2013-14 Atlantic 10 Preview

As the 2013-14 college hoops season fast approaches, the Atlantic 10 (A-10) conference looks to be as deep in talent as almost any group of teams in the nation. Even with the departure of Temple, Xavier and Butler, the A-10 rebounded with acquiring perennial mid-major power George Mason University into an already veteran corps of teams. The A-10 placed 5 schools into the 2012-13 NCAA Tournament and look to build on that number for this upcoming season. Every team in the conference will have a shot at the Big Dance with the expansion of the A-10 Tournament that will include (for the first time in years) all the teams in the conference battling it out in Brooklyn in March.

Let's take a look at all the Atlantic 10 teams strengths and weaknesses and postseason probability as we all get ready for tip-off of the 2013-14 season: 

Dayton Flyers

Head Coach: Archie Miller (3rd Season)
2012-13 Record: 17-14 (7-9 conference)

The Flyers return four starters in 2013-14 and add Ohio St transfer Jordan Sibert after sitting out 2012-13. Joining Sibert will be the consensus top recruiting class in the A-10. The already young team (four freshmen played big minutes for them last year) will get younger and more athletic with the additions of two lightning quick freshmen guards in Scoochie Smith and Kyle Davis this season. Dayton has a good mix of size and speed and should be very competitive in the conference this year. If the young team gels quickly, the Flyers could see themselves in the First Four where they would play on their home floor at the University of Dayton Arena.

Player to Watch: Matt Kavanaugh, C

Kavanaugh is a 6'9" bruiser who sat out all of last season with off the court issues. During the previous season (2011-12) he averaged 9 points and 6 rebounds a game. While playing the enforcer role in the middle, he has shown a deft touch from the free throw line with shooting .807 from the charity stripe. In a conference that has plenty of strength at the guard position, the team that has the most effective big man will have an advantage against most other of the A-10 squads. Kavanaugh could turn out to be the X factor that could propel the Flyers into a top 5 finish in the Conference Tournament.

Fearless Prognostication: Dayton will end up 6th in the A-10 and will certainly be a bubble team to make it into the NCAA Tournament. They have a tough non-conference schedule that includes Ole Miss, Gonzaga, USC and Iona.

Duquense Dukes

Head Coach: Jim Ferry (2nd Season)

2012-13 Record: 8-22 (1-15 conference)

It was not a very smooth transition for Coach Ferry as he left the Long Island University program for Duquense last year. The Dukes have essentially cleaned house and are starting anew with eight new scholarship players in 2013-14. They only return two starters, G Derrrick Colter and F Jeremiah Jones to the mix, while Coach Ferry dipped into the juco ranks and snared the top scorer in the nation with G Tra'Vaughn White. The rebuilding process with take time and the Dukes might improve a little over last season's record, but they are still woefully short on talent in comparison to the top teams in the conference.

Player to Watch: Ovie Soko, F

Soko transferred from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where he was in the starting lineup 59 times and averaged 8 points and 7 rebounds a game during the 2011-12 season. He will be expected to shore up the Dukes interior game, which was the primary reason for the lack of success in 2012-13. No team in the A-10 got to the free throw line less than Duquense, so it will be incumbent on the London born Soko to mix it up down low for the Dukes.

Fearless Prognostication: Duquesne will finish 13th in the league. Ferry is an excellent coach, but the Dukes program will need some time for growth. It won't be long until they're competitive in the A-10.

Fordham Rams

Head Coach: Tom Pecora (4th Season)

2012-13 Record: 7-24 (3-13 Conference)

The Rams and Coach Pecora may have turned a corner this season, and there is real reason for optimism in the Bronx this year.  Fordham won a tough nationwide recruiting battle and landed New York's reigning Mr. Basketball, Jon Severe (g). Pecora's coup of landing the highly sought after recruit might pay off in dividends right away with the paring of Severe and senior Branden Frazier in the Rams back court. In the middle, the Rams will rely on Ryan Canty (c), who if he controls his aggressive style of play could turn into a double-double machine this season. After having losing records in 19 out of the past 20 seasons, the Rams could surprise some teams in the A-10, and give their loyal local alumni something to crow about on NYC sports talk radio.

Player To Watch: Manny Suarez, F

With all the accolades of signing Severe, it should not be overlooked that the Rams successfully recruited one of the top shot blockers in the country in Suarez. At 6'10" and 225, Suarez is an imposing figure that should factor in the decisions of most of the conference guards whether they'll penetrate into the front court. Suarez averaged a double-double in high school, and was recruited by Penn State and Long Beach State (among others) before landing with Coach Pecora and the Rams in the Bronx.

