A-10 2019-20 Preview

- Ky McKeon

Preseason Predictions

Player of the Year: Obi Toppin, R So., Dayton
Coach of the Year: Mike Rhoades, VCU
Newcomer of the Year: Ryan Daly, R Jr., Saint Joseph’s
Freshman of the Year: Tre Mitchell, Fr., Massachusetts


Team Previews

Tier 1

1. VCU

See full preview here: #33 in our Top-40 countdown

2. Davidson

See full preview here: #40 in our Top-40 countdown

3. Dayton

Key Returners: Obi Toppin, Jalen Crutcher, Ryan Mikesell, Trey Landers, Dwayne Cohill, Jhery Matos
Key Losses: Josh Cunningham, Jordan Davis
Key Newcomers: Rodney Chatman (Chattanooga), Ibi Watson (Michigan), Jordy Tshimanga (Nebraska), Moulaye Sissoko, Chase Johnson (Florida)

Lineup:

Outlook: Davidson and VCU may garner the most preseason attention, but Dayton could be the team to beat in the A-10 in 2019-20. The Flyers come off a solid season in which a weak schedule and a down A-10 held them back from a potential Tourney bid (as well as some questionable losses). Head coach Anthony Grant quickly turned around a dreadful 2017-18 campaign following Archie Miller’s string of success, and now looks to make the A-10 a three-bid league once again. The losses of Josh Cunningham and Jordan Davis are substantial blows, but this squad is equipped to make a run at the NCAA Tournament.

Dayton’s season hinges heavily on the development of redshirt sophomore Obi Toppin, arguably the best player in the A-10 and a potential household name come March. The reigning A-10 Rookie of the Year and returning 1st Team All-Conference member is an absolute stud and should reign terror on the A-10 in his second (and likely final) collegiate season. With Cunningham’s graduation, Toppin becomes the focal point of the Flyers’ attack, an offense predicated on the pick-n-roll and basket cuts. Roll men are key in Dayton’s offense, particularly one with Toppin’s skillset, able to step out and hit a three or finish near the hoop through contact. Toppin was an efficiency monster last season, leading the conference in eFG% and TS%, shooting 80% at the rim (67.6% overall from 2P range) and 52.4% from beyond the arc (21 attempts). His versatility and size combination is unmatched at the mid-major level, and we should expect him to continue to expand his offensive prowess in 2019-20. In the post, Toppin is skilled with either hand and can finish effectively over each shoulder:

His three-point stroke is smooth and something he’ll look to improve upon as he garners more NBA attention:

Toppin will form perhaps the best guard-forward duo in the A-10 with point guard Jalen Crutcher, a 3rd Team All-Conference member last season. Crutcher played 90% of Dayton’s available minutes last year, running the offense with poise and effectiveness. Dayton’s methodical half-court offense needs a capable point guard to manage and control the pace, and Crutcher fills that criterion. He facilitates at a high level, shot 36.3% from outside the arc last season, and attacks well off ball screens, possessing the ability to change directions quickly and make the smart play. He’ll have help this season with former Chattanooga Moc Rodney Chatman, a scoring point guard who can get buckets from anywhere on the floor. Chatman’s arrival helps make up for the Davis loss, and Grant can use him in a dual-PG set or play him off the ball as a dynamic wing threat.

Chatman will compete with Dwayne Cohill, a steady role player, for minutes in the backcourt and line up alongside a sizable wing rotation in Trey Landers, Jhery Matos, and Ibi Watson. Landers, Matos, and Watson are all 6’5” wings with defensive mindsets. Landers is the biggest of the bunch, weighing in at 221 lbs. – he’s an excellent rebounder for his position and a slasher on offense who can be the ball handler or screener in the pick-n-roll. Matos played just 8 games last season before succumbing to a foot injury, but he should be one of the Flyers’ best defenders if fully healthy this year. Watson, a Michigan transfer, hasn’t seen much floor time in his two collegiate seasons but that should change in 2019-20. Watson can contribute in the shooting, driving, rebounding, and defending departments.

Toppin’s frontcourt mates will include redshirt senior Ryan Mikesell, Nebraska transfer Jordy Tshimanga, and 3-star freshman Moulaye Sissoko. Mikesell is primarily a stretch 4 offensively, but has shown the ability to finish well off post-ups and cuts. An excellent passer, Mikesell has expanded his game from “spot-up shooter” and should be a nice complement with Toppin in Dayton’s frontcourt. The 6’7” senior also had a gigantic impact on the defensive side of the ball last season; when he played, Dayton allowed just 0.92 PPP versus 1.04 PPP when he sat (per Hoop Lens). Tshimanga’s transfer from Nebraska was a bit of a surprise after starting 18 games in 2017-18 and with the Huskers’ lack of frontcourt depth last season. The 6’11” 286 lb. behemoth posted obscene rebounding rates as a sophomore, which is crucial for a Dayton squad that largely struggled on the glass last year. While not the most skilled offensive player, Tshimanga will be a valuable asset as a space eater on defense and force on the glass. Sissoko, too, should provide a positive rebounding impact; he’s a tough power forward out of Mali known for his boarding ability. Florida transfer Chase Johnson will provide a nice boost heading into conference play once he’s eligible after the first semester. He played just 45 minutes during his two-year career at Florida, but he’ll add rebounding, post scoring, and rim protection in a reserve role.

The Flyers should continue to be one of the slowest teams in the A-10 this season, preferring to work the ball through Toppin and get the ball near the cup versus push the issue in transition. Defensively, Grant played significantly less zone than in 2017-18, and (whether consequently or not) the Flyers were much better on that end on 2018-19. Dayton did well at playing without fouling and contesting shots; guys like Toppin, Tshimanga, and Sissoko should be able to help address the rebounding deficiencies.

Bottom Line: Dayton has plenty of talent to push for an NCAA Tournament bid this season. With the A-10 projecting to be much stronger than last year, the Flyers should be in good position to rack up enough meaningful wins to make their case for an at-large bid. Experience, roster continuity, and a superstar in Toppin make the Flyers a legit contender to win the A-10 crown.


Tier 2

4. Rhode Island

Key Returners: Fatts Russell, Cyril Langevine, Jeff Dowtin, Tyrese Martin, Jermaine Harris, Dana Tate
Key Losses: Christion Thompson, Omar Silverio, Ryan Preston
Key Newcomers: Mekhi Long, Jeremy Sheppard (JUCO), Jacob Toppin, Gregory Hammond, Antwan Walker (Georgetown), DeVale Johnson (JUCO)

Lineup:

Outlook: It was a rough first year in Kingston for new head coach David Cox. Saved by a weak A-10 and non-conference schedule, the Rams managed to eke out a respectable 18-15 (9-9) record despite finishing just 142nd in KenPom’s overall rankings – the loss of Dan Hurley and program studs Jared Terrell and EC Matthews proved too much to overcome. 2019-20 promises bigger and better things for Rhode Island, as it returns five starters from a squad chock full of youth and athleticism. The Rams have lofty expectations to compete with the big three of VCU, Davidson, and Dayton this season with a suddenly deep bench and cadre of experienced players.

Rhody’s offense last season was garbage – there, I said it. The Rams ranked 351st in the country in 3P% thanks in part to awful shot selection. Only Jeff Dowtin shot over 33.3% from the Land of Plenty and two players who shot over 100 threes, Fatts Russell and Christion Thompson, shot below 26%. YIKES. Because of the squad’s overall ineptitude at shooting, URI was a team that relied on basket attack, board crashing, and free throws to put points on the board. This strategy really wasn’t any different than the Hurley teams of old, but at least the 2017-18 Rams could shoot. URI wants to out-tough its opponent on a nightly basis, which it should be capable of doing this season with its overall size and collection of athletes.

