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Early A-10 preview: Saint Louis, George Mason among teams to watch

Rhode Island was the big favorite last season, but it’ll be a wide-open race in 2018-19

Rhode Island was an easy choice for the preseason Atlantic 10 men’s basketball favorite last season and lived up to its billing, running away with the regular-season championship.

Looking ahead to the 2018-19 season, there is no obvious favorite. Rhode Island lost four senior starters and its head coach. The second-place team, St. Bonaventure, lost its top two players. The tournament champion, Davidson, lost one of the top scorers in school history. Only five of the 15 players who made the all-conference first, second or third team return.

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This could be the season Saint Louis returns to the top of the A-10 for the first time since 2014. George Mason could contend for the first time since joining the league in the 2013-14 season. Dayton, Virginia Commonwealth and Massachusetts will hope for big improvements in their second seasons under new coaches.

While it’s a fair bet that Fordham will bring up the rear of the conference and it’s hard to imagine La Salle or George Washington contending, the rest of the standings are hard to predict.

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It’s much too early to provide a definitive ranking of the top teams because a number of teams could add important pieces in the spring recruiting period or still see players transfer, but here’s a best guess of how the conference looks now a little less than ninth months until conference play begins (last season’s records in parentheses):

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

1. Saint Louis

The Billikens had one of the league’s top-ranked recruits a year ago, Hasahn French, and add another top-100 freshman in Carte’Are Gordon. They return three players who averaged nine points or better, including senior guard Javon Bess (13.3). Considering the off-court controversy that plagued them last season — four players were accused of sexual assault in September and three of them never played — the Billikens did well to finish tied for fifth.

Last season: 17-16, 9-9; lost to Davidson in quarterfinals of A-10 tournament.

Coach: Travis Ford is 29-37 in two seasons.

Key returners: Bess, 6-5, Sr., G (13.3 points per game); Jordan Goodwin, 6-3, So., G (11.5); Hasahn French, 6-7, So., F (9.3); D.J. Foreman, 6-8, Sr., F (6.9).

Newcomers: Gordon, 6-8, Fr., F; Mickey Pearson, 6-7, Fr., F; Fred Thatch, 6-3, Fr., G; Dion Wiley, 6-4, R-Jr., G (grad transfer from Maryland).

Key losses: Seniors: Davell Roby (11.5); Aaron Hines (6.1). Transfers: Ty Graves to North Carolina Central; Jalen Johnson (9.1) to Louisiana-Lafayette.

Notes: Gordon ranks 61st in the country in the class of 2018, according to 247Sports.com. … Goodwin was suspended from the team in February for two months, but according to reports, will rejoin the program. … The Billikens ended a streak of three straight losing seasons in 2017-18. After three straight NCAA tournament appearances, they won a total of 34 games in three seasons before posing a winning record last season.

Dayton against George Mason on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Va.

2. George Mason

The Patriots return everyone from a team that won six of its last nine regular-season games to tie for fifth place. Their top returner is Otis Livingston II, who averaged 17.3 points per game as a senior. They also add a transfer from Virginia in 6-foot-7 forward Jarred Reuter, who sat out last season. They have finished .500 in the league two straight seasons after winning a total of 14 A-10 games in their first three seasons.

Last season: 16-17, 9-9 (tied for fifth); lost to St. Joseph’s in quarterfinals.

Coach: Dave Paulsen is 47-52 in three seasons.

Key returners: Livingston II, 5-11, Sr., G (17.3); Jaire Grayer, 6-4, Sr., G (12.3); Justin Kier, 6-4, Jr., G (11.0); Goanar Mar, 6-7, So., F (10.9); Ian Boyd, 6-3, Jr., G (7.7); Greg Calixte, 6-8, So., F (4.9); Javon Greene, 6-1, So., G (4.5).

Newcomers: Reuter, 6-7, R-Jr., F.

Key losses: None.

Notes: Reuter played his first two seasons at Virginia and sat out last season after transferring. He averaged 3.8 points as a sophomore. … Livingston made the all-conference second team.

Dayton against St. Joseph's on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, at Hagan Arena in Philadelphia. (David Jablonski - Staff Writer)

3. St. Joseph’s

Getting two key players back from injury, Lamarr Kimble and Charlie Brown, should help the Hawks offset the losses of two big scorers: Shavar Newkirk (17.4) and James Demery (16.9). The Hawks won six of their last seven games to snag the No. 4 seed in the A-10 tournament.

