Saint Louis’ Hasahn French looks for a shot against Dayton’s Josh Cunningham on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

A-10 basketball: Saint Louis favorite despite small group of returners

Two grad transfers and highly-ranked freshman should help Billikens

Saint Louis received 15 of 26 first-place votes in the preseason poll Thursday as the 14 head coaches and select media members made the Billikens the favorite in the conference race.

» EARLY PREVIEW: Saint Louis is the team to beat

A first-place finish would complete a big turnaround for Saint Louis, which followed championships in 2013 and 2014 with a last-place finish in 2015. It moved to 13th place in 2016 and 11th in 2017 before tying for fifth last season.

“We only have four players returning off last year’s team,” said third-year Saint Louis coach Travis Ford in an interview on ESPN+ from A-10 Media Day. “They’re pretty good players. That’s going to be our core. What’s going to get us over the hump is how quickly these new guys can buy into our system and figure things out.”

Saint Louis returns guards Javon Bess (13.3 points per game) and Jordan Goodwin (11.5) and forwards Hasahn French (9.3) and D.J. Foreman (6.9). Its top newcomers are two grad transfers: guard Dion Wiley, of Maryland; and guard Tramaine Isabell Jr., of Drexel.

Saint Louis also has one of the top freshmen in the conference: forward Carte’Are Gordon, who ranked 75th in the 2018 class, according to ESPN.

“We have some good core guys returning that have proved themselves in the A-10,” Ford said. “We’re going to have to ride those guys’ backs for a while until these other guys figure it out.”

Injury update: Rice transfer Marcus Evans was expected to be one of the A-10’s top newcomers until he tore his right Achilles tendon in June one year after tearing his left Achilles.

» LOOKING BACK: Dayton’s season ends with loss to VCU

Virginia Commonwealth coach Mike Rhoades provided an update on Evans’ status at A-10 Media Day, telling the Richmond Times-Dispatch Evans has been cleared for “explosive work,” meaning he can run, jump and work on conditioning.

“We’ll know sooner than later where he’s at, but in the next 30 days he’s champing at the bit here to get back with his team,” Rhoades said. “I think he will be.”

Conference honors: Dayton redshirt senior forward Josh Cunningham was named to the preseason first team along with George Mason guard Otis Livingston II, Davidson guard Kellan Grady, Massachusetts guard Luwane Pipkins and Richmond forward Grant Golden.

» OFFSEASON FEATURE: Cunningham excited about season ahead

Here are the other preseason teams:

Second team: Bess; Goodwin; Eric Williams Jr., Duquesne; Pookie Powell, La Salle; Jeff Dowtin, Rhode Island; Courtney Stockard, St. Bonaventure.

Third team: Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Davidson; Lamarr Kimble, Saint Joseph’s; Charlie Brown Jr., Saint Joseph’s; Hasahn French, Saint Louis; and De’Riante Jenkins, VCU.

Defensive team: Gudmundsson; Bess; Terry Nolan Jr., George Washington; Cyril Langevine, Rhode Island; Jacob Gilyard, Richmond.

Coaches polled: Jeff Goodman, of WatchStadium.com, polled A-10 coaches to determine the best head coaching job in the league, ranking each program in a number of categories, including history/tradition, game atmosphere, facilities, etc.

Dayton and VCU tied for first. UD ranked in the top three in every category except recruiting base, where it ranked eighth out of the 14 teams.

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