A-10 Rankings: How Many NCAA Bids In 2015?

Mar 21, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; VCU Rams head coach Shaka Smart gestures in the second half of a men
Mar 21, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; VCU Rams head coach Shaka Smart gestures in the second half of a men /

The Atlantic-10 received a record six NCAA bids last year, can the conference match that number this year?

It appears that the feat will be difficult as the A-10 lost a bunch of top-tier talent including 12 of the 15 players that were selected to the three all-conference teams a year ago.

The league did add a new team in Davidson, a longtime power in the Southern Conference, and the conference’s aggressive non-conference scheduling could provide teams with an opportunity to duplicate the conference’s success last season.

VCU, led by Shaka Smart, will once again be among the top teams in the conference. The Rams have finished second in the conference the past two years and are 24-8 in league games since joining the A-10 prior to the 2012-13 season. VCU is 137-46 with four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances under Smart.

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Dayton and George Washington should challenge the Rams for conference supremacy. UMass, Richmond and Rhode Island are probably a touch behind those two programs but they have enough talent to possibly contend for a NCAA bid.

La Salle, Duquesne and St. Bonaventure could surprise if their young talent grow quickly and they may possibly make postseason appearances this year (NIT, CBI).

The following is the first installment of the A-10 power rankings. These rankings will be updated every Wednesday during the season.

1. VCU (26-9 overall last year, 12-4 league): VCU is one of three programs to have won at least 26 games in five consecutive seasons. The Rams hectic style of defense will create headaches for opposing offenses this year once again. They also return 68.8 percent of their scoring, 68.2 percent of their rebounding and 80.7 percent of their free throw shooting.

Seniors Trevon Graham (15.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG) and Briante Walker (9.4, 4.1 RPG) along with junior Melvin Johnson (10.4 PPG, 2.2 RPG) form a solid backcourt but there are questions about the frontcourt. Graham an all-around stud is a candidate for conference POY honors while Johnson led the team with 66 three-pointers. Terry Larrier and Michael Gilmore are freshmen to watch.

2. Dayton (26-11, 10-6): Dayton made a surprise run to the Elite Eight last season but lost three starters. The Flyers 26 victories were the third most in school history, while they are unlikely to match that total there are plenty of reasons for the Flyers to be excited. Senior Jordan Sibert (12.2) along with junior forwards Dyshawn Pierce (11.2, 5.5 RPG) and Devon Scott (3.4, 2.7 RPG) return. Sophomores Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard and freshman Darrell Davis are guys to keep an eye on.

3. George Washington (24-9, 11-5): George Washington tied the program’s record for most victories in a season and they reached the second round of the NCAA tournament a year ago. The Colonels, who will rely on a balanced scoring attack and tough defense this year, lost two key seniors in Maurice Cook and Isaiah Armwood. However, Kethan Savage (12.7, 4.3 RPG), Patricio Garino (12.4, 4.4 RPG), Kevin Larson (11.1, 6.9 RPG) and Joe McDonald (8.3, 4.1 APG) form an impressive junior class. Matt Cimino, a 6’10” freshman forward, has a ton of upside.

4. UMass (24-9, 10-6): UMass made the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 1998 but they lost three key players including star point guard Chaz Williams. Junior guards Trey Davis (9.2), who converted 37.7 percent of his three pointers, and Derrick Gordon (9.4, 3.5 RPG) should form a solid backcourt unit. If West Virginia transfer Jabarie Hinds improves his shooting, the Minuteman could have one of the best backcourts in the conference. Seniors Cady Lalanne (11.3, 7.7 RPG, 2.2 BPG) and Maxie Esho (8.9, 5.0 RPG) have the potential to consistently post double-doubles.

5. Rhode Island (14-18,5-11): Not much went right for Rhode Island last year but the Rams return four starters, including sophomores E.C. Mathews and Hassan Martin. Mathews, the Conference’s co-Rookie of the Year, finished second on the team with 14.3 points and 2.7 assists. While Mathews will be running the show at point guard, Martin will be handling things on the interior. He was the team’s third leading scorer (6.3) and a very good rebounder (5.7). Senior forward Gilvydas Biruta (10.6, 7.0 RPG) along with senior guard T.J.Buchanan (5.8) and junior guard Biggie Minnis (4.7) provide depth.

6. Richmond (19-14, 8-8): Richmond got off to a 17-8 start last year but sputtered down the stretch losing 8 of their last 10. The Rams, who were hampered by injuries, return six of the seven players that were healthy at the end of last season. Senior Kendall Anthony (15.9), a candidate for Conference POY, leads the returnees along with junior Terry Allen (10.2, 5.7 RPG). Trey Davis (5.0, 6.9 RPG), ShawnDre’ Jones (6.4, 38.2 3PT), Alonzo Nelson-Odado and Deion Taylor also return. And the Rams brought in Niagara transfer T.J. Cline, who has potential and three year of eligibility remaining.