Last season: 16-16, 10-8 (fourth place); lost to Rhode Island in semifinals.

Coach: Phil Martelli is 430-309 in 23 seasons.

Key returners: Taylor Funk, 6-9, So., F (11.8); Chris Clover, 6-3, Sr., G (8.2); Nick Robinson, 6-6, Jr., G (7.7); Pierfrancesco Oliva, 6-8, Jr., F (6.6); Charlie Brown, 6-7, R-So., F (12.8; 2016-17 average); Lamarr Kimble, 6-0, R-Jr., G (15.5; 2016-17 average).

Newcomers: Jared Bynum, 5-8, PG.

Key losses: Seniors: Shavar Newkirk, 6-0, G (17.4); James Demery, 6-6, F (16.9). Transfers: Gerald Blount, 6-6, So., F (1.3).

Notes: Brown missed last season with a broken wrist. He made the all-conference rookie team as a freshman. … Kimble broke his foot in the season opener last year and missed the rest of the season. He has been a team captain the last two seasons.

Dayton’s Josh Cunningham drives to the basket against La Salle on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, at Tom Gola Arena in Philadelphia. David Jablonski/Staff (Staff Writer)

4. Dayton

After sharing the A-10 regular-season title in 2016 and winning it outright for the first time in 2017, the Flyers were unable to overcome the loss of four senior starters and took a step back in the first season of the Anthony Grant era. They should be much better next season with four starters returning. The loss of senior Darrell Davis and five other players who left the program gives the Dayton coaches the opportunity to add depth to the roster this spring with transfers or freshmen.

Last season: 14-17, 8-10; lost to VCU in second round.

Coach: Anthony Grant is entering his second season.

Key returners: Josh Cunningham, 6-7, R-Sr., F (15.6); Trey Landers, 6-5, Jr., G (11.3); Jalen Crutcher, 6-1, So., G (9.2); Jordan Davis, 6-2, So., G (8.0); Ryan Mikesell, 6-7, R-Jr., F (5.7; 2016-17 average).

Newcomers: Obadiah Toppin, 6-8, R-Fr.; Dwayne Cohill, 6-2, Fr., G; Jhery Matos, 6-6, Jr., G.

Key losses: Seniors: Darrell Davis, 6-5, G (15.4). Transfers: Xeyrius Williams, 6-8, Jr., F (5.0); John Crosby, 6-2, Jr., G (4.1); Jordan Pierce, 6-11, Fr., C. Others: Kostas Antetokounmpo, 6-10, R-Fr., F (5.2); Matej Svoboda, 6-7, Fr., F (2.2).

Notes: Mikesell missed the 2016-17 season after undergoing two hip surgeries last summer. … Cohill ranks 120th in the class of 2018, according to 247Sports.com. … Matos is a junior-college transfer from Monroe College. … Cunningham made the all-conference third team.

Dayton against Davidson on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, at UD Arena. (David Jablonski - Staff Writer)

5. Davidson

The Wildcats lost two of the top scorers in school history the last two seasons: Jack Gibbs in 2017 and Peyton Aldridge in 2018. However, they have another star in the making in Kellan Grady, who averaged 18.0 points per game and was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year in 2018. Guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson, who shot 40.6 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore, also makes the Wildcats a team to watch.

Last season: 21-12, 13-5; beat Rhode Island in A-10 championship game; lost 78-73 to Kentucky in first round of NCAA tournament.

Coach: Bob McKillop is 554-340 in 29 seasons.

Key returners: Grady, 6-5, So., G (18.0); Jon Axel Gudmundson, 6-4, Jr., G (13.2); KiShawn Pritchett, 6-6, Jr., G (5.9); Nathan Ekwu, 6-7, R-Sr., F (3.2; 2016-17 stats).

Newcomers: Luke Frampton, 6-5, R-Fr., G; David Czerapowicz, 6-3, Fr., G; Nelson Boachie-Yiadom, 6-8, Fr., F; Michael Jones, 6-4, G.

Key losses: Seniors: Peyton Aldridge (21.2); Will Magarity (5.7); Oskar Michelsen (5.5); Rusty Reigel (3.8).

