Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Touri: Saint Louis, Davidson top Atlantic 10 preseason power rankings

Deep middle class defines the conference in 2018-19

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Katherine Mayo/Collegian

Katherine Mayo/Collegian

Katherine Mayo/Collegian

By Amin Touri, Sports Editor

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Let’s be clear about something right away — preseason power rankings are stupid. Only an idiot would try and rank all 14 Atlantic 10 teams before seeing them play a minute of basketball and to think anybody could accurately predict a full season of conference play with any sort of certainty is ridiculous.

But let’s do it anyway, because it could be fun.

The Contenders

  1. Saint Louis

It’s not an accident that the Billikens have found themselves atop a lot of these sorts of lists. After a 9-9 season marred by legal trouble and Title IX allegations, coach Travis Ford fields the most talented roster in the conference. From established starters like guards Jordan Goodwin and Javon Bess and big man Hasahn French, to highly-touted freshman Carte’Are Gordon, to a crop of impact transfers like Tramaine Isabell Jr., Luis Santos and Dion Wiley, the talent is overwhelming.

Title IX allegations aside, Goodwin is one of the very best players at the deepest position in the conference and could have a shot an All-Conference First Team if the Billikens live up to expectations. French was an All-Rookie selection and might be the conference’s most promising big man and All-Defensive selection Bess smothers opposing guards and wings like almost no other player in the league.

Isabell averaged 21 points per game at Drexel last season and brings major scoring in the starting lineup or off the bench, while Wiley brings a Power Five pedigree having transferred to SLU from Maryland.

Of course, we still have to see it. It’s a lot of potential that may not come together the right way, but the Billikens certainly have the highest ceiling in the A-10 and will be a popular pick to top the conference in March.

  1. Davidson

A few months removed from a run to an A-10 Tournament title and an NCAA tournament appearance, the Wildcats’ potential lies in the hands of Kellan Grady.

He’ll almost undoubtedly be pegged as the favorite to win A-10 Player of the Year, having scored 18 points a night as the second option next to Peyton Aldridge last year, and shooting 37 percent from three on nearly 200 attempts.

To be clear — the Stephen Curry comparisons are outlandish. But Grady is almost certainly the A-10’s most talented player, with a genuine chance to hear his name called at the NBA Draft next June. Surround him with other sharpshooters like Jon Axel Gudmundsson and KiShawn Pritchett and hand the reigns to Bob McKillop, and Davidson could very well shoot its way into another A-10 title run.

  1. George Mason

The teams above Mason have a very high ceiling — the Patriots have a very high floor.

Coach Dave Paulsen returns literally 100 percent of his scoring from last season, Otis Livingston II is one of five or so players that could stake a claim to an All-Conference First Team spot at guard — he was a Second Team selection last season — and he’s surrounded by a score of long, switchable defenders.

Mason finished 9-9 last season, in the middle of a pack of teams tied for fifth place in the conference. With everyone back, another year better, it’s hard to imagine the Patriots falling anywhere lower than a double-bye position come tournament time.

  1. Saint Joseph’s

The Hawks were a bit of tweener team last year — they couldn’t quite crack the A-10’s upper echelon with Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure and Davidson, but they didn’t quite get stuck in the pack.

I’m expecting something similar this year, as coach Phil Martelli takes charge for his 24th season. Trying to replace a majority of your scoring, with All-Conference selections Shavar Newkirk and James Demery graduating in the spring, isn’t easy, but guys like Chris Clover and Taylor Funk should pick up the slack.

Funk combines with sophomore Anthony Longpré to form one of the conference’s best shooting frontcourts and Pierfrancesco Oliva supplements their production off the bench.

We’re about to dive into the A-10’s giant middle-class — St. Joe’s has a better chance to slide back than to leap into real contention, but Martelli’s team is probably the best bet to snag that final double-bye slot.

The Middle Class

  1. Massachusetts

Last season, coach Matt McCall took over with seven guys transferring out of the program, lost his best transfer before even playing a game, lost his best big man to academic ineligibility in December, lost his second-best big man to a quad injury in February, started multiple games with four scholarship players, and UMass still won one more conference game than the previous season, won an A-10 tournament game and came within seconds of a trip to the quarterfinals with a quarterback instead of a center protecting the rim.

UMass earned signature wins over Providence and Georgia before the conference schedule hit and scholarship players started dropping like flies. This season, with Luwane Pipkins — one of the A-10 Player of the Year favorites just behind Kellan Grady — back, big man Rashaan Holloway back, breakout rookie Carl Pierre back, and four transfers in Keon Clergeot, Jonathan Laurent, Curtis Cobb and Kieran Hayward that can be big difference-makers, McCall has astronomically more to work with than last season.

If Pipkins is as good as last season, Holloway returns to his post-wrecking best, Pierre keeps shooting the lights out, with Cobb adding major scoring and Clergeot helping run the offense and some contributions from a solid recruiting class, the Minutemen are in a significantly better spot than they were a year ago. I still need to see it before sticking them in that top tier, but they should come out near the top of the middle pack.

  1. Rhode Island

Putting Rhody below UMass is less significant than it seems — four different teams finished tied for fifth last season at 9-9 and pretty much every team I rank from five until maybe 11 could be reshuffled any which way. The middle of this conference is going to be an absolute crapshoot.

