The 2016-17 Atlantic 10 season ended with a joyous moment (a Senior Night victory over Virginia Commonwealth) and then two surprising defeats (losses to George Washington and Davidson) for the Dayton Flyers. The 2017-18 season begins with uncertainty.
What should everyone expect from a team that graduated four senior starters and lost one returning letterwinner to injury and another to suspension? Dayton enters the season with 10 scholarship players, half of whom have never played a college game, plus a new coach in Anthony Grant.
That makes predicting Dayton’s finish in the A-10 harder than ever. Street and Smith’s Magazine picked the Flyers to finish eighth. John O’Connor, of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, also picked the Flyers eighth. J.P. Butler, of the Olean Times-Herald, picked them fifth.
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I voted Dayton first in the last two preseason polls, and that was the consensus opinion. Dayton lived up to that hype, splitting the title in 2016 and winning it outright for the first time ever in 2017.
My prediction this season: Dayton will finish fifth. Here’s my rundown of how I think the standings will look in March (last year’s A-10 record and finish in parantheses):
1. St. Bonaventure (11-7, 5th): Most people are predicting Rhode Island to win the A-10, and that’s a solid choice. I’m sure the Rams will be the preseason favorite in the poll released Tuesday at A-10 Media Day. However, I’m picking the Bonnies in a slight upset. They return the top scoring tandem in the league: senior guards Jaylen Adams (20.6 points per game) and Matt Mobley (18.5).
2. Rhode Island (13-4, 3rd): The Rams won the conference tournament last season. They return one of the league’s top players: fifth-year senior guard E.C. Matthews, who averaged 19.3 points in the A-10 tournament.
3. St. Joseph’s (4-14, 13th): Injuries played a big part in the Hawks’ struggles last season. Two years ago, they placed fourth and won the A-10 tournament. They should be much improved with senior point guard Shavar Newkirk (20.3) returning from a torn ACL. Junior guard Lamarr Kimble (15.5) is another player to watch.
4. Virginia Commonwealth (14-4, 2nd): Like the Flyers, VCU enters a new era. Will Wade left for LSU. Mike Rhoades takes over. The Rams lost six of their top eight scorers, but this is a program that always finds a way. It has played in six straight NCAA tournaments.
5. Dayton (15-3, 1st): To compete for a third straight title, the Flyers need redshirt junior forward Josh Cunningham and junior forward Xeyrius Williams to play like all-conference players and for junior point guard John Crosby to be one of the most improved players in the conference.
6. Saint Louis (6-12, 11th): The Billikens should be another team that makes a major jump in the second season for coach Travis Ford. Five transfers who sat out last season give them a chance to contend: guard Javon Bess, of Michigan State; forward D.J. Foreman, of Rutgers; guard Adonys Henriquez, of Central Florida; center Rashed Anthony, of Seton Hall; and guard Ty Graves, of Boston College.
7. Richmond (13-5, 3rd): The Spiders return two double-digit scorers: redshirt junior guard Khwan Fore (11.2) and sophomore guard De’Monte Buckingham (10.5).
8. Davidson (8-10, 9th): Senior forward Peyton Aldridge (20.5) is one of the favorites to win A-10 Player of the Year.
9. La Salle (9-9, 8th): The Explorers return three of their top four scorers, including redshirt senior forward B.J. Johnson (17.6).
10. George Washington (10-8, 6th): Senior forward Yuta Watanabe (12.2) is the team’s top returning scorer. The Colonials have finished in the top six four seasons in a row.
11. Massachusetts (4-14, 12th): Matt McCall is one of four new head coaches in the league. He replaces Derek Kellogg, who was fired after nine seasons.
12. George Mason (9-9, 7th): The Patriots were one of the league’s most improved teams last season, boosting their overall record from 11-21 to 20-14. They return two double-digit scorers in the backcourt: guards Otis Livingston II (14.3) and Jaire Grayer (11.4).
13. Duquesne (3-15, 14th): The Dukes lost 14 of their last 15 games. Their new head coach is Keith Dambrot, who coached Akron the last 13 seasons.
14. Fordham (7-11, 10th): The Rams finished last five times in six seasons (2009-14) but have escaped the basement in recent seasons. Junior guard Joseph Chartouny is their top returning scorer (12.1).