Fearless Prognostication: The Rams will improve by leaps and bounds in the 2013-14 season and will end up 8th in the conference. They will end up with a winning record, and might have an outside chance at the NIT.

George Mason Patriots

Head Coach: Paul Hewitt (3rd Season)

2012-13 Record: 22-16 (First season in the Atlantic 10)

The Patriots might be the new kid on the block in the A-10, but they come to the conference with a sterling reputation for hard nosed basketball with a Final Four appearance in 2006 to show for it. GMU has a experienced team that returns all five starters from last years team that reached the College Basketball Invitational finals before losing to Santa Clara. While new to the A-10, the Patriots already have some really good geographical rivals in Richmond and George Washington. Hewitt seemed excited about the prospect of playing in the A10 during the conference media day, and with players like Sherrod Wright, who averaged 16 points per game, and was the most consistent scorer on the team. Mason is deep, postseason tough and will be a tough away game for any opponent that visits the Patriot Center in Fairfax, VA this year.

Player To Watch: Bryon Allen, G

Allen is the floor general for the Patriots, and lead the Colonial Athletic Association in assist to turnover ratio (2/1). He came into his own during the postseason and earned CAA All-Tournament honors. If Allen boosts his scoring this season, he might make an appearance on an all A-10 team at the end of conference play.

Fearless Prognostication: George Mason will make life difficult to whomever team they face in conference this year. They have a deep team, a good home court advantage and a savvy, experienced coach in Paul Hewitt.  There could be some growing pains in a new conference so the Patriots will end up in 7th place in their inaugural season in the Atlantic 10.

George Washington Colonials

Head Coach: Mike Lonergan (3rd Season)

2012-13 Record: 13-17 (7-9 Conference)

In Washington DC, the Colonials are frequently overshadowed by Georgetown, Maryland and George Mason. That might change this season. What the students and fans know down in Foggy Bottom is the Colonials return five starters to a team that came inches from .500 in their conference last year. This year's GW team is a local team, with six players who graduated from high school in the Washington DC area. What sets the Colonials apart in the A10 is their emphasis on defense. They boast two players (forward Isiah Armwood and guard Patricio Garino) who are on the preseason A10 all-defensive team. The Colonials look to eclipse the .500 mark this season, and might end up in a postseason tournament if the defense is as stout as last season's team.

Player To Watch: Joe McDonald, G

McDonald, the sophomore point guard for GW started all 30 games for the Colonials last season. When he scored more than 11 points in a game, the Colonials posted a perfect record of 6-0. While there's no guarantee that GW will go undefeated if McDonald averages over 11 ppg. it's a good indicator that if he steps up his scoring the Colonials will improve their record substantially if McDonald gets the ball through the cylinder in 2013-14.

Fearless Prognostication: GW is a tough team to judge. They are a well coached, disciplined team but they may lack the talent to improve on last year's record. The Colonials will end up 9th in the conference.

LaSalle Explorers 

Head Coach: Dr. John Gianinni (10th Season)

2012-13 Record: 24-10 (11-5 Conference)

LaSalle achieved national prominence last season by making the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The good news for the Explorers (and bad news for the rest of the A-10)  is that they return four starters from last year's team. They are lead by preseason all A-10 selection, senior guard Tyreek Duren. They will have a tough time replacing Ramon Galloway, but have a good mixture of veteran players and transfers that will keep the Explorers on the right track. Dr. G and the underdog Explorers from Philly are poised to take the A-10 crown this season and make another deep run into the NCAA's. 

Player to Watch: Steve Zack, C

Zack, a 6'11" junior was sidelined for the last seven games of last season due to a foot injury. The Explorers could have used him against Wichita State in the Sweet 16. The tall drink of water from New Cumberland, PA is a shot blocking menace in the paint. The A-10 is filled with dominating guards, but to have a center that can rebound and block shots is a rarity in the conference. Zack's inside play could help the Explorers against larger out of conference opponents in non-conference play and the NCAA Tournament. 

Fearless Prognostication: LaSalle is the best team in the Big 5 in Philadelphia, and the 3rd best team in the A-10. They'll go as far as Duren takes them, and last year proved that they have little doubt that they can advance far in the postseason. 

UMass Minutemen

Head Coach: Derek Kellogg (6th Season)
2012-13 Record: 21-12 (9-7 Conference)

The Minutemen dodged a bullet (pun intended) when their star guard Chaz Williams decided not to turn pro and return to Amherst for his senior year. Williams is back with two other starters to a team that that won 21 games last season and was on the cusp of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. Coach Kellogg is very high on junior center Cady Lalanne's progress in the off season  "Cady looks fantastic and I anticipate the rest of the league seeing what I'm seeing", said Kellogg. Asked about the 2013-14 season goals for the Minutemen, Kellogg replied, "My goal is stand in front of our fans and field a competitive team", said Kellogg, "I can honestly say we have good kids. I would put our back-court versus any other back-court in the league." The Minutemen will be tested early at Boston College than a home court game against LSU. They'll be as tough an out as anyone in the conference. 

