Conference Catchup: With VCU aboard, A-10 race is wide open

by | College Basketball Blogger
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With Kwamain Mitchell returning, can Rick Majerus' Billikens win the A-10? (Getty Images)  
With Kwamain Mitchell returning, can Rick Majerus' Billikens win the A-10? (Getty Images)  

The Atlantic 10 had an up-and-down campaign last season. For a time, it looked like it could get five or six bids -- but that suddenly dropped off as the contenders beat up on each other. On Selection Sunday, the league ended up with four bids, aided by St. Bonaventure's surprising run to the automatic bid. However, only Xavier made it out of the first weekend.

In 2012-13, the conference looks poised to have several contenders -- and a wide-open race for the title. Moreover, newcomer Virginia Commonwealth is going to turn things upside-down immediately. This should be a fun year.

Offseason headlines

1. VCU and Butler join the league early: VCU and Butler were set to leave their conferences after 2012-13, but decided to do it immediately -- as opposed to waiting a year like nearly every other realignment change. The CAA and the Horizon would not have allowed the Rams or Bulldogs to compete in their respective conference tournaments had they stayed another year. As a result, both teams would have needed at-large bids to get to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, they’re jumping ship ahead of schedule.

2. Dan Hurley looks to change the culture at Rhode Island: It won't happen immediately, but the former St. Benedict's Prep (N.J.) and Wagner coach will bring success to Rhode Island. He has already picked up transfers Gil Biruta (Rutgers), Jarelle Reischel (Rice) and DeShon Minnis (Texas Tech), and is making inroads on the recruiting trail. Under Jim Baron, URI was an annual contender -- but could never get over the hump. Hurley might be able to get there.

3. Changes abound at the top of the league: In the past, one could say Xavier and Temple would be the league favorites nearly every year and be fairly accurate. That's no longer the case. Newcomer VCU is immediately a title contender, and Saint Louis could be the favorite. Moreover, Massachusetts is set to make a move and Saint Joseph's returns everyone. It sounds crazy to think Temple and/or Xavier might not finish in the top five, but that's probably where we stand.

4. Turmoil at Duquesne: It wasn't a great offseason for the Dukes. It started with three players transferring in mid-March, including star guard T.J. McConnell and backcourt mate Mike Talley. Days later, the school announced it was firing coach Ron Everhart -- despite decent success during his tenure. Reports of a growing disconnect between Everhart and the school board came out too. Long Island's Jim Ferry was hired to replace Everhart, but the Dukes are going to take a major hit in the standings.

Big question that remains

How much will the arrival of VCU and Butler change the pecking order of the league?

Butler and VCU have been two of the best mid-major programs over the past years, with the Bulldogs making two national title games and the Rams reaching a Final Four two seasons ago. Butler was down last year, but VCU won its conference tournament. With both teams returning plenty of punch from last season, they could be set to turn the Atlantic 10 upside down. VCU is being pegged as one of the favorites immediately, and Butler will also be a contender. Will there be an adjustment period for the two programs? Of course, but the rest of the league will need to adjust as well.

NBA Draft report

Could've gone and did: None.

Could've gone but stayed: None.

Transfers

Coming: Jordan Sibert (Dayton from Ohio State), Derrick Gordon (Massachusetts from Western Kentucky), Gil Biruta (Rhode Island from Rutgers), Jarelle Reischel (Rhode Island from Rice), DeShon Minnis (Rhode Island from Texas Tech), J.J. Avila (Richmond from Navy), Austin McBroom (Saint Louis from Central Michigan), Matt Stainbrook (Xavier to Western Michigan)

Going: Jamar Briscoe (Charlotte), K.J. Sherrill (Charlotte), Ralph Hill (Dayton), Danny Herrera (Duquesne), T.J. McConnell (Duquesne to Arizona), Mike Talley (Duquesne to Eastern Michigan), Lamont Samuell (Fordham), Dan Guest (George Washington), Matt Lopez (La Salle to Utah State), Devon White (La Salle), Rayvon Harris (Rhode Island), Jonathan Holton (Rhode Island), Dominique McKoy (Rhode Island), Blake Vedder (Rhode Island), Jake Houseknecht (St. Bonaventure), Emmanuel Tselentakis (Saint Louis), Aaron Brown (Temple to Southern Mississippi), Reco McCarter (VCU to Campbell), Mark Lyons (Xavier to Arizona), Griffin McKenzie (Xavier to Denver)

Team commentary in 140 characters or less

Butler: Brad Stevens loses Ronald Nored, but every other key player returns. Plus, transfer Rotnei Clarke and frosh Kellen Dunham will make impacts.

Charlotte: Chris Braswell might be the best big man in the league, and the 49ers have a good recruiting class entering the fold. Which frosh steps up?

Dayton: The Flyers have an extremely deep frontcourt, and Kevin Dillard returns at PG. The key could be transfers Vee Sanford and Matt Derenbecker.

Duquesne: A coaching change and three transfers means the Dukes are entering a transition phase. Sean Johnson doesn't have much help offensively.

Fordham: Led by double-double machine Chris Gaston, the Rams have some decent pieces. However, they have just five A-10 wins in the last four years.

George Washington: David Pellom is poised for a breakout season, and GW has newcomers expected to make an impact. Tony Taylor is tough to replace, though.

La Salle: Watch out for the Explorers. Va. Tech transfer Tyrone Garland joins a loaded perimeter group, and Jerrell Wright is ready for a big year.

Massachusetts: The Minutemen could be a title threat. PG Chaz Williams is a star. Sampson Carter or Cady Lalanne need to play with consistency down low.

Rhode Island: Dan Hurley will change the culture at URI, but he needs time. He's already made an impact on the recruiting trail and with transfers.

Richmond: The Spiders are intriguing. Led by Darien Brothers, there's a talented core. If Luke Piotrowski or Alonzo Nelson-Ododa contribute, look out.

Saint Bonaventure: The loss of Andrew Nicholson is enormous, as he was a dominant force throughout his career. Who will fill his shoes? Bonnies could struggle.

Saint Joseph's: Everyone returns from a team that was in the mix for an NCAA bid until late. They have plenty of options, but defensive consistency is key.

Saint Louis: With Rick Majerus at the helm, the Billikens could be the A-10 favorite. Brian Conklin is gone, but Kwamain Mitchell is back. SLU locks down on D.

Temple: The Owls lose key weapons, but don't expect a huge drop. Scootie Randall will be healthy; Khalif Wyatt is back. A title could be a longshot.

VCU: It will be interesting to see how VCU adjusts in its first year. With that said, the Rams return many of their weapons from last season.

Xavier: Dez Wells is the lone returning starter, but Chris Mack has pieces. Newcomers Semaj Christon and Isaiah Philmore will have instant impacts.

Early guess at the top five in the league

1. Saint Louis
2. VCU
3. Massachusetts
4. Saint Joseph's
5. Butler

Early guess at the all-conference team

G: Chaz Williams (Massachusetts)
G: Kevin Dillard (Dayton)
G: Khalif Wyatt (Temple)
G: Rotnei Clarke (Butler)
F: Chris Braswell (Charlotte)

Final thought

The Atlantic 10 should be loaded next season. Even though Xavier and Temple are taking a hit, there are teams waiting to take their place. The top of the league has several contenders for the title, with La Salle and others lurking as threats. Moreover, teams like Richmond and George Washington are looking to move up. There will be no easy nights in the A-10 this season -- even the bottom third of the league has talent. Expect up to five NCAA bids.

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