Atlantic 10 Preview 2016-17

- Jim Root

Atlantic 10 Preview

1.      Rhode Island
2.      Dayton
3.      VCU
     La Salle
     George Washington
8.      St. Bonaventure
9.      St. Joseph’s
14.   George Mason

All Conference Awards

POY: Jack Gibbs, Sr., G, Davidson
Coach of the Year: Dan Hurley, Rhode Island
Newcomer of the Year: Savon Goodman, Sr., F/C, La Salle
Freshman of the Year: Samir Doughty, G, VCU


1.     Rhode Island

Key Returners: Hassan Martin, Jared Terrell, Jarvis Garrett, EC Matthews, Kuran Iverson
Key Losses: Four McGlynn
Key Newcomers: Stanford Robinson, Mike Layssard Jr., Jeff Dowtin, Michael Tertsea

Postseason Projection: 6-10 seed

I’m going to start this A-10 basketball preview with a football analogy. Every so often, my favorite legendary squad, the Green Bay Packers, will have a year where they’re riddled with injuries - that’s just the nature of the sport. In place of the injured guys, new players step in (and sometimes even play well), leading to a major roster bind the next year. The injured guys all return, but their replacements that played well are there, as well. Culling down the roster becomes a (good) problem, and Rhode Island faces a similar “issue” this year - while star EC Matthews was hurt for 99.9% of the season and fellow beast Hassan Martin missed a good chunk of time, the other Rams stepped up into leading roles and played extremely well in difficult circumstances. Now, with those guys both apparently back at 100%, how does coach Dan Hurley allocate roles?

The below table shows the percentage of possessions used for Matthews, Martin, Jarvis Garrett, Jared Terrell, and Kuran Iverson over the past two years (this doesn’t totally factor in Martin’s injury as he was around for some of the games):

So in each player’s most recent season, the presumed starting lineup combined to use...121.6% of available possessions! Plus, Indiana transfer Stanford Robinson also used 22.6% of possessions in his last year as a Hoosier. I’m no Jimmy Neutron, but that math strikes me as problematic. Who loses shots and how Hurley manages players’ egos will be crucial to the Rams’ success this year.

Another excellent tidbit on Jon Rothstein’s 9/13 podcast - Coach Hurley joked about checking his team’s “luck” rating on last year as the injuries and close losses piled up - they finished a sad 348th in the country in that stat, justifying Hurley’s (and Rams fans’) frustrations with the season. Rhode Island was basically the guy holding 20 against the dealer’s 13, only to watch the dealer flip an 8, except for an entire freakin’ season. One can expect that to even out this this year, which, along with the roster’s improved strength, means an excellent season could be in the cards (HA!).

Tangent over - offensively, Hurley has shown the ability to tailor his scheme to the personnel he has that year. The Rams played at the 324th-fastest tempo last year after finishing 87th in that number in 2015; I’d expect it to be closer to the 2016 number this year with the experience Hurley’s team has and his faith in their ability to execute in the halfcourt. They have almost every kind of offensive weapon imaginable, with a bevy of shooters, multiple ball-handlers, and interior threats. Matthews adds the dimension of a dangerous wing slasher whose efficiency should improve with the maturation of the weapons around him.

Defensively, Martin is a monster in the lane (25th nationally in block rate), which helps to allow the guards to be extremely disruptive on the perimeter and force opponents to play in isolation (8th-lowest assist rate by opponents). Hurley is a man-to-man guy almost exclusively, and he has the size and athletes this year to match up with almost anyone.

With the addition of Robinson, the Rams have 6 starter-level guys, and their biggest enemy for being an elite team is potential chemistry and usage issues. If Hurley can get everyone on board with a goal of simply winning (and this ranking shows that I think he will), Rhode Island should return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

2.     Dayton

Key Returners: Charles Cooke, Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard, Kyle Davis
Key Losses: Dyshawn Pierre, Steve McElvene
Key Newcomers: Josh Cunningham, Trey Landers

Postseason Projection: 7-10 seed

Can’t really talk about this team without saying how horrible it is that Steve McElvene passed away this offseason. He was an extremely valuable piece for the Flyers on the court, but even beyond that, it’s a downright tragedy any time someone that age dies. The team will play for his memory, and I fully expect to cry during a Dayton hoops tribute, probably to start the season.

It’s hard to discuss basketball on the heels of a somber topic like that, but that’s our job here at 3MW, so here goes. Dayton is still an incredibly talented basketball team, loaded at the 1-4 spots with athletes and scorers. Due simply to size and the makeup of their roster, the Flyers will struggle on the offensive glass, but with all their perimeter talent, they should be able to space the floor and cause headaches for opponents with all kinds of shooting and slashing.

Scoochie Smith is the maestro, a well-built point guard who is adept at getting into gaps and also brings a three-point shot to the table. The Davis twins (just kidding, they’re not related), Kyle Davis and Darrell Davis, are both options at the 2, with Kyle being the likely starter due to his defensive prowess in Archie Miller’s system and Darrell being an (inefficient) offensive reserve.

The major strength for Dayton is the 3/4 combo of Charles Cooke and Kendall Pollard. Cooke, a former James Madison Duke, is the stud - I nearly went with him as POY due to his drool-inducing versatility. He’s like the most effective Swiss Army knife you can buy - he can light it up from downtown, he can rebound from the wing, he can pass a little bit and doesn’t turn it over, and he’s a complete menace defensively with his length and athleticism. As a 6’5 wing, he was 13th in the A-10 in block rate, which is pretty absurd in itself. Pollard, on the other hand, is a strong slashing wing who gets to the line almost at will. He will almost always be quicker than whoever is guarding him at the 4 spot, and he uses that quickness advantage to get to the rim.