Player To Watch: Chazz Williams, G

Williams is the best player in the conference and might end up on the All-American team when this season is said and done. The 5'9" senior guard has NBA quickness, and is an absolute nightmare to the guard he's matched up with. He lead the Minutemen in scoring (15 ppg.), assists (7 apg.), steals (2 spg.) and minutes (35 mpg.). Williams might have been drafted by a NBA team last season, but will be back to try to lead the Minutemen to their first NCAA appearance since 1998. 

Fearless Prognostication: The A-10 may be guard-heavy, but UMass boasts the best one in Williams. They'll finish 5th in the A-10 and make their first NCAA Tournament in 15 years. 

Rhode Island Rams

Head Coach: Dan Hurley (2nd Season)
2012-13 Record: 8-21 (3-13 conference)

Rhode Island might be the smallest state in the nation, but they landed a big fish when they hired Dan Hurley to be their coach last season. While last season wasn't an instant success to the Hurley era, you could sense a turnaround in the attitude of the team and it's fans. Returning this season is the 2nd team all A-10 guard Xavier Munford, who is the A-10's top scorer from a year ago. Rhody also welcomed this year, Rutgers transfer Gilvydas Biruta, a 6'8" forward who started 32 games for the Scarlet Knights last season. Rams fans will see an exciting team this year, and Hurley will have them ready to play.

Player To Watch: Mike Powell, G

The two year starting point guard for Rhode Island, Powell will be counted on to distribute the ball to Munford and all the new faces that will be putting on a Rhody uniform. Powell needs to cut down on turnovers in order for the Rams to have success in the A-10. The Chicago native played the second most minutes in the league last season, and will continue to be a key factor in wins and losses. 

Fearless Prognostication: The Rams will certainly improve on their 14th place finish last season, but it will be incremental improvement. Coach Hurley certainly has the program going in the right direction. That being said the Rams will end up in 10th place this season.  

Richmond Spiders

Head Coach: Chris Mooney (9th Season)
2012-13 Record: 19-15 (8-8 conference)

The Spiders might not get the national press their crosstown rivals VCU enjoy, but they have won more games than any other team in the A-10 over the past six seasons.  Chris Mooney's team is poised yet again to be a fly in the ointment of ranked teams, with four wins against the RPI top 100 last season. Three point specialist Kendall Anthony is back and hopes to continue his hot shooting after being named the A-10 Rookie of the Year last season. The Achilles heel for the Spiders is their inside play. They were pummeled on the boards in 2012-13. Senior forward Derrick Williams is the man who the Spiders are counting on to be their enforcer in the paint. Richmond enjoyed a 15-2 record at home last year, but went a paltry 4-13 on the road. It stands to reason that the Spiders have to improve on their road performance or else they'll be in a web of trouble. 

Player To Watch:  Cederick Lindsay, G

Lindsay became the Spiders go to option for scoring by the end of last year. The senior averaged 12 ppg. but finished strong by averaging 17 ppg. in the final 11 games of the season. Lindsay will be the main scoring threat for Richmond this year, and his veteran leadership will be counted upon to return the Spiders into the postseason. 

Fearless Prognostication: There's something about the differential in home and away records that doesn't bode well this year for the Spiders. They lack the bodies to compete down low against the rest of the A-10. They will fall to 11th in the conference this year. 

St. Bonaventure Bonnies

Head Coach: Mark Schmidt (7th Season)
2012-13 Record: 14-15 (7-9 conference)

St. Bonaventure might need divine providence to keep out of the A-10 cellar in 2013-14. The Bonnies lost several key players from last years team and have a bunch of unproven players that will get major minutes this season. What the Bonnies don't have in experience, they do have some serious height. They are the only A-10 team to have two 7-footers on their roster. Both of these players are considered projects, and will need time to develop low post games. It will be a rough season for the Bonnies faithful, but the program has proved that they're never down for long, and they'll be competitive in a couple of seasons.

Player To Watch: Matthew Wright, G

Wright, a native of Canada is the leading returning scorer for the Bonnies. He is a 3 point specialist who lead St. Bonaventure to a win over St. Joe's last season with hitting 3 triples in overtime to seal the win. Wright has the opportunity to shine in the A-10 and adds to the international flavor of the conference.