Coming off a 15-3 season and an A-10 regular season title last year, the Rams have lost a ton. A-10 Coach of the Year Dan Hurley is gone, as are All-Conference selections Jared Terrell and E.C. Matthews. Stanford Robinson, one of the conference’s best defenders, has also graduated, as has big man Andre Berry.

It’s undoubtedly going to be a down year for URI, and how far they slide depends on the seamlessness of the transition to the David Cox era. There’s a world where Cox is good enough to keep the Rams relevant: Jeff Dowtin is both one of the very best and one of the most consistent guards in the A-10 and Fatts Russell might be one of the conference’s most electric scorers if he can handle the bigger role.

Even still, it’s tough to see Dowtin and Russell carrying the Rams back to the sort of dominance we saw last season.

  1. Dayton

I have no idea what to make of Dayton.

Anthony Grant is, by most accounts, a great coach and the roster has some solid talent. I’d peg Josh Cunningham as a likely All-Conference First Team pick this season, and Jalen Crutcher could jump into that top tier of A-10 guards after a stellar freshman season. Throw Trey Landers and Jordan Davis into the mix and there’s a recipe for a solid starting five.

But losing Darrell Davis is tough, as is Kostas Antetokounmpo’s unexpected jump to the pros. The Flyers were super inconsistent last season — blowing out VCU then getting blown out by St. Joe’s five days later, beating Davidson but losing to UMass twice — and need to get that under control before making any kind of run at contention.

  1. St. Bonaventure

This one’s pretty simple — the Bonnies were good last year because Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley made up the best backcourt in the conference by a country mile. They made up 48 percent of Bona’s scoring last season and without them, coach Mark Schmidt’s team will probably fall back into the pack.

I really like Courtney Stockard and he and LaDarien Griffin will form one of the conference’s better frontcourts, but I don’t think it’s enough to keep the Bonnies out of the A-10’s middle class.

  1. Virginia Commonwealth

I feel like this one would probably get me yelled at on Twitter if I had more than 184 followers, because VCU fans are something else, but whatever, I’m going with it.

I’m just not fully sure what the Rams have here. Justin Tillman was the most dominant player I saw last season (non-Peyton Aldridge division) but without his 19 points and 10 rebounds and with Issac Vann and Jonathan Williams gone too, it’s hard to see VCU finishing any better than last year’s 9-9.

Transfer Marcus Evans is the x-factor — he was a superstar at Rice, and if his game translates, he could be a problem for any team in the A-10. Even still, the Rams shouldn’t be contending this season.

  1. Richmond

I think I’m too low on Richmond. I’m probably too low on Richmond. Like Dayton, the Spiders were pretty inconsistent last year, notching two wins over eventual A-10 champs Davidson, but losing to basement-dwellers Fordham and getting blown out by a weak George Washington team. They were atrocious in non-conference, opening the season 1-8, but managed to scrape into the middle pack of 9-9 teams come conference time.

Grant Golden is going to be one of the A-10’s best big men this season and guys like Nick Sherod and Jacob Gilyard will help share the scoring load. Like I said, any team from UMass at five to Richmond at 10 and Duquesne at 11 in a second, is at least somewhat interchangeable. Someone’s got to slide, and in my mind, the Spiders are nearer the bottom of the pack than the top.

  1. Duquesne

Duquesne and Richmond were especially interchangeable for me, and I didn’t fully know where to put either.

The Dukes are coming off a tough 7-11 season in 2017-18, finishing tied for 10th last year. Coach Keith Dambrot brings back a team with good top-end talent — Mike Lewis II, Eric Williams Jr. and transfer Frankie Hughes — but the depth isn’t there for a strong, consistent squad through a full A-10 season.

There’s a world where the Dukes jump near the top of that pack, with Williams Jr. building on a strong rookie season, Hughes making a big impact after sitting last season and Lewis II jumping into that top tier of guards with Livingston II, Pipkins, Goodwin, Dowtin and Grady — but it’s unlikely.

The Stragglers

  1. La Salle

The last couple teams, those that don’t crack the middle tier, are going to be pretty straightforward.

The Explorers were tied for 10th last season at 7-7, and I don’t see them getting better. BJ Johnson’s departure hurts, and the only major transfer into the program is Marquette’s Traci Carter. The surprise return of Pookie Powell helps, but it’s a thin roster — between that and the transition from long-time head coach Dr. John Giannini to the incoming Ashley Howard, La Salle is looking at another down year in 2018-19.

  1. George Washington

I don’t think the Colonials were even as good as their 7-11 record last year and the loss of All-Conference wing Yuta Watanabe, as well as Jair Bolden and Patrick Steeves, puts Maurice Joseph in a tough spot.

Terry Nolan Jr. is fun, and transfers Armel Potter and DJ Williams can keep George Washington out of the real depths of the A-10’s basement, but that’s about it.

  1. Fordham

I know everyone’s been putting the Rams at the very bottom, but let’s be honest: the Rams were terrible last year, and their only good player, Joseph Chartouny, transferred. Maybe I’m running with the pack too much by putting them down here, but it’s going to be a rough winter at Rose Hill.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @Amin_Touri.

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