Again, due to the lack of size, Dayton is really going to struggle with interior defense. Related fun fact: they don’t have a single player listed as a power forward or center on their roster page. Pollard will probably play some 5 in tiny lineups, and Xeyrius Williams and Sam Miller will both get stuck trying to defend fives at times. Miller is a soft stretch big man and Williams barely weighs 200 pounds, though, so expect a lot of double teams to help them out. In the past, Archie Miller has flat out refused to play zone, but perhaps that changes this year.  

One last name to mention - Dayton welcomes in Kostas Antetokounmpo, the younger brother of Giannis, the Greek Freak. An extremely thin 6’9 or 6’10, he’s a highly-skilled wing who is the ultimate wild card for the Flyers. He’ll never be able to guard big men either due to his slight frame, but he can present some serious mismatches with his length and quickness.

Dayton’s perimeter is so good that their lack of big men will be a surmountable problem, but against the best of the best, it may hold them back somewhat. This is definitely a tournament team, though.

Note: Kostas Antetokounmpo will take a redshirt this season as he gets his eligibility set. Major bummer. 

3.     VCU

Key Returners: JeQuan Lewis, Mo Alie-Cox, Doug Brooks, Jordan Burgess, Justin Tillman
Key Losses: Melvin Johnson, Korey Billbury
Key Newcomers: De’Riante Jenkins, Samir Doughty, Malik Crowfield 

Postseason Projection: 8-11 seed

The Rams were THIS CLOSE to being a top 15-20 team - the addition of Andrew White from Nebraska would have fit them perfectly. VCU returns everything except scoring and shooting (size, rebounding, rim protection, passing, perimeter defense), and White just so happens to be excellent at 2 things - you guessed it, scoring and shooting. Alas, he chose to be the next James Southerland at Syracuse, and VCU’s biggest void will need to be filled by committee.

The three most likely candidates to become dynamic wings are not obviously apparent when looking at the roster. Jordan Burgess, the younger brother of VCU great and Final Four participant Bradford Burgess and an extremely low usage player last year, has one more year to put it together, though it appears he just isn’t the same caliber of scorer as his brother. Highly-regarded incoming freshman De’Riante Jenkins is probably a more likely source of buckets, a long wing who can score in transition and shoot from distance (his length will also be a great asset in coach Will Wade’s pressure defenses). My vote for VCU’s breakout scorer, though, is redshirt freshman Samir Doughty, a guard who originally committed to St. John’s and was ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA last year. Finally eligible, he filled it up on the team’s foreign tour this summer and has a pretty good chance to start right away.

If one of those three steps up, the Rams are going to be extremely difficult to beat. Defensively, they have Mo “The Ox” Alie-Cox patrolling the inside, one of the top 5 people in the world I would not want to see in a dark alley at night. Though Alie-Cox is undersized, height-wise, he’s one of the strongest players in college basketball, a broad-shouldered bully who can guard most opposing post players one-on-one. He’s also a surprisingly effective shot-blocker despite his height due to his high-level athleticism, and his mobility is extremely useful in the team’s pressure schemes. The interior defense is further helped by Justin Tillman, quietly one of the country’s best rebounders by rate on both ends (17th and 23rd nationally). Since Alie-Cox and Tillman are mostly defenders/dunkers, Wade also has Ahmed Hamdy Mohamed as an interior scorer off the bench, a high usage freight train who draws a ton of fouls but can’t usually convert on those opportunities (52% from the line).

If Alie-Cox and Tillman are rocks solidifying the interior defense, then JeQuan Lewis and Doug Brooks are a terrifying swarm of hornets harassing opposing ball-handlers on the perimeter. Brooks led the entire country in steal rate, following in the esteemed footsteps of Briante Weber, and though he wasn’t very useful offensively (28% from 3 on 110 attempts), his defense creates so many easy opportunities that he’s extremely valuable regardless. Lewis took a major step as a creator last year, increasing his assist rate to #4 in the conference while raising his O-rating from an inefficient 95.8 to an impressive 111.4 all while playing even more minutes. His shooting stroke (42% from 3, 86% from FT) also helped drive that rise in efficiency. Just behind Brooks, he was 4th in the conference in steal rate, and Brooks and Lewis led the team to the 18th-best rate nationally in forcing turnovers.

With the loss of Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury, points will be harder to come by, but the defensive pressure - mostly in the half-court under Wade, as they only pressed full-court on 8.3% of possessions last year, 96th in the country - will still make them a top-25 defense. If Doughty comes along as a scorer like I think he will, VCU will be right back in the NCAA Tournament picture.

4.     Davidson

Key Returners:  Jack Gibbs, Peyton Aldridge, Nathan Ekwu, Jordan Watkins
Key Losses: Brian Sullivan, Jordan Barham
Key Newcomers: Will Magarity, KiShawn Pritchett, Dusan Kovasevic 

Postseason Projection: NIT

2015-16 Davidson was the epitome of a casual observer’s “fun team to watch”: shooters everywhere; an elite, dynamic lead guard; a relatively quick tempo...and an absolute sieve of a defense that ensured every game would be a high-scoring shootout with video game box scores. With the return of that lead guard (possible A-10 POY Jack Gibbs), several other shooters, and no influx of perimeter athletes to help the porous defense, this year’s version will likely continue to be the basketball equivalent of a Michael Bay movie.  

