The PPG Paints Arena will host the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament in March, and the league is excited for the change in venue from its usual destination of Brooklyn.
“I think it’s great,” Duquesne head coach Jim Ferry said during A10 media day Oct. 18, echoing many of his peers. “This is a great sports town…I think we’ll be welcomed here.”
With the A10 season around the corner, here’s a preview of the teams that will be coming to Pittsburgh throughout the year against Duquesne and then in the tournament in March. The order is based on their ranking in the preseason coaches’ poll.
1. Dayton (16 1st place votes)
The Flyers have been the A10’s golden boys the last three years, earning three trips the NCAA tournament and winning five games during that stretch. Last year was a bit of a step back, settling for a tie atop the A10 regular season standings and getting bounced in the first round in the NCAA tournament.
Senior guards Charles Cooke and Kyle Davis were both named to the preseason All-Defensive team, and Cooke was included on the All-Conference first team, averaging 15.6 PPG and 1.2 BPG in 2015-2016.
The Flyers will need to rely on their backcourt to win. Sophomore Sam Miller is the highest scoring returning forward from a year ago, and he only averaged 3.2 PPG.
2. Rhode Island (12 1st place votes)
Rhode Island was bit by the injury bug in 2015-2016, holding them to a 17-15 record. Guard E.C. Matthews and forward Hassan Martin both made the All-Conference second team. Matthews was the biggest loss last year, missing his entire sophomore season after averaging 16.9 PPG as a freshman. Martin, a senior and one of the few players to stay upright last year, averaged 12 PPG.
If the Rams can stay healthy, they can compete for the title and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
The Rams exceeded expectations in Will Wade’s first year as head coach, earning a share of the regular season A10 crown. Mo Alie-Cox is the biggest name out of the three returning starters. Cox was named to the All-Conference second team after averaging 10.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 1.9 BPG in 2015-2016. He and fellow senior guard JeQuan Lewis were both selected to the All-Defensive team.
The Rams lost an average of 28.6 PPG when they graduated guards Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury. Senior guard Doug Brooks will probably get more playing time as a result. The Rams will look to him to create some opportunities on defense after racking up 69 steals despite never starting a game last year.
The 2014-2015 A10 champs had a 20 win campaign last season and earned a berth to the NIT.
The Wildcats are bringing back four starters, the most notable being senior guard Jack Gibbs. Gibbs was the first selection on the All-Conference team, and for good reason, averaging 23.5 points a game last year. If Gibbs is not providing the offense, it is probably Peyton Aldridge, who averaged 15.5 PPG in 2015-2016. The 6’8” forward also impressed at the line, nailing 84.7 percent of his free throws.
Davidson’s defense is still a work in progress, with opponents shooting .459 against them a year ago. They were also outrebounded on average 39.2-35.
5. St. Bonaventure
The Bonnies were the third team to earn a share of the A10 title last year. They made the NIT, but were bounced in the first round.
This is a different team from a year ago, losing three starters. The change in guard will give A10 co-Sixth Man of the Year winner Denzel Gregg a starting job. 6’9” graduate transfer forward/center Chinonso Obokoh could enjoy the change in scenery from Syracuse.
But the Bonnies did lose 54 percent of their offense and 49 percent of their rebounds from a year ago. That’s a tough task for any team, let alone one that has seven newcomers on a 12 man team.
The Spiders finished .500 last year, but the rest of the league is anticipating a more dangerous Richmond team this season.
Senior forward/center T.J. Cline and guard ShawDre’ Jones are a big reason why. Cline was named to the All-Conference first team after averaging 18.3 points, 5.2 boards and 3.8 assists a game last season. Jones earned third team honors after averaging 14.7 PPG.
The big loss for the Spiders is forward Terry Allen, who averaged 17.3 PPG and 7.7 RPG. Senior forward Marshall Wood will probably have to be the one to step up after finishing third on the team in rebounds in 2015-2016.
7. La Salle
Last year was a disappointing 9-22 campaign for the Explorers, but with all five starters returning, they look to improve. Senior Jordan Price should lead the offense, averaging 19.2 PPG on 37.7 minutes a game last year. He also cut down on the fouls from 2014-2015, seeing it drop from 94 to 68.
