A ridiculously early look at next year’s A-10 [INSIDER]

Will Wade has been a D1 head coach for all of three seasons now and I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to conference play the guy has been incredibly successful.

After exiting his post as VCU assistant following the Rams 2012-13 season — VCU’s inaugural Atlantic 10 season — he took over a UT Chattanooga team that went 8-10 in SoCon action prior to his arrival and quickly turned them into a 12-4 conference squad. He improved on that with a 15-3 record with the Mocs in the SoCon’s newly expanded conference season, then took after a step up in weight class led VCU to their best Atlantic 10 record, a 14-4 finish that included a share of this season’s regular season crown.

I’ll do the match for you, that’s about a 79% in-conference win percentage as a head coach. Pretty good.

But can he keep that up?

The Rams lose Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury from this year’s NCAA tournament team. That’s 37.3% of the Rams’ points from two key seniors who were on the court about 75% of the available minutes to them from this year’s VCU team.

But as I wrote last season and as we’ve all seen time and time again, this is what happens in college hoops. Everyone loses key players and somehow someone always steps up.

Here’s a quick peek of what next year’s Atlantic 10 will look like, keeping in mind that the offseason brings constant change with transfers out, transfers in, not to mention in-season injuries like the ones that derailed Rhode Island’s promising season basically as soon as it tipped up.

(In order of this season’s final standings)

DAYTON FLYERS

Dayton-150x150@2xI’ll cut to the chase: the Flyers are loaded. They lose a very talented player in Dyshawn Pierre but played almost half of last season without him, the first half of the season to be exact and were incredibly successful while Pierre served a first-semester suspension (10-2 with wins over the likes of Iowa, Alabama, Monmouth and Vanderbilt on the road).
Prediction: Archie Miller’s team is a lock to compete for next year’s title and should most likely be the preseason No.1 heading into next season.

VCU RAMS

VCU-150x150Our favorite among the group, VCU earned a share of this year’s title before dancing as the No.2 seed and finishing with an A-10 title appearance (VCU’s fourth consecutive), then fighting valiantly in this year’s NCAA tournament. The Rams lose Johnson and Billbury but return three of the A-10’s top-10 returning players in terms of offensive rating including two of the top-three. They will help ease the losses of Johnson and Billbury by bringing in a grad transfer, most likely Memphis’ Avery Woodson or USC’s Katin Reinhardt, both of whom will make the Rams that much scarier.
Prediction: A likely preseason top-three selection, the Rams should once again contend for a conference title and will set their sites back on the NCAA tournament.

ST. BONAVENTURE BONNIES

St.-Bonaventure-150x150The Bonnies are somewhat of a mystery to me after losing the deadly inside-out duo of Marcus Posley (19.6 ppg) and Dion Wright (16.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg). They do however return one of the league’s best players in Jaylen Adams and have some very underrated pieces like Denzell Gregg and Idris Taqqee. They also add talented transfers David Andoh and Matt Mobley as basically the poor man’s versions of Posley and Wright ,so should be dangerous yet again.
Prediction: My gut says they fall just below the top tier but expect them to give VCU a VERY tough game in front of a VERY rowdy group of fans in their Riley Center home in Olean, NY. That will be a very losable game for the Rams.

SAINT JOSEPH’S HAWKS

Saint-Josephs-150x150No team loses as much as the Hawks heading into this upcoming season. Gone are A-10 Player of the Year DeAndre’ Bembry, Second Teamer Isaiah Miles and 6’5 guard Aaron Brown. They were the three most-used players from this year’s A-10 tournament championship team and their three highest scorers, combining for 45.9 points per game. Throw in the graduation of senior Papa Ndao and SJU has just lost 66% of their scoring from this past season’s team. The last time Saint Joseph’s lost that much talent they went from A-10 tourney champ in 2014 to 10th-placed conference finish the following season, and that was WITH DeAndre’ Bembry on the roster.
Prediction: The Hawks are in for another rebuild. They’ll be back, just not next season and should have a tough time when they visit the Stu in A-10 play.

GEORGE WASHINGTON COLONIALS

George-Washington-150x150@2xIf the Hawks lose the most production George Washington isn’t far behind. Patricio Garino…gone. Kevin Larsen…gone. Joe McDonald…gone. Alex Mitola…gone. And add Paul Jorgenson to that list after his recent transfer as well. That’s 60% of GW’s scoring as well as basically the team’s entire identity. They do however return leading scorer Tyler Cavanough, 6’8 Yuta Watanabe and a player I actually really like in 6’1 guard Matt Hart. They’ll add another transfer with 2014 Big East All-Rookie selection out of Seton Hall, 6’2 guard Jaren Sina. This will not be the GW team you are used to seeing and one that will be hurting in the depth department.
Prediction: The Colonials finished 11-7 in the A-10 with all those guys on their roster. I’d like them to take a step back and think they do in overall talent, but I’m not sure there are many teams behind them ready to blast past them. Either way, they should equal two much more manageable games for the Rams next season.

