Previewing Atlantic 10 basketball

The 2019-20 season was shaping up to be historic for the Atlantic 10. Dayton was primed to become just the second A-10 team to reach the Final Four, joining UMass in 1996, and possibly the first to win a national championship. But due to the shutdown, the Flyers will never know. Dayton now must replace national player of the year Obi Toppin. Anthony Grant’s team will be led by Jalen Crutcher, but the Flyers are not the preseason favorites to win the conference. Coming off a 24-win season, Richmond is the Atlantic 10 pick. The Spiders were set to return all five starters but lost guard Nick Sherod in the preseason with a torn ACL. Instead Richmond will be led by senior guard Jacob Gilyard. That is the theme of the A-10 this season: senior guards. The top five players in the conference are senior guards. Rhode Island’s Fatts Russell finished third in the league in scoring and was second in the country in steals per game behind Gilyard. The Rams, however, lost a bunch of talent and likely will not challenge for the conference title. Entering his fifth year at Saint Louis, Travis Ford might have his best team. Like Richmond, the Billikens return all five starters and their top eight scorers. If they can improve at the free-throw line, where they finished 350th of 350 teams last year, the Billikens have a good chance to win the conference. St. Bonaventure returns all its starters but, unlike Richmond and Saint Louis, is led by a pair of juniors. Likely the 2021-22 favorites, could the Bonnies make some noise a year early? Duquesne returns all five starters from a 21-win team and has a good chance to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1977.
 
 Top 10 players
1. Fatts Russell, Senior, G, Rhode Island
2. Jacob Gilyard, Senior, G, Richmond
3. Jalen Crutcher, Senior, G, Dayton
4. Jordan Goodwin, Senior, G, Saint Louis
5. Kellan Grady, Senior, G, Davidson
6. Tre Mitchell, Sophomore, C, UMass
7. Hasahn French, Senior, F, Saint Louis
8. Kyle Lofton, Junior, G, St. Bonaventure
9. Grant Golden, Grad student, F, Richmond
10. Osun Osunniyi, Junior, F, St. Bonaventure
 