The ball will be in Gibbs’s hands almost all the time; he’s a multi-talented stud that can score in a plethora of analytics-friendly ways (drives, threes, getting to the line - he had 3 40-point games, 7 other 30+ games) and create for others (2nd in the A-10 in assist rate). At a shade under 6’0, he’ll likely never be an NBA star, but a Patty Mills-esque career isn’t out of the question. He’ll be right back in the POY mix again, and I also like that his name is a combo of Captain Jack Sparrow and his bearded first mate Gibbs. He’ll run a ton of pick-and-pop action with smooth-shooting forward Peyton Aldridge, a floor-spacer whose offensive numbers make him appear to be an all-conference lock, but whose defensive presence leaves a lot to be desired.

McKillop teams always play with a distinct (and aesthetically-pleasing) style: offensively, they spread the floor with a free-flowing motion offense, never turn the ball over, shoot a metric ton of threes, and generally avoid getting to the foul line; defensively, they don’t force turnovers, own the defensive glass (well, the good McKillop teams do), and force offenses into isolation. Problem is, they don’t have the athletes to guard perimeter players one-on-one, so the isolation part isn’t much of a victory. For this year’s team to get on the level of respectable McKillop defenses, the change will need to start on the glass. That means more playing time for forward/wrecking ball Nathan Ekwu, the team’s best interior defender, and an impact from large newcomers Will Magarity (BC transfer) and Dusan Kovacevic (Serbian redshirt frosh). Magarity didn’t rebound like a 6’11 guy at BC, but rinsing off the Chestnut Hill stink might help him find his game. Kovacevic was a highly-regarded recruit who missed last year with an injury; if he’s healthy, he’ll likely play a lot, even over Magarity and returning 6’9 pillowcase Oskar Michelson. Michelson is a spot up shooter trapped in a big man’s body, which makes him best used as a situational “weapon” (only 31% from deep over his first 2 years).

With Gibbs and Aldridge, the offense shouldn’t regress much, but the loss of Brian Sullivan is significant - he hit almost 100 threes last year at a 40% clip. The wings that replace him, Rusty Reigel and KiShawn Pritchett, won’t do much to replace that gunning. Jordan Watkins is a nice player, but he’s more of a pick-his-spots type of scorer and won’t be prolific. Don’t be shocked to see Icelandic frosh Jon Axel Gudmundsson get some run if he shows a silky stroke in practice, defense be damned.  

While I expect more of the same from the Wildcats - superhuman play from Gibbs, good shooting, and not much defense - I think this unit will be a little more balanced due to more time for Ekwu and the relative dearth of shooting on the wing. Kovacevic is the X-factor; if he gives them a real two-way center, then this prediction could be too low.

5.     Richmond

Key Returners: TJ Cline, ShawnDre' Jones, Marshall Wood, Khwan Fore
Key Losses: Terry Allen, Trey Davis
Key Newcomers: Nick Sherod, De’Monte Buckingham, Grant Golden

Postseason Projection: NIT

A sportswriter (can’t remember who) recently posed the question on Twitter about who the Jeff Fisher of college football was - there was no clear consensus, but I’ll nominate the A-10’s basketball equivalent - Chris Mooney. In 11 years at Richmond, he’s gone 9-7 twice, 8-8 twice, 7-9 once, 7-11 once, 6-10 once, plus a couple random winning seasons thrown in there (hell, even Jeff Fisher made a Super Bowl and an AFC Championship). His overall conference record is 96-84, 53.3%, eerily reminiscent of Fisher’s 52.2% overall record. This is not a compliment, folks.

Mooney’s teams always have a prolific offense based around ball control and shooting, and they need to be, considering they treat the offensive glass and the free throw line like an obese guy treats the salad bar. This year’s team will be an extreme version of that, even for Mooney, considering the team’s only respectable rebounder (Terry Allen) graduates. The frontcourt players, Marshall Wood and TJ Cline, are the team’s best shooter and passer,  respectively, but neither puts up a fight on either end on the boards. Cline, for his part, is a unique talent - he’s an ultra-skilled, 6’9 facilitator who can create and score from the high post and even step out and hit threes. He is a nightmare to guard, but he’s also a nightmare defensively, where his slow feet and invisible rim presence leave the Spiders hyper-exposed to inside scoring.

Sliding Wood and Cline down to the 4 and 5 with Allen gone this year should at least improve the Spiders perimeter defense, as they can play 3 guards and avoid having Cline or Wood getting consistently roasted like a Kenny Rogers chicken by opposing penetrators. Khwan Fore flashed a ton of defensive potential last year with the 6th-best steal rate in the league (plus a little offensive skill as well), and freshmen Nick Sherod and De’Monte Buckingham will get plenty of chances to show off their impressive athletic ability. Sophomore Julius Johnson was pretty bad last year, but hey, people get better between frosh and soph year, right?

Few previews will discuss Richmond for this length without mentioning ShawnDre’ Jones, a destructive penetrator off the dribble and very good shooter in his own right. He’s excellent at using his body to shield defenders and draw contact, where he’s a stronger-than-you-think finisher at his size. When the offense isn’t running through Cline, it will be in the capable hands of Jones, who epitomizes Mooney’s offensive philosophy with his avoidance of turnovers and deadeye shooting stroke.