Dowtin and co-lead guard Russell will once again be the catalysts of a Ram attack in desperate need of improvement. Russell was a model of inefficiency last year and the poster child for the “volume shooter”, converting on just 41.6% of his 2P attempts and 22.3% of his threes. That’s not to suggest Russell isn’t talented – he absolutely is – but his shot selection and tendency to force the issue more often hurt the Rams’ cause than helped. For every heroic performance, like his 41-point outburst against St. Joe’s on 12/24 shooting, there’s a dud, like his 4-point 1/13 shooting outing against Brown. Russell can create his own shot as well as any player in the A-10, but he tends to settle for tough runners or pull-ups in isolation situations. His ball handling, however, is sound; he turned in an extremely low turnover rate for a primary ball handler with high usage last season. Dowtin is URI’s true offensive MVP, an efficient shot-maker (53.5% from 2; 35.4% from 3) and point guard who can score just as easily as Russell off ball screens or in isolation. In 2019-20, the Rams need more Dowtin consistency and less Russell forcing – perhaps a new addition to the backcourt will put pressure on the erratic guard.

Jeremy Sheppard, the #67 JUCO recruit in the land, arrives in Kingston after pouring in 17.1 PPG last season. The former ECU Pirate is a great facilitator who can create his own shot and was named to the AAC All-Rookie team in 2016-17. Sheppard was suspended and ultimately dismissed from East Carolina, but he’ll look to assume a key role this season as an offensive weapon off the pine to aid Russell and Dowtin. Fellow JUCO transfer DeVale “DJ” Johnson could also see minutes in the URI backcourt; he brings outside shooting to a team severely in need. Last year, Johnson shot 43.3% from downtown at his junior college.

The middle will be manned by a familiar face, 2nd Team All-Conference and All-Defensive team member Cyril Langevine. Langevine is a walking double-double, notching 17 of them in 2018-19. Last season, the 6’8” big man ranked 6th in the A-10 in OR% and 2nd in DR% while finishing 61.2% of his shots near the rim. Langevine isn’t a skilled scorer, but he’s effective in every other area on the floor. He’ll team with sophomore Jermaine Harris to form one of the more athletic A-10 frontcourts. Harris started every game as a freshman despite his lack of productivity from a scoring and rebounding standpoint. A glaring weakness of the Rams last season was their lack of offensive versatility at the big man spot. Sophomore Dana Tate can stretch the floor at the 4-spot, but Cox may need pull up one of his many wing options to the 4 to give his offense a little more space and variety. Georgetown transfer Antwan Walker is a beast on the boards and gifted athlete, but he’s more of the same commodity URI already has in Langevine and Harris.

Cox’s wing corps includes promising sophomore Tyrese Martin and freshmen Mekhi Long, Jacob Toppin, and Gregory Hammond. Martin is a solid wing who can shoot and grab boards; he leads a long, athletic group of young swingmen looking to crack a crowded rotation. Long is a 4-star recruit whose greatest attribute is the same as is last name (he’s long, guys). Toppin is another lengthy wing / stretch 4 who can pull bigger defenders away from the rim. His brother, Obi Toppin, is arguably the A-10’s best player this season – while Jacob likely won’t have the impact of big bro, his shooting and size combination makes him a potential All-Conference level performer down the road. Hammond will contribute most on the defensive end, but he can also act as a secondary ball handler to the Russell / Dowtin / Sheppard crew.

URI maintained its reputation as being a tough and physical team, but it eased up considerably on its “in-your-face”, full-court pressure style defensively. The Rams finished 8th in the A-10 in KenPom’s defensive rankings after rankling 1st three of the past four years. Opponents simply making outside shots (an element of luck) was part of the reason for the mediocrity, but youth and depth were also factors. Cox has a considerably older and deeper team than last season, so his Rams should be a much-improved defensive squad in 2019-20.

Bottom Line: Rhode Island will Sharpied into the 4-spot in nearly every publication’s A-10 preseason rankings. The Rams have the talent to compete with VCU, Davidson, and Dayton but they must improve their shot selection and efficiency on offense and regain the defensive dominance of recent history.

5. Richmond

Key Returners: Grant Golden, Jacob Gilyard, Nick Sherod, Nathan Cayo, Jake Wojcik, Andre Gustavson
Key Losses: Noah Yates, Julius Johnson
Key Newcomers: Blake Francis (Wagner), Tyler Burton

Lineup:

Outlook: Chris Mooney has lasted a long time at Richmond despite leading the Spiders to just two NCAA Tournaments in 14 seasons (the last one coming in 2011). Few coaches in the country have been as scrutinized by their fanbase as Mooney the past few years, and his squad’s 2018-19 performance – Richmond’s worst since 2007 – didn’t make the cries for his dismissal any quieter. To his credit, Mooney had an incredibly young team last season – the 22nd youngest team in the country to be exact – and one of his star players, Nick Sherod, played just six games before going down with an ACL tear (of course, Sherod did play in the 20-point thumping to Hampton, the home loss to Longwood, and the neutral loss to Wyoming). This season might be a make-or-break campaign for Mooney with six of his top players returning from last year and a nice boost from the transfer market. If Richmond can’t compete near the top of the A-10 in 2019-20, Mooney may finally be shown the door.

As most former Princeton players-turned-coaches in college hoops, Mooney runs a version of the famed “Princeton Offense”, the style he grew up in as a player under Pete Carril in the early 90s. Richmond’s offense was the 4th best in the A-10 last year, propelled by superb ball movement and the trademark cutting of the Princeton attack. The offensive system inverts the big men on the floor, pulling them away from the rim, which creates spacing but hinders rebounding – the Spiders were the 4th worst offensive rebounding team in the country last season. In order to execute the offense effectively, you need a big man who can shoot, pass, and exploit mismatches. Mooney has consistently had capable bigs to fill this role, and this season has one of the A-10’s best in Grant Golden.

Golden, a 3rd Team All-Conference member last year, ranked 3rd in the A-10 in assist rate as a sophomore, racking up dimes from the top of the key and kickouts from the post at a blazing rate. He’s just enough of a shooting threat to be dangerous at the top of the inverted system and is an excellent passer and scorer off cuts and post-ups, all keys in the Princeton Offense:

Now that’s some Golden action…

His running mate up front will be Nathan Cayo, a junior who saw a huge improvement during his second collegiate season, ranking 5th in the A-10 in FT rate and scoring efficiently inside off post-ups. Cayo is much more of a paint-bound big than Golden. The pair will be backed up this season by sophomores Souleymane Koureissi and Mark Grace, two stretchy forwards who turned in decent freshmen years.

Outside shooting is vital in the Princeton Offense and Richmond should have plenty within its backcourt. Point guard Jacob Gilyard returns to run the show, coming off a 2nd Team All-Conference and All-Defensive Team campaign. Gilyard scored a ridiculous 1.256 PPP on spot-ups last season (96th percentile) and cashed 41.3% of his three-point attempts in conference play. Defensively, Gilyard led the A-10 in steals per game and steal rate; he was a bright in an otherwise murky defensive unit. Flanking Gilyard will be sophomore Jake Wojcik, son of former San Jose State coach Dave Wojcik. Wojcik started all 33 games as a freshman, serving as a knockdown outside shooter (36.3% on 179 attempts). A whopping 81% of his shot attempts last season were behind the arc and 87.7% of his makes were assisted (per Hoop-Math). Wojcik will compete with Wagner transfer Blake Francis for playing time. Francis was a high scorer in the NEC in his two seasons and is a career 41.1% 3P shooter on 338 attempts. Like Gilyard, Francis is a menace defensively, ranking 5th in the NEC in steal rate back in 2017-18.

The aforementioned Nick Sherod should be fully healthy following an ACL tear that derailed a promising start to the 2018-19 season. Sherod was averaging 15.6 PPG and shooting 39% from downtown before succumbing to injury against Georgetown. A beefy wing, Sherod is one of those rare college guards who’s built like a bowling ball but can tickle the twine from deep – his health is vital to the Spiders’ A-10 title hopes. Sherod’s wing buddies include Finnish sophomore Andre Gustavson and freshman Tyler Burton. Gustavson will see regular run following a freshman season in which he started 19 contests. He’s an asset defensively and can score from the outside or off the bounce offensively. Burton likely won’t see too much time in his inaugural year, but he adds athleticism and size to Mooney’s wing corps.

There’s no question Richmond will be one of the better offensive squads in the A-10 this season, but the defensive end remains a huge mystery. The Spiders were the second worst defensive unit in the league last season, playing a matchup zone on 60% of their possessions (15th nationally). Richmond was continuously killed on the glass and in the paint, negating its relatively stout perimeter shell. The uptick in experience hopefully leads to an uptick in defensive efficiency, otherwise the Spiders are doomed to be another middling A-10 squad.

