The Atlantic 10 scored some notable nonconference victories over Power 5 teams last season, with Rhode Island beating then-No. 20 Seton Hall and Saint Bonaventure toppling Maryland and Syracuse.
But a conference that traditionally makes noise in the NCAA tournament struggled in March, earning just one win in competition. This year, however, the ever-shifting Atlantic 10 hierarchy could produce two better-prepared teams for the postseason.
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Davidson and Saint Louis, which return three and four starters from last year’s squads, respectively, seem built to succeed in the tournament. Rhode Island and Saint Bonaventure, meanwhile, are expected to feel the sting of major roster overhaul after emerging last year.
Atlantic 10 predictions
1. Saint Louis
3. George Mason
6. Rhode Island
7. Saint Joseph’s
8. Saint Bonaventure
14. George Washington
13. La Salle
Atlantic 10 Champion: Saint Louis
Behind a balanced roster with scoring options all over the floor, the Billikens are the team to beat this year in the Atlantic 10.
Senior guard Javon Bess (13.3 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game last year) is one of the most dangerous ball-handlers in the conference. He’ll be aided by a trio of players who averaged at least nine points per game last year in Jalen Johnson, Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French.
At 6-8, newcomer Carte’Are Gordon — ranked No. 73 overall in the Class of 2018 by 247Sports — figures to give Saint Louis much-needed size in the paint. The Billikens also brought in graduate transfer Tramaine Isabell, who averaged 21 points a game with Drexel last season, and former Maryland guard Dion Wiley.
Coach Travis Ford has already transformed Saint Louis from one of the worst teams in the conference to a winning squad. Now, he can guide the Billikens back to the NCAA tournament, where they haven’t been in five years.
Atlantic 10 X-Factor: Jon Axel Gudmundsson (Davidson)
With the departure of Peyton Aldridge, the Wildcats desperately need a secondary scorer to take pressure off Atlantic 10 Player of the Year candidate Kellan Grady. The guy they’ll look to first is Gudmundsson, a rising junior who averaged 13.2 points per game and shot 40 percent from 3-point range last season.
If Gudmundsson handles the increased workload likely coming his way, he can make Davidson’s backcourt a force, helping bridge the gap with Saint Louis atop the conference.
Atlantic 10 Sleeper: Richmond
Richmond returns several important roster pieces after finishing 9-9 in Atlantic 10 play, including leading scorer Grant Golden. While key contributors De’Monte Buckingham and Khwan Fore are no longer with the program, Golden is seemingly ready to emerge as a star, and could carry the Spiders past their fifth-place finish from a year ago.
Depth might be an issue, though. The play of Richmond’s supporting cast, led by Nick Sherod, will determine whether the Spiders rise to the upper ranks of the conference or sink below a bevy of solid, middle-of-the-pack teams.
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Biggest Atlantic 10 regular-season games
Davidson at George Mason, Jan. 9: This showdown between top-tier backcourts could end up being a high-scoring affair — and a good barometer for whether George Mason’s the real deal.
Davidson at Saint Louis, Jan. 26: The Wildcats and Billikens are in a class of their own, and watching them duel in the first month of conference competition should give us a sense of who will ultimately take the Atlantic 10.
Saint Louis at Dayton, Feb. 23: Saint Louis must be wary of Dayton, which has gone 23-5 at home in conference play over the past three seasons. Outside of Davidson, this could be Saint Louis’ most difficult Atlantic 10 test.
Rhode Island at Dayton, March 1: The Flyers could very well be a bubble team in desperate need of resume-boosting wins at this point in the season, something that will be reflected in the way they play the Rhode Island.
Davidson at Richmond, March 9: Two of the best players in the conference in Kellan Grady and Grant Golden will go at it with postseason implications likely on the line. That these teams meet In the final regular-season game of the year only makes it better.
Atlantic 10 Player of the Year hopefuls
Kellan Grady, G, Davidson: Grady was the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year last season and made the second-team all-conference. It wasn’t a fluke. This is a guy with a smooth jump shot, an array of moves in the paint and legitimate play-making abilities. There are few players in the conference near his skill level, and he could average 20 points a game while accumulating more assists than turnovers.
Josh Cunningham, F, Dayton: After improving in almost every facet last season, Cunningham could feast down low in a league with more perimeter threats than big men. At 6-7, 216 pounds, he’ll use his strength to become a double-double machine for the Flyers.
Javon Bess, G, Saint Louis: The Billikens have so many impressive parts, but Bess is the heartbeat of the team. As the senior leader and top scorer of a group with big-time ambitions, the former Michigan State recruit should be one of the conference’s most recognizable faces by the end of the season.
Grant Golden, F, Richmond: In order to finish in the top half of the Atlantic 10, Richmond needs Golden to go berserk on a near-nightly basis. So, it works out well for the Spiders that Golden is capable of handling a major offensive load. If the forward develops his 3-point stroke, he’ll be a sneaky Player of the Year contender.
MID-MAJOR PREVIEWS: AAC | WCC
A10 coach with the most to prove: Anthony Grant, Dayton
Replacing Archie Miller was never going to be an easy task for Grant, but going 14-17 in his first year at the helm did him no favors. He has the roster to turn things around quickly, and after unspectacular stints coaching at VCU and Alabama, it’s up to him to make it work with the Flyers.
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