By Kevin Sweeney
Mid-major, high-major, or something in between. Whatever you wish to classify the Atlantic 10 as, it is one of my favorite conferences to watch and cover in the college hoops landscape. It’s high-level college basketball mixed with mid-major type atmospheres and feel, whether it be St. Bonaventure fans packing Reilly Center or VCU supporters loading up “The Stu” with floods of gold. Overall, I see this season as a bit of a down year for the Atlantic 10, but it still should be a multi-bid league come NCAA Tournament time and one of the more intriguing leagues across the national landscape.
- Rhode Island- The Rams are a near-consensus favorite in the A10, boasting one of the nation’s top backcourts in EC Matthews, Jared Terrell, Jarvis Garrett, and others. If Dan Hurley’s club gets good frontcourt play, they could be a top 25 team.
- VCU- Mike Rhoades has had to revamp his roster a bit since arriving this spring, but he has assembled a talented group that fits perfectly in the pressing system Rhoades will implement. Long wings who can do a variety of things are all throughout the roster.
- St. Bonaventure- The senior guard duo of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley is one of the best in the nation. What the Bonnies get out of the rest of their roster will determine whether they are an NCAA Tournament-level team.
- St. Joseph’s– The Hawks are a team I am very intrigued by. They have a lot of really talented pieces, but health concerns for many key players (including conference POY candidate Shavar Newkirk). A sleeper title contender in my opinion.
- Dayton- Not as down on the Flyers as some in the post-Archie Miller era. Really like their wings and bigs, but point guard play is a MAJOR concern. Freshman Jalen Crutcher and junior John Crosby will have to step up.
- George Mason- Dave Paulsen has done a tremendous job at George Mason thus far, and his roster is full of really interesting pieces. The Patriots have a loaded backcourt, but massive question marks up front. Can highly-touted freshman AJ Wilson give them time as a small-ball 5?
- Davidson- The Wildcats lose Jack Gibbs, but bring in an excellent recruiting class featuring 4-star PG Kellan Grady. If they can improve defensively, Bob McKillop’s club could rise in the standings.
- St. Louis- Year 2 of the Travis Ford era is one full of excitement, as a trio of high-major transfers enter along with a pair of top-100 recruits. I believe the Billikens are a year away, but the talent is there for a top 4 finish.
- Richmond- A pair of all-conference performers in TJ Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones graduate, but the Spiders have a talented young core featuring a future star in De’Monte Buckingham.
- La Salle- I have concerns about their depth up front and their defense last season was atrocious, but the duo of BJ Johnson and Pookie Powell will win you games at any level.
- UMass- Rashaan Holloway has a chance to be one of the most dominant bigs in the country. However, the rest of the roster will have to give him a lot of help if the Minutemen want to move up the standings in year 1 of the Matt McCall era.
- George Washington- A lot of departures from last year’s squad between graduations and transfers, but Yuta Watanabe should be in for a big senior season.
- Duquesne- The Keith Dambrot hire was an absolute home run, and the Dukes have had an excellent offseason. However, with a lot of talent sitting out this season due to transfer rules, year 1 won’t see a ton of improvement in the win-loss column.
- Fordham- Joseph Chartouny is a really talented point guard, but I don’t see much talent on this roster. Could be a rough year for the Rams.
Champions: Rhode Island
Last season was certainly up and down for the Rams, as they went from being nationally ranked early in the season, to being almost certainly out of the at-large bid picture after a February home loss to Fordham, to being 3 points away from the Sweet 16. Now, the Rams come in as A10 favorites with a roster loaded with talent. The backcourt is absolutely loaded, but Dan Hurley will have to get creative up front following the graduations of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson. A few guys who could help fill that void are Cyril Langevine, an athletically-gifted sophomore who is a beast on the glass, and senior Andre Berry, who averaged 16.5 ppg on the Rams’ trip to the Bahamas. If those guys step up, watch out.
Dark Horse: St. Joseph’s
As I wrote earlier, I truly believe the Hawks can contend for a conference title this season. Now, this may seem crazy given that they finished tied for 12th a season ago. However, Phil Martelli’s team was riddled with injuries all season long, with their top 3 scorers all missing time throughout the season. If Newkirk can return to the form he was in prior to his ACL tear, this team has a TON of weapons. PG Lamar Kimble and forward James Demery are each all-conference type players when healthy, and Charlie Brown is coming off a fine freshman campaign that has many scouts thinking of him as a potential NBA prospect. Add some returning and incoming pieces to sure up the frontcourt, and this team looks super dangerous.
All-Conference First Team:
- G: Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure)
- G: Shavar Newkirk (St. Joe’s)
- G: EC Matthews (Rhode Island)
- F: Peyton Aldridge (Davidson)
- F: Justin Tillman (VCU)
Player of the Year: Jaylen Adams- Exactly 1 player in college basketball averaged at least 20 points and 6 assists per game last season. It wasn’t #1 overall draft pick Markelle Fultz, nor UCLA freshman sensation Lonzo Ball. It was Adams, the St. Bonaventure star who enters his senior season as one of the top players in the country. He’s an elite shotmaker who can create for himself as well as others, and has quietly asserted himself as a potential NBA prospect. There is only one thing left for Adams to check off on his career milestone list: an NCAA Tournament berth.
Breakout Player of the Year: De’Riante Jenkins (VCU)- I could go in a lot of different directions for this one, but I chose to go with Jenkins, a former top-50 recruit who many inside the VCU program expect to have a monster year. The uber-athletic wing certainly showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman. Now, with a much bigger role to play on this years team, we could see a him assert himself as a star in the Atlantic 10.
Newcomer of the Year: Kellan Grady (Davidson)- One thing that is always a factor in newcomer of the year awards is opportunity. Grady will get plenty of that as a freshman, and the highly-touted point guard out of prep powerhouse Northfield-Mount Hermon appears ready for the challenge of taking over for Jack Gibbs in the line of great guards for the Wildcats. He has excellent size for the position at 6-4, while also being an excellent shooter who is more than capable of getting his teammates involved. A steal for Bob McKillop in the 2017 class.