ATLANTIC 10 2021-22 EARLY SEASON PREVIEW

2 Jul
  1. ST. BONAVENTURE– The Bonnies are in a tier of their own, which is to be expected when you’re the defending champs, you return nearly everyone, and you have the best coach in the league. STRENGTHSExperience, backcourt and defense. The Bonnies return basically every major contributor from last year’s title team with the exception of Alejandro Vasquez, and Mark Schmidt added a few long armed, athletic bigs to enhance a typically extremely short bench and a typically elite defense. Schmidt will once again rely heavily on what will be one of the most experienced backcourt/wing foursomes in the entire country. Kyle Lofton runs the show at the point, and is as steady as the come with the ball and has strong penetration game coupled with a devastating floater. His perimeter shooting is virtually non-existent, but that’s where the interchangeable 2/3 combo of Jaren Holmes and Dom Welch comes in. Welch is the more consistent perimeter shooter while Holmes (who can get streaky from deep himself) is more of a slasher and an elite, versatile defender, particularly in PNR. Jalen Adaway is the fourth backcourt/wing horseman, and could actually be used in his more natural 3 position thanks to some of the incoming transfers, but I’m sure Schmidt will stick with his veteran small lineup for his starting 5. Adaway was a monster down the stretch last year, and far exceeded my expectations in his first year in the brown and white. JUCO Linton Brown and Wake Forest transfer Quadry Adams are essentially the same players as Adaway, Welch, and Holmes, and add much needed depth to that unit. The frontcourt is headed by arguably the most dominant defensive big in the country in Osun Osunniyi. Whether protecting the rim at an elite level in man or anchoring the middle and covering the corners in Schmidt’s tricky matchup zone, the big man absolutely dominates that end of the floor. His offensive game is consistent in that he draws a ton of contact (while not fouling on the other end, which allows him to log absurd minutes for a player his size) and finishes at the rim, but any expansion outside of the restricted area would be gravy. Schmidt finally added some frontcourt depth to aid Osunniyi, most notably Pitt transfer and Abdoul Coulibaly and ridiculously long and athletic but equally raw Anouar Mellouk. WEAKNESSES: Perimeter shooting? Defensive rebounding? Honestly, the weaknesses are more minor complaints, as Schmidt seemingly addressed both of them (including the always nagging lack of depth). But as evidenced by the LSU game, if Welch and Holmes are off, the Bonnies have no perimeter scoring recourse. Adams and Brown should help in that regard, and the defensive rebounding was a weak spot because of the lack of frontcourt depth around Osunniyi, who is often too busy rotating to the rim to grab the subsequent miss. Coulibaly and Mellouk help in that regard immediately when Schmidt wants to play big. OUTLOOK: Anything short of another A10 title and home jerseys in the NCAA Tournament would be considered a disappointment. The ceiling is a deep March run, and it’s a definitely reachable ceiling.
  2. RICHMOND– After a bungled season (mostly through no fault of their own), the Spiders look poised to enjoy the year most prognosticated for them last year. STRENGTHS: Experience and offense. With the return of a (hopefully) healthy Nick Sherod to the nucleus of Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden, and Nathan Cayo, Chris Mooney’s modified Princeton offense should be humming, and this team should more resemble the Spiders from two years ago who were perhaps poised for a few wins in March rather than the jumbled, injured mess that faded badly down the stretch. The return of Sherod gives much needed shot making ability, particularly in the wake of Blake Francis, and allows for a natural outlet for the shot creators Gilyard and exceptional point-center Golden, the prototypical Mooney big. Let’s suppose Sherod isn’t the same player after two devastating knee injuries. That would likely mean Mooney trots out an even bigger lineup with slashing wing Cayo and potential breakout star Tyler Burton. This would not necessarily be a lesser lineup by any stretch, and it’s certainly a better lineup defensively. Dji Bailey is also a name to keep an eye on in Mooney’s backcourt/wing rotation. He has a high recruiting pedigree, long arms, and is a boon defensively, especially given Sherod’s struggles in that area even pre-injury. If Burton continues his development and Sherod is even partly himself, those two around Gilyard and Golden should make the Spiders the best offense in the league. WEAKNESSES: Defense (particularly on the interior) and rebounding. Given the structure of Mooney’s offense, some trade-off in terms of interior defense is going to be inherent. Players with the nimble footwork and nifty ball skills of Golden tend to not be enforcers at the rim or glass eaters, but it should be noted that essentially this same team was the league’s best defense just two years ago. So what changed? For one, opponents shot just 29% from 3 and 66% from the stripe in league play against the Spiders two years ago. Both of those percentages increased last year and UR allowed offensive boards at a much higher rate. Given a (hopefully) more normal offseason and in-season routine, I would anticipate UR’s defense to be closer to two years ago with last year looking like an anomaly. Andre Gustavson, Burton, Bailey, and Souley Koureissi are all plus defenders, but Mooney does have to trade a lot of offense in those lineups to unlock that defense (with the exception of Burton). OUTLOOK: With the experience and fully loaded offense Mooney has at his disposal, the Spiders should unquestionably contend for a league title and an at-large bid, especially if the defense returns to form.