7. La Salle (15-16, 7-9): La Salle was a disappointment last seasons and is a huge question mark this year. The Explorers lost their entire backcourt but return a pair of bruisers in 6’8” senior Jerrell Wright (13.3, 6.6 RPG) and 6’11 senior Steve Zack (8.8, 9.5 RPG). La Salle brought in a several talented newcomers in freshman guard Amur Stukes along and sophomore transfers Jordan Price (Auburn) and Cleon Roberts (Georgia Southern).

8. Duquesne (13-17, 5-11): Duquesne has improved from 8 wins to 13 the last two years under third-year coach Jim Ferry. The Dukes lost leading scorer Okie Sovo (18.0, 8.0 RPG) but Micah Mason (10.6), the D-I leader in three-point shooter, returns. Mason, a 6’2” junior guard, shot 56 percent from beyond the arc and was with an one assists of leading the nation in assist –to-turnover ratio (5.69/1). Dominique McKoy (9.7, 7.2 RPG), Derrick Colter (9.1, 3.4 APG), Jeremiah Jones (6.3) , Desmond Ridenour (4.8) and L.G. Gill (3.6) are the other top returnees. Ferry will also have the services of junior college transfer Jordan Stevens, redshirt freshman Jordan Robinson and true freshmen TySean Powell.

9. Saint Joseph’s (24-10, 11-5): St. Joseph’s got off to a 4-4 start last year but picked things up and finished 20-6. The Hawks lost three of their top four scorers from last year’s squad that reached the NCAAs for the first time since 2008. Sophomore DeAndre Bembry (12.1, 4.5 RPG) and senior Chris Wilson (9.1, 3.6 RPG) lead a relatively young team. Bembry, the Conference’s co-Rookie of the Year, is one of the league’s best players. West Virginia transfer Aaron Brown and 6’9” redshirt freshman Jai Williams are expected to contribute right away.

10. St. Bonaventure (18-15, 6-10): Head coach Mark Schmidt decided to return after flirting with the possibility of returning to Boston College, his alma mater this summer. The Bonnies lost their top two scorers but return big man Yousou Ndoye (10.2, 5.7 RPG), who has gotten better each year, and the versatile Jordan Gathers (8.2). Junior Dion Wright (8.7, 4.7 RPG) is a prime candidate for a breakout while seniors Andrell Cumberbatch (8.2, 4.0 RPG) and Chris Dees will provide leadership and depth. The key for the Bonnies will be how quickly their talented newcomers adept to the D-I game. Junior Marcus Posley, who played at Ball State his freshman year, is the most ready of the recruits to contribute immediately but a lot is also expected of junior college transfer Iakeem Alston along with redshirt freshman Jalen Adams and true freshman Jordan Tyson.

11.Saint Louis (27-7, 13-3): St. Louis is 1 of 10 programs to win an NCAA tournament game the last three years but expect an up-an-down campaign with five new starters. The Billikens, who led the conference in scoring defense last year, are one of the youngest teams in the NCAA with six freshmen. Junior guard Austin McBroom (7.3) is the top returnee but the Billikens will also have the services of Villanova transfer Achraf Yacoubou, who is a three-point specialist.

12. George Mason (11-20, 4-12): Mason will have to cut down its turnovers – 13.6 a game – will be key for the Patriots to improve their first-year conference win total. All-Conference Rookie team selection Jalen Jenkins (7.2, 6.0 RPG) and junior guard Patrick Halloway (8.7, 41.1 3-pt percentage) are candidates to have big seasons. Georgia Tech transfer Julian Royal is the top newcomer.

13. Davidson (20-13, 15-1 in Southern Conference): Davidson enters its first season in the A-10 this year after being the dominant program in the Southern Conference for years. The Wildcats have won 20 games in 8 of the past 10 seasons but won’t likely come close to that total this year –it will likely take a couple of years for the program to retool its roster to match the physicality and athleticism of the A-10. Returnees Tyler Kalinoski (11.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 3.4 APG), Brian Sullivan (12.9) and Jack Gibbs (6.8) form a formable backcourt unit. Kalinoski, who led the team in assists and steals, and Sullivan are both deadly from the perimeter. Six-foot-7 freshman Peyton Aldridge is versatile and the most promising newcomer.

14. Fordham (10-21, 2-14): Fordham has only produced two winning A-10 seasons since joining the conference in 1996 – the Rams are just 34-85 under fifth-year coach Tom Pecora. The Rams return four starters, including one of the league’s brightest young stars in sophomore Jon Severe (17.2). Junior guard Mandell Thomas(11.9, 4.2 RPG) and 6’6” freshman Eric Paschall are other players to watch.

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