The Atlantic 10 Conference managed to get six NCAA National Tournament bids last year, with Saint Joseph’s College, Dayton University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Saint Louis University, the University of Massachusetts and George Washington University all claiming places in the field of 68.
However, this year the conference looks to be missing the talent at the top and will inevitably take a step back in regards to its number of the tournament bids. There is still conference stalwart VCU at the top, who was a unanimous choice to claim the A-10 regular season championship this year, but after that, everything seems to be jumbled.
George Washington lost Isaiah Armwood and Maurice Creek, who made the Second and Third All-Conference Teams, respectively. Dayton, who was last year’s darling in the tournament after advancing all the way to the Elite Eight, lost key cog Devin Oliver, who also made the All-Conference Third Team. Rounding out the top 5 is Massachusetts, who lost All-Conference First Teamer Chaz Williams, and Richmond.
After the top five is where things start to blend together. Â The University of Rhode Island has perhaps the most potential of any team in the conference, other than VCU, to snatch a tournament bid. Â The Rams return lethal scorer, Atlantic 10 Co-Freshman of the Year and preseason All-Conference Second-Team guard E.C. Matthews to an athletic and talented roster. The Rams’ backcourt is also bolstered by guard Jared Terrell, who is an ESPN top-100 recruit.
In addition to their guards, senior forward Gilvydas Biruta, who averaged 10.6 points per game to go along with seven rebounds per game last year, was recognized as a preseason All-Conference Third Team member. Hassan Martin, who set a Rhode Island record with 80 blocks, was recognized for his defensive prowess in getting a spot on the All-Conference Defensive Team.
The Rams also received some great news when center Jordan Hare was cleared to return after missing last year due to personal reasons. Hare was also able to retain his sophomore year of eligibility.
The Rams return six players who played in at least 31 games last year and now have added depth and another year under Coach Dan Hurley. Rhode Island does have a weakness at the 3-point line, though, as last year saw no one shoot over 35 percent from beyond the arc with at least 20 attempts. Â The Rams will need Matthews and junior Jarelle Reischel to improve on their marks as they each shot 34 percent and led the team in that category.
The most important thing for Rhode Island to take advantage of is its conference schedule as the team only has to face top-projected VCU and George Washington once each with both games at home. The Rams also only have to oppose Richmond and Dayton once each with both games on the road and Massachusetts twice.
Rounding out the top 10 for the conference are La Salle, 2013-14 A-10 Champion Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis and St. Bonaventure, respectively. Â La Salle lost senior Langston Galloway who was First Team All-Conference, but is hoping for big things from Jerrell Wright. Â Saint Louis will look to bounce back quickly after losing last year’s Conference Player of the Year Jordair Jett and All-Conference First Teamer Dwayne Evans from last year’s tournament squad.
The bottom four teams of the preseason rankings are Duquesne, conference newcomer Davidson, George Mason and Fordham. The Fordham Rams will return sophomore guard Jon Severe, who averaged 17.3 points per game last year. Rhode Island plays these squads five times in total on the season.