The aforementioned heinous offensive rebounding persists as a Mooney problem on the defensive end, as well. Part of that is due to the massive amount of zone the Spiders play (75% of the time), leaving them out of position to attack the glass. That might be forgivable if they were trotting out a major shot blocker, but unless redshirt sophomore Paul Friendshuh shows great improvement, that won’t be the case. Ok, honestly, I just wanted to say Friendshuh because I imagine his name like a Drake song title - “Oh we friendshuh? We friendshuh? We gon’ stick with each other till the endshuh?” Related - I am an atrocious rapper.

Richmond’s Dime Bar-like defense (crunchy/tough on the outside, soft/soft on the inside) will likely be its downfall again, though the skilled passing offense and shooting ability of the Spiders’ bigs will make them a challenge to guard for almost anyone. In classic Mooney/Jeff Fisher fashion, they’ll likely settle right in the middle of the pack, maybe just above.

6.     La Salle

Key Returners: Jordan Price, Cleon Roberts, Amar Stukes, Johnnie Shuler, Tony Washington
Key Losses: none
Key Newcomers: BJ Johnson, Savon Goodman, Demetrius Henry, Pookie Powell

Postseason Projection: NIT

I don’t know what the hell to make of La Salle whatsoever. With everyone back plus a massive influx of transfer talent, they could finish in the top 2 or 3 in the league. On the other hand, last year’s talent could continue to underwhelm, along with having gigantic chemistry issues while dividing touches among 9 players with legitimate claims for the ball, and the Explorers could finish in the bottom 4. Everything is on the table for this squad, so I’m taking the easy way out and picking them right near the middle at sixth.

All 5 starters are back, including massively-talented scorer Jordan Price, while also bringing in 4 high-major transfers (we’ll count Memphis as high-major) - that’s a ton of mouths to feed. If you’re someone like BJ Johnson or Savon Goodman, you didn’t leave Syracuse or Arizona State to come to Philly and defer to guys who went 9-22 (4-14) last year. On the same token, though, that’s a ton of shots for players like Price, Cleon Roberts, and Johnnie Shuler to give up. Coach John Giannini has been successful incorporating transfers before - his Sweet 16 team in 2013 included several players whose careers didn’t start at La Salle - but this year is a completely different animal to tackle.

For instance, Tony Washington was the anchor of La Salle’s (porous) zone defenses last year, a formidable force on the glass and at the rim against would-be scorers. He played a lot of minutes inside last year, but with the arrival of Demetrius Henry from Mississippi State and Goodman from ASU, he will be pushed hard for playing time. Now to be fair, the Explorers’ defense suffered from a lack of size outside of Washington and minimal depth, so there should be some minutes available, but will Washington be content to see his 7.7ppg and 7.4rpg averages drop in favor of Goodman’s burly scoring presence?

You could ask that question about basically every position - Amar Stukes may lose PG minutes to Memphis transfer Pookie Powell, and Shuler/Price/Roberts/Johnson will be a logjam on the wings as well. La Salle was 349th in the country in % of minutes played by their bench last year, so the increased depth will be useful in that sense, but the success of that depth comes down to Giannini.

As a coach, Giannini has slowed things down in recent years, going from a breakneck pace in 2010-2012 to the bottom third nationally recently. Some of that is definitely due to depth issues, and I would not be surprised if he unleashed the bevy of high-level athletes at his disposal in a more transition-centric attack this year. Really, anything to boost up the A-10’s 13th-ranked offense (barely above anemic SLU) would be a welcome change. Too often, last year devolved into Price on his own with the ball, trying to create a shot for himself or others (La Salle was 6th-highest in the country in percentage of possessions ending in isolation). Plus, the team had absolutely no inside scoring presence to speak of - La Salle had the (dis)honor of having the highest block-rate-against in the country.

Rarely will a team jump from dead last in the A-10 to actual contention, but given all the talent here, it’s actually possible for the Explorers. I still think the returnees will struggle (again, that starting 5 went 4-14 last year!), and I don’t trust Giannini nor the transfers enough to turn this arrangement of spare parts into an Iron Man suit. Expect a rise, but not a meteoric one.

7.      George Washington

Key Returners:  Tyler Cavanaugh, Yuta Watanabe
Key Losses: Kevin Larsen, Patricio Garino, Joe McDonald, Alex Mitola, Paul Jorgensen
Key Newcomers: Jaren Sina, Patrick Steeves, Kevin Marfo

Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT/Vegas 16

About 3 hours before Mike Lonergan was fired on September 16th, I wrote this: “Let’s just make this clear - I’m not entirely sure how Mike Lonergan has avoided more public scrutiny after the accusations that he abused players. This seems like something that, especially in today’s politically correct world, would raise some major eyebrows nationally. Instead, it came up briefly and has since been mostly swept under the rug.” Prophetic! (Note: as of this writing, he is contesting his termination, but I can’t imagine he coaches this team after all of this).

Without Lonergan, GW returns a mostly-underachieving team with the conference’s best big man; despite the presence of Tyler Cavanaugh, the departed Patricio Garino, and a strong supporting cast, the Colonials never really forced themselves into the forefront of the NCAA Tournament picture last year. For every great home win against Virginia or Seton Hall, there was a barf road loss against DePaul or Saint Louis. Getting a better road performance and more consistent focus will be paramount for whoever replaces Lonergan (early hot name is Pitt assistant Kevin Sutton).

