Rothstein Files | Atlantic 10 offseason notebook

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Five Questions Entering The Atlantic 10

1. Will anyone challenge Rhode Island?

It’s the Rams’ league to lose right now and it’s going to stay that way until someone proves otherwise. The reigning Atlantic 10 Tournament champions have one of the deepest backcourts in the country, headlined by returnees E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Jeff Dowtin, Jarvis Garrett, and Stan Robinson. Dan Hurley’s squad lost its two frontcourt starters — Kuran Iverson and Hassan Martin — from last year’s team that nearly beat Oregon in the NCAA Tournament, but 6-8 sophomore Cyril Langevine should seamlessly step into the role vacated by Martin.

Look for Hurley to go small with Robinson at power forward while playing quicker and faster than he has ever played thanks to Rhode Island’s speed and versatility. College basketball has always come down to guard play. The Rams  return seven perimeter players who averaged double-figure minutes on a team that nearly advanced to the Sweet 16 while adding a top-150 recruit in freshman point guard Daron “Fats” Russell. Given the coaching changes in place at both Dayton and VCU, along with severe personnel defections at each of those respective programs, it’s beyond clear that the Atlantic 10 now goes through Kingston, Rhode Island.

2. How big are the rebuilding jobs at both Dayton and VCU?

Significant. Anthony Grant returns to his alma mater to take over a program that lost four seniors — Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke, Kyle Davis, and Kendall Pollard — who were the backbone of multiple runs to the NCAA Tournament. Mike Rhoades is back at VCU and will coach a team next season that has eight scholarship players in their first year in the program. As for the Rams’ non-conference schedule? VCU will play three games in the Maui Invitational, travel to Seton Hall, and host both Texas and Virginia before Christmas. If either Grant or Rhoades leads their respective teams to the field of 68 next March, there should be a parade.

3. Can Saint Joseph’s get healthy?

If it does, Phil Martelli has a legitimate chance to take the Hawks to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five seasons. Murphy’s Law hit Saint Joseph’s last year. Four different players — Shavar Newkirk (ACL), Lamarr Kimble (foot), Pierfrancesco Oliva (knee) and Lorenzo Edwards (shoulder) — suffered season-ending injuries. If all four of those guys are back and healthy in 17-18, Hagan Arena will likely be one tough place to play.

Newkirk, Kimble, and Chris Clover give Martelli a veteran backcourt that can score, while 6-6 forward Charlie Brown (12.8 points, 5.0 rebounds in 16-17) could emerge as the Atlantic 10’s next star as a sophomore. Versatile senior James Demery is primed to be one of the league’s best defenders, while 6-9 freshman Taylor Funk could crack the rotation in his first year thanks to his skill level, IQ, and overall feel. There’s a lot to like with the Hawks —- if they’re healthy.

4. Is Saint Louis a year away?

Not necessarily when you consider the state of the Atlantic 10. This league has no surefire NCAA Tournament contender other than Rhode Island. That, combined with the Billikens’ assortment of talent, could put Travis Ford in an interesting situation in just his second season at Saint Louis. The former Kentucky point guard will add five high-major transfers — Javon Bess (Michigan State), D.J. Foreman (Rutgers), Adonys Henriquez (UCF), Rashed Anthony (Seton Hall) and Ty Graves (Boston College) — along with two top-100 freshmen (Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French) to a returning nucleus of Jermaine Bishop, Davell Roby, Jalen Johnson, and Elliott Welmer.

There’s no telling how this group is going to mesh or how certain roles are going to be defined, but this much is for certain: Ford has assembled a roster talented enough to finish in the top three or four of the Atlantic 10 next season.

5. Who is the sleeper?

Davidson. Many from the periphery will assume that Jack Gibbs’ departure will leave the Wildcats shorthanded in 17-18, but many of the coaches in the Atlantic 10 feel that this program is being overlooked heading into next season.

Despite the loss of Gibbs, Bob McKillop’s squad returns everyone of significance from last year’s team that won 17 games, headlined by player of the year candidate Peyton Aldridge. Fifth-year senior Will Magarity and sophomore Jon Axel Gudmunsson (8.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists) both possess all-league potential. Four-star freshman Kellan Grady is one of the best first-year players in America that nobody knows about. The 6-4 guard had high-major interest coming out of high school and could make Davidson as dangerous as any Atlantic 10 team “not named Rhode Island” on a given night.

Davidson College Head Coach Bob McKillop reacts to a made 3-pointer during an NCAA basketball game between the Davidson Wildcats and the Arizona State Sun Devils on November 20, 2016, at HP Field House in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)

Atlantic 10 Offseason Power Rankings

1. Rhode Island
2. Saint Joseph’s
3. St. Bonaventure
4. Saint Louis
5. Dayton
6. VCU
7. Davidson
8. La Salle
9. Richmond
10. George Mason
11. George Washington
12. UMass
13. Duquesne
14. Fordham

Atlantic 10 Preseason Player of the Year: E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island

Atlantic 10 Preseason First Team

Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure
E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
Jared Terrell, Rhode Island
B.J. Johnson, La Salle
Peyton Aldridge, Davidson

Atlantic 10 Preseason Sleeper: Davidson

5 Impact Freshmen

Jordan Goodwin, Saint Louis
Hasahn French, Saint Louis
Daron “Fats” Russell, Rhode Island
Kellan Grady, Davidson
Kostas Antetokounmpo, Dayton

5 Impact Transfers

Adonys Henriquez, Saint Louis
Javon Bess, Saint Louis
D.J. Foreman, Saint Louis
Isaac Vann, VCU
Khris Lane, VCU

5 Breakout Players

Cyril Langevine, Rhode Island
Stan Robinson, Rhode Island
Josh Cunningham, Dayton
De’Riante Jenkins, VCU
Jair Bolden, George Washington

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

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