The Explorers are expected to make a jump in the standings, but they will need to improve at the line to do so. Last year La Salle finished 287th in the country in free throws by making only 66.9 percent of their shots.
8. George Washington
The Colonials set a school record for wins last year (28) en route to an NIT championship. Graduate student forward Tyler Cavanaugh took home the NIT MVP, and the Colonials will rely on him again this season. He averaged 16.8 PPG and 7.6 boards a game in 2015-2016. Junior guard Yuta Watanabe lead the team with 40 blocks.
Cavanaugh and Watanabe are the only returning Colonials who averaged at least four points a game. Expect a large chunk of playing time to go to newcomers, including graduate transfer Patrick Steeves.
9. Saint Joseph’s
The Hawks won their second A10 title in three years and defeated Cincinnati in their first game in the NCAA tournament. Their season came to an end when top-seeded Oregon beat them in the Round of 32.
Phil Martelli is coming in with a very young squad, featuring nine underclassmen and only one senior and one graduate student. Guard Lamarr Kimble highlights that group of underclassmen, earning a spot on the A10 All-Rookie team last year after averaging 6 PPG.
Losing three starters who combined for 45.9 PPG is a big loss, but their presence may be missed most on the boards. DeAndre Bembry, Isaiah Miles and Aaron Brown accounted for 19.1 rebounds a game. The 12 returning players combined for an average of 16.1 boards a contest.
The Minutemen started 4-0 before stumbling the rest of the way to a 14-18 record. Donte Clark, who lead the team in points, assists and steals last year, should do so again in his junior year. He had nine 20 point outings a year ago, which was enough to earn a spot on the All-Conference third team.
However, no other returning player averaged more than 5.2 PPG last year, and only guard C.J. Anderson averaged more than 20 minutes a game.
Coach Jeff Neubauer lead the Rams to a 17-14 record his first year in charge, good enough to get an invite to the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament. It was their third trip to the CIT in four years.
Guard Joseph Chartouny will look to build off of a successful freshman year where he averaged 11.3 points and 6.2 assists a game. He was named to the preseason All-Conference third team.
The Rams will need to rely on their defense again. Last year, they finished 10th in the nation in steals a game (8.5), but they will be without Mandell Thomas, who had 54 steals in 2015-2016.
12. George Mason
Last year was a down year for the Patriots, going 11-21 overall and 5-13 in conference.
The Patriots will be powered by Otis Livingston II, who averaged 11.9 PPG in 2015-2016. Jalen Jenkins, a redshirt senior, will probably get more playing time after posting a .497 shooting percentage in 32 games and four starts last year.
If George Mason is going to improve, they will need to do a better job on the road. Last year they were 4-13 on the road or at neutral sites, including a 2-7 record in conference.
While the hometown Dukes started 10-2, a late season seven game losing streak stunted Duquesne’s season. They were still able to go 17-17 overall, including a 120-112 win over Omaha in the College Basketball Invitational. It was the first .500 campaign in Ferry’s tenure, which is now entering its fifth year.
Senior big man Darius Lewis will need to improve from last year, averaging just 6.3 points and 5.8 rebounds a game in 34 starts. Staying out of foul trouble will be key after it limited him to just an average of 20.4 minutes of action a game.
The biggest challenge the Dukes will face is replacing guards Derrick Colter and Micah Mason, who accounted for 198 three-pointers. Guards Josh Steel and Rene Castro will probably take the bulk of the playing time in their absence.
14. Saint Louis
New coach Travis Ford has his work cut out for him with the Billikens. Saint Louis finished 13th last year with an 11-21 record and things do not look much better this season.
Sophomore guard Jermaine Bishop was named to the Conference All-Rookie team last year, leading the Billikens in assists (54) in A10 play. He also had 11.7 PPG in conference play.
The Billikens will need to improve on the glass, getting outrebounded on average 38.8-32.3 in conference play. The departure of Ash Yacoubou will hurt since he accounted for 5.8 boards a game last year.