  3. DAYTON– Anthony Grant really cashed in on the Obi Toppin exposure and reloaded with a MEGA influx of talent. If it all blends coherently, the Flyers have the highest ceiling in the league. STRENGTHS: Talent level. Grant has brought in hyper athletic 4/5 Toumani Camara, a big man with a massive motor and great ability to finish at the rim. He’ll headline a ridiculously talented frontcourt that will also feature burgeoning offensive star Zimi Nwokeji (another versatile freak athlete at the 3 and/or 4), floor stretcher Mustapha Amzil, 6’9 glass eater Richard Amaefule, and the best recruit in Dayton’s history, DaRon Holmes- a do-everything 4 with massive amounts of upside. The wing corps is just as talented, with sophomore RJ Blakney expected to make a big jump offensively and another top frosh in 6’8 Kaleb Washington, who has plus ball skills for a wing his size. The backcourt will be run by Elijah Weaver, who becomes the leader of this young squad. Weaver’s length and athleticism on the ball is unparalled in the A10, and he’ll be aided by DePaul transfer Kobe Elvis, who can spell Weaver on the ball. Grant also beefed up the backcourt with talented freshmen in Malachi Smith, the heir apparent at the point, and Lynn Greer, a well built combo guard. This is a young team, but Grant has absurd length and athleticism at his disposal. WEAKNESSES: Experience. Jalen Crutcher’s void will be felt early, as it’s hard to adjust to life without a guy who played every minute and took every shot. But if the talent gels quickly, this is an extremely dangerous Flyer team. OUTLOOK: I’m driving this point into the ground, but if the talent meshes, the ceiling is March and beyond. I’m quite bullish on the young Flyers.
  4. SAINT LOUIS– If newcomers Jordan Nesbitt and Francis Okoro are as good as their recruiting pedigrees suggest, Travis Ford could have a legit shot at an A10 title if they blend with the returning core of Yuri Collins and Javonte Perkins. STRENGTHS: Literal strength and physicality, rebounding, ball movement. Things didn’t go as planned for the Bills last year, and much like Richmond, a non-covid influenced season could prove to be all the difference. Yuri Collins returns as one of the country’s true “pass first” point guards. Collins is an elite playmaker who sees the floor on a different level, but the rest of his offensive game is non-existent. Given his distribution skills, that shouldn’t be much of an issue, but Ford simply didn’t surround Collins with enough shotmakers, but we’ll get into that in a bit. The Bills once again relied on brute strength, dominating the offensive and defensive glass and bullying their way to the rim and free throw line (although both were at significantly lower rate than previous Ford teams). In the wake of Jordan Goodwin, Javonte Perkins becomes the go-to scorer. Perkins is a slashing 3/4 with a capable shooting stroke, but he’ll be aided immediately by the additions of Nesbitt and Okoro, who have unmatched athleticism and explosion in this league. Nesbitt is another 6’6 slasher who can lineup at the 3 or 4 but has much needed ball skills at that position. Okoro is an explosive 4 who can thrive in Ford’s style of basketball. WEAKNESSES: Shot making. Last year was actually Ford’s most efficient offensive team at SLU, but that’s not saying much given the numbers from previous seasons. Making jump shots consistently will continue to be a major issue for this team, as Perkins and Gibson Jimerson are the only proven jump shooters on the roster, and you take a major hit on defense when you have the latter on the floor. Collins, for all his court awareness, can make some baffling decisions with the ball, and that certainly doesn’t help what can be an already wonky halfcourt offense. Perhaps Terrence Hargrove can finally blossom to give Ford another shooter in the backcourt. OUTLOOK: SLU is maddeningly inconsistent offensively and caps their ceiling. Hopefully Nesbitt and Okoro iron out some of those wrinkles. If they do, the Bills have the talent to challenge at the top of the league and earn an at-large spot.
  5. VCU– Mike Rhoades was already in a bit of a reload spot without Bones Hyland, but the early summer injury to Ace Baldwin further decimated the backcourt. There’s some hope Baldwin returns before season’s end, but for the sake of this preview, I’ll assume he’s unavailable. STRENGTHS: Length, athleticism at the wings and frontcourt, harassing pressure defense and halfcourt defense. This will be another athletic VCU squad, as Vince Williams, Mikeal Brown-Jones, Levi Stockard, Jamir Watkins, and Hason Ward comprise a 3/4/5 corps that has length and explosion with an extremely high ceiling. Rhoades added two newcomers that fit right in with that group in Providence transfer Jimmy Nichols and underrated frosh Jalen DeLoach. DeLoach in particular looks like he’ll be a monster in the ubiquitous VCU pressure immediately. Ward and Watkins are primed for monster years and Ward in particular could skyrocket up draft boards if his offensive game develops. As it is, Ward is the league’s best rim protector and an athletic freak on the back end of the press, while Watkins is one of the best overall defenders in the league. On the wing, resident sharpshooter Williams will be the focal point of the offense, and he’ll shoulder even more responsibility as an overall playmaker in the absence of Hyland and Baldwin. How he responds as the focal point of the offense will essentially make or break VCU’s season. Stockard returns as a veteran frontcourt piece, while long and athletic Brown-Jones will look to show in his second season why he was a prized recruit. WEAKNESSES: Backcourt, shooting, turnovers. Marcus Tsohonis will likely lead a “PG by committee” in Baldwin’s wake. The Washington transfer is experienced and steady if unspectacular. The upside options to run the offense are Williams, Josh Banks, and newcomer Jayden Nunn. All three are long and athletic and could pose matchup problems on both ends. Veteran KeShawn Curry will also be in the backcourt mix, but the wildcard is Jarren McAllister. If he’s fully recovered, he’ll certainly be in the running as a feature playmaker that can keep Williams from being fully forced on the ball. OUTLOOK: The frontcourt and wings are poised for a massive year, but the Rams will only achieve their ceiling if guys like MBJ, McAllister, Banks, and Nunn develop early and often on the offensive end. It’s important to note the backcourt struggled mightily with turnovers and efficiency issues WITH Hyland and Baldwin. Those issues could be even more glaring without them.
  6. GEORGE MASON– Has the Kim English hype machine deluded me into believing Mason is a top half A10 team? Possibly, but it’s hard to ignore all the positive energy this program has and the teams in this section are skilled and flawed in virtually equal ways, so why not? STRENGTHS: Wings and versatility, Josh Oduro, energy. It feels lame to bank so much on a team’s offseason “energy”, but Mason just feels like a team that’s going to overperform in English’s first season, and of course it helps that he bolstered the backcourt and wings with some major transfer talent, most notably D’Shawn Schwartz, who could in theory lead the league in scoring given his length and smooth jump shot. Schwartz, Ticket Gaines, DeVon Cooper, and Otis Frazier given English absurd length and versatility at 2-4, and will aid the development of PG Ronnie Polite immensely. They’ll all revolve around Josh Oduro at the 5, who is poised for one of the bigger breakout campaigns in the league. Oduro is a menace on the O glass, draws a ton of contact, and has plus passing skills for his size. WEAKNESSES: Backcourt consistency, frontcourt depth. Polite and Xavier Johnson are a roller coaster on the ball, and could undermine the offense at times. There’s little, if any depth behind Oduro in the frontcourt. OUTLOOK: Mason is likely to be the sleeper darling of the league come fall preview time, but there’s certainly reasons to be optimistic about a possible NIT run here.
  7. DAVIDSON– Kellan Grady is gone, which severely caps Davidson’s ceiling, but three players at 6’7+ with ball skills running Bob McKillop’s magnificent offense has matchup nightmare written all over it, making Davidson a sneaky sleeper…if they can defend, like at all. STRENGTHS: Offensive scheme, coaching. Grady was a bailout option in McKillops hundred screens a second offense, so the margin of error is slim for this iteration of 5 out motion, but with 6’7 Hyunjung Lee, 6’9 Sam Mennenga, and 6’10 Luka Brajkovic running the offense, opposing frontcourts will be inverted, perverted, twisted around, and flipped upside down. Lee in particular has immense skill as a passer and reader of defensive coverages, while Mennenga has the highest remaining upside and potential growth of the group. Foster Loyer comes in from Michigan State and will almost certainly fill in the nominal point guard role to perfection in McKillop’s offense. Wing Michael Jones is a better shooter than what he showed last year. WEAKNESSES: Defense and depth, with a capital D. There’s some hope that the porous D was a product of bad luck, as A10 opponents hit nearly 40% from 3, but that’s also a byproduct of McKillop’s super sag that protects the least athletic backcourt in the league (Jones is legitimately the only capable on ball defender). OUTLOOK: The offense will be a clipboard clinger’s dream, but the defense could legitimately be worse, and an upper-middle of the pack showing appears to be the limit for this group.