GW’s strength will be a tough, versatile frontcourt. Cavanaugh is a multi-skilled monster - he hit 42% of his threes, was 8th in the conference in D-Reb rate, got to the line at the 5th best rate, and had the 8th best true shooting percentage. His combination of size and skill on the block and outside shooting ability make him a mismatch for almost everyone in the league. Yuta Watanabe is a long but skinny ‘tweener forward; his shooting stroke evaded him last year, but he’s a threat from outside. Patrick Steeves, the irregular grad transfer with two years of eligibility, is a driving and shooting threat if he can stay healthy. A big part of GW’s offense was pounding the offensive glass with the departed Kevin Larsen, but a freshman replacement, Kevin Marfo, may be able to replicate some of that production.

The Colonials also traditionally have a strong floor general - four-year starter Joe McDonald is gone, but Seton Hall transfer Jaren Sina (who strangely quit midseason at Seton Hall in ‘14-’15) should be a solid new option. He wasn’t elite at any one thing as a Pirate, but he’s the classic “change of scenery” guy. Youth and inexperience will be the name of the game on the wing between Matt HartJordan Roland, Jair Bolden, and Justin Williams.

Defensively, GW is kind of a mystery, particularly given the lack of a coaching hire. Lonergan favored some man mixed with a 1-3-1, and Sutton would likely bring something similar as a former GW and Georgetown assistant. They don’t have many elite athletes to employ in any scheme, though, so defense is likely to continue to be a weakness for this squad.

The frontcourt in Foggy Bottom is probably the best in the league, but there’s just not enough in the backcourt or on defense (along with the coaching change right before the season) to really push the conference’s elite.

8.     St. Bonaventure

Key Returners:  Jaylen Adams, Idris Taqqee, Denzel Gregg
Key Losses: Marcus Posley, Dion Wright
Key Newcomers: David Andoh, Matt Mobley, Amadi Ikpeze

Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT/Vegas 16

The team with probably the biggest gripe for missing the tournament last season (124/144 had them in the field at looks to bounce back from that disappointment, led by likely all-league pick/perimeter dynamo Jaylen Adams and the comfort of knowing they have the most infuriating home court to travel to in the conference (and maybe the country). Lovely Olean, New York! Where the number one tourist attraction is something called Rock City Park - sounds thrilling! Here’s a fun activity - go to Olean, NY, on Google Maps and see how many times you have to hit the “zoom out” button until you spot a city you recognize - took me 4 clicks to see Buffalo.

Even without Marcus Posley and Dion Wright, the roster still manages to be less depressing than Olean, as Adams, Denzel Gregg, Idris Taqqee, and three transfers - Chinoso Obokoh of Syracuse, David Andoh from Liberty, and Matt Mobley from Central Connecticut State - give the team a formidable group of experienced players. They’ll still probably fall back a bit from their bubblicious ways last year, but that core gives them a fighting chance under coach Matt Schmidt.

Adams will lead the offense, a dynamic guard who is nearly unguardable with his combination of shooting (44% from 3 on 192 attempts), slashing (led the conference in free throw rate and shoots 87% from the line), and passing (9th in the conference in assist rate). He’ll work a lot of pick-and-rolls with Gregg, a good dive man, offensive rebounder, and rim protector who also excels at getting to the free throw line. Obokoh provides another option in that role, and Andoh is yet another bigger body to use in the lane.

Taqqee and Mobley will space the floor around Adams, and sophomore Nelson Kaputo offers an option as another ball-handler to allow Adams to play off the ball at times as well. Taqqee and Kaputo are also solid perimeter defenders, which will enable Adams to avoid expending himself while guarding elite opposition. Another major scoring option could be former JUCO stud Courtney Stockard, who averaged an eye-popping 23.2ppg and 9.0rpg at Allen Community College. Stockard missed last year with a broken bone in his foot, but if he is fully healthy this year, he'll take some pressure off of Adams as a relentless rim attacker and long (6'5) athlete.

Schmidt will mix it up defensively between man and zone at times, and the defensive rebounding suffered for that last year. The additions of Obokoh and Andoh should help that somewhat (with possible help from freshmen Amadi Ikpeze and Josh Ayeni), as should being able to properly match up with teams in man-to-man. Obokoh and Gregg should provide enough rim protection to cover for the perimeter guys if they get beat, and as mentioned, Taqqee is around to be a lengthy shutdown defender. The Bonnies’ elite offense was undone by their defense last season, but a lot of the evidence points towards a more balanced squad this season. It would take a major leap from Kaputo and a Herculean effort from Adams to keep the Bonnies in the top 30 offenses, efficiency-wise, for a second straight year.

Without that elite offense, I don’t think the defense improves enough to prevent some regression for the Bonnies. They only finished 84th in KenPom last year, 6th-best in the the A-10, but still managed to tie for first. Expect their conference finish to be more in line with the numbers this year.

9.   St. Joseph’s

Key Returners: James Demery, Shavar Newkirk, LaMarr Kimble
Key Losses: DeAndre Bembry, Isaiah Miles, Aaron Brown
Key Newcomers: Charlie Brown

Postseason Projection: None

If I’m low on this Hawks prediction, well, sorry Phil Martelli and Joe Lunardi (a Joe's alum), I don’t like you guys anyways. This team is incredibly difficult to read, with easily their two best players departing in DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles (plus Aaron Brown, arguably their third-best player, leaving as well). That leaves an extremely young roster to contend with a relatively talented year in the A-10 (albeit with a very promising backcourt).