Bottom Line: Like the four squads ranked ahead of them, the Spiders have a ton of talent returning from last year with which to compete for an A-10 crown. Mooney’s offense will be a site to behold under the direction of Golden and Gilyard and a healthy Sherod. If he can improve his defense back to 2014 / 2015 levels, Richmond has a good shot at an at-large bid in March.

6. St. Bonaventure

Key Returners: Kyle Lofton, Osun Osunniyi, Dominick Welch, Amadi Ikpeze
Key Losses: Courtney Stockard, Jalen Poyser, LaDarien Griffin, Nelson Kaputo, Tshiefu Ngalakulondi
Key Newcomers: Bobby Planutis (Mount St. Mary’s), Justin Winston, Robert Carpenter, Alejandro Vasquez, Matt Johnson (JUCO), Jaren English (JUCO)

Lineup:

Outlook: Early season injuries derailed what could have been a solid year for the Bonnies. Star player Courtney Stockard missed the first six games of the season in which the Bonnies limped to a 1-5 start with losses to the likes of Niagara, Akron, and Bucknell. On February 9th, St. Bonaventure sat 9-14 (5-5) and looked to be a team ready to call it quits following a 30-point loss to league power VCU. That blowout must have shaken loose the cobwebs, as the Bonnies won seven of their next eight conference games, finishing the season on a 9-2 run and coming within three points of the NCAA Tournament. Stockard, a 1st Team All-Conference member last season, is now gone. Mark Schmidt has a really good sophomore class, but he must replace a ton of lost production from 2018-19.

The Bonnies’ offense last season was the second worst in Schmidt’s tenure at the school. Poor shooting and a tendency to settle for jumpers led to inefficiencies in the methodical, half-court attack. The pick-n-roll is the central play-type in Schmidt’s offense, and he has the personnel to run it successfully. Second-year point guard Kyle Lofton put on a show in his first collegiate season, earning a spot on the A-10’s All-Rookie Team and ranking 20th in the country in minutes. Lofton was excellent using ball screens last year, able to thread a pass to the roll man or shoot off the bounce. His role will grow this year without Stockard in the mix, and he’ll face a challenge to improve his efficiency while taking on a higher usage. A solid 83.8% FT clip suggests Lofton’s sub-par shooting percentages are due for an uptick. 

One of Lofton’s primary partners in the pick-n-roll is Osun Osunniyi, another All-Rookie Team member in 2018-19 who also notched a spot on the league’s All-Defensive Team. Osunniyi ranked 3rd in the A-10 in rebounds per and 1st in blocks per game (7th nationally in block rate). The big man isn’t much of a threat offensively outside of catch-and-dunk and offensive boards (75.4% of his shot attempts came near the rim in 2018-19), but he’s invaluable to the Bonnies’ success. Osunniyi will see the lion’s share of the center minutes this season and will likely line up next to Mount St. Mary’s transfer Bobby Planutis in the starting five. Planutis is a stretch 4 who started 24 games for the Mountaineers as a freshman and shot 51.6% from three on 62 attempts. 3-star freshman Justin Winston will also compete for a spot in the starting lineup; he’s an athletic forward who can score, rebound, and handle the ball. Fellow freshman Robert Carpenter could fill the 4-role in a small-ball look (or the 3 in a normal lineup). He plays above the rim at just 6’6” and his versatility will allow him to guard and play multiple positions. Amadi Ikpeze will resume his frontcourt reserve role.

Schmidt will have decisions to make on the wing. Sophomore Dominick Welch is a lock to resume his starting role from a season ago. Welch is a shooting specialist who knocked down 36.1% of his outside shots last year; in 2019-20, he’ll be counted on to expand his game and become a reliable secondary scorer next to Lofton. Fellow freshman Alpha Okoli started four games as a freshman, but he didn’t make much of an impact; he’ll compete for starters minutes this season along with Schmidt’s slew of newcomers. Freshman Alejandro Vasquez and JUCO imports Matt Johnson and Jaren English will compete for minutes and a starting spot in the crowded Bonnie backcourt. Vasquez is an athletic combo guard who can play physical, shoot, and dunk in traffic. Johnson is a fringe top 100 JUCO recruit who comes to St. Bonaventure with a shooting reputation after knocking in 40% of his long-ball tries last year. English is the #85 JUCO recruit in the country and played for Billy Gillespie’s Ranger College last season (National Runner-Up). English is a big 2-guard who can drive, post, and shoot. In 2019-20, he connected on 43% of his threes.

Schmidt’s defense was unexpectedly his team’s best attribute last season. The Bonnies ranked 2nd in the A-10 in defense, per KenPom, and ranked as Schmidt’s best ever defensive squad in his coaching career. Osunniyi was a large contributing factor to this success, pacing the Bonnies’ 6th best block rate in the land, but the perimeter was also stout, forcing turnovers and getting hands in shooters’ faces. Schmidt’s modified pack-line style slows opposing teams down and shuts down the paint. Despite the numerous departures from last year’s squad, the Bonnies should still be sound on this end of the floor.

Bottom Line: Considering Schmidt’s squads have finished in the league’s top five each of the past four seasons, this projection may be a little low. Lofton and Osunniyi are A-10 stars and Welch and Schmidt’s talented recruiting class could be a great supporting corps. But, this roster is unproven and the returning talent among the top-tier A-10 schools is substantial. The Bonnies can compete for another top five league finish, but it’ll take excellent coaching and swift meshing of new faces.

7. Saint Louis

Key Returners: Jordan Goodwin, Hasahn French, Fred Thatch
Key Losses: Tramaine Isabell, Javon Bess, DJ Foreman, Dion Wiley, Cart’Are Gordon
Key Newcomers: Dujuanta “Tay” Weaver (Eastern Kentucky) Javonte Perkins (JUCO), Jimmy Bell Jr., Terrence Hargrove Jr., Yuri Collins, Gibson Jimerson, Madani Diarra

Lineup:

Outlook: SLU endured a whirlwind of a season last year after being picked nearly unanimously to win the A-10 prior to the start of the 2018-19 campaign. Travis Ford’s squad was sitting pretty on January 18th at 14-4 (4-0) with wins at Seton Hall and versus Oregon State and Butler, but then disaster struck. The Billikens dropped their next four games and ultimately finished the season 10-8 in conference play, good for a 6-seed in the A-10 tournament. SLU then defied the odds and won four games in four days to capture the conference auto-bid and nab a 13-seed in the Big Dance. The Billikens won games with physicality and defense, two aspects that far overshadowed a brutal offense marred by poor shooting. With the loss of Javon Bess, the school’s best player and leader a year ago, and Tramaine Isabell, SLU’s second-leading scorer, expectations won’t nearly be as high in 2019-20. Ford brings back two program cornerstones and brings in some promising newcomers, but the Billikens will be very young and inexperienced team heading into the year.

Let’s first talk about that awful offense SLU had last season. The Billikens were one of the worst shooting teams – from everywhere – in the entire country, but it was especially noticeable from the free throw line. SLU shot a horrid 59.8% from the charity stripe, good for second worst in the nation, and shot the 17th most free throws in college basketball. Considering the Billikens lost seven games last year by six points or less, it’s safe to say free throws literally cost them wins. This futility from the line was magnified by the fact that two of SLU’s best players, Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French, were two of the worst offenders. Goodwin connected on only 51.1% of his 141 FT attempts (he’s a guard!!!) and French shot 34.9% on 106 attempts (that’s like historically bad):

Because of the lack of shooting on the roster, SLU was forced to rely on offensive rebounding to put points on the board. Only two teams in the country finished a higher percentage of plays with an offensive putback than SLU last season, a testament to the Billiken bigs that manned the glass. French redeemed himself a little in this area, as he was an animal on the boards in 2018-19 which helped propel his 3rd Team All-Conference nod. Defensively, French ranked 4th in the A-10 in block rate despite standing just 6’7” and earned a spot on the conference’s All-Defensive Team. He’ll be one of SLU’s most important players in 2019-20 and absolutely must improve from the stripe – even to 50% - for the Billikens to have a chance to compete for a league title.