DAVIDSON WILDCATS

Davidson-150x150Davidson is somewhat of a mystery for this very strange fact: they currently have a zero-man 2016 recruiting class. I’m not saying that three freshman would change their program, I’m saying they are a mystery because those leave three opportunities for immediate impact grad transfers. Realistically they aren’t getting three grad transfers or even three regular transfers, odds are maybe they pick up a transfer and fill the other two spots with late adds. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough. Either way what we know they return is A-10 First Teamer Jack Gibbs (23.5 ppg, 4.9 apg) and rising junior Peyton Aldridge (15.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Gone however is the remainder of their top-four thanks to the graduations of Brian Sullivan and Jordan Barham. They will however welcome 7′ Boston College transfer, Will Magarity, but I don’t expect him to have nearly the impact a guy like Tyler Cavanough has had.
Prediction: I think the Cats will once again be solid but not a real threat to challenge for an A-10 title.

RHODE ISLAND RAMS

Rhode-Island-150x150The Rams couldn’t catch a break this past season, losing star guard and NBA hopeful, EC Matthews, 10 minutes into the season, then later seeing star big Hassan Martin see his season end prematurely to add insult to injury. Both will be back along with a dangerous supporting cast in what could be a first place vote-getter. I think Rhody enters next season as a top-three pick and rightfully so. They’ll probably playing with some anger as well after catching such bad last this year.
Prediction: See above. Rhody takes a big step forward and will be easily one of VCU’s toughest conference games next season, hosting the black and gold in Kingston in likely what will be the only meeting between the two during the regular season.

FORDHAM RAMS

Fordham-300x300First-year head coach Jeff Neubauer inherited a fairly talented group for his first season with the Rams, riding them to an 8-10 A-10 finish, one of Fordham’s best in a while. Next year’s team however feels more like the real start of the Neubauer era, with most of Tom Pecora’s key players either graduating or transferring. Gone are top-two scores Ryan Rhoomes and Mandell Thomas, as well as junior transfer Jon Severe. Back is Briante-light, rising sophomore guard and 2016 A-10 Rookie of the Year, Joseph Chartouney. Christian Sengfelder returns as the best of Pecora’s bunch. They’ll have a ton of holes to plug and according to Verbal Commits that includes four open roster spots yet to be filled.
Prediction: The rebuild continues but I think it likely takes a step back next season. VCU played Fordham once this past season and at the Siegel Center, so the blac kand gold may likely play Fordham once and in a road game this upcoming year.

RICHMOND SPIDERS

Richmond-150x150These guys. Believe it or not I actually was quite high on the Spiders heading into this past season and thought after a decent non-conference showing, they might actually find themselves back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011. WRONG. The Spiders took a big step backwards in conference play, finishing at 7-11 with one of the worst defenses in the Atlantic 10. They bring in a talented freshman in local product DeMonte Buckingham, but losing Terry Allen as well as Trey Davis and Deion Taylor would suggest they’ll lose a lot more than they’ll gain (particularly thanks to Allen), at least until Buckingham and the Spiders 2016 class matures. TJ Cline and ShawnDrew Jones return as two of the most talented offensive players in the conference but until they figure out something resembling any bit of team defense, recent history suggests that won’t matter.
Prediction: It’s hard to see them doing worse than 7-11, but man, does anyone out there really predict them to do much better?

UMASS MINUTEMEN

Massachusetts-150x150@2xThe Minutemen took another step back this past season with the departures of some key talents from their 2014-15 squad and finished below .500 in conference play for the first time since the 2010-11 season. Even with a very talented 2016 recruiting class, it’ll be tough to see them improving much next season thanks to the graduation of two of their three leading scorers in Tre Davis (18.7 ppg) and Jabarie Hinds (14.5 ppg), not to mention two of their top bigs in Antwan Space and Seth Berger. But is it all that terrible to lose good players from a bad team? I mean, was that working out anyway? Maybe not. Or, maybe they are even worse. Either way, I think Derek Kellogg has the ship pointed in the right direction, it’ll just be a while before they get to where they want to be.
Prediction: After hosting VCU last season in their only regular season contest, the Minutemen will likely come to Richmond in what should be the only conference game between the two next year. That probably won’t work out too well for UMass.

