joined by auto-bid winner Davidson and First Four team St. Bonaventure.  The league has at least four teams with legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations this season, though the conference as a whole needs to improve in non-conference play if they want to find a way to pick up multiple at-large bids again.

The pick to win the league is George Mason, as the Patriots return all five starters from last year.  Travis Ford’s Saint Louis team should also be in contention, along with Davidson and a (hopefully) healthy St. Joe’s team.  Keep an eye on two teams that are on the rise as well – Duquesne and Massachusetts.  Both teams enter their second seasons under their new head coaches and have already made remarkable strides.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. George Mason – The Patriots return all five starters from last year’s team, led by the outside duo of Otis Livingston II and Jaire Grayer. They also add several key pieces, most notably Virginia transfer Jarred Reuter, whose size and strength down low should help them get better on defense.
  2. Saint Louis – Travis Ford enters his third season at the helm and has the Billikens ready to break through and earn a ticket to the Big Dance. This team was one of the best defensively both in the A-10 and nationally last year and if a handful of key transfers and a solid recruiting class can help add more scoring, Saint Louis should hear its name called on Selection Sunday.
  3. Davidson – Peyton Aldridge may be gone, but the Wildcats return enough pieces for head coach Bob McKillop to keep them in contention. The trio of Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Kellan Grady and KiShawn Pritchett will still wreak havoc with opponents, and keep an eye on redshirt freshman Luke Frampton who is back healthy after missing last season with a ruptured ACL.
  4. St. Joseph’s – The Hawks finished .500 last season despite not having their two best players, Charlie Brown and Lamarr Kimble, for the majority of the season due to injuries. Both are back and, if they can stay healthy, there is no reason the Hawks won’t contend for the conference title.
  5. Dayton – Even though the top scorer is gone from a team that finished 14-17, the Flyers should be improved with their other four starters returning and Ryan Mikesell, who started two years ago, back from injury. Keep an eye on Josh Cunningham to light up the scoreboard this season for head coach Anthony Grant.
  6. St. Bonaventure – The Bonnies got hot at the right time last season and found a way to not only make the Big Dance but also knock off UCLA in the First Four. That team was led by Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, both of whom are gone now.  However, a very strong recruiting class should have Mark Schmidt’s team contending for the league crown again soon – though probably not this season.
  7. VCU – The Rams struggled (by VCU standards) under Mike Rhoades last season and may do so again with Marcus Evans still trying to recover from a torn Achilles. It is hard to count this program out, however, so don’t be surprised if they finish even higher than this.
  8. Duquesne – The Dukes were vastly improved under new head coach Keith Dambrot last season, finding a way to move from perennial doormats to 16-16 overall and 7-11 in A-10 play. This season will be almost like starting over, however, as five transfers and a seven-man recruiting class join a handful of returnees.  Once the team chemistry develops, there is no reason why Duquesne will not be tough to beat again.
  9. Massachusetts – The Minutemen understandably took a lot of lumps last season, but head coach Matt McCall seems to be the right man to rebuild this program and the fruits of his efforts may begin to show as early as this season. Keep an eye on junior guard Luwane Pipkins, who averaged over 21 points per game last season.
  10. Rhode Island – Expect this team to take a big step back with four starters and head coach Dan Hurley all gone. David Cox takes over the helm, and does have point guard Jeff Dowtin back, but a return to the top of the league standings may be a few years away.
  11. Richmond – The Spiders had five players average in double figures last season yet finished the season 12-20 overall. Three of those five (Jacob Gilyard, Nick Sherod and Grant Golden) do return, but this team needs to find a way to get a lot better defensively, and on the boards, if they want to improve.
  12. La Salle – The Explorers welcome a new head coach in former Villanova assistant Ashley Howard. It may take a few years for Howard to build something here, but Pookie Powell should score a ton of points and cause opponents plenty of headaches this season.
  13. George Washington – It could be another tough season for the Colonials after their top two players, Yuta Watanabe and Jair Bolden, left the program. The team will have to rely on transfers, such as former Illinois top recruit DJ Williams, if they want to have any chance for success.
  14. Fordham – Jeff Neubauer was supposed to be just the right man to figure out how to build Fordham into a competitive contender. Entering his fourth season, he has not done so yet, and the Rams appear to once again be in rebuild mode with a roster full of freshmen and sophomores.  It remains to be seen just how much more time Neubauer has left to get things turned around here.
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