Changing Of The Guard
After winning two straight Atlantic 10 titles, Saint Louis University likely will take a step back this season due to a large majority of the offense graduating. Which team will take advantage of SLU’s rebuilding efforts? VCU appears to be the best team on paper, but there are a host of teams that want to bring the A-10 crown back to their fans. The league received six NCAA Tournament bids in 2013-14, and who’s to suggest that multiple Big Dance invites aren’t in the cards yet again? Dayton, George Washington, UMass, Rhode Island, and Richmond are all viable candidates.
They might not compete for the title in Year One, but Bob McKillop’s Davidson Wildcats join the Atlantic 10 for the 2014-2015 season, adding a Southern flavor to the league that left when Charlotte made its exit a year ago. He’s been remarkably successful at the low-major level, but how will that translate in the much more daunting A-10?
One team always surpasses expectations – last year it was GW. Mike Lonergan’s team made the NCAAs after being selected for the bottom half during the preseason. Don’t be surprised if this year’s edition is found in Kingston, R.I., as Dan Hurley has a roster that is fully capable of making a push for the top spot.
Virginia Commonwealth has finished near the top of the league since it joined the A-10, but will this be the year that Shaka Smart’s bunch gets over the hump? The returning roster certainly makes the Rams the favorites to take home the hardware.
Treveon Graham, guard, VCU
At 6-6, 220 pounds, Graham poses matchup problems for nearly every guard in the league. He will look to build on his first-team All A-10 performance from a year ago, when he averaged 15.8 points per game and grabbed seven boards per contest.
BREAKOUT PLAYER (NON-FROSH)
Schoochie Smith, guard, Dayton
Smith stepped in and gave Archie Miller some important minutes during last season’s run to the Elite Eight. The New York native plays with a calmness that you can’t help but appreciate, and he’ll take over the reins of a solid Flyer core.
Terry Larrier, forward, VCU
Scout.com’s No. 43 player in the class of 2014 was the crown jewel of VCU’s recruiting class. His high level of athleticism figures to be on display early, as Smart has indicated that Larrier will see a significant role from the get-go.
COACH ON THE HOT SEAT
Paul Hewitt, George Mason
The Patriots’ first season in the Atlantic 10 in 2013-14 was ugly, as Hewitt’s squad won just four games in conference play. He signed a five-year contract in 2011, but if GMU finishes near the bottom of the pack, he could be out.
Rhode Island Rams
Underestimate E.C. Matthews & Co. at your own peril. The talented sophomore guard put together one of the best seasons in the A-10 last year, scoring in double figures in 11 of his last 12 games. He reportedly had a huge summer at the Adidas Nations camp.
GAME OF THE YEAR – CONF
UMass at George Washington, Mar. 7, 2015
The Minutemen and the Colonials may be battling for the A-10 regular season title and a spot in the NCAA Tournament when they face off on the last weekend of the season. All eyes will be on the Smith Center as these two go to battle.
GAME OF THE YEAR - NON-CONF
Virginia vs. VCURemember last year’s edition of this in-state battle, when the Rams went into Charlottesville and pulled out a huge win over the Cavaliers? The Rams look to replicate that performance against the reigning ACC champions, who will be strong yet again.
UD Arena, Dayton
VCU fans might have a beef with this one, but the fans at UD Arena don’t mess around. Dayton loves its basketball, as evidenced by the fact that they finished in the top 30 in attendance for the 16th straight season in 2013-14.
A-10 Receives Five NCAA Bids
Another year, another NCAA Tournament haul. I believe VCU, Dayton, UMass, GW, and Rhode Island all will be playing meaningful basketball in March. Don’t sleep on Richmond, either. The diminutive Kendall Anthony is one of the best guards in the league.
The Rest of Our 2014-15 Previews:
AAC: The American Athletic Conference is home of the National Champion UConn Huskies. Much has changed in the conference, with Louisville and Rutgers gone, and Tulane, Tulsa and East Carolina joining. Despite the realignment, the AAC is poised to still be a top conference.
A-10: Expect St. Louis University to take a step back with most of its offense moving on. VCU may be next in line, but after the league received six NCAA Tournament bids last year, the number one spot is up for grabs. Who will take the conference crown and make a name for themselves?
Big 10: The Big Ten showed its balance last season as Michigan won the regular season championship, Michigan State won the Big Ten Tournament title, Minnesota won the NIT and Wisconsin advanced to the Final Four. What can we expect from the conference this year?
Big 12: The top-heavy Big 12 Conference flamed out in last year's NCAA Tournament. Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa State are all jockeying for position at the top. Who will surprise and who will disappoint?
Mountain West: A season ago, San Diego State reigned supreme, while middle-of-the-pack teams, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State and Wyoming put forth solid campaigns. Turnover, however, will be an issue as dozens of the top-16 leaders in points, rebounds and assists have departed. What can we expect out of the conference this year?
WCC: Gonzaga once again reigns supreme atop the West Coast Conference. The BYU Cougars look to make a charge and establish themselves as a threat to the champion, while San Francisco, Saint Mary's and Portland all look to improve their stock.