Notes: Aldridge, who finished his career with 2,171 points, shared the A-10 Player of the Year award with St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams. … Two of the three incoming freshmen are from Europe. The Wildcats had four foreign-born players on the roster last year. … Frampton and Ekwu missed last season with knee injuries.

Dayton against Richmond on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, at the Robins Center in Richmond, Va. (David Jablonski - Staff Writer)

6. Richmond

The Spiders were one of the youngest teams in the country last season, ranking 343rd out of 351 teams in experience, and showed improvement in A-10 play after finishing 2-10 in non-conference play. They return three double-digit scorers in Grant Golden (15.6), Nick Sherod (14.3) and De’Monte Buckingham (12.2) but saw a fourth, Khwan Fore (11.0), announce his decision to transfer.

Last season: 12-20, 9-9 (tied for fifth); lost to St. Bonaventure in quarterfinals.

Coach: Chris Mooney is 237-195 in 13 seasons.

Key returners: Golden, 6-9, So., F (15.6); Sherod, 6-4, Jr., G (14.3); Buckingham, 6-4, Jr., G (12.2); Jacob Gilyard, 5-9, So., G (11.4).

Newcomers: Souleymane Koureissi, 6-8, Fr., F.

Key losses: Transfers: Fore, 6-2, G (11.0).

Dayton’s Darrell Davis and Massachusetts guard Luwane Pipkins chase a loose ball on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass. (David Jablonski - Staff Writer)

7. Massachusetts

The Minutemen return one of the top players in the conference, Luwane Pipkins, plus another double-digit scorer in Carl Pierre and will benefit from adding four transfers to the rotation. That’s a change from a year ago when they saw seven players transfer after the firing of Derek Kellogg and the hiring of Matt McCall.

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Last season: 13-20, 5-13 (13th place); lost to George Mason in second round.

Coach: McCall is entering his second season.

Key returners: Pipkins, 5-10, Jr., G (21.2); Pierre, 6-4, So., G (12.4); Rashaan Holloway, 6-10, Sr., C (9.9); Malik Hines, 6-9, Sr., F (9.0); Unique McLean, 6-2, So., G (5.5); Rayshawn Miller, 6-1, Sr., G (5.0); Chris Baldwin, 6-8, Jr., F (4.8).

Newcomers: Keon Clerget, 6-1, R-So., G; Jonathan Laurent, 6-6, R-Jr., F; Kieran Howard, 6-4, So., G; Curtis Cobb, 6-4, R-Jr., G; Samba Diallo, 6-7, Fr., F; Tre Wood, 6-0, Fr., PG.

Key losses: Seniors: C.J. Anderson, 6-5, G (10.6).

Notes: Clerget is a transfer from Memphis. He averaged 3.8 points as a freshman. … Laurent is a transfer from Rutgers. He averaged 3.0 points as a sophomore. … Howard, a transfer from LSU, averaged 8.2 minutes per game as a freshman … Cobb, another transfer, averaged 12.2 points as a sophomore at Fairfield University. … Holloway was ruled academically ineligible midway through the A-10 season. … Pipkins made the all-conference second team. … Diallo ranks 167th in the class of 2018.

Dayton against Rhode Island on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I. (David Jablonski - Staff Writer)

8. Rhode Island

The Rams are the latest A-10 champion to lose their coach. Dan Hurley left for Connecticut, and Rhode Island hired his assistant, David Cox. They also lose four senior starters, putting them in a situation similar to what Dayton faced a year ago. However, the trio of Jeff Dowtin, Fatts Russell and Cyril Langevine should keep the Rams in contention. They also have one of the conference’s top incoming freshmen: Jermaine Harris, who ranks 70th in the class of 2018, according to 247Sports.com.

Last year’s record: 26-8, 15-3 (first place); lost in A-10 championship game to Davidson; beat Oklahoma in first round of NCAA tournament and lost to Duke in second round.

Coach: Cox is entering his first season.

Key returners: Dowtin, 6-3, Jr., G (9.6); Russell, 5-10, So., G (7.0); Langevine, 6-8, Jr., F (6.1).

Newcomers: Jermaine Harris, 6-8, Fr., F; Dana Tate, 6-7, Fr., F; Tyrese Martin, 6-7, G.

Key losses: Seniors: Jared Terrell, 6-3, G (16.8); E.C. Matthews, 6-5, G (13.6); Andre Berry, 6-8, F (8.9); Stanford Robinson, 6-4, G (8.8); Jarvis Garrett, 6-0, G (5.3).

