College Basketball Preview: Atlantic 10

By Jesse Kramer

The Atlantic 10 had a phenomenal 2012-13 season, sending five teams to the NCAA tournament. The league will remain one of the better ones in Division I this season, but five NCAA tournament teams may be too much to ask for. Virginia Commonwealth, La Salle, and Saint Louis should all return to the Big Dance, and Massachusetts has the pieces to earn a berth as well.

 

The Favorites

1. Virginia Commonwealth

Despite all his success, Shaka Smart has never won a conference title at Virginia Commonwealth, but that could very well change this season. The Rams, who won 27 games in 2012-13, return their top three scorers plus their first three reserves.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

At guard, the Rams bring back Briante Weber, Rob Brandenberg, and Melvin Johnson. Weber is one of college basketball’s best defenders. In 20.9 minutes per game, he averaged 2.7 steals and ranked No. 1 in steal percentage. Additionally, he posted 5.4 points and 2.7 assists per contest.

Brandenberg returns at shooting guard following a successful junior year. The Cincinnati native averaged 10.4 points and shot a career-high 35.3% from beyond the arc. Johnson showed flashes of future stardom as a freshman with 12 games of at least 10 points. He will have a bigger role in the backcourt as a sophomore and should improve on his 6.9 points per game.

The Rams also add a key newcomer to their backcourt in 6’5″ guard Jordan Burgess, the brother of former VCU star Bradford Burgess. Jordan was a top 100 recruit in the Class of 2012 and will have an immediate impact on the wing.

In the frontcourt, VCU returns Second Team All-Atlantic 10 forwards Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic. Graham led the Rams in scoring last season with 15.1 points and was second with 5.8 rebounds per game. He also shot 36.6% on three-pointers. Reddic was a major force in the post, averaging 14.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals while making 56.9% of his field goals.

The Rams also return reserve forward Jarred Guest and add Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon. Guest contributed 2.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per game as a junior, and Shannon averaged 7.9 points, 5.6 boards, and 1.2 steals as a Seminole in 2012-13. As a fifth-year transfer, Shannon is eligible immediately.

 

2. La Salle

La Salle is coming off its best season in recent memory, as the Explorers advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since they won the MAAC in 1992. With nine of their top 10 players returning, they are destined to make another appearance at the Big Dance. Aside from the loss of leading scorer Ramon Galloway, La Salle returns everyone.

In the backcourt, the Explorers bring back explosive guards Tyreek Duren, Tyrone Garland, Sam Mills, and D.J. Peterson. Duren, who earned Second Team All-Atlantic 10 honors, is the team’s top returner in points (14.2 ppg), assists (3.3 apg), and steals (1.6 spg); he is also a 38.5% three-point shooter. Garland added 13.1 points, two dimes, and 1.2 steals per game, and Mills recorded eight points and 2.2 assists per game  while shooting close to 38% from beyond the arc.

The Explorers will also add Delaware transfer Khalid Lewis to their array of guards. As a freshman Blue Hen, Lewis started all 32 games and averaged 5.2 points, 2.6 assists, and 1.1 steals.

At forward, La Salle returns Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack. This frontcourt is thin, but it is talented. Wright posted 10.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, and one block per game while shooting 57.9% from the field last season, and the 6’11” Zack added 6.4 points on 54.5% shooting, 6.4 boards, and 1.3 blocks.

 

3. Saint Louis

Saint Louis’ run to an Atlantic 10 title and NCAA tournament ended prematurely with a third round loss to Oregon, but the Billikens once again have NCAA tournament-caliber talent in 2013-14.

(Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)
(Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

The Billikens lost starting guard Kwamain Mitchell and key reserves Cody Ellis and Cory Remekun, but four starters and most of their bench return.

In the backcourt, Jordair Jett, Mike McCall Jr., and Jake Barnett return, while Central Michigan transfer Austin McBroom will add some extra depth. Although he started only nine games, Jett was one of Saint Louis’ most important players. He logged 26.3 minutes per game and averaged nine points on 51.1% shooting and 3.2 assists. A lockdown defender, he also averaged 1.1 steals.

McCall started all 35 games and was Saint Louis’ best three-point shooter at 40.2%. He is the top returning scorer in the backcourt with 9.3 points per game.

