Men’s Atlantic 10 Preview: Ferry looks to climb from conference cellar

Eric Purnell and Joey Sykes | The Duquesne Duke

1 Virginia Commonwealth
2012-2013: 27-9 overall, 12-4 Atlantic 10
VCU and St. Louis will likely be neck and neck again this year after meeting in the Atlantic 10 conference championship last year. Though the Billikens won, we believe VCU has the best chance to finish on top this year, primarily because of the tough defense head coach Shaka Smart assembled in recent years. Even with the loss of Troy Daniels and Darrius Theus, the Rams still boast a fast, dynamic offense. We expect to see VCU finish 27-9 again if not better. Matchups against St. Louis and UMass will be the toughest challenge the Rams will face all year. If they can manage those, we see VCU in firm control of the conference at the end of the regular season.

2 St. Louis
2012-2013: 28-7 overall, 13-3 Atlantic 10
The Billikens surprised a lot of teams last year with an impressive win over the VCU in the conference championship. Even though St. Louis couldn’t find its way past Oregon in the second round of the NCAA tournament, they still have a lot of guys that are capable of producing similar results. The team had the best defense in the conference last year and players like Jordair Jett and Cody Ellis have the opportunity to replicate last year’s performance. With some dancing experience, they have a chance to advance further than the second round in the tournament this time around. Jim Crew’s squad will be a fun one to watch, and that’s why we expect them to finish just behind VCU.

3 La Salle
2012-2013: 24-10 overall, 11-5 Atlantic 10
After finding their way to the Sweet 16 last year, La Salle ruined a lot of brackets before they eventually lost to Wichita State. The team had some good news and bad news this offseason relating to their players. The good news was that only one player from their team graduated. The bad news was that player, Ramon Galloway, was the best player on the team. Hope is not lost for the Explorers, though. Their starting lineup is filled with upperclassman, which means they will be playing with a lot of experience. That said, we think La Salle has a chance to build from last year’s postseason run and make another appearance in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

4 UMass
2012-2013: 21-12 overall, 9-7 Atlantic 10
The Minutemen are looking to shock a lot of people this year. Chaz Williams, a player some think is the best in the Atlantic 10, is a strong defender who can also score. He led the team in that department last year. One of the fastest teams in the country, averaging 71 possessions per game, UMass added Western Kentucky transfer Derrick Gordon, who is expected to provide some help on defense alongside Williams. Even though the team lost an outstanding forward in Jesse Morgan, they will look for young players like Cady Lalanne to step up. They’ll head the conference’s second tier.

5 Dayton
2012-2013: 17-14 overall, 7-9 Atlantic 10
The Flyers are still growing under young coach Archie Miller. They’re building toward a berth in the Big Dance as well – maybe not this year, but soon. The biggest problem the team faces right now is replacing guard Kevin Dillard, who helped turn Dayton into a competitive program over the course of his career. Miller was patient last year and expects heavy contributions from Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert and Matt Kavanaugh, who was suspended all of last year. While an Atlantic 10 championship and a tournament appearance are not in the immediate future, we believe the end to Dayton’s rebuilding process is here. There is only one place the team can go now and that is up.

6 St. Joseph’s
2012-2013: 18-14 overall, 8-8 Atlantic 10
The Hawks find themselves in the middle of the pack after coming off a stagnant season last year. Going .500 in the conference won’t take you far but there seems to be some hope on Hawk Hill. They’ll return three seniors starters, including Langston Galloway. We think the team has a good offense this year but don’t think they’re ready to make the final push to contend near the top of the conference. We think if the offense can start dominating opponents this season, they have a chance to surprise a lot of folks. If not, don’t expect the Hawks to be beating any of their opponents above .500.

7 Richmond
2012-2013: 18-14 overall, 8-8 Atlantic 10
This spot was really a toss-up between Richmond and St. Joe’s, but the Spiders’ subpar defense puts them at a disadvantage. The team underperformed last season, playing streaky basketball all year. The team has talent, and will probably take a step forward from last year, but just not enough to jump into the top tier of Atlantic 10 teams. If they can take care of business against teams like Dayton, St. Joe’s and George Mason, they may be able to sneak their way into the top five in the conference. That’s a hefty task over the course of an entire season though.

8 George Mason
2012-2013: 22-16 overall, 10-8 Atlantic 10
George Mason was a middle-of-the-pack team through the 2012-2013 season, something that likely won’t change this year. George Mason didn’t lose much talent in the offseason, but they still lack the firepower to make the jump to the next level. They are a solid team, which simply cannot compete with the top teams in the conference. They could climb a few spots in the standings, but we just do not see this team improving as much this year as Dayton, St. Joe’s, and Richmond will.
9 George Washington
2012-2013: 13-17 overall, 7-9 Atlantic 10
After the success Villanova transfer Isaiah Armwood had with the Colonials last season, George Washington brought in former Indiana guard Maurice Creek, another player struggling at a powerful basketball program. Creek’s career has been riddled by injuries, including a ruptured Achilles tendon that cut his career short at Indiana. But if Creek can live up to his potential in the nation’s capital, George Washington could see a bump in their rankings with a winning record certainly not out of the question. However their scoring struggles and lack of depth make it unlikely that the Colonials join the big dogs of the Atlantic 10.

10 Rhode Island
2012-2013: 8-21 overall, 3-13 Atlantic 10
Rhode Island is a team that we believe is on the rise. With Dan Hurley at the helm and a behemoth sophomore forward in Jordan Hare, the team has a lot to be excited about moving forward. However, as is the problem with so many conference basement dwellers, Rhode Island faces the task of improving from last year’s uninspiring campaign while replacing top players. After scoring a career high 299 points last season, Andre Malone looks to continue with consistent contributions on the offensive end. With the team’s lack of experience, it is hard to imagine Rhode Island climbing the standings too much this season, but do look for them to take steps in the right direction.

11 Fordham
2012-2013: 7-24 overall, 3-13 Atlantic 10
The Rams managed to narrowly avoid last place in the conference winning three Atlantic 10 battles to Duquesne’s one, but are not looking like a team that is on the rise anytime soon. Fordham lost one of their bright spots in 6-foot-7 senior guard Chris Gaston to graduation last spring. Gaston, who averaged 7.5 rebounds and 14.4 points per game will leave a big hole to fill in an underwhelming lineup. With Gaston’s departure and the amount of talent in the Atlantic 10, look for a similarly bad season out of Fordham.

12 Duquesne
2012-2013: 8-22 overall, 1-15 Atlantic 10
It has been 33 years since Duquesne has made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament and in all likelihood that will not change just yet. Duquesne has made great strides to improve facilities at the Palumbo Center for recruiting purposes, but the talent is just not there yet. Second-year coach Jim Ferry knows that the team is amidst a rebuild, but that cannot simply happen over one offseason. The Dukes have brought in nine new players, including highly touted junior college transfer Tra’Vaugn White, but still lack the firepower to keep up with powerhouses like St. Louis and VCU.

13 St. Bonaventure
2012-2013: 14-15 overall, 7-9 Atlantic 10
A 14-15 team at the bottom of the power rankings? We know it doesn’t seem like the Bonnies should be ranked that low based on last season. But they lost their three leading scorers in Eric Mosely, Demetrius Conger, and Chris Johnson. Take away that offensive production from last season, and consider how bad their defense already was, and things are not looking good for the Bonnies this year.