After a season in which both teams went 9-9 in conference, VCU and Richmond each dropped in this year’s Atlantic 10 preseason poll, which was released Thursday morning in conjunction with the league’s media day at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
VCU was picked to finish seventh in this year’s poll, down from No. 4 in last year’s preseason poll. Richmond was picked to finish 10th, down from eighth last year.
Richmond sophomore forward Grant Golden was selected to the preseason all-A-10 first team, and sophomore guard Jacob Gilyard made the preseason all-defensive team.
VCU junior guard De'Riante Jenkins was picked to the preseason all-A-10 third team.
Saint Louis was selected as the league favorite. Among the Billikens’ returners are senior guard Javon Bess, who was selected to the A-10’s all-defensive team after last season, and sophomore guard Jordan Goodwin, who was an all-rookie team selection. Saint Joseph's, Davidson, George Mason and Rhode Island round out the top five.
The A-10’s preseason poll and all-conference teams are picked by coaches and select media members.
VCU went 18-15 overall last year, and did not participate in a postseason tournament for the first time since 2006.
Jenkins (12.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and junior forward Issac Vann (9.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg) are VCU’s top two returning scorers. Jenkins also led the Rams with 79 made 3-pointers last year, as he shot a team-high 41.8 percent from deep.
The Rams lost three seniors in forward Justin Tillman, point guard Jonathan Williams and forward Khris Lane (Benedictine). Tillman led the team with 18.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per game en route to his selection to the A-10 all-conference first team and all-defensive team.
VCU also lost forward Lewis Djonkam (transferred to Radford) and guard Tyler Maye (transferred to Southeastern Community College).
Among the newcomers is forward Michael Gilmore, a graduate transfer who played his first two seasons at VCU and last year at Florida Gulf Coast before returning to the Rams.
Coach Mike Rhoades, who is entering his second season, said his team’s biggest strengths right now are its versatility and depth.
"I just think we have a lot of guys that can really contribute,” Rhoades said. “And that's a good thing if someone's having a tough night. Or something doesn't go our way, we get in foul trouble.
“But also, it just tells you how how hard we can play for the whole game. And I think that could be a huge weapon for us."
VCU is awaiting the full clearance of junior guard Marcus Evans as well, a transfer from Rice who sat out last year due to NCAA rules and who tore his right Achilles in June almost a year after tearing his left Achilles in 2017.
Rhoades said that Evans was cleared last Friday to do explosive work. He’s been doing running, jumping and conditioning activities. He continues to progress toward a point where he can join the team in live action.
“We'll know sooner than later where he's at, but in the next 30 days he's chomping at the bit here to get back with his team. I think he will be,” Rhoades said.
Richmond last season went 12-20 overall, its first losing year since 2007. The Spiders, in coach Chris Mooney’s 14th season, return the 6-10 Golden (15.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg), 6-4 junior Nick Sherod (14.3 ppg, 5 rpg) and the 5-9 Gilyard (11.4 ppg, 4.1 apg, 2.8 spg).
Seven of 12 scholarship players, including six freshmen, have not played a game for UR, which lost guard Khwan Fore (11 ppg, graduate transfer to Louisville) and 6-4 De’Monte Buckingham (12.2 ppg, dismissed and transferred to California State Bakersfield).
“The freshmen are catching on a lot better than last year’s group,” Golden said. “We’re putting in a lot more stuff at a faster pace, and they’re all soaking it in and learning it. … I think this scrimmage and this exhibition that we have coming up will really help us in terms of chemistry and knowing what each of us likes to do, and things of that nature.”
The Spiders and Virginia meet in a closed scrimmage, and UR faces Hampden-Sydney at the Robins Center on Oct. 27 (free). This is only the second time in Mooney’s tenure that UR will play an exhibition. Mooney said the decision to do so is related to an intensified interest in getting off to a good start after Richmond lost 10 of its first 12 last season, and the presence of so many players who have not appeared in a Spiders’ game.
“Just having that happen to us last year is sort of what’s driving that motivation in practice,” Golden said of the 2-10 record against non-conference competition. “In terms of me, Jacob and Nick being the older guys, everybody considering us being the leaders on the team, I think us going through that was good for us this year, reminding everybody that we don’t want to go through that again.”
George Mason (16-17, 9-9 A-10) seems prepped to establish itself as one of the A-10’s top programs. The Patriots have steadily grown into that position under fourth-year coach Dave Paulsen.
GMU finished in fifth place last season, its highest finish since joining the league for the 2013-14 season, and returns all of its players. Also, Mason added 6-7, 260-pound junior Jarred Reuter, from Virginia, where he was a role player for two years. He redshirted at GMU last season.
“Jarred will bring maturity, toughness, experience, and a very high basketball IQ to our team," Paulsen said.
The Patriots’ leader will again be 6-0 senior Otis Livingston II (17.3 ppg, 4.4 apg), who was selected to the preseason all-A-10 first team. Livingston, a second team all-A-10 selection last season, has started all 99 games of his career. Similar consistency has come from 6-5 senior Jaire Grayer (12.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg), who has made 96 starts.
The A-10 tournament will be held March 13-17 at the Barclays Center. Last season, Davidson won the league title at Capital One Arena in Washington.
A-10 Preseason Poll
(selected by the league's coaches and select media members, first-place votes in parentheses)
1. Saint Louis (15) 348
2. Saint Joseph’s (4) 324
3. Davidson (6) 314
4. George Mason (1) 287
5. Rhode Island 221
6. Dayton 206
7. VCU 195
8. Massachusetts 175
9. St. Bonaventure 167
10. Richmond 156
11. Duquesne 146
12 La Salle 85
13. George Washington 73
14. Fordham 33
Kellan Grady, So. G, Davidson
Josh Cunningham, Sr. F, Dayton
Otis Livingston II, Sr. G, George Mason
Luwane Pipkins, Jr. G, UMass
Grant Golden, So. F, Richmond
Eric Williams Jr., So. G, Duquesne
Pookie Powell, Sr. G, La Salle
Jeff Dowtin, Jr. G, Rhode Island
Courtney Stockard, Sr. G/F, St. Bonaventure
Javon Bess, Sr. G/F, Saint Louis
Jordan Goodwin, So. G, Saint Louis
Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Jr. G, Davidson
Lamarr Kimble, Jr. G, Saint Joseph's
Charlie Brown Jr., So. F, Saint Joseph's
Hasahn French, So. F, Saint Louis
De'Riante Jenkins, Jr. G, VCU
Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Jr. G, Davidson
Terry Nolan Jr., So. G, George Washington
Cyril Langevine, Jr. F, Rhode Island
Jacob Gilyard, So. G, Richmond
Javon Bess, Sr. F, Saint Louis