Atlantic 10 offseason power ranking: St. Bonaventure an easy pick for No. 1

Young Dayton roster maybe the hardest to judge in conference

Predicting the Atlantic 10 Conference men’s basketball race — whether the attempt is made in July or November — is difficult. No one excels at it, not even the coaches and media members who put together the official poll before the season.

The last three seasons, the A-10 preseason favorite has finished tied for sixth (Saint Louis in 2019), tied for eighth (VCU in 2020) and eighth (Richmond in 2021). The best A-10 team in the recent years, the 2019-20 Dayton squad that finished 29-2, was picked to place third.

There’s an easy pick for the top spot entering the 2021-22 season, however: Saint Bonaventure. The Bonnies won the regular-season championship by a half game over Virginia Commonwealth last season and return their entire starting lineup.

Other than picking Fordham to finish last, which is usually a safe bet, ranking the rest of the league is often a shot in the dark. Nevertheless, here’s one writer’s best guess four months before the college basketball season begins.

1. Saint Bonaventure (16-5, 11-4 last season): The Athletic ranked the Bonnies first in a top-10 ranking of mid-major teams. Saint Bonaventure was the only A-10 team on the list.

The five returning starters — Kyle Lofton, Jaren Holmes, Jalen Adaway, Dominick Welch, Osun Osunniyi — accounted for 89.1 percent of the team’s total points last season. Lofton, Welch and Ossuniyi will be four-year starters. Holmes will start for the third straight season. Adaway was a starter his first two seasons with the Miami RedHawks, sat out the 2019-20 season and started last season for the Bonnies.

“This was a top 20 defensive team last season, per,” wrote Brian Bennett, of the Athletic, “with Atlantic 10 defensive player of the year and tournament MVP Osunniyi putting a lid on the rim and Schmidt surrounding him with interchangeable parts. Lofton is a two-time, first-team all-league performer at point guard. The Bonnies should be the runaway preseason favorite in the A-10 and deserve this top spot because of their achievements and experience.”

2. Richmond (14-9, 6-5): No school in the conference benefitted more from the NCAA’s decision to not count last season against anyone’s eligibility.

Players who elected to return for another season are being called “super seniors.” Richmond’s group consists of Nathan Cayo, Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden and Nick Sherod. They have combined to score 5,525 points in the last four seasons. In all, the Spiders expect to return 15 of their 16 players, including walk-ons, from last season, losing only leading scorer Blake Francis (16.1 points per game).

3. VCU (19-7, 10-4): The Rams might have shared the regular-season championship with the Bonnies but played one fewer game. With positive COVID-19 tests disrupting schedules around the league, no one played a full 18-game schedule. Teams played as many as 17 games (La Salle and Rhode Island) and as few as eight (George Washington).

The loss of the A-10 Player of the Year, guard Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland, hurts the Rams. He’s projected as a late first-round pick by NBA Draft experts. Still, VCU returns its next five leading scorers, including senior guard Vince Williams (10.6 points per game), and adds junior guard Marcus Tsohonis (10.4), a transfer from Washington.

4. Saint Louis (14-7, 6-4): The Billikens spent time in the top 25 last season after a strong start in non-conference play but saw their momentum vanish with an extended COVID-19 shutdown. The decision by guard Javonte Perkins, the team’s leading scorer (17.1), to return for an extra year brings hope, as does the addition of Memphis transfer Jordan Nesbitt, a top-100 recruit in the class of 2020.

5. Dayton (14-10, 9-7): The Flyers might be the hardest team in the conference to judge. Seven of the 13 scholarship players are newcomers. The top returning scorer is sophomore Mustapha Amzil (9.9), who joined the program in December. What makes Dayton a potential top-four team is the league’s top-ranked recruiting class, led by top-40 recruit DaRon Holmes, and one of the league’s most high-profile transfers, Toumani Camara, a starter at Georgia last season.

6. Davidson (13-9, 7-4): While the extra-year rule gave to Richmond, it took away from Davidson, which saw two key players enter the transfer portal and decide to play their final season elsewhere: Kellan Grady at Kentucky; and Carter Collins at Murray State. They combined to average 28.0 points per game last season. The top returner is junior guard Hyunjung Lee (13.5).

7. Rhode Island (10-15, 7-10): The Rams return five of their top six scorers, everyone except leading scorer Fatts Russell, who will be a “super senior” at Maryland. The top returner is guard Jeremy Sheppard (11.3), who will be a fifth-year senior.

8. George Mason (13-9, 8-6): The Patriots finished with a winning record for the third straight season but replaced coach Dave Paulsen with Kim English after the season. Four of their top five scorers — Jordan Miller (Miami Hurricanes), Javon Greene (South Florida), Tyler Kolek (Marquette) and AJ Wilson (South Carolina) — transferred. They added transfers D’Shawn Schwartz (Colorado), Devon Cooper (Morehead State) and Davonte Gaines (Tennessee)

9. Saint Joseph’s (5-15, 3-9): The Hawks won four of their last five games after a 1-14 start. They received good news last week when sophomore Jordan Hall guard (10.6) announced he would return to Saint Joseph’s instead of transferring to Texas A&M. The team also returns its second-leading scorer: senior forward Taylor Funk (17.4).

10. Duquesne (9-9, 7-7): The top returning scorer for the Dukes, guard Toby Okani, averaged 4.7 points per game. Among the newcomers to watch are guard Leon Ayers, who averaged 12.2 points per game at Mercer last season, and center Tre Williams, who averaged 9.0 points at Indiana State.

11. La Salle (9-16, 6-11): The Explorers return six of their top seven scorers from a team that lost six of its last seven games.

12. Massachusetts (8-7, 6-4): Only Fordham played fewer total games than the Minutemen last season., but they did finish with a winning record for the first time in coach Matt McCall’s four seasons. They suffered one of the biggest roster setbacks in the conference this offseason when center Tre Mitchell, an A-10 Player of the Year candidate, transferred to Texas. He averaged 18.0 points in two seasons.

13. George Washington (5-12, 3-5): The Colonials did not play between Jan. 17 and Feb. 21 last season because of COVID-19 issues. They return two double-digit scorers: James Bishop (19.1) and Ricky Lindo (11.4) and add transfers from Connecticut (Brendan Adams), Virginia Tech (Joe Bamisile) and Arizona (Ira Lee). Those players combined to average 11.0 points per game last season.

14. Fordham (2-12, 2-11): Victories against Dayton and La Salle kept the Rams from going winless in coach Jeff Neubauer’s final season. Coach Kyle Neptune takes over a program with 13 losing seasons in the last 14 years.

About the Author