Conference

A10 Season Preview

I ended up taking a boatload of notes when researching the A10 for our season preview podcast (that you can listen to here) so it made sense to try to turn them into something readable and post it. I’ve listed the teams in rough order of how I think they’ll finish this season. Most predictions will be very wrong.

Clear favorites tier

  1. Rhode Island
  • Obvious favorite, but they lose their whole frontcourt between Hassan Martin + Kuran Iverson. They were 40th in defensive rating last year in large part due to their frontcourt that won’t be there anymore – between Martin + Iverson they lose 14 rebounds and almost 4 blocks per game. It’s tough to overstate how much even one eraser, nevermind two, can change the makeup of a defense.
    • No seriously – Rhode Island was 4th in the entire NCAA in block percentage last year (15.7%) and both of the shot-blockers are gone now.
  • EC Matthews, Jared Terrell, Stanford Robinson, and Jeff Dowtin are probably the best group of four returning players in the A10, but they’re all guards. Hurley’s a fine coach who’ll be with a Power 5 school at some point the next three years.
  • 6’8”, 225lb rising sophomore Cyril Langevine had a better block rate and rebounding rate than Iverson, with 4.5 rebounds in 13 minutes per game and a block rate of 6%. Really the rebounding plus some solid defense is all he needs to do for Rhode Island to be very good, but they’re likely to look and feel a lot different than they did last year, at least on defense. Langevine can probably be as good as Iverson but they don’t have another Hassan Martin waiting in the wings.
  1. St. Bonaventure
  • I have Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley as top 5 players in the A10. Jaylen Adams was my #1 and Mobley my #5. They averaged 39.1 points on 26.5 shots per game last year and they’re both good defenders to boot. Anyone who doesn’t think this is one of the best backcourt tandems in the country just wants to argue.
  • Very good scoring team last year (108.1 ORating) but middling defensively (101.8 DRating). They struggled to get stops against quality opponents.
  • Jaylen Adams plays a free safety/center field role when he’s off the ball on defense and it’s fun to watch. He does it in zone and in man when the man he’s guarding is far to the weak side. It contributes to his steal total, but it’s not something he can get away with against better opponents.
  • I want to like them a lot more because guards are awesome to watch, but they’ll have a tough time matching well-rounded teams unless someone emerges as a rebounder and post defender. Josh Ayeni was freshman big last year (6 ppg) but doesn’t really rebound or defend to his size yet (6’8” 220lb, 8% total rebound rate, 1.3% block rate). For comparison’s sake, Jaire Grayer, a 6’4” guard from George Mason, had a 10.1% TRB and a 3.4% block rate.
  • We know backcourt is one of best in country. This team’s ceiling depends on whether or not any one in frontcourt emerges.

Not as good as the favorites but still very good tier

  1. Davidson
  • Peyton Aldridge is a legitimate preseason Player of the Year candidate behind Jaylen Adams in my book. He had over 20 points + 8 rebounds per game last year and shot close to 40% from three.
  • I also like Jon Axel Gudmundsson – ranked him 18th in my A10 top 25 where no one else had him in the top 25. Not exactly where I was trying to plant a flag but he was an efficient scorer and had 3.5 assists per game with an A/TO over 2.
  • Kellan Grady, 6’4” combo guard, is a good recruit for them. Scout gave him a 4-star, top-100 ranking, and he had offers from Creighton, Xavier, URI, and St. Joe’s.
  • KiShawn Pritchett was also a good recruit who looks like he’ll be taking on a lot more responsibility in Gibbs’ absence. His 25% turnover rate from last season is a concern and he didn’t shoot very well, but a year to develop with McKillop should help him.
  • Their talent level behind Aldridge is a question mark, but they return almost all of their minutes outside of A10 First Teamer Jack Gibbs. McKillop is a savvy coach. I can see them finishing high in what looks to be a down year for the A10.
  1. St. Joe’s
  • They were a very poor offensive team last year, particularly after Shavar Newkirk went down. ORating was 283rd in the NCAA last season at 99 points per 100 possessions.
  • That was due in part to the inefficiency of their scorers. Lamarr Kimble had 15.5 points on 14.6 shots per game. He also had 4.5 assists per game, yes, but also 3.3 turnovers. Kind of a volume stats guy. James Demery had 14.5 points on 12.1 shots, Charlie Brown 12.8 points on 11.1 shots, and you get the idea.
  • Now, Newkirk was absolutely ballin through 12 games before he tore his ACL. He had a 27% usage rating, was scoring 20ppg on 13 shots, and added 5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and a steal on top of that. Coming back from an ACL injury, there’s no guarantee he’ll be the same guy right away.
  • I don’t totally know what to make of them. Yes, they bring everyone back, but they were really bad last year. We’ll see how much better Newkirk makes everyone around him.

They lost a coach and four starters so we’re basically just guessing, but these teams are usually pretty good tier

  1. Dayton
  • Lost head coach and four senior starters. Ryan Mikesell, a core rotation player, is taking a medical redshirt year after hip surgery. They’ll look completely different this year.
  • Xeyrius Williams + Josh Cunningham did damage in secondary roles. Xeyrius is 6’8”, shot 40% from three and grabbed almost five rebounds a game. He’s very much in the mold of the type of stretch 4 that can be dominant in the A10.
  • Josh Cunningham was a very efficient scorer, averaging 6.3 points on only 3.8 shots per game.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo’s little brother, Kostas, is eligible after redshirting last year and he’ll probably get a lot of minutes this year. He’s the most interesting prospect in the A10 by virtue of being the Greek Freak’s little brother, and being a 6’10” small forward. It’s not fair to expect him to be his brother, but he looks like he’ll be an impact player from day one.
  • Ultimately, just a ton of question marks on this team. They have talent, but how well does Anthony Grant manage it?
  1. VCU
  • Might bite me in the ass but I’m not as sold on them as everyone else. Feels like they’re getting a benefit of the doubt because no one knows who else to put up at the top of the conference.
  • They return two guys at 24+ minutes per game with Justin Tillman and last year’s sixth man Jonathan Williams. De’Riante Jenkins, Malik Crowfield, and Marquell Fraser combined for 25 minutes per game. Everyone else they’ll rely on is a first-year player.
  • Jenkins looks like a star in the making. He’s a highly rated recruit that took a backseat to VCU’s senior guards last season but posted good efficiency numbers in limited time.
  • Losing Mo Alie-Cox hurts. Similar to Rhode Island, VCU’s guards were able to defend very aggressively because they had an eraser protecting the rim. Tillman isn’t a shot-blocker (only 0.5 blocks per game the last two seasons) so they’ll have a tough time pressing unless a shot-blocker emerges. One caveat – Tillman posted a really good 9.5% block rate his freshman season. It’s possible he’s a capable shot-blocker but he ceded those duties to Alie-Cox the past two seasons.
  • Graduate transfer Khris Lane blocked 35 shots in 30 games last year, but that was buoyed by several games with two or more blocks against these opponents: Maine, Salem International, Dartmouth, Averett, High Point, Gardner-Webb, Radford, Winthrop, and Gardner-Webb again. Those games accounted for 23 of his blocks. He might become VCU’s shot-blocker but he’ll have a tougher time in the A10.

Gonna be honest, I don’t have a strong opinion on this tier

  1. La Salle
  • BJ Johnson is a legit player of the year candidate and Pookie Powell is also really good. Senior guard Amar Stukes also dished 4 assists per game last year, though he didn’t shoot very well (under 30% from 3). This backcourt has some firepower.
  • The caveat – they were horribly disorganized defensively last year – 315th in the country in defensive rating at 108.9 pts/100 possessions. They didn’t have any rim protection (322nd in the NCAA with a 6% block rate) and it’s unclear where they expect to get it from this year. There’s a cap on how much better the defense can get without some paint protection.
  • You could put them lower because of how terrible they were on defense, but the argument for them looks something like this:
    • They had a lot of guys playing together for the first time last year. They return a lot of minutes, so a year of experience should help their defense gel.
    • Pookie Powell missed five conference games. La Salle was 7-6 in conference with Pookie, and 2-3 without him.
  1. George Mason
  • Super tough to project since we don’t know who the starters are or have a good idea of rotation. Last year: 153rd in ORating (105.2) and 158th in DRating (101.8), so there’s plenty of room to get better or to get worse.
  • Played all competitive possessions with either four or five guards on the court last season, which led to crazy defensive mismatches. 6’4” Jaire Grayer, 6’4” Ian Boyd, and 6’3” Justin Kier usually had responsibility of guarding opposing 4s, no matter how big they were.
  • This year they will be able to play matchups on defense with multiple viable 6’7” or taller players.
  • Question becomes where does the offense come from – Mason returns 37 points per game between Otis Livingston, Jaire Grayer, Justin Kier, and Ian Boyd.
  • A likely outcome seems that Mason is better defensively, worse offensively, and about the same overall as last year’s 9-9 finish.
  • UPDATE: Since the time this was written, redshirt sophomore Daniel Relvao left the program. While not expected to be an impact player, he was a 6’9” functional big man who could play some defense and rebound. Mason loses a lot of matchup flexibility without him. Mason is down to eight scholarship players and only three players over 6’4″ (two true freshmen in Goanar Mar at 6’7″ and Greg Calixte at 6’8″, and redshirt freshman AJ Wilson at 6’7″). Ability to defend the paint will be something to keep an eye on.
  1. Saint Louis
  • Season two for Travis Ford. They were atrocious last year, with a 93.1 ORating (341st in the NCAA) and a 105.1 DRG (230th).
  • Davell Roby was an under-the-radar good player – I compared him to Jared Terrell from URI in a player A/player B tweet:
  • I like rising sophomore Jalen Johnson. He’s a lanky guard/forward type who uses his length well on both ends of the floor. He hurt Mason’s smaller guards in both games last year.
  • Saint Louis is yet another A10 team that will lean heavily on first year players, which makes them difficult to project. Four transfers sat out last year and become eligible this year. Adonys Henriquez, a UCF transfer, and Javon Bess, a Michigan State transfer, project to get a lot of time. Henriquez was solid if not spectacular, averaging 10 ppg and shooting 38% from deep as a sophomore with UCF. Bess got 11 minutes per game with Michigan State as a sophomore, not contributing a whole lot to the box score.
  • In addition to the transfers they landed Jordan Goodwin, the highest ranked recruit in the A10 this season, and Hasahn French, another very highly rated recruit. Again, plenty of talent, but how well the coaching staff does with it is where I get skeptical.

