Loaded VCU looks like the best team in the Atlantic 10, but the Rams will be challenged by Davidson, Dayton

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NEW YORK -- The morning after Kyrie Irving dropped 50 points in his wild debut with the Nets here inside Brooklyn's Barclays Center, the Atlantic 10's basketball head coaches, all 14 of them, made their way to this same building on Atlantic Avenue for the league's annual Media Day.

VCU was named the preseason favorite.

And for good reason.

When you're the only college basketball program in the country to return the top six scorers from a team that won its conference by multiple games, the idea that anybody else would be picked to add a trophy wouldn't make much sense. So of course VCU is the preseason favorite. But what's most interesting about the Atlantic 10 in general, with the start of the regular season now less than two weeks away, is that despite all of VCU's success from last season, and despite everything it brings back from that team, the Rams are still expected to be pushed at the top of the conference by multiple programs, specifically Davidson and Dayton, because both of those schools also return most of the best pieces from rosters that won a lot. Davidson, coached by Bob McKillop, who should reach the 600-win mark this season, is returning the top six scorers from a team that went 14-4 in the A-10. Dayton, coached by Anthony Grant, who should take a third different school to the NCAA Tournament this season, is returning three of the top four scorers from a team that went 13-5 in the A-10. And when you consider that VCU, Davidson and Dayton featured four of the five players who were First Team All-Atlantic 10 last season, and that each of those players is back this season, it's undeniable that there's some real strength at the top of the league -- evidence being that the Atlantic 10 has three schools getting votes in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since 2014.

"[It's] huge, before the first game, to know here are my experienced options to get a basket, and here's my best defensive team if we need a big stop down the stretch," said VCU coach Mike Rhoades, whose Rams are 25th in the preseason AP Top 25 poll. "[It's an] advantage that our guys know what we do works, [and that they can] do it at a high level right now."

Now contrast that with other situations around the sport.

Yes, I'm on record predicting Kentucky, Duke and Memphis will all be very good; each is currently ranked higher than VCU in the AP poll and the CBS Sports Top 25 And 1. But Kentucky will have three new starters, Duke will have four and Memphis will have five. So who do you think feels most comfortable -- not necessarily better, but most comfortable -- with his team right now: John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Penny Hardaway or Mike Rhoades?

My guess? Mike Rhoades.

To be clear, VCU won't match Kentucky, Duke or Memphis in NBA Draft picks. And it's possible all of those schools have a so-called higher ceiling than the Rams. But when somebody returns the top six scorers from a 25-win team that made the NCAA Tournament, it's hard to form a sensible scenario where they're not winning at least 25 games and making the NCAA Tournament again -- barring injuries, of course. That's why Rhoades is understandably optimistic and confident, which is not the most common way for a college basketball coach to feel the week before Halloween.

"I'm glad I know my team," Rhoades said. "And I'm sure Coach McKillop feels that as well."

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Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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