  8. RHODE ISLAND– Rough year for Rhody last year, and the finish to the season makes it hard to be optimistic about a turnaround. That said, this is a fairly talented and well balanced roster for David Cox to work with. STRENGTHS: Balance, return to health. A backcourt of Jeremy Carter-Sheppard and burgeoning scorer Ish Leggett is a solid returning core, especially if Jalen Carey can show any sort of bounceback after one of the more disappointing seasons in all of college basketball. They’ll be aided massively with the addition of volume shooter Ish El-Amin, a savvy PNR threat out of Ball State that will suck in blitzing ball screen defenders. Malik Martin on the wing was a bright spot in the late season doldrums for Cox, and Antwan Walker pairs nicely with him as a jack of all trades slasher. A healthy dose of Mitchell twins in the frontcourt makes that a bright spot for the Rams as well. WEAKNESSES: Coaching, shooting. Cox often looked overmatched on the sidelines, and his OOB and ATO numbers per Synergy back up that eye test assessment. The addition of Todd Bozeman to the staff is a major boon however, and hopefully he’s given a lot of defensive responsibility. The offense was a train wreck last year, and while El-Amin should help, major improvements from Carey and Martin will be needed for the Rams to exceed middling expectations. OUTLOOK: The talent and balance is slightly better than the expansive middle tier that surrounds them, so there is hope for an overperformance here.
  9. DUQUESNE– Keith Dambrot is one of the league’s better basketball minds, and the Dukes will need every point of that IQ with an almost totally overhauled roster. STRENGTHS: Coaching, wings, defense. Defensive ace Toby Okani is the only returning starter from last year’s solid team, and he’ll headline Dambrot’s aggressive ball screen blitzing defense. He’ll be joined by a talented wing corps that gets a major boost from well traveled Kevin Easley and Mercer’s Leon Ayers, a lowkey three level scorer. A leap from presumably healthy Maceo Austin would give Dambrot a lot of length and interchangability at 2/3/4 around undersized but versatile centers Tre Mitchell and RJ Gunn. WEAKNESSES: Size, backcourt, offense, cohesion. As I mentioned, this roster has little continuity, and the ball handling duties are likely to be divided between Tyson Acuff and frosh Jackie Johnson. With the exception of Ayers, there are no proven perimeter scoring threats and or shot creators. That’s troubling for an offense that scored at sub 1 PPP in league play and shot 30% from 3. OUTLOOK: Dambrot is more than capable of getting this roster to overperform and gel quickly, but even then the ceiling isn’t particularly high.
  10. GEORGE WASHINGTON– I believe in Jamion Christian’s approach as a coach and program runner, and I like the Colonials as a bit of a sleeper this year with the influx of high major transfers Ira Lee, Joe Bamisile, and Brendan Adams. STRENGTHS: Coaching, talent. Christian’s 1-2-3 backcourt combo of high scoring combo guard James Bishop paired with UConn transfer Adams and obscenely long VA Tech wing Joe Bamisile could be among the league’s best trios. Factor in a now healthy Amir Harris and talented freshman PG Brayon Freeman and you have length and depth to deploy in Christian’s extended matchup zone pressure. Bamisile in particular could be a menace in Christian’s defensive scheme. Ricky Lindo and Ira Lee should man the frontcourt. Lindo was a dominant force on the glass when finally available, and Lee will bolster that. WEAKNESSES: Shooting. This group severely lacks perimeter threats to avoid zones and packed in defenses, and the frontcourt isn’t capable of pulling anyone out of the lane. Spacing will be a major issue for this squad. OUTLOOK: Talent and coaching has me bullish on the Colonials, and a surprise appearance in the top half of the league is a realistic ceiling.
