Who you got? Early predictions for 2015-16

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The general consensus from fans of the A10 is that next year could be a really special one.  The amount of returning talent in the conference is impressive on a number of fronts.  Many teams took their lumps this past season with inexperienced rosters.  The conference’s record in November and December wasn’t anything to get excited about.  Just about every team had a “bad to quite bad” loss before New Year’s Eve.  However, all of those young squads taking tough losses this season gained valuable playing time and experience.  I would suggest to any fan that he or she needs to check out the rosters of returning players for all of the teams in the A10.  There is a TON to be excited about.  VCU’s Shaka Smart stated as much in his postgame press conference after the Championship Game v. Dayton.  Fast forward to the 9-minute mark.

Smart’s comments are spot on. 2015-16 has the potential to be incredible for the A10.  Here are my waaaay too early rankings:

13 & 14

Fordham and George Mason.  Since they are both currently searching for coaches, I didn’t want to include them in this.  Both teams have some talent returning and if the right guy gets either one of these jobs, there could be some improvement here.

12. Duquesne

I don’t really know what those guys in Pittsburgh are up to but I know what they aren’t doing: playing defense.  The Dukes had an adjusted defensive efficiency rating of 324.  That would be better than 27 of the 351 teams in Division 1 hoops.  Hard to pick a team to contend if that number doesn’t improve drastically next year.

11. UMass

The Minutemen are going to have to rely heavily on Davis and Clark next year. I liked what I saw out of Anderson and loved what I saw out of Bergantino’s hair.  Coleman will need to make a big jump for UMass to compete with teams who have established post players. Of course I’m hoping LuWane Pipkins becomes a star because he has one of the greatest names in the history of names.  Maybe Kellogg gets a JUCO forward to help soften the blow of losing Gordon?

10. St. Louis

I love the Ya-Ya bros,  Milik and Archraf. Well, I love Milik and Archraf is in the “friends zone” but throw in Roby, Agbeko, Barley, Crawford, and Jolly and you have a nice young nucleus that played a ton of minutes as underclassmen.  Those kids seem pretty tough and Crews will have them playing tough defense once again. Lost a lot of close game this season.  I see them winning a few more next year.

9.  La Salle

Jordan Price is going to need to carry a lot of the weight for the Explorers next season.  He had stretches during the year where he was fantastic, an epic performance at VCU comes to mind, but he also disappeared from time to time.  The Explorers don’t have a lot of experienced post players right now but I’m sure Dr. John will be ready. Roberts, Lewis, and Stukes are all capable of being solid contributors.

8. Bona

Marcus Posley, Dion Wright, and Jaylen Adams are nice trio.  I just don’t know what to expect from the rest of their teammates.  Transfers leaving the Bonnies have hurt its depth and I would expect Schmidt to try and get a couple of JUCO guys in ASAP.  Wright has 1st team A10 skills, Posley is as clutch as they come, and Adams was really progressing nicely until an unfortunate injury ended his season prematurely.  The Bonnies are going to need post help quickly though if they are to make run next year.

7.  Saint Joseph’s

DeAndre Bembry was a beast in 2015-16. The problem was he didn’t get much help. As the year worn on, Miles, Brown, and Demery all improved.  Baumann is a load in the post and showed flashes of strong play this year.  This is another team that returns an experienced core of players. I’m not crazy about their point guard situation but Newkirk is as quick as they come and should have better command of the offense in year two.  If Bembry takes his game to the next level he’ll be prepping for the NBA draft this time next year.  If the rest of the crew follows his lead and steps their games up accordingly, Joe’s will be in the NIT mix at least.

6.  VCU

The only good thing about Briante Weber’s season-ending injury for VCU was that the Rams got a taste of what life was going to be like without their lightning quick point guard moving forward.  I don’t think it tasted all that great.  JeQuan Lewis filled in admirably and had some big games for the Rams but Weber was a once in a generation type of player.  Mo Alie-Cox really came on in Brooklyn and is a force on the defensive end of the court. Terry Larrier has big time potential and could be a star in the making if he can gain some consistency to his game and weight to his body. Melvin Johnson is open when he walks in the building but he had some brutal stretches for VCU this year where he was simply AWOL.  Doug Brooks has been said to personify VCU basketball in the sense that when he is on , he is a something to see.  But when Brooks goes bad, it is hard to watch.  The Rams have 2 Top 100 recruits coming. Shaka Smart and his assistants are a strong group. I’m picking VCU 6th but I’m also picking them to go dancing in March.

