After a year that consisted of a four-team tie atop the standings, the Atlantic 10 has three teams in the mix for the top spot.
The Dayton Flyers are the flagship program of the A10. They have the deepest team in the conference, bring back experience at every position, and have a terrific head coach in Archie Miller.
Rhode Island hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1999 and dealt with the injury bug last season, but they are returning a loaded starting five, have a solid bench, and add four new freshman, including Cyril Langevine.
The VCU Rams picked up where they left off following Shaka Smart’s departure last year. Will Wade had the Rams in the NCAA Tournament’s second round and once again, will have his team in the mix atop the conference standings. With JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox back in the picture, the Rams will be competitive at both ends of the floor.
La Salle will be improved with their transfers, Saint Joseph’s will be down with the loss of DeAndre Bembry, and Davidson should be near the top of the league with a one-two punch of Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge.
But who are the underrated teams in the conference? Who are teams that could shock us all? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a team that steals a berth in the Big Dance, but instead, a squad that becomes much better than the initial projections.
George Washington Colonials
After losing Patricio Garino, Kevin Larsen and Joe McDonald, many would expect the Colonials (who won the NIT last year) to take a step back in 2016-17.
That won’t be the case.
In fact, the Colonials should chase an NCAA Tournament bid.
Tyler Cavanaugh will be a First Team All-A10 player and could even be in the mix for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. The former Wake Forest forward can play inside and out, while also giving Mike Lonergan a reliable rebounder on the interior.
Cavanaugh should be elite in pick-and-roll situations with former Seton Hall guard Jaren Sina, who sat out last season. Sina is not fast and doesn’t offer much in terms of physical ability, but he doesn’t turn the ball over, is patient and can shoot it from all over the floor.
Yuta Watanabe, a stretch four, is also returning for the Colonials. Even though he didn’t start in the front court last year due to the presence of veteran bigs, the native of Japan should thrive in a bigger role. Watanabe averaged 8.4 points per game, grabbed four rebounds per outing and shot 42 percent from the field.
GW added Harvard transfer Patrick Steeves (a knock down shooter), have Jordan Roland and Matt Hart back, and add freshman Kevin Marfo, Arnaldo Toro, Darnell Rogers, and Jair Bolden, amongst others.
They might not compete at the top of the conference, but competing against this squad will be no walk in the park – even without their three reliable seniors.
The Minutemen finished 11th out of 14 teams in the Atlantic 10 last season. They won just six games in conference play and finished four games under .500.
Two of their top three scorers, Trey Davis (leading scorer) and Jabarie Hinds, are graduating. However, head coach Derek Kellogg returns valuable contributors and has landed his best recruiting class in recent memory.
Donte Clark, the team’s second leading scorer, is back, along with Zach Coleman, Rashaan Holloway, Antwan Space, and Seth Berger.
Luwane Pipkins, who was supposed to be a freshman last season before being ruled academically ineligible, is finally going to make his debut in 2016-17. The four-star recruit from Chicago, IL will give the Minutemen a talented, yet small (5’11”), point guard.
But UMass’ five-man recruiting class is the gem of this roster – they reeled in three four-star recruits and two three-star talents.
DeJon Jarreau is the best player in the class as he is ranked 63rd in ESPN’s top 100 and received offers from some high major schools like Florida, Creighton, Kansas State, LSU, Miami, Texas, Oklahoma and Purdue, amongst others. He is combo guard who can score at will, use his length to his advantage and athleticism to make plays in the open court.
In addition to Jarreau, the Minutemen have four-star power forward Chris Baldwin, four-star center Brison Gresham, three-star athlete Unique McLean, and three-star small forward Tyrn Flowers.
This squad won’t compete for an NCAA Tournament bid in 2016-17 (they are way too young right now), however, it seems as if they will finish much higher than 11th in the league.
St. Bonaventure Bonnies
Yes, they won a league title last year. And yes, they were “underrated” last season because they deserved to be in the Big Dance.
But that doesn’t mean they will be overlooked yet again this season.
Mark Schmidt’s team lost leading scorer Marcus Posley (19.6 points per game) and leading rebounder Dion Wright, so the onus will fall on Jaylen Adams.
And some may be underestimating Adams’ ability.
He averaged 17.9 points, 5.0 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and shot 45 percent from the field. He is a scorer at will and is also a very efficient three point shooter.
Adams can lead this team to some upsets in the Atlantic 10, and if Denzel Gregg can help replace Wright in the front court, Schmidt’s squad could be a lot better than projected.
There are a lot of questions (How does Adams do as the focal point of the game plan?, Can Gregg make a jump?), but I think they’ll be a top seven team in the A10.