Atlantic 10 men’s basketball preview, part two

photo: G. Fiume/Getty Images

By Anthony Goss, Ryan Surmay and Peter Byrne

The 2020-21 college basketball season began on Wednesday, and several Atlantic 10 teams are scheduled to begin play over the holiday weekend.

This article is the second of a two-part series highlighting each A-10 team other than St. Bonaventure, which was previewed several weeks ago. After each team completes its respective non-conference schedule, A-10 play is scheduled to begin in late December.

Massachussetts Minutemen
2019-20 Record: 14-17 
Best Player: Tre Mitchell 

Last season, the Minutemen finished in the middle of the pack in the A-10 despite a losing record overall. While their record was not good, they showed massive improvements throughout the season, led by freshman center Tre Mitchell, who put up just under 18 points and eight rebounds per game.

The team had a strong supporting cast surrounding Mitchell, as well, as TJ Weeks Jr. and now-senior Carl Pierre also put up double digit points. While the Minutemen lost six players between graduation and the transfer portal, the trio of Mitchell, Pierre and Weeks can make some noise in the A-10 if all stay healthy. 

Richmond Spiders
2019-20 Record: 24-7 
Best Player: Jacob Gilyard 

Dayton’s undefeated A-10 campaign last season left many other storylines in the league unnoticed. One of these was the impressive season put together by Chris Mooney’s Richmond Spiders, who went 24-7 and 14-4 in conference play to put themselves in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid.

This season, Richmond will run it back with the same squad except for the loss of Nick Sherod, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury in October. Sherod’s injury aside, this is a talented team picked by many to win the A-10. Jacob Gilyard, a gifted passer who has excellent vision and sets his teammates up well, runs the show for the Spiders. Gilyard can also score the ball, but most of the scoring duties go to his partner in the backcourt, Blake Francis, a crafty lefty who led the Spiders in scoring last season.

Center Grant Golden is a versatile big who fits perfectly in the Richmond offensive system, which the Spiders rarely deviate from despite the abundance of scoring talent they have. Richmond’s senior-laden squad should win a lot of games this season and contend for an A-10 title, as well as an NCAA Tournament bid.  

Rhode Island Rams 
2019-20 Record: 21-9 
Best Players:Fatts Russell 

The Rams may have had the craziest offseason in the A-10 going into this season, due to players entering the transfer portal and graduating.

The biggest pieces to leave were Cyril Langevine and Jeff Dowtin. The two of them alone combined for roughly 25 points and 15 rebounds per night. While half of URI’s offense and rebounding left, Fatts Russell is staying for his senior year and will be the catalyst for them, averaging 18.8 points and 4.6 assist last season.

David Cox is going to have his hands full with having to essentially rebuild his entire team after a third-place finish in the prior season. For most teams, this task would be too daunting, but they were able to land twins  Mehki and Makhel Mitchell, who both were four star prospects. The Mitchells spent their freshman seasons playing at Maryland. Additionally, wings Malik Martin and Jalen Carey are expected to play significant minutes.

Saint Louis Bilikens 
2019-20 Record: 23-8 
Best Player: Jordan Goodwin 

With a top-four finish in the conference last season and almost all of the roster returning, Saint Louis fans have a lot to look forward to in the 2020-21 season. The Bilikens return their top two players in Jordan Goodwin and Hassan French, who both averaged a double-double this past season.

Goodwin was voted as a preseason first team all-Atlantic 10 selection, and French was voted on to the second team. The Bilikens will also have senior Javonte Perkins returning. The 6-6 wing averaged 15 points per game off of the bench last season, which makes him one of the conference’s best sixth men. 

As a whole, expect Saint Louis to play a similar style to last season. The Bilikens were one of the conference’s worst three-point shooting teams at 34%, so expect guards in Yuri Collins and Jordan Goodwin to attack the paint consistently. The Bilikens will also look to give paint touches to Hassan French on a consistent basis.

As a team that always plays hard and plays tremendous defense, the Billikens are more than capable of competing for an A-10 championship. If they click offensively and play well on the defensive end, this team could make some noise come March. 

St. Joseph’s Hawks
2019-20 Record: 6-26 
Best Player: Ryan Daly 

In Billy Lange’s first season as head coach, he was stuck with the task of taking over for longtime coach Phill Martelli, who led the team to seven NCAA Tournaments and six NITs during his 24-year tenure. However, it did not go according to plan after only winning a total of six games.

Ryan Daly has been a bright spot for the team, averaging 20.5 points, 6.9 rebound and 4.3 assists per game last year. His partner in the backcourt, sophomore Cameron Brown, will also be returning in hopes of building upon last season. The Hawks have two transfers in Greg Foster from Gonzaga and Dhamir Bishop from Xavier coming in, which will help provide some depth: an issue last season.

Fans can be hopeful that Billy Lange’s time on the Philadelphia 76ers can help rebuild their culture since, as the Hawks haven’t had a winning season since the 2015-2016 season. But, for now, there is much more work that needs to be done to get back to that point. 

VCU Rams 
2019-20 Record: 18-13 
Best Player: Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland 

VCU collapsed down the stretch last season, going 1-7 in its final eight games. This offseason, the Rams lost most of their scoring and production from a year ago. This will be one of the younger teams in the conference, but has plenty of potential, led by sophomore guard Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland. Primarily a scorer off the bench, a plethora of injuries led head coach Mike Rhoades to insert Hyland into the starting lineup as a freshman, and he handled his new role well.

Despite Hyland’s skillset offensively, scoring may come at a premium, as no returning scorer other than Hyland averaged more than five points per game. Rhoades’ defensive scheme extends out to disrupt the offensive flow of opposing teams, while preventing easy shots off of cuts or open attempts from three. With guys like Vince Williams and Corey Douglass leading the charge, VCU should remain one of the better defensive teams in the conference. This may not be a year in which the Rams contend for the conference title, but they will be competitive in the top tier of the A-10.  

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