5. GW

This my relationship with GW basketball this season:

I was all about some Colonials heading into this season and they broke my heart!  Perhaps I should have realized that replacing Armwood and Creek wouldn’t be such an easy task but I thought their core group of guys would be able to handle it.  As usual, I was wrong.  Saying GW had trouble scoring the ball at times this year would be like saying George W. Bush had trouble pronouncing any word with more than three syllables. Not a stretch.  But shooting woes be damned, I’m coming back for more this year!  Joe McDonald plays point like Marshawn Lynch plays running back. He looks for contact and isn’t scared to make a play in a crucial situation. Savage had some big games late in the season and is capable of scoring quickly and in bunches.  Kevin Larsen is all of 6-10 and 265 and demands an immediate double team if he has the ball on the low block. Garino is a great defender and finishes in transition as well as anybody in the conference.  Yuta Watanabe showed flashes of serious ability last year but then faded in the later part of league play.  His development will be crucial to this year’s squad taking a step forward. Throw in a couple of nice recruits and this team has to be better next year!   There isn’ any way these guys can let me down again is there?  Everything worked out fine for Mike and the family right?

4.  Davidson

Dear Wildcats, I will never, ever, ever underestimate you again.  I should have known better but I’m not a particularly bright guy so cut me some slack.  What Davidson did this past season was awesome.  I could watch those guys play horse and come away impressed.  The Wildcats, according to Kenpom, were 8th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency.  Honestly, how did 7 teams do it better than the boys from Carolina?  Losing Kalinoski will be tough but they still have Gibbs, Sullivan, Barham, and Aldridge to carry that incredible offense.  Gibbs was playing like a man possessed until that knee started giving him trouble.  His ability to score from all over the court is impressive.  Sullivan is a great fit for McKillop’s offense and makes his teammates better by finding them in rhythm for open looks.  Barham does this a lot:

Barham has the potential to be special if he can gain some consistency with his jumper.  His defense and rebounding will be crucial for Davidson this season.  Peyton Aldridge is a big who shoots like a guard.  He will only get better and that will be a problem for the rest of the league.  McAuliffe provides a physical presence in the post and Ekwu is a stud physically who could develop into a contributor in time.  The Wildcats have one of the top coaches in the country and that is never a bad thing.  These guys are good and are going to be good for as long as McKillop is running the show.

3.  UR

The Spiders lost a brutal game to Miami to end their season this year and Kendall Anthony has played his last game in the red, white, and blue.  Normally fans in that situation would be in dire straights but Spider fans realize that the future is extremely bright.  The Spiders will look to ShawnDré Jones to pick up a majority of the slack left by Anthony’s departure.  Unfortunately, it will be impossible to replace Anthony as he will go down as one of the best ever to play the point in the A10 but Jones is definitely a player.  He plays with an edge to his game and brings a lot of emotion and grit to the Spiders. A smooth transition for Jones from the bench to the starting lineup will be crucial in order for Richmond to be successful.  TJ Cline came into the league with a little bit of buzz but many people weren’t sure how his game would translate in a more competitive league.  Cline came into the A10 and became a consistent double figure scorer and a wonderful passer out of the post for the Spiders.  He presents match-up problems for defenses with his ability to shoot from distance and score in the post.  Terry Allen has all of the tools to be a first team A1o player.  He can shoot from deep, put the ball on the floor, guard multiple positions, and rebound like a beast.  His block against Miami was a crime against humanity.  It hurt the floor.  Alonso Nelson-Ododa is an enigmatic forward/center who shows flashes of brilliance on both ends of the floor but tends to follow them up with periods of sporadic play.  An eye injury really curtailed his progress this season.  If the big fella can become a bit more consistent offensively, the Spiders will be in business.  His defensive game is already top notch and he’s proved to be a fantastic shot blocker throughout his career.  The match-up zone defense which can change into man on the perimeter and in the post that Richmond plays gives people fits.  Teams have a difficult time getting anything easy against the Spiders.  If Richmond can absorb the loss of Anthony in a decent fashion and continue to rely on stifling half court defense, the Spiders will be primed for a strong year in 2015-16.

2. Rhody

The Rams from Rhode Island were almost my top pick in this poll.  I love what Hurley has done with that program in a relatively short period of time.  Rhode Island plays defense with an edge and toughness that shows how connected its players are as a unit.  The Rams were the 9th team in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, effective field goal %, and block % this past season.  They were 2nd in three-point % defense in the country.  Those are insane numbers.  Rhody gets after you on the defensive end of the floor as well as anybody in the country.  However, one can not win a basketball game if one does not score the ball.  The Rams were a below average offensive unit this season but I foresee better days ahead for them on the offensive end of the floor.  E.C. Mathews played a majority of the season with plantar fasciitis.  As someone who has had more than one battle with this terrible ailment and now has multiple pieces of titanium in his foot as a result, all I can say is E.C. is a beast for gutting it out this year.  A basketball player with bad feet is like a helicopter without a blade.  There is little use for him because he isn’t going to be able to do anything for you.  Mathews is one tough kid and an offseason with rehab and rest will serve him well.  When healthy, Mathews is a next level talent like DeAndre Bembry who makes the game look ridiculously easy.  The counter to Mathews perimeter skills is the one and only Hassan Martin, aka #ShaolinSwat.SWATCOUNTER