DJ Foreman, French’s main frontcourt companion, graduated this offseason, so Ford will rely on a newcomer to fill the second starting forward spot. JUCO transfer Javonte Perkins, the 12th ranked JUCO recruit in the land, is a good bet to see starting time at the 4 after scoring 26.4 PPG at SWIC last season. Perkins is SWIC’s all-time leading scorer and brings outside shooting and scoring to a team in desperate need. He’d be a good fit next to the paint-bound French. Two freshman skyscrapers, Jimmy Bell Jr. and Madani Diarra will also fight for minutes behind and next to French. Ford was comfortable playing two post-focused bigs at the same time last year, but SLU’s offense suffered when he did. Bell is a 7-footer who has apparently shed some extra poundage this offseason in preparation for a key role off the bench. Diarra has good touch for a big man and projects as a capable shot blocker.

Big things were expected from Jordan Goodwin last season after he proved to be a nightly triple-double threat as a freshman, but he was actually less efficient in his sophomore season despite a lower usage. Goodwin appears to be a known commodity now – he’s a guard who can handle the ball, play tough defense, run an offense, and grab rebounds at an elite rate for his position. He’s not a good outside shooter or finisher inside the arc. He’ll need to be the leader for the Billikens this season with just one senior on the roster.

Similar to the frontcourt, Goodwin’s primary backcourt partner, Isabell, also graduated this offseason, leaving an open spot in the starting five. Sophomore Fred Thatch has a good shot to nab the starting 2 or 3 position after turning in a decent freshman year. Like Goodwin, Thatch is a good rebounder despite standing just 6’3” and can defend at a high level on the perimeter. Also like Goodwin, Thatch is a non-factor shooting the ball from distance. Because of this, it’s likely Ford opts to go with more shooting on the wing to pair with Goodwin. EKU transfer Dujuanta Weaver looks to be a perfect addition for a SLU squad in need of shooting. “Tay” can play either guard spot and specializes as a spot-up outside shooting threat. He averaged 10.0 PPG for the Colonels last season and shot 220 three-pointers to just 39 two-pointers.

Backing up the guard spots will be freshman Yuri Collins and sophomore Demarius Jacobs. Collins is a lightning quick point guard capable of starting at the D1 level. He’s a pass-first facilitator, but can also score and play alongside Goodwin in the backcourt. Jacobs likely remains a seldom-used role player this season with the arrival of Collins and Weaver.

Ford has a few options on the wing to choose from aside from Thatch. Freshmen Terrence Hargrove Jr. and Gibson Jimerson both have the skill to earn a spot in the starting lineup on day one, while sophomore KC Hankton will provide shooting off the bench. Hargrove, a 4-star wing out of East St. Louis, is a dunkalicious athlete with elite defensive potential. Jimerson is a pure shooter, one who Ford calls the best shooter he’s ever had during his tenure at SLU. Both Hargrove (6’7”) and Jimerson (6’6”) have the requisite size to play the 3 in the A-10.

Defense and physicality will still be the calling cards of the Billikens this season. Ford will show some full-court man pressure, with some trapping elements and mix in a matchup 1-3-1 along with straight halfcourt man. Bess was the best defender in the A-10 last season, but guys like Goodwin, Thatch, and Hargrove should keep the perimeter unit strong. French’s presence inside provides SLU with one of the best paint anchors in the league.

Bottom Line: SLU’s success this season will depend a lot on how quickly Ford can mesh a young roster full of new pieces. The Billikens likely hang around in the middle of a top-heavy A-10 and score some giant conference wins along with some head scratching losses in 2019-20.

8. Duquesne

Key Returners: Sincere Carry, Michael Hughes, Marcus Weathers, Frankie Hughes, Tavian Dunn-Martin, Lamar Norman, Austin Rotroff, Amari Kelly
Key Losses: Eric Williams, Mike Lewis II
Key Newcomers: Baylee Steele (Utah Valley), Maceo Austin, Ashton Miller, Evan Buckley

Lineup:

Outlook: Duquesne enters 2019-20 fresh off a successful 19-13 (10-8) season, in which the Dukes tallied their highest win total since 2011 despite being the 8th youngest team in college basketball. Keith Dambrot has been a godsend to the program in his two seasons at the helm and now has his eyes set on a top five A-10 finish with nearly everyone from last year returning. Eric Williams’ departure to Oregon is a big blow for a squad looking to contend for a conference title, but there’s plenty of talent with which to compete – plus, the Dukes have a cool new logo, which can only mean good things to come.

The Dukes were the A-10’s fastest squad in 2018-19, which was a bit of a changeup from Dambrot whose teams usually play at a slower tempo. The arrival of freshman phenom Sincere Carry likely influenced Dambrot’s decision to crank up the pace, resulting in Duquesne ranking 5th in the A-10 in offense. Per Synergy, the Dukes were actually a below average offensive team in half-court sets, but thrived on the run where they scored 1.05 PPP. The Dukes’ lineup usually features three high-volume outside shooters with a 4 or 5 that can step out and stretch the floor. Carry and fellow guard Tavian Dunn-Martin use the space to carve up the defense while big men like Michael Hughes and Marcus Weathers clean up the misses for second chance opportunities.

Duquesne could use improvement on the defensive side of the ball, particularly on the glass where it ranked dead last in the A-10 and 350th in the nation in defensive rebounding rate. Gambling for steals, a lack of focus on box outs, and a willingness to start the break resulted in the Dukes getting creamed on the defensive glass. Duquesne ranked 30th in the country in turnover rate last season (2nd in the A-10), a result of applying full-court pressure (35th highest press rate nationally) and extending its guards on the perimeter. The Dukes looked to run at every opportunity off steals, ranking 11th in the country in percentage of initial FGA in transition following a steal (compared to 310th following a score). Dambrot’s press was incredibly effective last season, allowing just 0.781 PPP and forcing turnovers at a 24.7% clip. To put that in perspective, the #1 TO rate in the country last year was produced by Prairie View A&M, who turned teams over at a… yes… 24.7% clip.

Carry will run the show for the Dukes this year, coming off an A-10 All-Rookie campaign in which he ranked 2nd in the league in assist rate (32nd nationally) and 7th in steal rate (24th nationally). The stud lead guard is an ace table setter and scorer, who prefers playing in isolation and getting out in the open floor. His point of improvement this season will be outside shooting, which was really his only glaring flaw from 2018-19. Defensively, Carry had a massive impact on the floor last season, as the Dukes allowed just 0.96 PPP when he played versus a whopping 1.10 PP when he sat.

Supporting Carry in the backcourt will be the aforementioned Dunn-Martin, sophomore Lamar Norman Jr., and redshirt junior Frankie Hughes. Dunn-Martin, who followed Dambrot over from Akron, is the reigning A-10 Sixth Man of the Year following a season in which he knocked down 38.9% of his three-point attempts in conference play. The 5’8” spark plug is a pesky on-ball defender and will likely be used once again in an “instant offense” role off the pine. He rarely played alongside Carry last year, but when he did the Dukes scored 1.08 PPP (versus just 0.98 PPP in all other lineup combinations). Norman will compete for the starting 2-guard spot after shooting 37.7% from deep last year. He’s primarily a spot-up shooter and showed he could get scorching hot late last season when he dropped 20 points against the Bonnies in February and 18 points against St. Joe’s to finish off the year. Hughes likely resumes his starting role on the wing. He took 219 threes last year (by far most on the team) but hit just 32.4% of them. His true value, though, is on the defensive side of the ball.

A few freshmen will vie for playing time in the Duquesne backcourt as well. Maceo Austin, a 3-star swingman, will likely be the most impactful of the trio. Austin is a long, smooth wing scorer with a high release and chose to attend Duquesne over Penn State, Northwestern, and VCU. Ashton Miller is a quick combo guard with a tight handle who can aid in ball handling duties. Evan Buckley is also a combo guard but a better shooter than Miller.

Inside, Dambrot has a sturdy, yet slightly undersized, frontcourt in center Michael Hughes and forward Marcus Weathers. Hughes also followed Dambrot from Akron and immediately made his presence known in the A-10. Hughes was the 2nd best shot blocker in the A-10 last year (ranked 28th nationally in block rate), grabbed boards on both ends at a high rate, and ranked 3rd in the league in FT rate thanks to his ability to pound the rock inside. Weathers, formerly of Miami OH, continued his strong play from his MAC days, contributing across the board in rebounding, shot blocking, scoring, and defending. Like Hughes, Weathers can get to the line with high frequency, and is also able to step out and shoot the three.

