Atlantic 10 preview: Expect a new look at the top

Dan Hurley is looking to get Rhode Island back into the NCAA tournament. AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Change has come to the Atlantic 10. Archie Miller and Will Wade left Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth for Indiana and LSU, respectively, and both the Flyers and the Rams have said goodbye to multiple starters from last season. As a result, there's likely to be room at the top of the A-10 standings for contenders besides UD and VCU for a change.

Take St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies are the only team not named "Dayton" or "VCU" to win a share of an A-10 regular-season title in the last two years. Now, Mark Schmidt has the league's only returning All A-10 first team member in Jaylen Adams. The senior point guard will team with classmate Matt Mobley to form a backcourt without equal in the league in terms of experience or talent.

Or what about Saint Joseph's? Phil Martelli has more returning experience than any coach in the league, and, more importantly, it's expected to be healthy experience. With Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble both returning from injuries, the Hawks are poised to make a big jump in the standings.

That being said, Rhode Island's the only team in the A-10 that made the NCAA tournament last season and is bringing back the bulk of its rotation. The Rams are going to be tough to beat.

Number of teams that should make the NCAA tournament: Three.

Since the storied 2014 tournament when the A-10 put no fewer than six teams into the field, the league has earned three bids in every succeeding season. That feels about right for 2018. Look for Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure and Saint Joseph's to go dancing. If you're thinking that looks strange, you're correct. This could be the first A-10 season since 2013 where the league doesn't send both Dayton and VCU into the field of 68.

Freshman you will want to see every time he plays: Kostas Antetokounmpo, Dayton.

The younger brother of Giannis, the freshman redshirted last season and is a veteran of the Greek U20 national team. At 6-foot-10, Antetokounmpo is raw and slender (listed at 197 pounds), but talented. One of the big stories of Dayton coach Anthony Grant's first season will be discovering what the "Greek Freak 2.0" is ready to bring to the table.

Coach with the toughest job: Travis Ford.

The onetime UMass head coach returned to the league last season and appeared to be making progress at Saint Louis on the recruiting front. Then, in September, four as-yet-unnamed SLU players were accused of sexual assault, stemming from an incident in an on-campus apartment. Until those charges are resolved, basketball will quite rightly be an afterthought for the Billiken program.

The team that will surprise you: Davidson.

Not enough 3s fell for Bob McKilliop's perimeter-oriented offense last season, but the Wildcats could fare better in 2017-18. Potential A-10 player of the year Peyton Aldridge is back, and Kellan Grady is one promising freshman. It might also help if last season's allergic reaction to offensive boards is cured. Blessed with the Nos. 1 and 2 defensive rebound and turnover percentages in A-10 play, respectively, Davidson nevertheless finished a lowly No. 8 in the league on shot volume. Something there does not compute.

The team that will disappoint you: VCU.

"Disappoint" is such a harsh term. Let us say instead the Rams and new coach Mike Rhoades are set to take a slight step back from what's been a remarkable -- and remarkably consistent -- run. Six of last season's top eight players in minutes are gone, leaving just Justin Tillman and Jonathan Williams as returning veterans. Tillman is excellent, Williams should be able to handle the point guard duties, and transfers Issac Vann and Khris Lane could provide a lift. Still, the recent past sets a high standard at VCU.

The league title will come down to: Rhode Island vs. expectations.

Dan Hurley's team came within one possession of upsetting Oregon and reaching the Sweet 16 last March. The Rams return E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Jeff Dowtin, Stanford Robinson and Jarvis Garrett. Keep in mind that, even coming off an NCAA tournament run, there's still room for improvement with an offense that connected on less than 33 percent of its 3s in A-10 play last season. The Rams can capture their first regular-season conference title since URI shared the 1980-81 Eastern Athletic Association crown with Duquesne. It's been a while.