1. Rhode Island Rams
I’ve yet to see a pre-season Atlantic 10 power ranking without Rhode Island as the headliner. The Rams, top-to-bottom, should undoubtedly be the favorites in the A-10 next season. This backcourt runs deep; in fact, it may be one of the deepest in the country. E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, and Jarvis Garrett all return for Dan Hurley’s squad. Add returnees Jeff Dowtin, Stanford Robinson, and freshman Daron “Fats” Russell, and you’ve got a backcourt that runs more than 6 men deep. Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson have graduated, but Cyril Langevine, Nicola Akele, and Andre Berry should get more playing time in order to fill the gap at the 5. In 2017, Rhode Island made its first NCAA Tournament since 1999, and 2018 shouldn’t be any different.
2. St. Bonaventure Bonnies
When it comes to backcourts in the Atlantic 10, there’s a fine line between depth and talent. While the Rams likely have one of the deepest guards set in the nation, St. Bonaventure may have the most talented. Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley are going to be one of the most deadly duos in the nation. Mobley showed the nation he can be a high-level scorer last season, and Adams made big strides in his passing and defensive ability. While the Bonnies lose Denzel Gregg to graduation, they return forwards Josh Ayeni and Amadi Ikpeze who showed tremendous promise in their first seasons in Olean. As an X-Factor, don’t forget about Courtney Stockard who missed all of last season with a foot injury. He could be a 10+ PPG scorer, adding another layer of scoring to a team that’s already expected to be explosive offensively.
3. VCU Rams
While I was skeptical of VCU’s ability to reload after losing head coach Will Wade along with talented studs JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox, Mike Rhoades has done a terrific job rebuilding this offseason; it seems VCU will be in contention like usual. Longwood transfer Khris Lane should get serious playing time at the 4 or 5 next season, and freshmen Sean Mobley and Marcus Santos-Silva should give the Rams one of the deeper backcourts in the league. Don’t forget about Justin Tillman, who could quietly emerge as an Atlantic 10 POY candidate in his senior season. Expect wing De’Riante Jenkins to have an enormous sophomore season, as he’ll remain one of the deadliest threats from three point range next year. Newcomers Xavier Jackson, Issac Vann, and Corey Douglas should all be good role players off the bench, and VCU’s X-Factor is going to be Jonathan Williams, who’ll look to finish his career at VCU with a bang.
4. Saint Louis Billikens
I’m very high on the Billikens, and there seems to be good reason to believe in Travis Ford’s 2017-18 squad. Talk about newcomers, the Billikens have a lot of them. Transfers Adonys Henriquez, Javon Bess, and D.J. Foreman are all ready to take the floor for the first time after sitting out last season. Also, Saint Louis has one of the better recruiting classes in the nation, bringing in 4 star shooting guard Jordan Goodwin and 3 star forward Hasahn French. The Billikens also return Jalen Johnson, Aaron Hines, Davell Roby, and Elliott Welmer. With a lot of newcomers and a lot of returning players, there still remain a lot of question marks. How will this team’s chemistry be, and how able is Travis Ford to finish in the top half of the league? Time will tell, but there’s certainly a lot of excitement revolving around this Saint Louis team.
5. Dayton Flyers
Dayton is a big question mark heading into 2017-18 — maybe the biggest of them all. How will Anthony Grant replace Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke, Kendall Pollard, and Kyle Davis? The Flyers have been to 4 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, but those 4 seniors were probably the biggest reason why. Now, it’s going to be up to the younger guys to keep this program at the level it’s been operating at. Particularly, Xeyrius Williams is going to have big shoes to fill in the coming season. The sophomore had a breakout year, playing well inside the arc but absolutely scorching the nets from deep in Atlantic 10 play. As a junior, he could easily be Dayton’s best player, and he’ll more than likely be an all-conference contender. The Flyers are not used to having a lot of size in the post, but Josh Cunningham and Kostas Antetokounmpo could make Dayton a team that cleans up the glass and dominates the interior. The biggest question mark for the Flyers is going to be John Crosby at point guard. If he and freshman Jalen Crutcher can be efficient at the top of the key, Dayton could finish near the top of the standings yet again.
6. Saint Joseph’s Hawks
I’ve seen quite a few varying opinions on where the Hawks rank heading into 2017-18. I’ve seen them as high as 2, and I’ve seen them as low as 7 or 8. While Saint Joseph’s did face an unfair number of injuries last season, it still has a lot to prove, even when completely healthy. Saint Joseph’s still struggled before conference play (and before the injuries of Newkirk and Kimble), with its best win coming over Princeton. Close wins over Drexel and Toledo were a bit concerning. Losses to Temple, NC State, and Ole Miss weren’t bad by any means, but this didn’t look like a Top-6 A-10 team even in the non-conference slate. There’s a lot to be said about Charlie Brown emerging as one of the best underclassmen in the Atlantic 10, and a healthy backcourt of Kimble and Newkirk is going to be dominant, but I’m not sold on the Hawks just yet. Saint Joseph’s will undoubtedly be an improved bunch, but Phil Martelli and co. are going to have to manufacture one heck of a conference season if they want to beat out VCU or St. Bonaventure this year.