The biggest thing to like about the Hawks is the double PGs they can throw at you. Shavar Newkirk and LaMarr Kimble are both talented passers; Kimble was a good shooter as a freshman, and Newkirk started to show signs of competence in that regard last year as well. Defensively, neither is very big, but that’s pretty easy to get away with in the A-10 and college basketball in general. I’ve said it often on this site, but being able to attack the opponent’s less-capable on-ball defender no matter who he’s guarding is a big advantage in creating quality offense. Plus, against teams with a great perimeter player, the Hawks can throw rangy defender James Demery on him, using his 6’6 length to bother him and leaving Newkirk and Kimble to guard less capable opponents.  

Martelli’s teams are almost always going to play a more conservative man-to-man or zone, eschewing turnovers to avoid fouling and giving teams easy points at the free throw line. They sag off shooters and dare you to consistently hit threes against them - that could be dangerous in this year’s A-10, with a lot of strong shooting teams dotting the league. Traditionally, stout interior defense is a big part of that, but that could be a major concern this year with the loss of Bembry, Miles, and Papa Ndao. Pierfrancesco Oliva is a fairly thin 6’8 who wants to shoot threes, and although he is a respectable defensive rebounder, he’s not going to stand up to forceful post presences. Senior Javon Baumann is a better bet there at 6’8, 258, but after a relatively productive sophomore year, he barely saw the floor last year as a junior. Martelli likely won’t have a choice this year, though. Another sophomore, Markell Lodge, is a promising athlete, but he’ll need to make a major leap to be a contributor this year. The dark horse contributor to the interior defense is true freshman Lorenzo Edwards from Lake Forest, IL. A first-team all-state selection in Illinois as a senior, he’s physically ready to play in the A-10 right away, and his attitude on the boards could be huge for Martelli’s squad.

Without the length and versatility that Bembry and Miles brought to the table, Saint Joe’s offense will suffer a bit. Martelli will need to re-tool around the presence of his two skilled point guards; I think he can, but there’s a real limit to the wing talent on this squad. To put it succinctly, I simply believe that a bunch of other teams in the A-10 will be better this year..

10.      UMass

Key Returners: Donte Clark, CJ Anderson, Seth Berger
Key Losses: Trey Davis, Antwan Space, Jabarie Hinds, Tyler Bergantino
Key Newcomers: Zach Lewis, DeJon Jarreau, Luwane Pipkins, Chris Baldwin

Postseason Projection: None

I often forget that UMass is even in the A-10, and really, can you blame me? They’ve made one NCAA Tournament in 15 years (got upset in the first round as a 6 seed in 2014), consistently being above average but never really breaking through into the A-10 elite or the national picture. So they’re good, but forgettable - basically the Gary Cole of the A-10.

They lose four starters, but some of that, especially the ungodly inefficient Antwan Space, may be addition by subtraction. The Minutemen will be young this year - no scholarship seniors on the entire roster - but behind Canisius transfer Zach Lewis and returning guard Donte Clark, UMass has the makings of a strong backcourt in the tradition of Trey Davis, Jabarie Hinds, Chazz Williams, Anthony Gurley, etc.

Good backcourts are key for Kellogg because of the pace he loves to play at - which is to say, extremely fast and attacking. His teams are always in the top 100 of adjusted tempo, and from 2012-2014 with little Chazz in charge, they were in the top 12. Neither Lewis nor Clark is truly a PG, but they both can handle the ball and will put constant pressure on opposing defenses. Expect to see a ton of freshman Luwane Pipkins at the point as well, a 5’11 dynamo who can shoot it and pass it equally well. A lineup featuring those 3 (or sometimes fellow freshman Unique McLean) will give Kellogg the speed and skill he wants in the backcourt.

Up front, a guy who really doesn’t belong on a UMass roster is 6’11, 335-pound behemoth Rashaan Holloway. He looks extraordinarily out of place lumbering up and down the floor in the Minutemen’s uptempo attack, but he brings an element on each end that the rest of the roster doesn’t really have - offensive rebounding and rim protection. Bigger wings/forwards CJ Anderson and Seth Berger will play a ton as well, bringing similar games - low-volume shooting and versatile defense.

Speaking of defense, Kellogg teams have a strange tendency to fluctuate fairly widely in their efficiency on that end (offense too, really). They’re consistently pretty blah on the defensive glass (a symptom of their eagerness to get out on the break), but there aren’t a ton of other statistical tendencies. Holloway is a unique presence with his monstrous size - you can only play certain styles with him on the floor, but in the right scheme (a zone where he’s the anchor?), he will be a force.

With a team this young, the Minutemen probably will not contend, but with the strength of their young classes, there’s some future potential here. I’m excited to see Pipkins in this system, and Lewis and Clark might combine for 30ppg, which is at least not a totally forgettable outlook.

11.   Fordham

Key Returners: Joseph Chartouny, Antwoine Anderson, Christian Sengfelder, David Pekarek
Key Losses: Ryan Rhoomes, Mandell Thomas, Jon Severe
Key Newcomers: JaVontae Hawkins, Papa N’Diaye, Will Tavares

Postseason Projection: None

A Rams team that didn’t abandon their fans (sorry St. Louis)! Fordham enters year 2 of the Jeff Neubauer era with some optimism - they return 3 starters, including versatile budding star Joseph Chartouny, and transfer JaVontae Hawkins brings a prolific scoring pedigree after following Neubauer from Eastern Kentucky.