McBroom, a redshirt sophomore, was one of the MAC’s best freshmen in 2011-12 with 10.9 points and 2.7 assists per game. His impact will be felt immediately in the Atlantic 10.

The Billikens return their starting frontcourt of Dwayne Evans, Rob Loe, and Grandy Glaze.

Evans was named to the First Team All-Atlantic 10 after averaging team-bests of 14 points and 7.7 rebounds. The 6’6″ power forward posted six double-doubles in conference play, and during the final nine games of the season he averaged 20 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 1.7 steals.

 

The Contenders

4. Massachusetts

Massachusetts is in a position to appear in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. The Minutemen return all-conference point guard Chaz Williams, promising sophomore guard Trey Davis, and four talented forwards who all logged at least 20 minutes per game last season. They will also add one of the conference’s best transfers in Derrick Gordon, who played his freshman season at Western Kentucky.

Williams is one of the nation’s top point guards despite standing at only 5’9″. Last season, he averaged 15.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and two steals. He also was No. 8 in the nation in assist rate.

Williams is joined in the backcourt by Davis and Gordon. As a freshman, Davis played only played 9.5 minutes per game, but he had respectable averages of 3.3 points and 1.3 assists. He also knocked down 12 of his 27 three-pointers (44.4%).

Gordon, a redshirt sophomore, was named to the Third Team-All Sun Belt as a freshman with averages of 11.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. Whether in the starting lineup or as one of the first men off the bench, he will be a key contributor for the Minutemen.

Massachusetts will be able to go four men deep in the frontcourt with Cady Lalanne, Raphiael Putney, Sampson Carter, and Maxie Esho. These four combined for 27.4 points, 21.3 rebounds, and 4.4 blocks last season.

 

5. St. Joseph’s

St. Joseph’s had an underwhelming 2012-13 season with a NIT appearance, and that appears to be the Hawks’ trajectory again this year. The Hawks return backcourt starters Chris Wilson and Langston Galloway, as well as forwards Ronald Roberts Jr. and Halil Kanacevic.

Wilson will start at point guard for St. Joe’s. Last season, the 6’3″ junior averaged 6.5 points and 3.5 assists and nearly posted a double-double against American with 15 points and eight dimes. Galloway, a senior shooting guard, is the Hawks’ top returning scorer with 13.8 points. He also averaged a team-best 1.4 steals and shot 39.4% from beyond the arc.

Roberts plays a more traditional role in the frontcourt while Kanacevic is a versatile forward. Roberts posted 11.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last season with 13 double-doubles, and Kanacevic averaged 8.5 points, 7.2 boards, 3.5 assists, and 1.7 blocks.

 

The Sleepers

6. Rhode Island

Rhode Island is still one year away from making the NCAA tournament, but Dan Hurley has the Rams on pace for a NIT berth in March.

In the backcourt, the Rams return their starters Xavier Munford and Mike Powell and backup T.J. Buchanan. Munford is the Atlantic 10’s top returning scorer with 17.4 points per game, and Powell ranked No. 8 in the league in assists with 3.9 per game.

The Rams return sophomore forwards Jordan Hare and Mike Aaman, and they will also add Rutgers transfer Gilvydas Biruta, who played for Hurley in high school. Hare had an impressive freshman season as a starter with 5.2 points, four rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game, while Aaman added 4.7 points and 3.7 boards off the bench. Biruta, who averaged 9.7 points and 5.3 rebounds at Rutgers, will have an immediate impact in the frontcourt.

Rhode Island also adds a pair of impact freshman in shooting guard E.C. Matthews and forward Hassan Martin. Matthews was a borderline top 100 recruit who averaged 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds as a high school senior, and Martin was a three-star recruit who posted 16.8 points per game.

 

7. Dayton

Dayton returns a potential all-league guard in redshirt senior Vee Sanford and forwards Devin Oliver, Dyshawn Pierre, and Jalen Robinson.

Sanford, a former Georgetown transfer, had an immediate impact for the Flyers last season with 12.3 points and 2.3 assists. He recorded at least 10 points in all but eight games and had a career-high 23 points against Murray State. He will be joined in the backcourt by Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert and sophomore Khari Price.