Austin Rotroff, Amari Kelly, James Ellis, and Baylee Steele round out the Duquesne frontcourt rotation. Rotroff tore his ACL back in January against SLU after starting five games earlier in the year. He’s a good shooter and finisher who will see the floor this year if fully healthy. Kelly and Ellis likely take backseats in the rotation if Rotroff is healthy. Steele, now at his third college (EMU, UVU), will compete for a starting spot after starting all 33 games for Utah Valley last season. He brings much needed size and ranked 2nd in the WAC in O-rating last year and top five in both OR% and DR%. The 6’11” center is valuable for his ability to convert buckets on the low block, but his most important attribute is his FT shooting; he connected on 76.5% of his charity stripe tries last season. Expect Steele to eat major minutes for the Dukes in 2019-20.

Bottom Line: I’ll continue to repeat myself like a broken record: the A-10 is extremely competitive this season. The Dukes return almost everyone from a 10-8 campaign and yet are slated by many to finish between 6th and 9th in the league. Dambrot still has a ridiculously young roster (just one senior), so if everyone sticks around for 2020-21, this will be a legitimate A-10 title contender and NCAA Tourney at-large threat. As it stands for this year, the Dukes certainly have a shot at a top four or five conference finish, but there’s a wealth of talent on the teams around them. Being unable to play true home games as their arena undergoes renovations, doesn’t help the Dukes’ cause either.


Tier 3

9. George Mason

Key Returners: Justin Kier, Javon Greene, Jordan Miller, Goanar Mar, Ian Boyd, Greg Calixte
Key Losses: Otis Livingston, Jarred Reuter
Key Newcomers: Bahaide Haidara, Xavier Johnson, Josh Oduro

Lineup:

Outlook: George Mason endured a so-so year in which it was expected to compete near the top of the A-10. An 11-7 record and a 5th place finish is nothing to scoff at, but many picked the Patriots to capture the league title with an experienced and talented roster. Last year’s squad was Paulsen’s best in terms of A-10 record, but still lagged behind his 2017 bunch and several of his Bucknell teams from an advanced metric perspective. Starting off the year losing three straight to Penn, American, and Georgia Southern certainly didn’t help morale, but close losses to Kansas State and Baylor and a solid conference showing partially redeemed those efforts. This season, GMU loses program great Otis Livingston, the team leader and point guard the past four seasons, but plenty of talent returns with which to compete for a second consecutive top five A-10 finish.

Mason lacks a proven point guard this season, but it’s not necessarily essential for a Paulsen offense. Paulsen likes to spread it out in the halfcourt and run a ball screen or dribble handoff-centric motion, preferably with multiple players on the floor who can handle the ball. The Patriots have also played fairly uptempo the past few seasons under Paulsen, using their bevy of athletic guards to score on the run and compensate for a lack of size. The ball will be in senior guard Justin Kier’s hands most of the time on the offensive end. Kier, the reigning A-10 Most Improved Player and a 2nd Team All-Conference member, was fantastic last season, scoring from all three levels at a high rate and contributing on the defensive end. The 6’4” guard clearly worked on his outside shot in the 2018 offseason, as he attempted as many threes (89) last year as he did in his first two collegiate seasons combined, connecting on 37.1% of them. Expect Kier to act as the team’s de facto point guard and be the primary beneficiary of ball screens and catalyst of transition opportunities.

Aside from Kier, ball handling options are few and far between on this roster. Sophomore guard Jamal Hartwell saw key minutes as a freshman and may be asked to run some point in 2019-20. He’s better off the ball where he shot 44.6% from deep last season, but he’s also capable of running an offense. Freshman Xavier Johnson is probably the purest of point guard on the team and a pesky on-ball defender to boot. He’ll likely carve out a good share of minutes in his first season in Fairfax.

Junior Javon Greene and sophomore Jason Douglas-Stanley will fill out the off-guard rotation. Greene shot better from deep last season than he did as a freshman, but still only mustered a 30% clip. His #1 ranked A-10 FT% suggests better things to come in the shooting realm this season, and his value as a perimeter defender helps overshadow his struggles from the outside. Douglas-Stanley will likely once again play sparingly off the bench in a spot-up shooter role.

One of the biggest keys to success for GMU this season will be the play of Jordan Miller, a 6’6” sophomore who was forced to burn his redshirt last season due to team injuries following the first semester. Miller was excellent in his 17 games played, proving he could occupy multiple spots on the floor and be a valuable two-way player. He ranked 2nd in the A-10 in OR% in 2018-19 and grabbed 10+ boards five times. With GMU’s lack of size, Miller gives Paulsen a reliable “guard” option to stick at the 4 in smaller lineups; his length and rebounding will allow him stand up to bigger opponents.

Senior Ian Boyd and freshman Bahaide “Daddy” Haidara will backup Miller on the wing. Boyd’s playing time significantly diminished from two seasons ago, but he’s shown in the past to be a capable floor stretcher. Haidara (yes, Daddy is really his nickname) is a 2-star recruit who can play either guard or forward, handle the rock, and explode to the rim. His length will allow him to play pretty much anywhere on the floor, and he’s an option to run some point.

Size will continue to be an issue for the Patriots in 2019-20, which likely means GMU will be vulnerable in the interior once again this year. Greg Calixte has the inside lane to start at the 5 this season after taking a backseat to Jarred Reuter in 2018-19. Calixte is a good rebounder and banger in the post, but unfortunately is one of the worst FT shooters in the country (41.2% career clip). He’ll be flanked by Goanar Mar, a 6’7” junior who functions primarily as a stretch 4. Mar is a non-factor on the glass or in the shot blocking realm, but GMU’s defense was significantly improved when he was on the floor last season. Given his lack of physicality and thin frame, it’s unlikely Paulsen plays Mar at the 5 much this season. Junior AJ Wilson should see more run without Reuter in the mix. He’s an excellent rebounder and shot blocker, but like Mar is on the skinnier end of the spectrum. Freshman Josh Oduro will add depth to the frontcourt and is a potential contributor down the road.

As stated, Mason will struggle to defend the paint this year once again (ranked dead last in the A-10 in 2PFG% D last year). Paulsen ramped up his full-court pressure last season to compensate for the lack of size, but the long-time head coach has always been known for playing a more conservative type of defense, focusing on staying between the ball and the basket. Paulsen squads have always exceled at limiting transition tries and playing without fouling, two things that should continue in 2019-20. Last season’s Mason squad forced the most turnovers out of any team in Paulsen’s coaching career, a result of having numerous long, athletic bodies on the perimeter.

Bottom Line: Like so many other squads in the middle tier of the A-10 this year, the Patriots will have a fighter’s chance at a top five league finish. Kier will need to ascend to star status, consistent ball handling will need to emerge, and the interior defense must be better than last season. Paulsen is one of the better coaches in this league, so it wouldn’t shock me to see an improvement from Mason in 2019-20.

10. George Washington

Key Returners: Justin Mazzulla, Maceo Jack, Arnaldo Toro, Javier Langarica, Armel Potter, Mezie Offurum, Justin Williams
Key Losses: DJ Williams, Terry Nolan
Key Newcomers: Jameer Nelson Jr., Shawn Walker Jr., Jamison Battle, Chase Paar

Lineup:

Outlook: The Colonials are coming off their worst season since 1988. Former head coach Maurice Joseph saw his program decline in each of his three seasons at the helm, culminating in a 293rd ranking last year in KenPom (easily the worst in the A-10). George Washington was simply brutal on both ends of the floor, clearly in need of a change in leadership and a new direction. Enter Jamion Christian, the former Siena and Mount St. Mary’s coach who previously served under Tony Shaver and Shaka Smart (not a bad pedigree). Christian brings with him a whole new culture to the nation’s capital and a promise to turn the GW program back in the right direction.