1. Richmond: The Spiders won 24 games last season and were set to return all five starters. But Richmond took a hit Oct. 15 when G Nick Sherod (12.7 ppg) tore his ACL. He will be out for the season. Richmond’s roster has four 1,000-point scorers, and the Spiders were top 50 in the nation in 2-point percentage, 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage. Richmond also led the conference in defensive efficiency. G Jacob Gilyard is the reigning Atlantic 10 defensive player of the year and led the nation with 3.19 steals per game. A veteran team with a deep bench, Richmond has all the makings of a squad that could reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. 
2. Saint Louis: The Billikens return all five starters and their eight top scorers from a team that won 23 games. G Jordan Goodwin is quite the force. The 6-3, 200-pound senior averaged 15.5 points and 10.4 rebounds per game last season. Javonte Perkins chipped in 15 points per game. One issue for Saint Louis: free throws. The Billikens were the worst foul-shooting team in Division I, hitting just 58%.
3. Dayton: The Flyers went undefeated in the Atlantic 10 and were ready to make a run for the NCAA championship if not for COVID-19. National player of the year Obi Toppin is in the NBA, but Anthony Grant’s squad will still be solid. PG Jalen Crutcher is back for his senior season after averaging 15.1 points and 4.9 assists per game. The Flyers finished second in kenpom.com’s offensive efficiency ranking last season. 
4. Davidson: You can never overlook a Bob McKillop team. The Wildcats dealt with a lot of injuries but still finished 10-8 in the A-10. Senior G Kellan Grady could be the Atlantic 10 player of the year. Grady averaged 17.2 points per game. If the Wildcats overachieve, expect senior G Carter Collins (10.0 ppg) to have a big year.
5. St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies return all their starters but aren’t expected to start a senior. While St. Bonaventure might be the favorite for the 2021-22 season, it could still do damage this year. Junior PG Kyle Lofton rarely takes a minute off, playing all but 131 minutes last season. Lofton averaged 14.1 points and 6.0 assists per game. Health was an issue for F Osun Osunniyi. The Bonnies went 18-6 with him and 1-6 without him. Osunniyi finished fourth in the A-10 in blocked shots and should improve offensively this year. 
6. Duquesne: Under Keith Dambrot, the Dukes have improved every year. Duquesne won 21 games last season and finished 11-7 in A-10 play. With all five starters back and seven of their top eight scorers returning, the Dukes will have a chance to contend for a conference title. Duquesne’s strength is its frontcourt. F Marcus Weathers (14.3 ppg and 8.1 rpg) and F Michael Hughes (10.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg) will pose a challenge to any Atlantic 10 team.
7. UMass: The Minutemen had T.J. Weeks for only 10 games last season before he was sidelined due to hernia surgery. Weeks was shooting 48.5% from beyond the arc and averaging 1.8 steals. Now he is back and is paired with one of the best frontcourt players in the conference, Tre Mitchell. The 6-9 center was named Atlantic 10 newcomer of the year last season after averaging 17.7 points and 7.2 rebounds. Carl Pierre (12.5 ppg) graduated but opted to stay at UMass for his final season. 
8. Rhode Island: The good news for the Rams is that Fatts Russell, arguably the best player in the A-10, is back. Russell averaged 18.8 ppg last season. The bad news is Jeff Dowtin (13.9 ppg) and Cyril Langevine (10.1 ppg) graduated and three underclassmen transferred, including Tyrese Martin (12.8 ppg). Coach David Cox will hope to get solid contributions in the frontcourt from twins Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, who transferred from Maryland. The Mitchell brothers were former top-100 recruits. 
9. George Mason: George Mason started 12-4 last season, but injuries derailed the year. However, all five starters return for Dave Paulsen. Senior F AJ Wilson led the A-10 with 92 blocks and averaged 12.9 points per game. Senior G Javon Greene led the Patriots in scoring but was inconsistent at times. Freshman G Ronald Polite could make an impact this season.
10. VCU: After a 17-6 start to the season, the Rams lost seven of their final eight games. Now Mike Rhoades’ team is in a bit of a rebuild. VCU lost four starters but brings in the A-10’s top recruiting class. G Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland (9.0 ppg) is VCU’s leading returning scorer. The frontcourt will be bolstered by a pair of transfers, adding 7-1 C Brendan Medley-Bacon from Coppin State, where he earned third-team All-MEAC, and 6-8 F Levi Stockard from Kansas State. 
11. George Washington: Entering his second season, Jamion Christian is continuing a rebuild in the nation’s capital. Christian’s offensive system thrives on 3-pointers, but the Colonials shot just 32% from beyond the arc. Siena transfer Sloan Seymour (37% from deep) will fit in nicely. George Washington added LSU transfer G James Bishop and Vanderbilt grad transfer F Matthew Moyer. Jameer Nelson Jr. (10.4 ppg) will look to build off a solid freshman campaign.
12. La Salle: The Explorers return three starters, but Ed Croswell (10.4 ppg and 7.6 rpg) transferred to Providence. La Salle gets G Jack Clark after he missed all last season due to injury. Pairing Clark with senior guards David Beatty and Scott Spencer, the Explorers should have a solid backcourt, but they have serious questions up front.
13. St. Joseph’s: Year 1 for Billy Lange at St. Joe’s was rough. The Hawks went just 6-26 and finished 2-16 in the A-10. Ryan Daly was a bright spot, leading the Atlantic 10 in scoring at 20.6 points per game. St. Joe’s took 49.7% of its shots from beyond the 3-point line, and with all five starters back and another year in Lange’s system, the Hawks could be interesting.
14. Fordham: The Rams ended the year on a high note, defeating George Washington 72-52 in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. However, Fordham won just two conference games and ranked 347th in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com. Fordham has won just nine A-10 games over the last three seasons. With three starters back, the Rams hope to avoid the bottom of the conference. Junior G Jalen Cobb (10.3 ppg) is the Rams’ leading returning scorer.
s was rough. The Hawks went just 6-26 and finished 2-16 in the A-10. Ryan Daly was a bright spot, leading the Atlantic 10 in scoring at 20.6 points per game. St. Joe’s took 49.7% of its shots from beyond the 3-point line, and with all five starters back and another year in Lange’s system, the Hawks could be interesting.
14. Fordham: The Rams ended the year on a high note, defeating George Washington 72-52 in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. However, Fordham won just two conference games and ranked 347th in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com. Fordham has won just nine A-10 games over the last three seasons. With three starters back, the Rams hope to avoid the bottom of the conference. Junior G Jalen Cobb (10.3 ppg) is the Rams’ leading returning scorer.
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