Notes: Cox spent the last four seasons on Hurley’s staff. … One of Rhode Island’s top incoming freshmen, Brendan Adams, the brother of former St. Bonaventure star Jaylen Adams, asked for a release from his letter of intent after Hurley left. Rhode Island had the top recruiting class in the conference, according to 247Sports.com when it had Adams. Harris ranks 70th in the class of 2018. Tate and Martin are both top-250 recruits.

Dayton against Virginia Commonwealth on Thursday, March 8, 2018, at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. (David Jablonski - Staff Writer)

9. Virginia Commonwealth

Like the Flyers, the Rams had an up-and-down season under a new coach, Mike Rhoades. They lose one of the top players in the conference, Justin Tillman, but add one of the top incoming transfers: guard Marcus Evans, of Rice.

Last season: 15-15, 9-9 (tied for fifth); lost to Rhode Island in quarterfinals.

Coach: Rhoades is entering his second season.

Key returners: De’Riante Jenkins, 6-5, Jr., G (12.9); Isaac Vann, 6-6, Jr., F (9.8); Malik Crowfield, 6-4, Jr., G (5.8); Sean Mobley, 6-8, So., F (4.5); Mike’l Simms, 6-5, Jr., G/F (5.7).

Newcomers: Evans, 6-2, R-Jr., G; Peter Byrd, 6-1, Fr., G; KeShawn Curry, 6-4, Fr., G; Vince Williams, 6-4, Fr., F.

Key losses: Seniors: Tillman, 6-7, F (18.9); Jonathan Williams, 6-0, G (9.3); Khris Lane, 6-6, F (6.9). Transfer: Tyler Maye, 6-1, Fr., PG (1.4).

Notes: Tillman made the all-conference first team. … Evans played his first two seasons at Rice and scored 1,350 points. ... Williams is from St. John’s Jesuit in Toledo.

Dayton’s Trey Landers against St. Bonaventure on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff (Staff Writer)

10. St. Bonaventure

The Bonnies will have to adapt to life without one of the top-scoring duos in the country, Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, but they held onto their coach, Mark Schmidt, who was rumored to be in the mix at Pittsburgh. UNLV transfer Jalen Poyser, who averaged 10.4 points per game as a sophomore, is the top newcomer.

Last season: 26-8, 14-4 (second place); lost to Davidson in semifinals; beat UCLA in First Four and lost to Florida in first round of NCAA tournament.

Coach: Schmidt is 192-152 in 11 seasons.

Key returners: Courtney Stockard, 6-5, Sr., G/F (13.3); LaDarien Griffin, 6-6, Sr., F (8.8); Josh Ayeni, 6-8, Jr., F (5.3); Amadi Ikpeze, 6-10, Jr., C (4.5).

Newcomers: Poyser, 6-4, R-Jr., G; Kyle Lofton, 6-3, Fr., PG.

Key losses: Seniors: Adams, 6-1, G (19.1); Mobley, 6-3, G (18.5); Idris Taqqee, 6-4, G (5.3).

Notes: Adams split the A-10 player of the year award in 2018 with Davidson’s Aldridge. … Poyser averaged 10.4 points per game as a sophomore at UNLV and sat out last season after transferring.

Duquesne’s Keith Dambrot coaches during a game against Dayton on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, at UD Arena. (David Jablonski - Staff Writer)

11. Duquesne

The Dukes started 5-2 in A-10 play but lost nine of their last 11 games. They add a quartet of transfers this season, including guard Frankie Hughes, of Missouri. Mike Lewis II and Eric Williams Jr., who combined to average 28.7 points per game, are the top returning players.

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Last season: 16-16, 7-11 (tied for 10th); lost to Richmond in second round of A-10 tournament.

Coach: Keith Dambrot is entering his second season.

Key returners: Lewis II, 6-1, Jr., G (14.4); Williams Jr., 6-5, So., G (14.3).

Newcomers: Hughes, 6-4, R-So., G; Michael Hughes, 6-8, R-So., C; Craig Randall II, 6-4, R-Jr., G; Marcus Weathers, 6-5, R-So., G; Dylan Swingle, 6-9, Fr., C; Gavin Bizeau, 6-11, Fr., C; Brandon Wade, 6-1, Fr., PG; Amari Kelly, 6-7, Fr., F.

