We've reached Atlantic 10 men's basketball media day, where the 14 league coaches will gather to offer a glimpse of what they expect from their respective clubs in 2014-2015. We'll also get a look at the preseason poll, where VCU is expected to be a heavy favorite to take the conference crown. With all of that in mind, here are some of my thoughts on how the Atlantic 10 season could pan out.
2014-2015 Predicted Order of Finish:
1) VCU: The Rams' third year in the league should prove to be its best. Gone are key role players in Rob Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic, but VCU returns Briante Weber and Treveon Graham. Weber, Graham and Melvin Johnson will headline what is arguably Shaka Smart's most talented group. He'll also have good leadership, as he said that last year his juniors provided the bulk of the leadership. This team has finished 12-4 in each of its first two seasons, and finished second in the A-10 Tournament in both years as well.
2) George Washington: Mike Lonergan returns a bulk of a squad that finished 11-5 last year, including a guy who I think will turn out to be one of the best players in the league in Kethan Savage. Point guard Joe McDonald also is part of that large returning group, and having that starting point guard back to run the offense will prove key. The task at hand is making up for the departures of leading scorer Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood, who led the Colonials in boards and was third on the roster in scoring last year.
3) Richmond: Last year, Chris Mooney lost his only seniors, Derrick Williams and Cedrick Lindsay, within a week. At that point, we got a peek at what this year's squad will look like. The Spiders have everybody back from that group that went through the final month and a half of the season together. I think this team can do a lot of damage this season. Kendall Anthony and ShawnDre' Jones make up one of the best backcourts in the league, and Terry Allen and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa provide multi-dimensional players who can go to the basket, as well as shoot the jump shot. There's a fair chance the Spiders could be heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
4) Dayton: Fresh off an Elite 8 showing, the Flyers enter with high expectations and a target squarely on their backs. Only two seniors grace Dayton's roster, but one of them is Jordan Sibert, last year's leading scorer. Dyshawn Pierre, third on the team in scoring a year ago, is back as well. Last year saw Dayton finish 18th in the final USA Today Coaches Poll, and they have a good portion of that group back on the floor, so look for more big things this year from the Flyers.
5) UMass: Chaz Williams is gone and the Minutemen will be tested before A-10 play with a difficult non-conference slate. Center Cady Lalanne will be the team's go-to guy this season, after posting 11.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game a year ago. West Virginia transfer Jabarie Hinds adds a very solid versatile player to this UMass group. Hinds can score and distribute the ball from the point, a great addition for Derek Kellogg. I like the Derrick Gordon story, too. Cheering for him this year.
6) Rhode Island: The Rams could find themselves as the surprise team of the league this year. Xavier Munford, who was among the league leaders in scoring at 17 points per game, is gone. Sophomore E.C. Matthews takes the role of Rhode Island's star, and he has good stuff. Matthews will be one of the league's best players this year, and he'll need a strong showing from his supporting cast. Picking them sixth is a bit of a risk, but I think they have a shot to shock some people.
7) Saint Joseph's: Last year's defending league tournament champs have their work cut out for them. Phil Martelli lost four seniors from last year's team, most notably big man Halil Kanacevic and sharp-shooter Langston Galloway. VCU fans will remember Galloway as the guy who hit some clutch three-pointers in the A-10 Championship game. Sophomore DeAndre Bembry will be the man looked upon to lead the Hawks. He was Atlantic 10 Co-Rookie of the Year last season and scored 13.4 points per game.
8) Duquesne: Jim Ferry's team took a big step last year, tying for tenth after being picked to finish last in the league. Now the Dukes look to take it a step further. Ferry has four starters back from last year's group, guys who have gone through the growing pains with him. Leading scorer and rebounder Ovie Soko is gone, but the names to know this year are Micah Mason, Derrick Colter and Dominique McKoy. I like this team's potential this year, and with McKoy as the only senior on the roster, this team will only continue to climb.
9) Saint Louis: The jig is up for the two-time defending league regular season and tournament champs. Jim Crews loses basically every weapon he had from a year ago, so not many people really know what to expect from the Billikins, which is the first time in awhile we can say that for a team that reached national top-ten status last season. To be more specific, all five starters are gone, and then some. Nine freshmen are currently on the Saint Louis roster... just one senior.
10) Davidson: The Atlantic 10 welcomes in the Wildcats this year for its inaugural season in the league. They've won a Southern Conference title of some sort in eight of the last ten seasons, but I expect some growing pains with this move for them. Brian Sullivan and Tyler Kalinoski are back after averaging double figures in scoring. Davidson is looking to make up for the loss of its top scorer (19.0) and rebounder (7.1) De'Mon Brooks.
11) Fordham: The Rams will creep up out of the cellar this season, at least I think. I love Jon Severe as a player. He's only a sophomore and is one of the best players in the league. Fordham was in several games with much better teams last year because of Severe, and I think his supporting cast progresses in 2014-2015. Four starters are back for this squad, experience that can push the Rams past the point of being an atrocious basketball team.
12) St. Bonaventure: Youssou Ndoye and Jordan Gathers lead the Bonnies into 2014-2015. Matthew Wright, who led the team in scoring last year, is gone, as well as Charlon Klouff. With big performances from Ndoye and Gathers this season, St. Bonaventure could sneak its way up to tenth, perhaps.
13) LaSalle: The Explorers are another team who lost a lot of their firepower from last year. Steve Zack can score and rebound, and he'll be the go-to player for LaSalle this season. It's a far cry from the team that handed VCU it's last loss at the Siegel Center in January of 2012.
14) George Mason: Sherrod Wright and Bryon Allen accounted for nearly half of the Patriots' scoring last season. With both of those guys gone and new players needing to step into new roles, it's a season of uncertainty for George Mason. This team had a rough transition into the A-10 and with the loss of those two key players, I think it could be another tough season in Fairfax.
Davis's Preseason All-Atlantic 10 Team:
G- Treveon Graham- VCU (Shaka Smart says he's a guard, so that's what I'm going with)
G- Kendall Anthony- UR
G- Kethan Savage- GW
F- Cady Lalanne- UMass
F- Dyshawn Pierre- UD
Honorable Mention: E.C. Matthews (URI), Jon Severe (FU), Briante Weber (VCU), Jordan Sibert (UD), DeAndre Bembry (SJU)