As we look forward to the start of a new college basketball season, every Atlantic 10 team stands on an equal footing, tied for first place with a 0-0 record, and nurturing a dream to stay right there, and arrive in Brooklyn as the team to beat. Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment, and imagine what it would take for each of the fourteen teams in the A10 conference to win the league. Following are some fun, wildly over-optimistic scenarios for each program, counting down in order of projected finish.
1) Dayton: This one isn’t much of a stretch, right? After all the Flyers were picked to win the league. However, let’s make it a little interesting. The Flyers limp through their out-of-conference schedule barely above .500. But then, Dyshawn Pierre returns from his semester-long suspension with a chip on his shoulder, and averages 25, 8, and 6 assists. Dayton doesn’t lose a game after mid-January, and wins the league by 4 games.
2) Rhode Island: It’s hard to make any wild predictions about a roster this solid. Hassan Martin has a season to remember, breaking the A10’s single season blocked shots record and winning DPOTY. EC Matthews takes home POTY honors while scoring 24 a game. The Rams have a player named Four (McGlynn), and that’s also the total number of games they end up losing, in and out of conference. Rams fans are left to wonder if they should have recruited a Zero instead of a Four.
3) Davidson: This one isn’t hard to imagine, either. Davidson has just about everyone back except A10 POTY Tyler Kalinoski, and now they have a fully healthy Jack Gibbs. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if they were almost as good as last season. But what if Gibbs fully replaces Kalinoski, and the Wildcats are actually better their second go-around, with a year of A10 experience? The first warning sign is a December 6 upset of top-tanked North Carolina.
4) George Washington: I could just type two words here: Yuta Watanabe. The Japanese sensation opened eyes as a freshman, but now that he’s had a year to adjust to the NCAA brand of hoops, it’s his time to shine. Alex Mitola is a nice offensive addition as a graduate transfer, but Watanabe proves to be the real cure to last season’s offensive struggles, joining seniors Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen on the A10 First Team. The biggest moment comes when Watanabe hits a 30-foot buzzer-beater vs VCU on Feburary 27 to put the Colonials all alone in first place.
5) VCU: Shaka Smart never won a regular season title while in Richmond. Will Wade surpasses him in year one. The Rams build as a unit throughout the season, and by February, they become a well-oiled machine. Melvin Johnson, JeQuan Lewis, Jordan Burgess, and Doug Brooks all average double figures, while Mo Ali-Cox leads the A10 in blocked shots and shattered backboards. The knockout blow comes when the Rams take down a nationally-ranked Dayton team in Ohio on March 5 to end the regular season and clinch the #1 seed.
6) Richmond: Tarrant the live spider mascot gets loose and eats the other thirteen teams! No, that’s entirely too plausible. Let’s try this … Shawn’Dre Jones proves that he is, in fact, a slightly taller clone of Kendall Anthony, and leads the league in scoring with 22 a game. The Spiders’ experienced frontcourt forces teams to play a perimeter game, but no one can outshoot Shawn’Dre.
7) Saint Joseph’s: Phil Martelli does what he does best: just when you think he has nothing (well, ok, DeAndre Bembry plus nothing), he surprises you, and beats you. League POTY Bembry averages 24, 10, and 5 assists, while ROTY Markell Lodge makes George Mason fans lament their recruiting loss. Not only do the Hawks win the Atlantic 10, they sweep the Big 5.
8) St. Bonaventure: We could joke about opposing teams forfeiting games because Olean is unreachable during winter, but I’ll save the snow-related smack for Towson. Marcus Posley and Dion Wright give Mark Schmidt two very important senior weapons, and with Jaylen Adams to run the point, that’s all he’ll need. The only award here is a well-deserved and unanimous COTY, as the Bonnies open the A10 season with a five game winning streak and never relinquish their pole position.
9) La Salle: A season ago, Jordan Price established himself as one of the most talented and dangerous offensive players in the league, but at times he hurt himself with poor efficiency and low shooting percentages. But that was as a sophomore, and some players make their biggest jump as juniors. Price is a sensation, and while he only averages slightly higher point totals than a season ago, his accuracy makes his entire team better. The A10 POTY and the Explorers benefit from a weaker conference slate, beating both Dayton and VCU in Philadelphia in their only meetings.
10) Massachusetts: The Minutemen have been in the headlines recently for their incredible 2016 recruiting class. But this is 2015, and Derek Kellogg has a lot of holes to fill. Fortunately, he has Donte Clark and Jabarie Hinds, a pair of guards who step forward in all-league fashion. Their march begins with a November victory over Clemson in Las Vegas, and continues with early season stunners over Davidson and George Washington.
11) Duquesne: The Dukes master the elusive skill of defense, and suddenly find that they are 2014-15 Davidson. The long-slumbering Pittsburghers take the league by storm, as their offensive efficiency leads to victories and not to laments of what could have been. A fully-healthy Micah Mason once again leads the nation in three-point percentage, and it’s Dayton and Rhode Island that pay, taking February home losses at the hands of Jim Ferry’s revamped squad.
12) Saint Louis: A year of seasoning proves to be all that the Billikens’ young roster needed. Ash Yacoubou and Milik Yarbrough become a destructive tandem that leaves opponents to wonder, why us? A double-digit win at Kansas State on December 29 proves to be an omen of things to come. A front-loaded schedule keeps the Bills from immediately rising to the top, but by the time that mid-February trip to visit the Virginia schools rolls around, first place is theirs to defend.
13) George Mason: With a new coaching staff and six freshmen, predicting anything about this season’s Patriots is foolish. But let’s imagine for a moment that everything goes right. Shevon Thompson averages 20 and 12 a night, doesn’t turn the ball over, and rolls to A10 POTY honors and a first round NBA draft pick. Dave Paulsen’s revamped backcourt cuts their turnover average to single digits. And the defense learns to communicate and play as a unit, not five individuals. The Patriots open A10 play by stunning VCU in Richmond in double overtime, and don’t look back.
14) Fordham: Jeff Neubauer gets the most out of Jon Severe and Mandell Thomas, who combine to average 35 points a night, but the real hero turns out to be Christian Sengfelder. The German assassin establishes himself as the league’s most coldblooded three-point shooter, putting teams away late with dagger after dagger. GW in DC. Richmond and George Mason at home. Rhody on the road. And a half dozen others. His victims are many.