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53 reasons: The Atlantic 10 race

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VCU celebrates after winning the A-10 tourney in March. David Jablonski/Staff


 

The 2015-16 college basketball season is just around the corner. In honor of the Flyers winning 53 games the last two seasons (and because I couldn’t come up with 2,015 reasons), I’m counting down 53 reasons (in no particular order) to look forward to the season.

Follow the blog between now and the season opener against Southeast Missouri State on Nov. 13. I will have four to five updates per week.

I’ll post links on Twitter (@DavidPJablonski) and on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/DavidPatrickJablonski.

NOTE: Check back Monday for No. 48.

No. 49: The A-10 race

For all the Flyers have accomplished the last two seasons, they lack one one important prize: a trophy. A loss to La Salle in the regular-season finale in March cost them a share of the A-10 title. A loss to VCU in the A-10 tournament final did the same.

A lot of fans would trade two NCAA tournament victories for one or both of those titles, and obviously the Elite Eight appearance in 2014 trumps anything the Flyers could accomplish in the conference. But there’s no doubt Archie and Co. will start the 2015-16 season by talking about some of their goals. The first one on every coach’s list is winning the conference title. The Flyers haven’t won the A-10 tournament since 2003. They own two A-10 West Division titles but have not won the title in the last 10 seasons when all the teams have been thrown into one group.

Could this be the year that streak ends? The Flyers will be a favorite. I don’t know if they’ll be The Favorite in the preseason poll. A Richmond Times-Dispatch writer thinks they should be. Davidson and Rhode Island are probably the other top contenders. VCU will be strong, but it’s hard to tell how strong after its transition to a new coach. GW and Richmond should be good again. At the risk of being called a homer, I will also predict a first-place finish for the Flyers.

Here is my predicted order of finish:

  1. Dayton (27-9, 13-5 last season; lost to VCU in A-10 final; lost to Oklahoma in second round of NCAA tournament): The Flyers return four starters, six of seven letter-winners and 76.2 percent of their scoring. They add four freshman, plus Steve McElvene, a 6-11 sophomore center who sat out last season and James Madison transfer Charles Cooke, the player most likely to start alongside the four returners.
  2. Rhode Island (23-10, 13-5; lost to Dayton in A-10 semis; lost to Stanford in second round of NIT): The Rams return four of their top five scorers (E.C. Matthews, Hassan Martin, Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett), who averaged 44 points between them. Dan Hurley has this program on the rise. The Rams won eight games in his first season, 14 in his second and 23 last season, their best since 26 wins in 2009-10.
  3. Davidson (24-8, 14-4; won A-10 regular-season title; lost to VCU in A-10 semis; lost to Iowa in first round of NCAA tournament): The surprise champions in their first season in the conference, the Wildcats return everyone of significance except their leading scorer Tyler Kalinoski (16.7), who’s now playing in France.
  4. VCU (26-10, 12-6; won A-10 tournament; lost to Ohio State in first round of NCAA tournament): The Rams return six of their nine top scorers, or six of their top eight if you don’t count Briante Weber, who missed almost half of last season with a knee injury. Treveon Graham, their leading scorer, will be hard to replace. They add a senior transfer from Oral Roberts, Korey Billbury (14.4). They’re also dealing with a coaching transition. Will Wade replaces Shaka Smart, who left for Texas.
  5. Richmond (21-14, 12-6; lost to VCU in A-10 quarterfinals; lost to Miami, Fla., in third round of NIT): The Spiders return four of their top six scorers, including the trio of Terry Allen, T.J. Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones, who averaged 35.1 points between them. Leading scorer Kendall Anthony (16.4) is the biggest loss. Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, a 6-9 forward, transferred to Pittsburgh.
  6. George Washington (22-13, 10-8; lost to Rhode Island in A-10 quarters; lost to Temple in second round of NIT): The Colonials return four of their top five scorers. Second-leading scorer Kethan Savage (11.8) transferred to Butler. They add junior Tyler Cavanaugh, a 6-9 transfer who averaged 8.8 points as a sophomore at Wake Forest and sat out last season.
  7. St. Bonaventure (18-13, 10-8; lost to Dayton in A-10 quarters): The Bonnies return three double-digit scorers: Marcus Posley, Dion Wright and Jaylen Adams (40.2 between them). They lose 7-footer, Youssou Ndoye (11.8).
  8. Massachusetts (17-5, 10-8; lost to La Salle in first round of A-10 tournament): A streak of three straight 20-win seasons ended last season. Three of their top four scorers departed, including Derrick Gordon (9.8), who graduated and transferred to Seton Hall. Antwan Space (4.2), a 6-9 forward from Texas A&M who Dayton saw in Puerto Rico last season, graduated and transferred to UMass.
  9. St. Joseph’s (13-18, 7-11; lost to St. Bonaventure in A-10 tourney): The Hawks suffered one of the worst declines in the league last year, winning 11 fewer games than the previous season. This year, they return the A-10’s top scorer, DeAndre Bembry (17.7), and lose only one player of significance, Chris Wilson (8.0). Bembry gives them a chance to rise from the bottom half of the league. “I’m not going to say I’m just the best player in the league,” Bembry said in March. “But I try to be the best player every game and a lot of games have proven it, but, different people say different things.”
  10. Saint Louis (11-21, 3-15; lost to Duquesne in first round of A-10 tournament): A two-year run atop the conference predictably ended in 2014-15. The Billikens lost five seniors after the 2013-14 season.  A freshman, Milik Yarbrough (10.0) led them in scoring last season, and four other freshmen ranked in the top nine in scoring. They should be much improved in the second year of the rebuilding process but will still very young. Nine of the 14 players on the roster are freshmen or sophomores.
  11. La Salle (17-16, 8-10; lost to Davidson in A-10 quarters): The Explorers spoiled Dayton’s bid to share the A-10 title last season, and that was one of the few highlights of their season. This year, they return the second-leading scorer in the A-10, Jordan Price (17.2). They lost two key seniors, Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack (20.7 between them).
  12. Duquesne (12-19, 6-12; lost to Richmond in first round of A-1o tournament): The Dukes handed the Flyers their worst loss of last season but suffered their third losing season in a row. Coach Jim Ferry still seeks his first winning season. His team return its top two scorers: Derrick Colter and Micah Mason (26 points between them). Mason did not play on a four-game trip to Ireland this summer, but L.G. Gill (6.9) looked much improved.
  13. George Mason (9-22, 4-14; lost to Fordham in opening round of A-10 tournament): After winning a total of 20 games the last two seasons, George Mason fired Paul Hewitt. He was 66-67 in four seasons. It replaced him with Dave Paulsen, who spent the previous seven seasons at Bucknell and twice made the NCAA tournament. Paulsen inherits a team with three of its top four scorers returning, including leading scorer, 6-11 Shevron Thompson (12.5 points, 11.3 rebounds).
  14. Fordham (10-21, 4-14; lost to VCU in first round of A-10 tournament: The Rams have finished in the bottom three of the standings eight years in a row. They fired coach Tom Pecora in March. He was 44-86 in five seasons. The new coach is Jeff Neubauer, who spent the last 10 seasons as the head coach at Eastern Kentucky. Fordham’s top player last season, freshman Eric Paschall (15.9), transferred to Villanova.

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