Martin is one of the most underrated players in the conference in my opinion.  I think he is primed for a monster season in 2015-16.  He plays much bigger than his actual height and completely dominates the paint for stretches during games.  Rhody and Hassan need to do a better job of getting him involved early in games next season.  There aren’t many bigs in the A10 who can handle Martin one-on-one in the post.  Speaking of being a guy who guys can’t handle or don’t want to handle, have you seen Jared Terrell?  Good Lord!  That kid looks like he has been playing linebacker for the Patriots.  I’m sure it is lots of fun to try and get in the way of that runaway bread truck when he is posting you up in the paint or leading the pack in transition.  Terrell just oozes with confidence and natural ability and his progression is going to be fun to watch.  Jarvis Garrett is a guy I’ll be watching very closely this upcoming season. Garrett might not have had great numbers offensively this year but I really like the way he plays the game.  He just seems like a kid who gets what Hurley is trying to do and will sellout on both ends of the floor to help his team win.  His ability to get into the lane and break down guys off the dribble will be a problem for teams trying to sag on Martin or Mathews this year.  The Rams will absolutely miss Buchanan and Birutas but there is enough talented depth on the roster to soften the blow. Reischel and Minnis are great complementary players and the Rams have Iverson, Butts, and Thompson coming in to add quality depth.  If Iverson can get his mind focused on hoops and doing what it takes to help his team to win, he could be a real difference maker this season.  Danny Hurley might rub some of the you the wrong way but you have to admit the guy can coach.  Look at his track record so far, the guy gets it done.  Look for Rhode Island to make a big jump this year and battle once again for a conference championship.

1. Dayton

All hail the #TrueTeam. The story of this year’s Flyers has been told by many writers far more skilled than myself so I won’t bore you with another recap.  All I’ll say is that we will never see another team and performance like we saw out of that tough bunch from Ohio.  I will go on at great length about my love for Dyshawn Pierre however.  I swear there were times this year when I thought I was watching Scottie Pippen play for Dayton.  Pierre did it all for the Flyers and he did it really well.  Pierre is built like a bulldozer but can handle the ball like a guard and can consistently make shots from distance.  His passing ability might be the best out of any forward in the conference.  I love watching Pierre backdown a defender and wait patiently for the defense to collapse, only to then swing the ball to an open teammate for a better look at the hoop.  He is such an unselfish player and constantly makes smart basketball plays to help his team win.  Kendall Pollard had a breakout season this year and was as tough of a kid as you could find in the conference, having to guard players every night who had huge size advantages on him.  Pollard is much like Martin for Rhode Island and Alie-Cox for VCU in that he plays much bigger than his actual size.  There is a toughness to his game which seems to rub off on his teammates.  There were multiple games where I saw Pollard set up a defender on the perimeter by dribbling with his right hand only to crossover or spin to his left and finish at the basket over a taller defender.  Those kind of plays aren’t the norm for guys his size but he made it look easy on a regular basis.  Plus he did this when I was watching him up in D.C. which was freaking awesome:

 

Pollard is a bad, bad man and I can’t wait to see him go up against Rhody and VCU next season.  One of the main reasons why I’m so high on the Flyers for next year is Scoochie Smith.  Smith really seemed to grow as a point guard this year and his performances during the final six weeks of the season were really impressive.  Smith carved up VCU like a Thanksgiving Day turkey in the A10 final.  He was so good that VCU coach Shaka Smart made the decision to go to zone late in the game.  VCU had no answer for him off the dribble.  I see Scoochie being able to build on that this season.  His court vision is second to none and he is another player in this conference who consistently makes his teammates better by the way he plays.  Archie Miller was a solid point guard himself back in the day and you can see how Scoochie is the kind of kid he wants to coach.  Archie Miller man.  What a freaking coach.  How would you like to be Poppa Miller right now?  You have two of the finest college basketball coaches in the country that you get to call son.  Unreal.  I haven’t even mentioned the Davis’ and both of those guys are only going to get better.  Well, I don’t know about Darrell. If he can improve on 47-104 shooting from 3-point land,  I’ll be more than impressed.  Dayton has a ton of talent waiting in the wings and many of those talented players are over 6-6.  The influx of talent and size will mean a change to the “small ball” that was incredibly effective for the Flyers this year but it won’t change the team’s core principles on offense or defense.  Dayton will still move the ball with great quickness and efficiency on offense and continue to play great help defense.  I know that to be true because Archie Miller just signed a contract extension.

I know this is an incredibly longwinded stupid preview for of a season that is over 8 months away but I don’t care.  I apologize for the grammatical errors in advance.  I’ve been know to imbibe when I write.  I know I have issues.  One of the prominent ones being a serious addiction to A10 basketball.  Be well people and enjoy the final days of college hoops of this season.  But rest up and get ready for a hell of a ride next year, we are going to be nothing if not entertained!

 

 

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Brian Keiper is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a M.Ed from University of Richmond. He teaches, coaches, and spends way too much time involved with local basketball in Richmond, Virginia but wouldn't have it any other way.

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