Last season’s Atlantic 10 was loaded with senior talent. Four of the First Team All-Conference selections were seniors, four of the Second and Third Teams were as well for a combined 12 All-Conference selections who will now move on to the next step of their professional careers. That amount of proven talent helped the conference secure six NCAA bids, one of which saw the A-10’s final selection, Dayton, dance their way to their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1984.
That talent has also just graduated, leaving teams the task of filling those voids but also creating opportunities for some previously unheralded pieces to turn into one of our favorite types of player: the sleeper.
Here are sleeper picks we think could make a name for themselves in the Atlantic 10 this season (in no particular order).
1. Jabari Hinds (UMass) – The 5’11 West Virginia transfer takes over for the recently graduated Chaz Williams and joins a Minuteman team that returns some nice pieces that could help him quickly make a name for himself. Hinds averaged just over seven points in his previous two seasons at WVU, so brings experience while having faced a high level of competition himself at his previous school. His numbers took a dip from his freshman to sophomore season, but if he can pull his shooting percentages up, the former top-100 player could help UMass secure a first round tournament bye come early March.
2. Patrick Holloway (George Mason) – Jalen Jenkins will get a lot of attention heading into this season after an impressive start to his career with the Patriots, including an All-Rookie team selection, but it’s Patrick Holloway who’s numbers could skyrocket in the 2014-15 season. With the graduation of guards Sherrod Wright and Bryon Allen leaves a 30-point hole to fill and nearly 65 combined minutes of play. Holloway returns as the Patriots leading scorer at 8.7 ppg this past season but don’t be shocked if the sharpshooter nearly doubles that in Mason’s second season of A-10 play.
3. Mo Alie-Cox (VCU) – Alie-Cox averaged just 14.4 minutes for the Rams this past season but with the graduation of senior Juvonte Reddic, will anchor VCU in the paint this upcoming season. He’s an underrated offensive player who actually led VCU in field gold percentage this past season at 51.9%, but a wall of a defender that led the Atlantic 10 with a 10.3% blocks percentage. His defensive presence will make an already tough VCU defense downright scary.
4. Jalen Robinson (Dayton) – Call this one a hunch. Robinson’s numbers took a dive as a sophomore while averaging just 12.7 minutes per game for the Flyers this past season. He did however have a number of double-digit scoring performances, including 17 points in a big non-conference win over the Cal Bears. With the graduation of Devin Oliver and Matt Kavanaugh, the Flyers will need size, and as a 6’9 243 lb junior who has shown flashes throughout his career, Robinson could find himself on the good side of Flyer fans this season.
5. Micah Mason (Duquesne) – I know it’s probably a stretch calling the Dukes second leading scorer a “sleeper”, but how many people who aren’t die-hard followers of Duquesne basketball could tell you who Micah Mason is, let alone know how deadly of a shooter he has been throughout his career? Mason’s 53.8% career average is nuts, especially considering that number exists after 195 attempts. Mason’s 152.7 offensive rating led not just the A-10 this past season, but all of college basketball. Problem is he was used just 12.6% of possessions. All I’m saying is…what happens if he’s used more?
6. ShawnDre’ Jones (Richmond) – Jones came alive following a season-ending injury to leading scorer, Cedrick Lindsay. Sure, he quickly cooled, but that’s after averaging 15 points per game in the five games immediately following the Lindsay injury. What may limit Jones’ ceiling this season is his diminutive backcourt mate, Kendall Anthony. At 5’10, Jones and the 5’8 Anthony make up an extremely undersized backcourt. Spider head coach Chris Mooney will have the task of figuring out how to keep two of his best offensive players on the court at the same time without weakening his team defensively due to the size of his two best guards.
7. JeQuan Lewis (VCU) – Outside of injuries, no player had a tougher end to his season than JeQuan Lewis. The VCU guard committed the ultimate mistake, fouling a Stephen F Austin player behind the three-point line in the final seconds of regulation in an NCAA tournament game. After that player then converted on the four-point play, Lewis had a chance to redeem himself in overtime but had his wide-open three just miss to end VCU’s season in one of the most heart-breaking losses VCU fans will ever experience. So with that in mind, is there anyone in the league who you can imagine attacking the offseason harder than Lewis? Up to that point the freshman had been having a great season. His 56.3% true shooting percentage led all VCU players on offense while his 3.8% steals percentage was second to only Briante Weber in the backcourt. Lewis is the ideal candidate to replace the graduating Rob Brandenberg, so expect the talented rising sophomore to come into next season as hungry as any player you’ve ever seen.
8. Cleon Roberts (La Salle) – Cleon Roberts comes to La Salle via Georgia Southern where the 6’5 guard averaged 8.6 points as a freshman while hitting 38.5% of his 109 three-point attempts. He should have plenty of opportunities with the graduation of talented guard trio, Tyreek Duren, Tyrone Garland and Sam Mills and has a nice pair of bigs in Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack to work with in his first season in Philly.
9. Achraf Yacoubou (SLU) – The reality is, with 75.3% of their scoring graduating, someone is going to have to score for the Billikens next season. Yacoubou may have struggled in his limited role at Villanova, but this is a guy who averaged 18 points and 9.1 rebounds as a high school senior and had offers from the likes of Kentucky, Wisconsin and UConn. A larger role than the one he had at Villanova may be just what the doctor ordered for Yacoubou.
10. Ryan Rhoomes (Fordham) – Fordham needs someone, ANYONE to step up if head coach Tom Pecora is going to stick around much longer as a head coach of a D1 University in the Bronx. We’re definitely going sleeper here with Rhoomes, but if he can find a way to get more involved, could provide some much needed balance for the Rams. Rhoomes’ 134.7 offensive rating from this past season ranked 3rd nationally and he hit an impressive 66.7% of his shots. At just four attempts per game however, that doesn’t equal a whole heck of a lot of points. He was one of the better offensive rebounders this past season and grabbed 6.3 total boards in his 23.3 minutes per game this past season. But as a junior, the Rams will need him to do even more.
11*. Davidson’s entire team – The Wildcats will join the Atlantic 10 after a 20-win season via the SoCon, returning two double-digit scorers from that squad. Rising sophomore, Brian Sullivan (12.9 ppg), will lead that attack with backcourt mate Tyler Kalinoski (11 ppg). Both will have the challenge in stepping up in weight class against the talented guards of the Atlantic 10.