Christian’s signature style of play is known as “mayhem”, a style that focuses on making opponents fell uncomfortable by implementing lots of full-court pressure and traps on the defensive end (harking back to his days coaching under Shaka’s “havoc” system) and bombing away from behind the arc on the offensive end. Christian’s teams have historically ranked in the top 10-20 in the nation in 3PA%, but rarely have his squads played had a frantic pace on offense. Last season, Siena ranked dead last in the country in average possession length (21.5 seconds), electing to use clock and play through their stud freshman, Jalen Pickett. This style is useful for a team not rich in talent looking to limit possessions against superior opponents and likely will be implemented at GW this season. Aside from taking an extraordinary amount of threes, expect the Colonials to play a significant portion of their possessions through the pick-n-roll, where Christian will rely on his depth of lead guards to create off the bounce and find shooters.

The “mayhem” name seems juxtaposed with Christian’s preferred pace offensively, but it’s quite apt on the defensive side of the ball. At Mount St. Mary’s Christian’s teams pressed on nearly one-third of all their possessions and Siena pressed on about 16%. Christian will adjust his style to his personnel, but an element of pressure will certainly be applied at GW this season; he’ll also look to mix in some trapping zone looks in the half-court and off inbounding scenarios. Historically, Christian-coached teams have forced turnovers at a very high rate, but his Siena squad was much more conservative. It may take a year or two of Christian getting “his guys” into the program before we see a shift back to full-on mayhem mode.

Christian inherited an experienced roster with only two players opting to transfer with the coaching change. On paper, five upperclassmen and seven guys with starting experience seems like a recipe for success, but I’ll refer you to that 2018-19 293rd KenPom ranking in the opening paragraph. Christian will want to have as many shooters on the floor as possible, which means we should probably expect GW to start a four-guard lineup or at least play a forward who can stretch the floor alongside a more traditional big man. The Colonials have plenty of ball handling options in the backcourt with junior Justin Mazzulla, redshirt senior Armel Potter, and freshmen Jameer Nelson, Jr. and Shawn Walker, Jr. Mazzulla buckled down on severe turnovers issues suffered as a freshman and led the team in minutes in 2018-19, but he needs to be a more efficient scorer and consistent finisher. Despite good counting stats, a 2P / 3P / FT shooting slash of .447 / .276 / .687 won’t earn anyone more playing time. Though Mazzulla led the team in playing time, Christian’s arrival threatens a potential shake-up in minutes allocation. Potter was far more consistent with the ball in his hands last season and doubles as one of the locker room leaders. He’s primarily a penetrating guard, able to get to the rim with ease, but his outside shooting will have to improve to remain on the floor under Christian. Nelson and/or Walker could start immediately in their first seasons at GW. Nelson (guess who his Dad is) has played well in the Kenner League this offseason and possesses college-ready explosiveness, athleticism, and court vision. Walker, the son of former Grambling State coach Shawn Walker, Sr., followed Christian over from Siena; he’s a lengthy combo guard who can play multiple positions.

Christian’s wing rotation will consist of returning leading scorer Maceo Jack, senior Justin Williams, sophomore Mezie Offurum, and freshman Jamison Battle. Jack and Offurum have also been shining this summer in the Kenner League, hopefully a sign of good things to come this year for the GW program. Jack will be counted on to provide offensive firepower and is a career 35.2% shooter from deep. Offurum could be the breakout player on this roster in 2019-20. The combo forward played 40 minutes in the first game of the year in 2018-19 (12 points / 6 rebounds) then was buried for the remainder of the season. While he wasn’t uber-efficient when he saw the floor, Offurum’s athletic ability makes him an enticing asset on both sides of the ball. He’s also big enough to play the 4 in Christian’s smaller, more athletic lineups. Williams perhaps should have played more last season after turning in the most efficient year on the team. He rebounded well, played defense at a high level, and shot well from everywhere on the floor. Expect Williams to compete for starters minutes in 2019-20. Battle will provide shooting and size on the wing – he’s one of Maurice Joseph’s recruits, but Christian has had high praise of him in the offseason.

The interior will be manned primarily by three players: Arnaldo Toro, Javier Langarica, and Chase Paar. Toro played seven games last year before having season-ending hip surgery. When he did play, he was fantastic on the glass, a decent shot blocker, and a solid inside scoring presence with face-up capability. In 2017-18, Toro ranked in the A-10’s top ten in both defensive and offensive rebounding rates. Langarica is also a prolific rebounder and a better shot blocker than Toro. He stepped into the lineup when Toro went down last year, but likely won’t share the floor too much with his fellow big given the similarities in their game and Christian’s style. Paar (another Joseph recruit) comes in with glowing praise from Christian and could carve out major minutes in his rookie year.

Bottom Line: The Colonials won’t turn into an NCAA Tournament overnight, but the program appears to be in good hands with Jamion Christian. Every piece of news I’ve read suggests his players love and respect him, the importance of which cannot be understated in college basketball. Christian should have GW back competing in the A-10 within the next couple of years. For 2019-20, a top ten league finish should be the goal.

11. La Salle

Key Returners: Isiah Deas, David Beatty, Saul Phiri, Ed Croswell, Jared Kimbrough, Jack Clark
Key Losses: Pookie Powell, Traci Carter, Jamir Moultrie, Miles Brookins
Key Newcomers: Scott Spencer (Clemson), Brandon Stone, Christian Ray, Ayinde Hikim, Sherif Kenney, Moustapha Diagne (Western Kentucky)

Lineup:

Outlook: Ashley Howard took over the La Salle job last year from John Giannini, who manned the sidelines for the Explorers for 14 seasons, reaching one NCAA Tournament and one Sweet Sixteen in that span. Howard comes off the Jay Wright coaching tree, serving under the ridiculously good-looking Villanova coach from 2013 – 2018. As expected, La Salle hit some road bumps in year one under Howard, starting the season 0-10, but turned things around once A-10 play began. The Explorers finished a respectable 8-10 in conference (9th place), exceeding their 12th place preseason ranking. This year, La Salle will be without lead guard Pookie Powell, a team leader the past three seasons, but Howard does return a good crop of talent and brings in a promising group of newcomers. Though the Explorers may struggle once again in 2019-20, it’s clear Howard has this program trending in the right direction.

Similar to Jay Wright’s teams over at Villanova, Howard’s squads shoot a ton of threes. In 2018-19, La Salle ranked 1st in the A-10 in percentage of points scored via the three and 3rd in 3P%. Howard likes to run a 4-out, spread offensive scheme with multiple ball handlers on the floor at once and plenty of shooting. Turnovers were an issue last season and likely will continue to be with the departure of Powell and fellow point guard Traci Carter. Howard will need to find consistent ball handling among his bevy of combo guards and wings. Powell’s absence is also concerning from a scoring points perspective – La Salle was already terrible offensively, but without Powell on the floor the Explorers mustered a measly 0.87 PPP.

Howard has plenty of returners who can handle the ball, but none of them are true point guards used to conducting an offense. Isiah Deas was the 5th highest used player in the A-10 last season and is capable of creating his own offense or penetrating and dishing to open shooters. He was quite inefficient last year as a junior, but did improve on his 3P% despite shooting a higher volume. He’ll need to evolve into a leader this season and be one of La Salle’s go-to scorers on offense. Like Deas, David Beatty can also handle the ball, but his true talents lie on the defensive end where he can body opposing ball handlers. The former South Carolina Game Cock shot poorly from the outside during his first year in Philly, but has potential to grow into a more consistent offensive threat after coming out of high school as a highly regarded recruit.

Saul Phiri and Jack Clark likely stay primarily on the wing where they can do damage with their deadeye three-point strokes. Phiri knocked down 39.4% of his trey ball tries last year and Clark connected on 41% of his in limited games. Clark played only nine games for the Explorers last year, missing the first seven due to a high school ACL tear and the latter half of the year due to a lower body injury. When healthy, Clark was one of the best scorers and most reliable shooters on the team. In an offense that prioritizes spacing and shooting, Clark’s health will be key in 2019-20.

Clemson transfer Scott Spencer and freshman Christian Ray will provide depth and versatility on the wing while freshmen Ayinde Hikim and Sherif Kenney will compete for starting minutes at the point. Hikim is a 3-star prospect out of Mount Zion Prep who averaged 36 PPG in high school. He’s quick and can change directions on a dime, but his ball handling and passing will be his biggest contributions to this squad. Kenney is a 4-star recruit out of Chicago who garnered a slew of high major attention early on in his high school career. At 6’4” 212 lbs, Kenney can use his size and strength to bully smaller defenders into the paint off drives. He has the inside route to an early starting gig in Philly if he can get his body ready from a conditioning perspective.

