There is a long way to go before I make any formal prediction the A-10 standings. What I can tell you right now is there should be a few and there too be many easy outings.
My early impressions of the A-10 lead me to the believe that 5 of the 15 teams have a strong chance of missing out on the tournament in Brooklyn. Unfortunately we're one of the them. There are simply too many questions about the incoming players and not enough returning to suggest we'll be safe. The other team that made a coaching change also stands a strong chance of concentrating on their academics early. In spite of God's gift to college basketball Dan Hurley leading the way, Rhode Island has little returning from last year's team that failed to qualify for the A-10 tournament after two players, Jonathan Holton and Jamal Wilson were dismissed from the team. They still have another Baron and Mike Powell at point, but I wouldn't count on Hurley's incoming class to have an impact. Rhode Island are bringing in a number of big men and they don't always make an immediate impact. Fordham has me to a point where I feel sorry for them. In my opinion, their program is getting better, but the rest of the league is getting better faster. Unfortunately for Chris Gaston, the talent surrounding him doesn't stack up to the rest of the league and barring a couple of break outs, I doubt he will ever play in the A-10 tournament. George Washington lost Tony Taylor but have Nova transfer forward Isaiah Armwood coming in. Between he and David Pellom, GW should be strong in the post. However, I don't see much at point guard and we know that can kill you in the A-10. Like Duquesne and Rhode Island, Charlotte is going to have to rely on it's incoming class to provide depth. Pierra Henry, Chris Braswell, DeMario Mayfield provide a strong core, but the level of experienced talent falls off quickly after that especially with Jamar Briscoe transferring. On paper, they have a strong recruiting class but that will need to translate to send Charlotte to Brooklyn.
The next tier up includes Lasalle, St Bonaventure, and Richmond. Lasalle surprised me by playing over their heads last year. They could surprise me again this year by falling flat on their face without Earl Pettis, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt placing them firmly in the middle of the conference. Don't overlook the Bonnies. As we learned the hard way in 2010-2011, Andrew Nicholson is not the whole team. Interestingly enough, I think St Bonaventure could quickly transform from post focused to a perimeter focused team as they return depth at guard. Of course, they still don't have a true point guard which could be a problem. I really like Kendall Anthony, Darien Brothers and Cedrick Lindsay but I'm very unimpressed by the rest of the Richmond lineup. I think Chris Mooney's second build up of talent will fall well short of the first. I see them stagnating in the middle of the pack during the next two years.
One step up, I have Xavier, Temple and VCU as I see all three teams as potential disappointments. A few years ago, I made a simple rule. No matter how much talent Xavier loses, I would never count them out. For the first time in a while, I'm breaking my rule, because for the first time in a while, I don't think their coach has the chops to overcome the loss. Thad Matta and Sean Miller could handle it, but Chris Mack and his talented 2011-12 squad demonstrated zero resiliency following the Cincinnati brawl. They return Dez Wells, a sure fire candidate for the all conference teams, a handful of generic defensive minded forwards, and add the top prep school point guard in the country to immediately replace Tu Holloway. Overall, they have a talented class coming in, but I have a difficult time placing such an inexperienced team in the upper echelon of this year's deep edition of the A-10. Same goes for Temple who recruited a talented class but lost 4 of their top 6 scorers. They return my early favorite for Player of the Year Khalif Wyatt and talented forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, but 5 Owls graduated or transferred. They have Dalton Pepper transferring in but he does little to off set the damage. The Owls could realistically slide into the next tier down, but I think they'll at least make the NIT. Of all the teams I looked at to join the A-10, I thought VCU would have the easiest transition. They lose top scorer Bradford Burgess, but the rest of their deep squad remains together. However, I see the grind in the A-10 wearing them down and catching them off guard. They're going to face a quality team every single game and as the lone new boys, I expect the rest of the league to welcome them with every ounce of effort they can give.
My early best four will likely surprise some, but I think you have to think outside the box when looking at the A-10 this season. Dayton brings in two very highly regarded transfers Vee Sanford and Matt Derenbecker to complement an already deep and experience lineup. While the loss of Chris Johnson will hurt, Josh Parker and Luke Fabrizius graduations are addition by subtraction. It seems aggressive putting the Flyers in the top 4 even to me, but I think they have the chops. I've been high on St Joe's since their young squad upset us two years ago in the A-10 tournament and I think they have something special building in Philly. The upcoming season opens a two year window where the Hawks should reestablish themselves as a dance contender. UMass returns just about every player who added value to the team last season. My only concern for the Minutemen is the mediocre game coaching of Derek Kellogg. Finally, I like St Louis to win the league even without Brian Conklin. I think Dwayne Evans is a star in the making and Kwamain Mitchell should improve on his 2011-12 numbers. Once again, this will be a great 3 point shooting team.
The Dukes have their work cut out for them this year, but we expected the team to take some lumps . The good news is that our home and aways should get a little easier and our incoming class is more promising than many expected. I also don't think the Dukes will get dominated too frequently. While I believe every A-10 team will be tough, I don't see any truly elite teams. The top two tiers should all end up in the NCAA sanctioned post season, and everybody in the top tier could dance. However, I don't see a top 25 team among them. Likewise, I don't see a sub 225 RPI team which means there won't be any easy ones for the Dukes.