Oliver, a 6’7″ senior, has the potential to average a double-double for Dayton this season. The Kalamazoo native averaged 8.9 points and 7.8 rebounds but struggled with consistency.

Pierre, a 6’6″ forward, will be one of Dayton’s X-factors. Pierre was a very impressive freshman with averages of 8.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and two assists. Also, although he only attempted 52 three-pointers, he nailed 24 of them (46.2%).

 

 

The Rest

8. George Washington

George Washington has a powerful backcourt with Isaiah Armwood, Kevin Larsen, and Patricio Garino, but its backcourt is lacking. Armwood is a potential All-A10 First Teamer after averaging 11.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks last season, and Larsen and Garino should only be better as sophomores. Larsen produced 8.2 points on 51.3% field-goal shooting and five boards per game as a freshman while Garino averaged 8.8 points, 2.1 assists, and 2.3 steals.

However, in the backcourt, the Colonials will start sophomore point guard Joe McDonald, who averaged nearly one turnover for every assist, and Indiana transfer Maurice Creek, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career.

 

9. George Mason

George Mason will struggle in its first year in the Atlantic 10. The Patriots, who finished as runners-up in last year’s CIT, return all five starters, but their talent level is not quite good enough to compete against the better half of this league.

That being said, shooting guard Sherrod Wright has the potential to lead the conference in scoring. Last season, he averaged 16.6 points per game and drained three-pointers at a 35.1% clip. He had 17 outings with at least 20 points in 2012-13.

 

10. Richmond

Richmond lost leading scorer Darien Brothers, but it returns its next three best scorers in Cedrick Lindsay, Kendall Anthony, and Derrick Williams.

Lindsay and Anthony will start together in the backcourt. Lindsay, a senior who started 32 games last season, averaged 12 points and a team-best 3.1 assists. Anthony, who is generously listed at 5’8″, is a lights-out shooter at 42.6%. As Richmond’s sixth man, he averaged 11.5 points.

Williams was the Spiders’ best big man last season, averaging 11.4 points on 53.2% shooting and 5.4 rebounds. He is supported in the frontcourt by Terry Allen (4.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 55.0 FG%), Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (3.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.8 bpg), and Deion Taylor (3.6 ppg, 40.0 3P%).

 

11. Fordham

This should be Fordham’s best team since Tom Pecora took over as head coach in 2011. The Rams lost All-A10 forward Chris Gaston, but they return everyone else except for reserve guard Jeff Short.

Branden Frazier will be one of the conference’s better scorers after averaging 14.2 points last season, and sophomores Mandell Thomas and Travion Leonard will look to build on impressive rookie years.

The Rams also add one of the conference’s top freshmen in shooting guard Jon Severe.

 

12. Duquesne

Duquesne’s program is moving in the right direction under Jim Ferry, although it is still building. The Dukes, who won only one Atlantic 10 game last season, return starting point guard Derrick Colter (13.5 ppg, 5.2 apg), and they add three impact transfers in Ovie Soko, Tra’Vaughn White, and Dominique McKoy.

Soko averaged 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds as a junior at UAB, White was the nation’s top junior college scorer last season with 25.9 points per game, and McKoy averaged 14.2 points and 11.5 rebounds at Cowley Community College.

 

13. Saint Bonaventure

After finishing only 14-15 last season, Saint Bonaventure lost its top three scorers. The Bonnies return a pair of effective forwards in Youssou Ndoye (6.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg) and Marquise Simmons (6.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg), but Matthew Wright (7.3 ppg, 2.0 apg) is their only notable returning player in the backcourt.

Atlantic 10 Player of the Year

Chaz Williams, Massachusetts

Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year

Briante Weber, Virginia Commonwealth

Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year

Jordan Burgess, Virginia Commonwealth

Atlantic 10 All-Conference Team

Chaz Williams, Massachusetts

Tyreek Duren, La Salle

Treveon Graham, Virginia Commonwealth

Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis

Isaiah Armwood, George Washington

 

*All advanced statistics are courtesy of KenPom.

Author: Jesse Kramer

Jesse Kramer is the founder of The Catch and Shoot. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He has had work featured on SI.com, College Insider, The Comeback/Awful Announcing, and 247Sports.

Leave a Reply