A10Just because some of the teams have changed, due to the revolving door of conference realignment, it doesn’t mean picking the A-10 this year has gotten any easier.

Although I felt very comfortable with my picks 1-4, spots 5-9 (and possibly 5-13) are sort of shrug picks. As in, I think this team will finish here, but *shrug*, who really knows? There’s a ton of depth in the A-10 this season, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see teams like George Mason, Richmond or Rhode Island (to name just a few) shock some folks. I think three NCAA bids is a reasonable goal for the A-10 this year, but five is certainly attainable.

2012-13 Record: 27-9 (12-4 A-10)
Although there are still questions about who will replace point guard Darius Theus, this is Shaka Smart’s deepest, most talented group in five seasons at VCU. The Rams will likely open the season ranked in the top 25 (already No. 15 in the Coaches Poll) behind potential NBA draft pick Juvonte Reddic and 2012-13 breakout star Treveon Graham. Human cannonball Briante Weber spearheads the Rams’ chaos-inducing Havoc defense that has led the country in turnover percentage two straight seasons.

And, should I bring up guys like Rob Brandenberg (a rock), Melvin Johnson (a sizzle video waiting to happen), the addition of ACC-quality big man Terrance Shannon (impressed at Black & Gold Game) or the Rams’ influx of a talent-rich freshman class. VCU fans are pretty amped about the coming season, and deservedly so.

Although the Rams have been a nearly-consensus media pick to win the A-10, and were ranked 15th nationally in the USA Today Coaches Preseason Poll, it doesn’t appear that VCU will shy away from the high expectations.

“We’ve always had high expectations for ourselves within our program,” says VCU Coach Shaka Smart. “We want to be at a place where there are high expectations for us. That’s the way VCU is.”

2-Saint Louis
2012-13 Record: 28-7 (13-3)
Jim Crews masterfully directed Saint Louis in 2012-13 following the death of coach Rick Majerus, and he’s got the horses to do it again this year. Bruising forward Dwayne Evans (14.0 ppg, 7.7) along with guards Mike McCall Jr. (9.3 ppg) and Jordair Jett (9.0 ppg, 3.2 apg) offer a balanced offensive attack to compliment the Billikens’ stingy defensive-minded approach.

3-La Salle
2012-13 Record: 24-10 (11-5)
The graduation of Ramon Galloway (17.2 ppg) is going to hurt, but the Explorers still have an excellent stable of guards, led by point man Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland of “Southwest Philly Floater” fame. In all, Dr. John Giannini and Company return nine of their top 10 scorers from last year’s Sweet 16 squad.

2012-13 Record: 21-12 (9-7)
Pocket-sized guard Chaz Williams is arguably the A-10’s most exciting player, and he leads a break-neck offense that ranked 12th nationally in adjusted tempo last year. The Minutemen also have Plastic Man forward Raphiael Putney, Western Kentucky transfer Derrick Gordon and steady junior center Cady Lalanne to provide balance for Derek Kellogg’s multifaceted attack.

2012-13 Record: 17-14 (7-9)
Judging from a number of these preseason polls, I’m a bit higher on Dayton than some, but I like the Flyers’ frontcourt. If the Flyers can find a way to hold onto the ball – they ranked 269th nationally in turnover percentage last year – they can make some noise behind guard Vee Sanford and a front line that includes 6-foot-7 senior Devin Oliver (8.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg), 6-6 sophomore Dyshawn Pierre (8.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and 6-9 sophomore Jalen Robinson (6.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg).

6-George Mason
2012-13 Record: 22-16 (10-8 CAA)
The Patriots picked a good year to make a move. Paul Hewitt’s bunch returns all five starters as it leaps from the CAA to the A-10. The Patriots owned wins over league foes Richmond and Rhode Island last season and also beat a solid Virginia team. Clearly, the talent is there. Dynamic guard Sherrod Wright (16.6 ppg) will serve as the catalyst for this potential sleeper.

7-Saint Joseph’s
2012-13 Record: 18-14 (8-8)
The Hawks had the league’s shortest rotation last season and will need to replace three of their top five scorers. However, the inside-outside combo of Langston Galloway (13.8 ppg, 80 3FG) and 6-8 forward Ronald Roberts Jr. (11.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg) is still one of the league’s best and will make Saint Joseph’s a tough out.

2012-13 Record: 19-15 (8-8)
Despite the loss of nail-tough guard Darien Brothers, the Spiders have an intriguing core that includes guards Cedrick Lindsey (steady) and Kendall Anthony (small, mighty), as well as forwards Derrick Williams (a load), Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (fun name) and Terry Allen (versatile). If Richmond can solve its road woes (4-13 away from the Robins Center last season), the Spiders could surprise. For what it’s worth, after talking with Spiders’ Coach Chris Mooney at A-10 Media Day, he sounds pretty bullish on Allen. I can’t say I disagree. He could be an ‘X’ factor this season.

9-Rhode Island
2012-13 Record: 8-21 (3-13)
Dan Hurley appears to be building something special at Rhode Island. Behind the A-10’s top returning scorer, Xavier Munford (17.4 ppg), Rutgers transfer Gil Biruta and an impact recruiting class, the Rams could be upwardly mobile this year. The Rams have been a trendy “sleeper” pick so much that you can’t really call them a sleeper anymore. I don’t necessarily disagree, but the teams above them still have lots of talent as well. I need to see the talent mesh first before I can convince myself to rate them higher.

10-George Washington
2012-13 Record: 13-17 (7-9)
Mike Lonergan has George Washington playing tough, hard-nosed basketball, but the Colonials still lack offensive punch on the perimeter. Isaiah Armwood and Kevin Larsen form one of the A-10’s most rugged frontcourts, but whether the Colonials take a step forward this season could depend on Indiana transfer Maurice Creek. Creek averaged 16 points per game as a freshman in 2009-10, but has since been savaged by knee and Achilles’ tendon injuries.

2012-13 Record: 7-24 (3-13)
Tom Pecora has made progress in the Bronx, and he has some nice pieces in place with guards Branden Frazier, Mandell Thomas and Bryan Smith, as well as the addition of New York’s Mr. Basketball, Jon Severe. Is this the year Pecora and Fordham break through?

12-Saint Bonaventure
2012-13 Record: 14-15 (7-9)
The offensive firepower that made the Bonnies a dangerous match-up is mostly gone, and while promising young players like Matthew Wright and shot-blocking 7-footer Youssou Ndoye will have increased opportunities, Saint Bonaventure still has a lot of questions at this stage.

2012-13 Record: 8-22 (1-15)
Sophomore Derrick Colter is an exciting young guard that Jim Ferry can continue to construct his up-tempo attack around, and 6-8 UAB transfer Ovie Soko is an underrated pickup, but the Dukes are just beginning to rebuild. That being said, Ferry is a guy who seems to understand how to build a program and prefers an exciting brand of basketball.