The crispness of the fall air, the orange hues that overtake the treetops and the squeak of basketball sneakers in gymnasiums across the country remain just some of the telltale signs that basketball is back. More importantly, the annual countdown to March Madness can begin anew.As much fun as Midnight Madness can be, the culmination of a long offseason is the tipoff of a team's first game. With the start of the 2016-17 season quickly approaching, NCAA.com is cracking the books and breaking things down in each of college basketball's 32 conferences.
Here's our look at the Atlantic 10:
VCU, Dayton and St. Bonaventure shared the A10 regular season title last season at 14-4, while tournament champion St. Joseph’s finished one game behind.
When Selection Sunday arrived, however, the Bonnies were the odd team out.
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VCU defeated Oregon State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and lost to No. 2 seed Oklahoma in the Round of 32. St. Joe’s also won a game, knocking off Cincinnati before a loss to top-seeded Oregon. Syracuse eliminated Dayton in the first round.
A late-season slide cost George Washington a NCAA bid. But the Colonials capitalized on their postseason opportunity, reeling off five consecutive wins to claim the NIT championship. Davidson and St. Bonnie also cracked the field.
VCU, Dayton, Davidson and Rhode Island, which was riddled by injury a year ago, look like title contenders and possible NCAA tournament teams entering the season.
This should be a tight race to follow in the A10 this season.
Davidson’s Jack Gibbs won the conference scoring title (23.5 ppg) last season and assisted on 31 percent of his team’s baskets. The 6-foot-3 guard also delivered one of the more remarkable games in college basketball last season. With former Davidson star Steph Curry in the seats, Gibbs hit 14 consecutive shots before missing his last three to score a career-high 41 points. Wildcats coach Bob McKillop thinks Gibbs, who shot 34 percent on 3-pointers last season, can become more efficient. He challenged Gibbs to improve his conditioning and take better shots.Tyler Cavanaugh of George Washington poses problems for A10 coaches and defenders. He’s 6-foot-9, 240 pounds and averaged 16.9 points and 7.6 rebounds on 42 percent 3-point shooting and 84 percent accuracy at the free-throw line. If the Colonials win enough games, he’ll be in the player of the year hunt.
And don’t forget E.C. Matthews, the 6-foot-5 guard from Rhode Island who tore his ACL on opening night last season. He’s recovered and ready to replicate his statistics from the 2014-15 season (16.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.0 apg).
While it should be extremely competitive, the hunch here is VCU takes the crown by a slim margin over Rhode Island and Dayton.
Just appreciate what Rams coach Will Wade accomplished in trying circumstances in 2016, his first season in charge. He steered the program to 25 wins, a piece of the A10 regular-season title and a NCAA tournament victory.
Now he returns a strong two-point guard backcourt of JeQuan Lewis (115.6 offensive rating in A10 play) and Jonathan Williams (six turnovers in final 152 minutes) to complement powerful forward Mo Alie-Cox (10.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg).
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VCU welcomes a talented batch of newcomers, possesses the requisite depth to apply fierce ball pressure and, again, rank among the national leaders in turnovers forced per possession (18th last season).
Rhode Island won’t go lightly. The other Rams have a favorable conference slate with home games against Dayton, Davidson and VCU. Hassan Martin is an All-Conference caliber forward. Overlooking Archie-Miller-coached Dayton team can prove foolish, too. The Flyers averaged 26 wins (12 in conference) over the last three seasons and return Charles Cooke, a 6-foot-5 wing who made 115 free throws in 2015-16.
Massachusetts could break out of a congested middle of the pack.The Minutemen, who were 14-18 overall and 6-12 in the A10, have ample options in the backcourt. Donte Clark averaged 16.2 points last season and newcomers Zach Lewis, a transfer from Canisius, along with 5-foot-10 freshman Luwane Pipkins can fill the basket.
Consistent scoring was a problem for UMass last season. The Minutemen were 12th in A10 action in adjusted offensive efficiency (96.5), per KenPom.com
Freshman to watch
Deriante Jenkins is a highly touted 6-foot-6 wing who could develop into the next high-scoring mismatch for VCU, following the path blazed by Bradford Burgess and Treveon Graham. He won’t have to be the go-to guy for the Rams right away, but he’ll leave his mark on more than one game this season.
DeJon Jarreau, a 6-foot-3 guard from New Orleans, is another valuable commodity for UMass coach Derek Kellogg.