  11. UMASS– Like many programs, UMass had lofty expectations washed away by covid and injuries, and Matt McCall survived some serious offseason acrimony. This year’s team isn’t nearly as talented as last year’s, but they might actually be better off overall. STRENGTHS: Backcourt. Noah Fernandes returns as arguably the league’s most dynamic PG, and he’ll have a talented a deep guard corps around him, most notably defensive ace Javohn Garcia and potential breakout scorer TJ Weeks. Rich Kelly comes in as a deadly spot up shooter and hyper-steady on ball presence, and should immediately improve the efficiency of guys like Weeks and Kolton Mitchell. WEAKNESSES: Frontcourt, wings, interior defense, coaching. Baj Walker, Preston Santos, Cairo McCrory, and CJ Kelly out of Albany are all capable rotational pieces on the wing, but they’re not league winners. Or even league contending pieces. The frontcourt of grad transfers Michael Steadman and Trent Buttrick is seriously uninspiring. Neither can play at McCall’s preferred speed. One player who can and flashed some major upside against Richmond? Dre Dominguez. OUTLOOK: The backcourt is good enough to lead to a top half finish, at best, but the defense offers little, and could be decimated at the rim (third highest FGA rate at the rim last season) by a lethal combination of ole perimeter defense and lack of rim protection.
  12. ST. JOE’S– The unexpected return Jordan Hall really changes the trajectory of the Hawks’ season, and I’m tempted to catapult them up to the top half…but then I remember they scored at just .86 PPP without Ryan Daly on the floor in 700 possessions last year, per hooplens, and that sort of tempers expectations. But Jordan Hall! STRENGTHS: Jordan Hall, wing/backcourt depth, suddenly frontcourt depth?. 6’7 freshmen point guards don’t typically post a 35% assist rate, so Hall’s flirtation with the NBA was warranted, but he’ll be electric in Billy Lange’s hyper uptempo fire at will offense as a sophomore. Pair Hall with a healthy Greg Foster (although I’m not certain if he’s returning, as there was talk of “retirement”), breakout candidate Dahmir Bishop, lightning fast frosh combo guard Erik Reynolds, yin and yang two/wings Jack Forrest/Cam Brown (the shooters) and Jadrian Tracey/Rahmir Moore (the slashers), and suddenly you have one of the league’s more dynamic and deep backcourt/wing units. Lange bolstered the frontcourt with some much needed bulk in 7 foot ECU transfer Charles Coleman and 6’11 Vandy transfer Ejike Obinna. This allows Taylor Funk to move back to the 4 (where he’s absolutely lethal in Lange’s offense) and not get abused in the post. This offense will put up some points. WEAKNESSES: Defense. The Hawks were gashed at the rim, and while Coleman adds some shot blocking prowess, he’s too big to stay on the floor in Lange’s tempo and Obinna somehow managed just 9 total blocks in 3 years at Vandy. OUTLOOK: The Hawks will be an exciting offense to watch, but their style leads to non existent transition defense and a butter soft zone in the halfcourt.
  13. LA SALLE– We continue with the Jay Wright shaky Big 5 coaching tree portion of this preview, as Ashley Howard has a pretty big year ahead of him. The Explorers showed some promise in beating Dayton, Richmond, and SLU (the former two on the road), but they were swept by Mason by a combined 70 points and lost to coachless Fordham. STRENGTHS: Wings, frontcourt. Josh Nickelberry, Sherif Kenney, and Jack Clark form a fairly potent 2/3/4 combo, and the former B1G frontcourt of Clif Moore and Mamadou Doucoure is long and athletic. This is a talented if inefficient nucleus for Howard to center his offensive attack around, and pairing Nickelberry with dynamic roller coaster SO PG Jhamir Brickus should help his development, and high scoring combo guard Khalil Brantley should see immediate minutes. WEAKNESSES: Defense. Howard’s press was easily broken and the guards gambled way too often in the halfcourt in one of the most undisciplined defenses I saw last year. There’s little reason to think those issues have been resolved. OUTLOOK: Moments of brilliance washed out by inexcusably bad defense.
  14. FORDHAM– This concludes our Jay Wright coaching tree segment, as Kyle Neptune likely mans the A10 caboose in his first season at Rose Hill, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. OUTLOOK: Neptune can win a few games with a band-aid roster of Darius Quisenberry (Youngstown St), DJ Gordon (Penn St), and Antonio Daye (FIU) in the backcourt around a healthier Chuba Ohams, one of the league’s best rebounders and rim protectors. Daye is capable of bringing some much needed scoring punch out of PNR and Quiz is a ballhawk on the defensive end.

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