With a John Beilein disciple at the helm - Neubauer assisted under him at both West Virginia and Richmond - Fordham really ratcheted up the pressure last year, employing a variety of zone trap looks (went zone 35% of the time) to speed up opponents and force turnovers at the #9 rate nationally. The departed Mandell Thomas was the king of the scheme (#7 steal rate nationally), but Chartouny returns as the prince (#32 steal rate). Junior Antwoine Anderson is another big part of the defensive pressure, and I have no doubt that other defenders will emerge in Neubauer’s scheme.

Hawkins is an interesting case. He played his first two years at South Florida, then transferred to EKU and sat out 2014-15, waiting to play for Neubauer. That turned out to be Neubauer’s last in Richmond, KY, though, and Hawkins was left there to play for new coach Dan McHale. Due to sitting out a year, though, Hawkins graduated in 2016 and is immediately eligible this year as a grad transfer, finally able to play for Neubauer. After putting up 17ppg last year, he’ll be an asset on both ends this year with his scoring talent and length.

Just like on defense, Neubauer’s teams take after Beilein quite a bit offensively as well. They’re always extremely reliant on the three ball - 7 of his last 8 EKU teams were in the top 12 nationally in 3-point rate, and although that number dipped to 62nd in the country in his first year at Fordham, expect that to rise again this year with more playing time for shooting bigs Christian Sengfelder and David Pekarek, the addition of Hawkins, and the continued development of Chartouny, Anderson, and reserves Nemanja Zarkovic and Nych Smith. The passing and ball movement of Beilein/Neubauer teams is always impeccable, constantly making the extra pass to find the open shooter.

The biggest issue for the Rams is going to be interior defense. Ryan Rhoomes worked his butt off in that role last year (great rebound rates, great block rate, ran the floor hard), but no returning player offers those abilities. That’s where freshman Papa N’Diaye comes in - he has the athleticism to fill that role (maybe not as well as Rhoomes), but the most surprising part of his game is his deadly midrange jumper. He may start at the 5 right away.

Neubauer’s system will always make things interesting - the zone traps are a fairly unique challenge for opponents to attack, and with the amount of threes they shoot, they can get back in any game (or shoot themselves out of one). I think Rhoomes is going to be incredibly difficult to replace with the contributions he made up front, so despite Chartouny emerging as one of the best PGs in the conference, the Rams may still fade a little from their 8-10 conference finish last year.

12.   Duquesne

Key Returners:  Eric James, Darius Lewis
Key Losses:  LG Gill, Micah Mason, Derek Colter, Jeremiah Jones, TySean Powell
Key Newcomers: Tarin Smith, Kale Abrahamson, Emile Blackman, Mike Lewis, Isiaha Mike

Postseason Projection: None

Duquesne was actually a ton of fun last year despite their 17-17 record. Almost a Davidson-lite with a fast-paced, lights-out shooting offense and very little defense, their backcourt of Micah Mason and Derrick Colter combined for 36.3ppg, 6.7rpg, and 9.1apg while hitting 195 combined threes. Both those guys are gone now, though, along with Maryland-bound stretch four LG Gill, so coach Jim Ferry brought in...a bunch of scorers that are not known for their defensive prowess. Love the consistency!

The Dukes get a ton of points in transition, and this team’s guards should continue to thrive that way. Transfers Tarin Smith and Emile Blackman (Nebraska and Niagara, respectively) should enjoy the change of pace after playing more tepid tempos at their previous stops. Blackman in particular is an excellent scorer (though an iffy outside shooter); he’ll surely take advantage of any open floor chances he gets.

The other big transfer addition will also love the open style of play. Kale Abrahamson is on his third college stop (previously Northwestern and Drake), and Duquesne is by far the most open/three-point-heavy offense he’s played in (the Dukes were 26th in the country in three-point rate last year - 3FGA/FGA), and really, it’s remarkable it’s taken him long to get in a scheme like this. He went for 41 points in his 4th game at Drake last year, looking every bit like a breakout star, but his scoring dwindled mightily as the year went on, including a conference stretch that saw him score in single digits in 11 of 13 games. Regardless of that, Abrahamson took 26.2% of available shots while on the floor, and he’s sure to fire away in the Dukes’ system this year.

As mentioned, this team is kind of a watered-down version of Davidson with its soft defense; however, unlike the Wildcats, the Dukes’ issue defensively is on the perimeter against shooting (not penetration). They try to wall off the paint, no matter if they’re playing zone or man, and as a result they don’t force turnovers and don’t bother shooters. Darius Lewis returns to own the paint, a strong rebounder and rim protector who will be the anchor of that conservative scheme, along with Lewis’s protege-in-training, fellow intimidating big Nakye Sanders. Despite that inside presence, though, Duquesne is in trouble defensively if they don’t improve on their 2016 3-point performance - they were 12th nationally in 2-point defense (42.8%) thanks to Lewis and Sanders, but a horrifying 350th in 3-point defense (40.8%) while allowing a ton of open shots.  One thing that may help is Smith and Blackman being longer at 6’2/6’4 compared to Colter and Mason’s 5’11/6’2 last year, as well as the return of the team’s best perimeter defender (junior Eric James). Mar’Qwyell Jackson, another 6’5 wing, should contribute more as a sophomore too, though he’s more of a scorer.