La Salle doesn’t have a ton of size on its roster, but that isn’t a death sentence for a team that will most likely run out four guards majority of the time. One of either Jared Kimbrough or Ed Croswell will likely start at the 5, each of whom are beasts on the boards. Croswell has the most potential from a development perspective and led the nation in offensive rebounding rate in 2018-19, posting an insane 18.1% clip. Twice Croswell grabbed 10+ offensive rebounds in a game last season, a staggering stat for any level of basketball. Kimbrough is a better shot blocker than Croswell, but neither stood up to post-ups well last season. Freshman Brandon Stone will compete for playing time in the frontcourt as well; he’ll add shooting and can play the 4 alongside either Croswell or Kimbrough thanks to his ability to stretch the floor. His handles are also quite good for a 6’11” guy. WKU grad transfer Moustapha Diagne, Howard’s most recent signee, will also see plenty of run up front - he has a burgeoning face-up game to go along with his traditional back-to-the-basket play. He’ll add size and rebounding to a roster in need.

La Salle was pretty good defensively last season, paced by a backcourt that applied heavy pressure to opposing ball handlers. The Explorers pressed at the 33rd highest rate in the country last season and allowed the quickest average possession length in the conference, a testament to their goal of speeding up their opponent. Unfortunately, once teams broke through the pressure and perimeter shell, resistance was lacking near the rim. Expect more of the same this season with Howard’s seemingly endless supply of wings and similar big man personnel.

Bottom Line: It’s hard to see La Salle improving much in conference this year with so many teams around it improving. But, the Explorers should be able to avoid another 0-10 start to the season and have a bright future under the former Villanova assistant.


Tier 4

12. Massachusetts

Key Returners: Carl Pierre, Keon Clergeot, Samba Diallo, Sy Chatman, Djery Baptiste
Key Losses: Luwane Pipkins, Rashaan Holloway, Jonathan Laurent, Curtis Cobb, Unique McLean, Tre Wood
Key Newcomers: Tre Mitchell, John Buggs III, Preston Santos, TJ Weeks, CJ Jackson, Sean East, Kolton Mitchell

Lineup:

Outlook: Matt McCall has had a rough two seasons adjusting to life in the A-10. Following last year’s debacle, the former Chattanooga coach now sits at 24-41 (9-27) for his UMass career. There appeared to be some turmoil in the locker room and amongst the team – not unlike McCall’s Moc squad back in 2016-17 – which led to inconsistencies and head scratching losses. The Minutemen would look impressive one night, downing Providence on the road or Davidson in A-10 play, but then lose to Howard at home on another. McCall expects a lot from his players and is one of the more vocal / in-your-face coaches around college basketball, so perhaps it’s simply getting his type of players to Amherst and them buying into the culture. He has an opportunity to start building that culture this season with a roster that experienced a ton of turnover from 2018-19, including the loss of floor leader Luwane Pipkins.

Pipkins’s departure leaves several question marks for this year’s UMass squad. The now-Providence point guard led the A-10 in usage each of the past two seasons and was the primary focal point in McCall’s ball screen heavy offense. Without Pipkins, UMass is down a go-to scorer and a point guard, but McCall hopes those role vacancies can be filled by some promising newcomers and rising juniors.

Let’s start with the point guard issue, which will be a position of great intrigue throughout the year at UMass. The Minutemen had the highest TO rate in the conference last season, unable to hang onto the ball (though much was due to its forwards’ shaky handles versus its guards). Both Keon Clergeot and Carl Pierre took on some ball handling duties when Pipkins missed games with injury, but (as I’ll touch on later) both players are better off the ball. This means PG duties will likely fall into the hands of a freshman. McCall brings in three “true” point guards and a combo guard, each likely to split time and swap starts throughout the year. Kolton Mitchell and John Buggs III have the most “ready” body for college ball, each athletic and solidly built. Buggs isn’t blinding quick, but he’s crafty and creative with the ball and has a good-looking shot. Mitchell is bouncier than Buggs and a very good passer / facilitator, but his shot mechanics are lacking. Sean East out of Louisville seems to be a guy that McCall will take to immediately. From all reports, East is an extremely hard worker and on-the-floor coach. McCall has been quoted in many articles saying he cares far more about effort and energy than he does about anything else, so that alone may give East the inside track to major minutes. 6’6” combo guard CJ Jackson may also be asked to do some ball handling, but he’s a little behind the other three from a talent perspective in my eyes.

Now to the scoring issue. Pierre is the clear candidate to step up in usage and assume the leadership mantle in 2019-20. He’s had a solid two years at UMass, knocking in 42.4% of his 410 career three-point attempts. Though he’s been a little inefficient near the rim and from the mid-range area, Pierre appears to be the best bet to lead the Minutemen in scoring next season. He came on strong down the stretch, scoring in double figures 8 of the last 10 games. Clergeot, a former Memphis Tiger, took over some of the ball handling when Pipkins went down last year, but he’s much better on the wing where he can spot-up from deep. Like Pierre, Clergeot’s usage should skyrocket, and if his 43-minute, 25-point performance in the last game of the year versus GW is any indication, he could be a valuable asset on the offensive end in 2019-20.

Two of McCall’s seven freshman will compete for playing time on the wing and likely earn a few starts as McCall figures out his rotations. Preston Santos, a 3-star recruit in some places, is a long, smooth wing with plus athleticism. His shot isn’t perfect, but he should carve out a role early on in his career. TJ Weeks, the son of former UMass basketball player Tyrone Weeks, is a bit of a late bloomer from a recruiting perspective, but he’s a significant addition for the Minutemen. The athletic lefty is a skilled offensive player who can create his own shot and guard multiple spots on the other end of the floor.

McCall’s frontcourt rotation will be a mix-and-match game all season long. Former Vandy big Djery Baptiste returns to anchor the pain after ranking 5th in the A-10 in OR% and 3rd in block rate. Baptiste is UMass’s best defensive option inside, but he is extremely limited on the offensive end. He’ll compete with top 100 recruit Tre Mitchell for starting time. Mitchell is listed as a center, but he’s pretty mobile and can step out and shoot the three. He uses his strong lower body effectively in the post to clear space and finish with either hand, giving UMass a much-needed legitimate paint scorer. If Mitchell doesn’t already occupy the 4-spot, one of two sophomores, Sambo Diallo and Sy Chatman, will. Diallo missed some time last year with a knee injury and turned in an inefficient freshman season offensively. Defensively, though, Diallo was very solid and grabbed double-digit boards three times in his rookie year. Chatman is more of an offensive-leaning forward, an athletic 4-man who can shoot the three, block shots, and grab boards. He came on strong at the end of the year and will hope to use that momentum heading into 2019-20. Khalea Turner-Morris, a seldom-used forward, will provide depth in the frontcourt.

UMass’s offense is ultimately a giant question mark, and its defense isn’t too much clearer. One would presume the Minutemen improve on a defense that ranked dead last in the A-10 per KenPom and sent opponents to the foul line as often as an 80-year old man gets up in the middle of the night to pee (zing!). While they were a good rebounding team, allowing so many free throws and open looks killed any advantage UMass had on the glass. McCall wants his squad to pressure the crap out of ball handlers and he’ll pick up in the fullcourt with the goal of forcing as many turnovers as possible. He has the bodies and athleticism to play this style in 2019-20, but it needs to be executed better than last season.

Bottom Line: With so much turnover and uncertainty at the point guard position, it’s hard to place UMass anywhere but the bottom four of the A-10 in the preseason. McCall’s rope might start to lose slack if he can’t produce a tangible improvement in 2019-20.