Fearless Prognostication: This season won't add any banners to the Rilley Center on St. Bonaventure's stoic campus. They are looking at unlucky #13 and last place in the A-10 this year.

St. Joesph's Hawks

Head Coach: Phil Martelli (19th Season)
2012-13 Record: 18-14 (8-8 conference)

It was a frustrating 2012-13 season on Hawk Hill, as Phil Martelli's troops failed to live up to expectations. On paper, the team had just as much talent as anyone else in the A-10, but couldn't put it together and had a disappointing year. This year's edition of the Hawks has many of the same players, but seem much more humble coming into the 2013-14 fold. The team is lead by seniors Ronald Roberts Jr. and Langston Galloway. These two might be the deadliest 1-2 punch in the conference. Galloway can light it up from outside the arc, and Roberts Jr. may be the most athletic big man in the A-10. Let's call 2013-14 a fresh start for these flock of Hawks, who might fly away with the tournament title in March.

Player To Watch: Halil Kanacevic, F

Kanacevic is the most versatile player on the Hawks roster. The transfer from Hofstra lead the team in assists (3.5 apg) and was second in rebounds (7 rpg.) The Staten Island product is usually the cog that the offense goes through, and will make Phil Martelli's job a lot easier if he continues to produce on both ends of the floor. Kanacevic might be the most valuable player to his team in the A-10.

Fearless Prognostication: St. Joe's bounces back in a major way and ends up in 4th place in the Atlantic 10. Martelli will then get the opportunity to coach in the NCAA Tournament, where he has lead the Hawks to a regional final. 

Saint Louis Billikens

Head Coach: Jim Crews (2nd Season)
2012-13 Record: 28-7 (13-3 conference)

The Billikens were the best story of 2012-13 in the Atlantic 10. Coach Crews and the team took a tragic situation ( the death of their head coach Rick Majerus) and instead of folding, they played inspired basketball and ended up as A-10 Champions. They then won the conference tournament. Crews deservedly won the NABC and Sporting News National Coach of the Year. Now the task at hand is defending the title. The Billikens will have a bulls-eye on their back as they go into conference play. What they bring to the table is an experienced squad lead by senior forward Dwayne Evans and senior guards Jordair Jett and Mike McCall Jr. The Billikens will be on the short list for serious contenders to win the 2013-14 A-10 Championship, and as we all learned last year, this team means business every time it's steps on the court.

Player To Watch: Dwayne Evans, F

Evans is the catalyst for the Billikens approach to the game. He plays hard nosed defense in the post, and steps up his game as the challenge gets more formidable.  Evans won the A-10 Most Outstanding Player in last season's A-10 Tournament, where he averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds a game. He is a match-up problem for most other big men in the conference, and proved last year that he can put the team on his back and win big games in the postseason. 

Fearless Prognostication: The Billikens will prove once again to be the toughest team in the conference, but will fall just short of the regular season title. They will finish 2nd in the Atlantic 10.

VCU Rams

Head Coach: Shaka Smart (5th Season)
2012-13 Record: 27-9 (12-4 conference)

HAVOC is the mantra of the VCU Rams, and the defense and hustle that Coach Smart's players show every game is a testament to players buying into a coach's system. Senior forward Juvonte Reddick is as hard-nosed as any defensive player in the league and has a good shooting touch. Junior guard Treveon Graham lead the Rams in scoring last year and can get to the rim at will against smaller guards in the conference. Junior guard Briante Weber is the defending A-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Quite simply, this team is loaded and is poised to make a long run into the NCAA Tournament. No one out HAVOC's the Rams, and as long as Coach Smart is on the sidelines, they can beat any team in the country under the right circumstances. 

Player To Watch:  Terrance Shannon, F

Shannon, a graduate transfer from Florida State will be Juvonte Reddic's sidekick down low. Shannon's career has been beset by injury, but he was a very effective rebounder against fierce competition in the ACC. If Shannon can stay healthy, he and Reddick will put some serious pressure on the oppositions forwards on the glass. He will fit in perfectly to Coach Smart's HAVOC system. 

Fearless Prognostication: The Rams will be the 2013-14 champions of the A-10. They have the right mix of talent, coaching and home-court advantage to win the conference, and depending on the draw, a serious run in the NCAA Tournament in March.   

Atlantic 10 2013-14 College Hoops Digest Projected Rankings

1. VCU*
2. Saint Louis*
3. LaSalle*
4. St. Joe's*
5. UMass*
6. Dayton
7. George Mason
8. Fordham
9. George Washington
10. Rhode Island
11. Richmond
12. Duquesne
13. St. Bonaventure

* NCAA Tournament Qualifier 

Preview By Josh Adams, Managing Editor @NCAAHoopsDigest