7. George Mason Patriots
Here’s a team that I think a lot of people are sleeping on heading into the 2017-18 season. There’s been a lot of talk about Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, and Saint Joseph’s when it comes to backcourts, but the Patriots’ have a set of guards that runs deep. Otis Livingston II and Jaire Grayer will headline a backcourt that also has Justin Kier, Ian Boyd, and Kamari Newman coming off the bench. What’s the best kept secret in the Atlantic 10? It could be George Mason freshmen Goanar Mar and A.J. Wilson Jr. The two three star wings will provide immediate minutes and should flourish in Dave Paulsen’s system. George Mason looks somewhat thin on the frontline, but Troy Temara, Greg Calixte, and Daniel Relvao should fill the gaps down low. I wouldn’t be surprised to see George Mason easily finish 7th or better next season.
8. Davidson Wildcats
With a potential POY in Peyton Aldridge and a loaded senior class at his disposal, Bob McKillop has what it takes to take the league by surprise this season. Aldridge should be even more of a force than he was last season, as Jack Gibbs is no longer at the helm of this squad. Expect Jon Axel Gudmundsson to be one of the Wildcats’ main threats from downtown, and Will Magarity and Nathan Ekwu should once again provide upside in the post. Jordan Watkins and Rusty Reigel will have one more go-around in their senior seasons, and Kellan Grady could quietly be the best freshman in the Atlantic 10. With a loaded senior class and some young talent on the rise, the time is now for Davidson to make a run at the NCAA Tournament.
9. Richmond Spiders
The future is bright with De’Monte Buckingham on the roster. He’s going to have to be the next T.J. Cline in Richmond, and the future of the program is going to depend on his success. He and Khwan Fore could take this Richmond team to the top half of the Atlantic 10, but this is mainly going to be a rebuilding year for the Spiders. If Buckingham can take over the league like Cline was able to do last season, there’s no telling how far this team could go. Realistically though, this could be a down year for Richmond as its young talent grows and tries to learn the system.
10. La Salle Explorers
This looks to be B.J. Johnson’s team now, as Jordan Price has graduated and left the Explorers in new hands. The Syracuse transfer had a breakout 2016-17 campaign and even opted to test out the NBA waters before returning to school. His senior year will be a big opportunity for him to show just how good he is. Can he take this La Salle team to the top half of the league? It’s going to be difficult, but it’s certainly going to be doable. He’ll have the help of rising stud point guard Pookie Powell, and you can’t forget about Demetrius Henry or Tony Washington. Quietly, one of the best transfers in the A-10 is Marquette’s Traci Carter who will come in and immediately be an impact player for this La Salle team. There’s certainly some success to be had in Philly.
11. George Washington Colonials
It’s tough to be optimistic about a program when it loses multiple players to the transfer market. Losses of Jordan Roland, Jaren Sina, Kevin Marfo, and Collin Smith all hurt, and George Washington’s going to have to invest deeply in its workhorse: Yuta Watanabe. This team is going to rely heavily on Yuta’s production on both ends of the floor, and even though the program looks to be in good hands with head coach Maurice Joseph, the Colonials just don’t have the personnel to do anything special this season. A lot of new pieces are going to have to come together in Foggy Bottom, and it’s going to be difficult for MOJO to make it all work.
12. Massachusetts Minutemen
The offseason losses of DeJon Jarreau and Donte Clark were difficult pills for this Massachusetts team to swallow, but head coach Matt McCall will have to find a way to move along. Incoming transfers Khalea Turner-Morris and Jaylen Brantley look as if they’ll provide immediate support to a ruptured UMass roster. LuWane Pipkins and C.J. Anderson will also be back to try to keep this backcourt afloat. The biggest factor working for the Minutemen right now is Rashaan Holloway, the big man who could be one of the best players in the Atlantic 10 this season. As other A-10 teams look rather thin on the frontline, look for Holloway to dominate inside.
13. Duquesne Dukes
I like the direction of this team with the hiring of Keith Dambrot, and I like the additions he’s made in the offseason. It seems like this team could have some rising potential in the next couple years, but this season shouldn’t be too much better than the last. The biggest loss of the offseason was rising sophomore Isiaha Mike, but the biggest news for Duquesne was the decision of guard Mike Lewis II to stay with the Dukes. If Dambrot uses Lewis II to build a foundation, this team could make minor strides in a couple of seasons.
14. Fordham Rams
You really shouldn’t expect much from Fordham this season, as almost all of its talent has transferred out of the program. Joseph Chartouny remains the only true impact player left on the roster, and it’s going to take a lot for him to bring this team out of the pit of the league. All in all, Jeff Neubauer is going to have to pull a lot of strings to keep this Fordham team from finishing last in the conference this year.