13. Saint Joseph’s

Key Returners: Taylor Funk, Lorenzo Edwards, Anthony Longpre
Key Losses: Charlie Brown, Lamarr Kimble, Jared Bynum, Chris Clover, Markell Lodge, Pierfrancesco Oliva, Troy Holston
Key Newcomers: Ryan Daly (Delaware), Cameron Brown, Rahmir Moore, Chereef Knox, Dennis Ashley (Maine)

Lineup:

Outlook: Saint Joseph’s waved goodbye to long-time head coach Phil Martelli this offseason, laying the foundation for what promises to be a long and arduous rebuilding process. Martelli, a coaching legend, led the Hawks since 1995, amassing 444 wins, seven NCAA Tourney appearances, one Sweet Sixteen, one Elite Eight, and one #1-seed in 2004. St. Joe’s finished 2018-19 in 10th place in the A-10 after being picked 2nd in the preseason poll, a disappointment to be sure but one that was somewhat explainable given the numerous injuries the Hawks dealt with during the year. Martelli is now at Michigan serving under Juwan Howard and the Hawks have a brand-new coach in Billy Lange. Lange previously served under Jay Wright at Villanova, coached Navy from 2004 – 2011, and most recently was an assistant for the Philadelphia 76ers. The hire seems to be primarily based on Lange’s roots in Philly, because it certainly isn’t based on his Navy tenure where he went 92-115 overall and 42-56 in the Patriot League in seven seasons.

Lange’s Navy teams ran like crazy and shot a ton of threes, apt given his NBA tutelage and time under Jay Wright. St. Joe’s likely plays a similar style in 2019-20 despite having a shallow bench and a ton of new faces. Only five teams in the country return less minutes than the Hawks this season and Lange has just nine scholarship players eligible for this season. The Hawks will look to out-gun and out-run opponents this season and likely apply a high amount of pressure, perhaps extending the length of the floor. Lange’s Navy teams consistently ranked in the top 20 nationally in turnover rate.

St. Joe’s three key returners are all in the frontcourt and all of them bring something similar to the table. Taylor Funk, Lorenzo Edwards, and Anthony Longpre all can thrive in a spread system given their abilities to shoot the long-ball. Funk is a career 35.4% three-point shooter and lived off the pick-n-pop last season. He rarely played on the block offensively, but was a threat to gun from the outside. Defensively, Funk isn’t much of a shot blocker, but he plays without fouling and defended post-ups at a high level in 2018-19. Edwards is more mobile than Funk and also thrived in the pick-n-pop with his lefty stroke. The 6’7” junior is the best shot blocker on the team and solid rebounder, though not quite as stout on the block defensively as Funk. Longpre is the biggest guy on the roster, but he’s also more of a stretch asset on offense and so-so paint defender. Martelli mixed in a fair amount of zone which helped keep the ball out of the paint for the most part last season, but it remains to be seen if Lange will implement the same style.

The rest of the Hawks’ production will come from transfers and freshmen. Delaware transfer Ryan Daly likely leads the team in scoring this season after capturing the CAA Rookie of the Year award in 2016-17 and earning two straight spots on the 3rd Team All-CAA. Daly can score in droves from all three levels of the floor and can even run some point. He’ll contribute significantly in just about every statistical category this season. Fellow transfer Dennis Ashley III out of Maine comes in with a shooting reputation. He shot 40% from deep last year for the Black Bears, but it’s probably not a good sign he couldn’t earn more minutes on a team like Maine. A step up to the A-10 may limit his productivity.

Three freshmen, Cameron Brown, Rahmir Moore, and Chereef Knox will all play key roles this year for the Hawks and fight for starting spots. Brown, originally a William & Mary commit, is a versatile two-way wing with excellent passing ability and an unselfish style. Moore is a big, athletic, and strong lead guard who will likely be asked to run point duties often. Knox, who goes by “Reefy”, can play either the 3 or 4 and step away from the hoop. He’ll guard multiple positions and be a sort of utility man in Lange’s rotation all year.

Bottom Line: There’s not a whole lot to say about Saint Joseph’s this season. The Hawks are a team of unknowns and uncertainty. Lange may start reeling in some key Philly recruits in the near future, but 2019-20 seems to be a year in which St. Joe’s struggles to stay out of the A-10 basement.

14. Fordham

Key Returners: Antwon Portley, Jalen Cobb, Chuba Ohams, Ty Perry, Ivan Raut, Onyi Eyisi, Erten Gazi, Chris Austin
Key Losses: Nick Honor, Jesse Bunting, David Pekarek
Key Newcomers: Joel Soriano, Josh Colon (JUCO), Cameron Cohn, Kyle Rose

Lineup:

Outlook: Fordham is a tough school to win at, apparently. Despite being in the basketball talent hot bed of New York City, the program has consistently been one of the worst in the country over the past decade. Fordham hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1992 when it was a member of the Patriot League, and it’s never made the Dance as a member of the A-10. Jeff Neubauer was hired in 2015 after enjoying success at Eastern Kentucky, but he’s yet to make the Rams a consistent contender in the conference, finishing dead last in the A-10 the past two seasons. Neubauer brings back a significant number of minutes from last year’s squad, including two player he lost to injury, but the loss of Nick Honor, Fordham’s best hope for a brighter future, will limit his team’s ceiling in 2019-20.

Fordham’s offense revolved around Honor last season (I guess you could call it the Honor System – nice, nice) and relied on his ability to create his own shot off the bounce. The Rams didn’t move the ball well on offense, and instead usually watched Honor work in isolation sets and off ball screens. Most of their buckets came from beyond the three-point line last year, typical for a Neubauer squad, but the types of shots Fordham attempted were often of poor choice leading to poor shooting percentages. While the accuracy may not improve too much this season, Fordham will have to move the ball better in 2019-20 without Honor; his skillset gave the Rams a failsafe on offense late in shot clock.

Defensively, Fordham could actually be pretty solid this season. Neubauer plays mostly zone (2-3 variety) and last season his squad allowed just 0.842 PPP while in zone, which ranked 9th among schools that played zone over 25% of the time. Fordham’s guards are quick and athletic on the perimeter and he has two paint anchors in Chuba Ohams and Onyi Eyisi to protect the middle. Even if Fordham’s offense blows again this season, its defense may be able to keep it in games.

Replacing Honor’s production will be no easy task, but senior guard Antwon Portley seems most likely to take on the leading scorer mantle. Portley, a former Saint Peter’s Peacock, is a career 34.6% 3P shooter on 544 attempts and is comfortable working in isolation or in the pick-n-roll. He gained a significant amount of muscle prior to last season, which helped him achieve his best all-around collegiate year. Look for Portley to become Neubauer’s go-to guy on offense and take on some of the ball handling responsibilities left behind by Honor.

Rounding out the backcourt rotation with Portley will be sophomores Jalen Cobb, Ty Perry, and Chris Austin, senior Erten Gazi, JUCO transfer Joshua Colon, and freshmen Kyle Rose and Cameron Cohn. The three sophomores were all very inefficient offensively last season, shooting a combined 31.4% from downtown. Cobb is better on the defensive end where he ranked 6th in the A-10 last year in steal rate and has the most potential to be a consistent contributor offensively. Austin played just nine games (started six) before succumbing to injury. He wasn’t able to show much of his skill in year one, but he has good size at the 2-guard spot and should be a decent spot-up threat on the wing. Gazi played in just five games while battling with injuries of his own. The former DePaul Blue Demon is a good player who can score off the bounce and create his own shot. He’ll compete for a starting spot on the wing in his final college season. Colon is the only true PG on the roster along with late signee Kyle Rose; he’s a hard-nosed, quick, facilitator with a good-looking outside shot. Cohn will add versatility to the wing on both ends of the floor and much-needed shooting on offense.

Inside, Neubauer’s frontcourt rotation will consist of the aforementioned Ohams and Eyisi along with 6’7” junior Ivan Raut and freshman Joel Soriano. Ohams ranked 1st in the A-10 in DR% last season and top 100 nationally in block rate. He isn’t much of an offensive threat, but he’s good for a few stick backs per game and anchors the Rams’ zone defense. Eyisi had a productive first season at Fordham. Like Ohams, his main value is his ability to rebound and block shots. Raut is the true definition of a stretch forward, attempting 101 3PFG last season to just 19 2PFG and 15 FT. Soriano likely doesn’t see the floor too much in year one. He’s very long, but raw from an offensive standpoint and appears to be in the mold of Ohams and Eyisi.

Bottom Line: In a tough A-10 this season, Fordham is a lock to finish in the bottom four of the standings. With St. Joe’s experiencing so much roster turnover, the Rams could realistically finish above them, but it’s hard to say that with confidence. Neubauer is in a tough spot at a program that can’t seem to get off the ground. Perhaps a move back down to the Patriot is in the school’s future.