GEORGE MASON PATRIOTS

George-Mason-150x150@2xMason fans are pumped. They have a new coach and are believing thanks to some solid performances from young talents like A-10 All-Rookie selection, Otis Livingston. Let’s see how long that optimism in Fairfax lasts. Livingtston returns with promising youngsters Jaire Grayer and DeAndre Abram, as well as rising seniors Marquise Moore and Jalen Jenkins, who will be expected to lead this team, but gone is one of the most underrated players in the country in 6’11 rebounding machine, Shevon Thompson. Thompson frustrated Patriots fans at times last season but I’m hear to tell you they will be even more frustrated without him. Statistically speaking the only thing Mason did well this past season was due almost entirely to Thompson: they rebounded the ball (Thompson ranked in the top-7 in offensive and defensive rebound percentage). They’ll lose the Jamaican big as well as 6’8 Serbian Marko Gujanicic, two of Mason’s best rebounders. I don’t think they works out for them.
Prediction: A bad team loses their best player and that should hopefully equal two wins for the black and gold.

SAINT LOUIS BILLIKENS

Saint-Louis-150x150@2xThings are going from bad to worse under the Gateway Arch. Jim Crews essentially tanked the program his buddy Rick Majerus built, leaving SLU administrators no other option but to let him go to hopefully start the rebuild sooner rather than later. But new head coach Travis Ford is probably going to have to climb SLU out of a deeper hole than he expected when accepting the job after being let go recently by Oklahoma State. The Bills finished 5-13 this past season and will have a tough road ahead of them without the services of Miles Reynolds (transfer), Milik Yarbrough (transfer) and leading scorer Ash Yacoubou (graduation). Outside of promising young guard Jermaine Bishop, the pantry is pretty empty. What’s more is Ford’s record as a head coach doesn’t really inspire much confidence that’s he’s up to saving the Billikens.
Prediction: The Billikens should once again be one of the worst teams, if not the worst, in the Atlantic 10. That’s potentially two regular season wins for the Rams once again.

LA SALLE EXPLORERS

La-Salle-150x150@2xThe Explorers were horrible this past season after being such a tricky team since VCU joined them as A-10 conference mates. Well they could be back next season, or at least competitive. In typical John Giannini fashion the Explorers will be a team full of talented transfers, 6’9 Demetrius Henry (South Carolina), 6’7 BJ Johnson (Syracuse) and 6’0 Pookie Powell (Memphis) available alongside top scorer Jordan Price (Auburn) and Cleon Roberts (Georgia Southern). How wild is that? Next year’s Explorers will almost entirely rely on players originally committed to play elsewhere. And these guys aren’t scrubs either. On paper La Salle could start a roster almost entirely made up of former top-100/top-150 players. Only the absolute top teams in the A-10 (VCU, Dayton and Rhody next year) can claim that level out out-of-high-school talent. Add in who I think is an underrated player in 6’10 big Tony Washington and I see the Explorers making the biggest jump in next year’s Atlantic 10.
Prediction: La Salle should be a much better team but unfortunately for them they get VCU at the Siegel Center. Either way, I expect them to be a much better team and potentially one that finds themselves in the top half of the A-10 and maybe even sniffing a top-four seed in next year’s A-10 tourney if all goes well.

PREDICTED SCHEDULE 

This is what VCU’s schedule would look like if the A-10 continues the scheduling pattern from the past two seasons.

HOME-AND-HOMES: Mason, George Washington, Davidson, Richmond, Saint Louis
AWAY ONLY: St. Bonaventure, Fordham, Duquesne, Rhode Island
HOME ONLY: Saint Joseph’s, La Salle, Dayton, UMass

I think VCU’s Atlantic 10 schedule could be somewhat more favorable this season, which is hard to imagine after VCU finished 14-4 this past season. I think almost all of VCU’s home-and-home teams could be down, meaning potentially 10 more manageable games for the black and gold. VCU will be challenged at Bona and Rhode Island but Duquesne looks to be depleted and likely a more winnable game than had VCU had to play a team with Mason, Colter, Gill and Powell. I think Fordham takes a brief deep making VCU’s trips to the Bronx and Pittsburgh very winnable. The Rams will also benefit from hosting Dayton in what should be one of next season’s A-10 marquee games. That is of course assuming the Rams and Flyers play each other just once, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the conference pit their two highest profile teams against each other twice next season. La Salle will be improved but travels to the Stu while Saint Joseph’s and UMass, two teams that handed the Rams losses last season (UMass in conference play, Saint Joseph’s in the A-10 Championship), will have to travel to Richmond in matchups that will most definitely favor the Rams.

I have a high level of confidence in next year’s Rams to to navigate the waters of the Atlantic 10. VCU however will need to be much-improved in non-conference play, hopefully picking up wins in this year’s Battle 4 Atlantis and in other key OOC matchups.

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