Brooklyn, NY - The 2022-2023 season will begin the start of a new era in the Atlantic 10 with seven new head coaches entering the league, along with the addition of a 15th team in Loyola Chicago. That was on full display as all 15 teams convened in Brooklyn on Thursday for the league's media day.
After spending several hours in and around the league, here are some takeaways
Two at the Top
The league should have big expectations for the season with two teams head and shoulders above everyone else in the league. They are the Dayton Flyers and Saint Louis Billikens, two teams hovering around the Top 25 of most preseason polls.
After a 1-3 start last season that included losses to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb, and Austin Peay, Dayton was able to rebound in a big way. The Flyers followed that brutal three game stretch, by beating Miami and Kansas, who were both Elite 8 teams on back-to-back days in the ESPN Invitational in Orlando. They did as a team that was comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores a season ago.
The Flyers played great after that disastrous start and the fact that they were even in the NCAA Tournament conversation by season's en, finishing as one of the "first four out" of the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Now, most of those freshmen and sophomores are back in anticipation for a big season. The Flyers were voted No. 1 in the preseason Atlantic 10 Conference poll, and will return all five starters from last year's team. That group is headlined by sophomore forward Da'Ron Holmes who averaged a team-high 12.8 points per game as a freshman last year and fellow sophomore Malachi Smith, who led the team with 5.3 assists per game.
In addition, Toumani Camara and Kobe Elvis will return to round out a team filled with returning experience that have been playing with each other for a few years. Although it is difficult to compare this group to the 2020 Dayton team that would have likely earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, this team will definitely be the best Dayton team since.
Saint Louis is the other team in the Atlantic 10 that will be coming into this season with massive expectations. Saint Louis will be returning a ton of talent from last year's team which won 23 games and earned a No. 3 seed in the NIT. Just around this time last year, Saint Louis received the brutal news of Javonte Perkins tearing his ACL which was a massive hit. Perkins was the Billikens leading scorer in 2021, averaging 17.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 37.6 percent from three-point range. Saint Louis showed early on they shouldn’t be taken lightly, winning on the road at Boise State and pushing Auburn - who ultimately became the #1 team in the country - to the absolute brink.
One thing that Billikens coach Travis Ford really harped on at media day, is the fact that the depth of this Saint Louis team should be much improved compared to years past. The Billikens will return six out of their top seven scorers from last year's team, while also adding Perkins and some high impact transfers.
In terms of names you need to know, Gibson Jimmerson has been one of the best pure shooters in the country since he arrived in Saint Louis, but last year we saw a player that was able to do a lot of things very well. Jimerson led the Billikens in scoring last season with 16.3 points per game on an extremely efficient 43 percent shooting from three-point range. With pass first point guard Yuri Collins also returning after a brief stint in the transfer portal, that duo will have the ball in their hands a lot. Collins led not only the Atlantic 10, but all of college basketball in assists per game last season, and is a key piece to this Billikens team.
Travis Ford has never had a problem bringing in talent to the teams he’s coached, but it hasn’t always translated on the basketball floor. With a nice ending of last season and so much talent either returning to or joining the Billikens, Ford has a chance to really put that narrative to bed with a big season.
VCU Isn't Going Anywhere
VCU has become one of the more underrated programs in the country based on their sustained success which started with Shaka Smart’s magical run to the Final Four in 2011. The fact that it is now 11 years ago will make any college basketball fan feel old, but VCU deserves credit for how long they have been able to continue that success. The Rams have now made four of the last six NCAA Tournaments since Smart depearted, with a real chance to return to that prominence this season.
VCU will return one of the better plays in the A10 in Ace Baldwin, who burst onto the scene last season and was a preseason First Team All-Conference Selection. VCU has sent some guys to the professional ranks in recent years including Bones Hyland of the Denver Nuggets and Baldwin plays with a little bit of a similar style. VCU will also bring in Michigan transfers Brandon Johns Jr. and Zeb Jackson, who should also both make an immediate impact on the floor this season.
Famous Faces in New Places
The overall star power in this league was upgraded in a big way this past offseason, with Archie Miller returning to the conference for the first time since 2017, as the new head man of Rhode Island. Miller had a great run with Dayton from 2011 to 2017, leading the Flyers to conference championships in 2016 and 2017 at Dayton, including a trip to the Elite Eight in 2014. That was the A-10's most recent trip to the second weekend of the tournament. Rhode Island has had some talent in each of the last few years, but have really had a hard time getting over the hump since Dan Hurley left. With Miller in this mix, Rhode Island should see an immediate improvement with a chance to compete this season.
In addition, UMass brings in former Kansas State and South Carolina head coach Frank Martin, who spent each of the last ten seasons in Columbia. Martin is another name who will bring star power into a league that has been searching for some big names and he has also brought in talent immediately through the transfer portal. UMass adds former Top 100 recruits in
Rashool Diggins (UConn) and Matt Cross (Louisville and Miami), to go along with leading returning scorer Noah Fernandes. UMass has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2014, which was also the same year the A-10 sent five teams into the Big Dance.
Another intriguing storyline was the surprise retirement of legendary Davidson Head Coach Bob McKillop. McKillop was in charge of the Davidson program since 1989, leading them to 13 conference championships and three separate NCAA Tournament victories. McKillop's last season ended with a bang, winning 27 games and winning the Atlantic 10 regular season title. If you remember, the Wildcats lost to Michigan State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament last season.
With Bob’s son Matt now taking over, things will be much different, but Davidson does return some key contributors from last year’s team including Foster Loyer, who finished in the Top 5 of the conference in scoring last season with 16.1 points per game. The Wildcats are projected to finish in sixth place by the media in the preseason poll.
There was a feeling of excitement that was very apparent throughout the room at Atlantic 10 Media Day, with so many new but recognizable faces. The last few years for the league haven't been particularly bad, but it is apparent the league wants to do whatever they can to return to its best form as quickly as possible. That starts with an improved level of overall coaching and leadership that can take advantage of today’s new version of college basketball with NIL and the Transfer Portal being so vital.
Although it’s early in the process so far the Atlantic 10 has taken full advantage of that, by bringing in new talent throughout the league that should lead to a very fun season.
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If you missed our previous "30 teams in 30 days countdown of college basketball" catch up here: