A very early look at A-10 (Part 1)

By Steve DiMiceli

It's way to early to look at the Atlantic 10 and what to expect next season, but I'm going to do it anyway.  Try and stop me.

Looking over the returning rosters and at the incoming players around the league, I think we should expect another difficult, deep A-10 next season. Aside from VCU, I don't see an elite team in the conference, but I don't see the usual RPI anchor either. I wouldn't be shocked if everyone in the A-10 finishes with an RPI better than 200.

I see every program fitting into one of 4 categories. Today I'll look at the top and middle of the pack teams returning their best from last year. In part 2, I'll look at the teams with significant losses and those depending heavily on incoming players.

1. Top Teams with a Lot Returning (VCU, Lasalle, St Louis)

With the exception of this group, I wouldn't say there is any kind of a tiered progression among the four groups of schools in this series. I fully expect the three top teams returning from last year to stay top teams again this year and contend for NCAA tournament bids. The schools from the rest of the three categories could intermix in any number of combinations.

The cream of the crop is Virginia Commonwealth. I'm confident calling them the league favorite even in May. Treveon Graham might be the best player in the league. Juvonte Reddic could be among the best big men and Briante Weber should be the top defender again. They were loaded with talent last year and have plenty of depth to replace Troy Daniels and David Theus.

Everyone's favorite surprise won't catch anyone off guard in 2013 - 14. Lasalle loses the very underrated Ramon Galloway. Tyrone Garland will take his place in the 4 guard set. With the development of Steve Zack, maybe we see two big guys at times?

St Louis lost Kwamain Mitchell but got by without him before he was healthy. As long as they have Dwayne Evans, I feel pretty confident they'll be successful. I think Evans will give Graham a run for his money in the conference player of the year race. Jordair Jett and Mike McCall make for a strong, defensive backcourt.

2. Decent Teams with a Lot Returning (Richmond, UMass, George Mason, George Washington)

Internal improvements should have any members of the second group poised to take steps forward. I think the best of this bunch might be UMass. Chaz Williams will join the conversation for conference player of the year. He certainly will be the best point guard and most exciting player in the league. Freddie Riley and outgoing transfer Jesse Morgan will be replaced by redshirt sophomore Derrick Gordon. The Minutemen will likely be a guard oriented team, but have depth and skill in the post.

Richmond gets better by getting healthy after sophomore load Derrick Williams missed half the A-10 season in 2012-13. The Spiders lost Darien Brothers to graduation but Wayne Sparrow should slot into the backcourt to replace him. I like the Spiders to improve, but as I said before last season, I don't think Chris Mooney's second build up of talent is as good as his first. However, I do think this team has what it takes to go to the NIT and maybe take a run in the A-10 tournament.

The newly promoted George Mason Patroits were the runner up in the 2013 CBI losing to Santa Clara in three games. No regulars graduated and only a couple of reserves decided to transfer. Sherrod Wright is their high scoring heart and soul. They have strong guard play and some size as well. A-10 fans might remember former George Washington commitment Erik Copes who now plays for the Patriots. I don't expect them to take the league by storm like VCU or Butler did, but they should be a solid NIT or even a bubble NCAA team.

Mike Lonergan is heading into his third year as coach at GW and I'm not sure what to make of his squad. All of Karl Hobbs' legacy has washed away as Lasan Kromah and David Pellom both leave as graduate transfers. GW looks strongest inside with Isaiah Armwood and Kevin Larson playing 4 and 5 respectively. I heard a lot of talk about SF Patricio Garino and PG Joe McDonald last year, but I like Larson best of their 2012 recruiting class. Don't be surprised if he jumps into the category of elite A-10 center his sophomore year. On the other hand, I'd be surprised if, Garino or McDonald did the same at their position. This team is probably still a year away from taking the big leap forward into contention.

I'll look at the rest of the league later this week.