Key losses: Seniors: Rene Castro, 6-2, G (13.3); Jordan Robinson, 6-8, C (5.7). Transfer: Tydus Verhoeven, 6-8, Fr., F (3.1); Tarin Smith, 6-2, Jr., G (12.4)

Notes: Hughes averaged 7.6 points as a freshman at Missouri. … Michael Hughes followed Dambrot from Akron to Duquesne. … Randall averaged 5.2 points as a sophomore at Memphis. … Weathers averaged 9.7 points as a freshman at Miami University.

Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher drives to the basket against La Salle on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, at Tom Gola Arena in Philadelphia. David Jablonski/Staff (Staff Writer)

12. La Salle

La Salle fired coach John Giannini in March. He was 212-226 in 14 seasons and reached the NCAA tournament once. After making the Sweet 16 in 2013, the Explorers had one winning season in Giannini’s last five seasons. La Salle hired Villanova assistant Ashley Howard to replace Giannini. La Salle loses one of the top players in the conference: B.J. Johnson (20.3 points per game).

Last season: 13-19, 7-11 (tied for 10th); lost to UMass in first round.

Coach: Ashley Howard is entering his first season.

Key returners: Pookie Powell, 6-1, Sr., G (16.9); Isiah Deas, 6-6, Jr., G (9.5); Saul Phiri, 6-4, Jr., G (6.2).

Newcomers: Traci Carter, 6-1, R-Jr., G; Jack Clark, 6-5, Fr., F.

Key losses: Seniors: B.J. Johnson, 6-7, F (20.3); Amar Stukes, 6-2, G (8.5); Tony Washington, 6-10, C (7.7).

Notes: Carter is a transfer from Marquette. He started 19 games as a freshman but left the program eight games into his sophomore season. … Johnson made the all-conference first team.

George Washington’s Yuta Watanabe shoots against Dayton on Saturday, March 3, 2018, at UD Arena. (David Jablonski - Staff Writer)

13. George Washington

The Colonials lose their top three scorers: two seniors (Yuta Watanabe and Patrick Steeves) and one transfer (Jair Bolden). They add transfers from Illinois, Charlotte and Charleston Southern.

Last season: 15-18, 7-11 (tied for 10th place); lost to Saint Louis in second round of A-10 tournament.

Coach: Maurice Joseph is 35-33 in two seasons.

Key returners: Terry Nolan, 6-2, So., G (9.1); Arnaldo Toro, 6-8, Jr., F (7.8).

Newcomers: D.J. Williams, 6-7, R-Jr., G; Luke Sasser, 6-5, R-So, F; Armel Potter, 6-1, R-Jr., G; Marcus Littles, 6-9, Fr., F; Shandon Brown, 5-9, PG; Mezie Offurum, 6-6, F.

Key losses: Seniors: Watanabe, 6-8, G (16.3); Steeves, 6-7, F (9.9); Bo Zeigler, 6-6, F (7.2). Transfers: Bolden, 6-4, So., G (11.2).

Notes: Williams, Sasser and Potter are transfers from Illinois, Charlotte and Charleston Southern, respectively. Sasser is a walk-on. … Littles ranks 219th in the class of 2018, according to 247Sports.com.

Fordham’s Joseph Chartouny, left, grabs a rebound against Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff (Staff Writer)

14. Fordham

The Rams saw their win total decline for the third straight season. They’ve been hit hard by transfers since the end of the season, losing four players, including Joseph Chartouny (12.2 points per game).

Last season: 9-22, 4-14; lost to George Washington in first round of A-10 tournament.

Coach: Jeff Neubauer is 39-55 in three seasons.

Top returners: Prokop Slanina, 6-10, Sr., F (12.6); Ivan Raut, 6-7, So., F (8.4); David Pekarek, 6-7, Sr., F (5.2).

Newcomers: Ertez Gazi, 6-3, R-Jr., G; Antwon Portley, 6-4, R-Jr., G.

Key losses: Seniors: Will Tavares, 6-6, G (13.6). Transfers: Joseph Chartouny, 6-3, Jr., G (12.2); Perris Hicks, 6-1, Sr., G (7.1); Tre Evans, 6-2, So., G (6.5); Cavit Havsa, 6-4, So., G (4.0).

Notes: Gazi is a transfer from DePaul. Portley is a transfer from St. Peter’s.

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