Need a lot of things to go right tier

  1. George Washington
  • All-A10 2nd teamer Tyler Cavanaugh graduated, and five other players are leaving the program early. People are rightfully down on them as they only return six players from last year’s team.
  • Yuta Watanabe will be a player to watch. A lot of NBA qualities (size, movement, handles) but hasn’t put it all together yet. Absolutely destructive defensive force when he wants to be.
  • I kind of like GW’s coach Maurice Joseph. What stands out from the Mason games last year was that they relentlessly exploited the mismatches left by one of the four guards defending either Cavanaugh or Watanabe. Cavanaugh and Watanabe combined for 72 points in the two games against Mason.
  • Could see GW riding the star power of Watanabe (if he makes a leap) to a surprising finish in a very uncertain year in the A10. Jair Boldin + Arnaldo Toro had solid freshman seasons. Problem is that outside of those three, everyone else that will be getting minutes for them is an unknown.
  1. Richmond
  • Demonte Buckingham was great last year as a true freshman. Filled up box score w/10.5 pts, 5.6 rbs, 2.3 asts, 1.6 steals and almost a block per game. He’s one of my picks to break into the top 10 in the A10 this season. Excited to see what he can do when the offense isn’t running through Cline.
  • Kwan Fore will miss first 4-6 weeks of the season, which means we’ll probably get a taste of freshman Jacob Gilyard early on.
  • This is another team that will look way different since they ran everything through A10 Player of the Year TJ Cline last season. They have next to nothing returning in the frontcourt. Last year’s offense was to surround Cline with four guards/shooters and let him create. They won’t be able to play that style again.

The dregs tier

  1. UMass
  • The style of offense they played under former coach Derek Kellogg made no sense for their personnel. They took a ton of threes and didn’t feature Holloway enough, who’s a very skilled back-to-the-basket big. Over 40% of their shots were threes (70th in the nation) and their best shooter was CJ Anderson at 36%. Their second best 3-point shooter was Luwane Pipkins at 31.8%. That’s really bad. It’s hard to overstate how little sense this style made for them.
  • Now, they were pretty good defensively, with a 98.5 DRating, good for 75th in country. The talent was there. Unfortunately, they’re another team that had a mass exodus after Kellogg was relieved as coach.
  • Luwane Pipkins had a promising freshman year but he wasn’t in my A10 T25. He was a volume guy, with 10.2 points on 9.8 shots per game last year.
  1. Fordham
  • They gamble for steals hard with an insane press-and-trap scheme. If they don’t get the steals they generally give up buckets. Check this out – they were 2nd in the NCAA in opponent turnover % last season, but 318th in opponent TS%. This actually evened out for a respectable 99.9 DRating.
  • They didn’t have a ton of talent last year outside of Joseph Chartouny, Javontae Hawkins, Antwoine Anderson, and Christian Sengfelder. Unfortunately, Chartouny is the only one of those guys coming back. Hawkins graduated while Anderson and Sengfelder transferred. There’s not much reason to believe they’ll be any good.
  1. Duquesne
  • They’re a grease fire. I feel bad for Mike Lewis, who had a great freshman season and was on the A10 all-rookie team.
  • Fellow A-10 all-rookie Isiah Mike transferred. Duquesne is another team that wasn’t good and won’t be returning most of their minutes from last season.
  • Keith Dambrot looks like a promising coaching hire. They brought in four transfers who will be eligible next year, so the future doesn’t look so bad. This year, they’re tanking for draft position.

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