I highly recommend catching a Duquesne game or two, especially against one of the other offense-heavy teams in this league (shootouts are great!). As for real substance, though, the defense here will again not be good enough for Duquesne to challenge the A-10 heavy hitters.  

13.   SLU

Key Returners: Jermaine Bishop, Mike Crawford, Reggie Agbeko, Davell Roby
Key Losses: Ash Yacoubou, Miles Reynolds, Milik Yarbrough, Marcus Bartley
Key Newcomers: Zeke Moore

Postseason Projection: None

After a tumultuous offseason with a plethora of change in the program, this will be a major year of transition for the Billikens. The venerable Jim Crews was let go, replaced by former UMass and Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford, and four players transferred. To replace them, Ford brought in 3 high-level transfers of his own, but with them having to sit out a year before they’re eligible, the Bills may be a little thin this year.

It’s tough to get a read on how Ford will play this year. His most successful teams at UMass played fast (4th in tempo the last year he was there), but while trying to find some sort of answer at Oklahoma State, he ended up playing ultra slow last year (337th in tempo). Taking over a roster mostly devoid of creators, using transition as a means to scoring points would probably be a wise move. Crews (and Rick Majerus before him) ran a side-to-side, ball-screen heavy offense that relied on dribble penetration and kickouts, but since Jordair Jett and Mike McCall graduated in 2014, the Bills simply haven’t had the perimeter talent to make that system work. Jermaine Bishop is the most promising of the returnees on the perimeter, showing a ton of potential once Crews randomly decided to let him start playing in the team’s 4th A-10 game. After playing against him once at the SLU Rec in summer 2014, I still maintain that Davell Roby is a talented player that just completely lacked confidence in Crews’s heavily disciplined offense; a more open system might let his game flourish a little more. Mike Crawford is out of place in any role besides standstill shooter, but more will probably be asked of him this year due to the team’s dearth of depth.

Ford’s teams really thrive on the defensive end, consistently using some pressure and sturdy interior defense to thwart opposing efforts. That may be more difficult this year due to the lack of athleticism and rim protection on the roster, but Ford’s worst defense at his last two stops was still a respectable 111th in KenPom efficiency - he’ll likely find a way to build a top 100 defense out of this group, too. Austin Gillmann is a local St. Louis product with a decent three-point stroke and above average shot-blocking ability due to his length, but he’s still extremely thin and prone to being pushed around. Reggie Agbeko compensates for that somewhat with his burly rebounding game and physical presence. Matt Neufeld was a freaking disaster offensively as a freshman, but he almost HAS to improve this year, and redshirt freshman Elliott Welmer will get some chances to prove himself, as well. The roster’s best athletes may be two freshmen (forward Jalen Johnson and guard Zeke Moore), and with Ford knowing that this is a rebuilding/transition year anyways, he may let them play a ton and take their lumps.

I expect SLU to play much more open and faster than they did under Crews, hopefully letting the young talent get their feet under them and develop before next year, when they may be crucial role players on a competitive team.

14. George Mason

Key Returners: Otis Livingston, Marquise Moore, Jaire Grayer, DeAndre Abram, Jalen Jenkins
Key Losses: Shevon Thompson, Marko Gujancic
Key Newcomers: Ian Boyd, Justin Kier, Troy Temara

Postseason Projection: None

Oh, to relive the glory days of the Patriots’ miraculous run to the Final Four. Once-mighty Mason has fallen to the absolute basement of the Atlantic 10, and losing Shevon Thompson - possibly the country’s best rebounder and the fulcrum of coach Dave Paulsen’s style of play - to graduation is yet another massive blow to the team’s competitive chances.

That style is defined by the word “conservative” - George Mason was dead last in the country in forcing turnovers, something that has become a tradition for Paulsen (consistently bottom 5 in the country). He succeeded at Bucknell despite this by having elite defensive rebounding and effective interior defense, which was where Thompson came in - he was second nationally in defensive rebounding rate (as was the team); unfortunately, the interior defense wasn’t quite up to standard and the offense was only 11th in the conference, so Thompson’s efforts were for naught.

To maintain his style of play this year, Paulsen is going to need big leaps from a trio of forwards: sophomores DeAndre Abram and Danny Dixon and fifth-year senior Jalen Jenkins. Dixon has the height Paulsen likes, but he was often lost as a freshman and didn’t exhibit the necessary physicality on the glass. Abram showed a little more promise, but he’s thinner and has more of a taller wing-type of game. Jenkins is the most likely to be the force inside - he’s a burly 245 pounds and was very tough on the offensive glass. Freshman Troy Temara may find his way onto the court as well; he’s a gritty player with a surprisingly smooth shooting touch.

The team’s most promising prospects are actually in the backcourt, a rarity for a Paulsen team due to the way his system stresses interior play. Sophomore PG Otis Livingston should continue to keep getting better after a promising freshman campaign; he had a ton of ball-handling duties while playing a large share of minutes. Marquise Moore and Jaire Grayer are two decent wings; Moore is a slasher through and through (hit 1 three all year but took 140 free throws) and Grayer is a “shooter” that only hit 30% of his treys; like Livingston, he’ll benefit greatly from a year of experience. Unfortunately, Paulsen’s Bucknell teams thrived offensively with outstanding shooting, and this team just doesn’t have that caliber or quantity of shooters.

The biggest issue for me with this team is the fit - Paulsen just doesn’t have the type of roster he needs to play his style, offensively or defensively. Despite a promising backcourt, it’s going to be another long year in Fairfax.