No one deserved the bad luck with injuries that fell Jim Baron’s way at URI last year. Entering the season with high hopes, the Rams finished 6–22 and wondered just how many games they could’ve won if Dawan Robinson and Jamaal Wise hadn’t been lost for the season with stress fractures in their feet and shins, respectively.
Robinson and Wise weren’t the only Rams nailed by the injury bug but certainly were the most important. Robinson can be the best guard in the A-10 when healthy. He’ll play point guard or off the ball, whatever Baron needs. However, his stress fracture recurred in the spring, and his health needs to be monitored closely. Wise is an athletic forward in search of a consistent jumper, and the senior will be a major addition.
The key returning player is senior Terrence Mack, a strong, gritty forward who attacks the glass. He’ll need some assistance inside from experienced but underachieving big men J.R. Moore and Jon Clark. The Rams are also excited by a recruiting class that could make a major impact.
10. La Salle (10–19, 5–11)
After fighting through some trying circumstances in his first season in Philadelphia, John Giannini can safely go about his job of getting La Salle back on the winning track.
Last year was all about crisis management. Giannini guided the program past an ugly rape scandal involving ex-players, some untimely injuries and the potential departure of star forward Steven Smith to the NBA. Smith declared for the draft but listened to scouts who told him to return to college. Smith, the A-10’s top returning scorer, is good enough to carry a team.
Smith has some solid help from several returnees, although the Explorers remain very thin up front. Mike St. John showed plenty of grit and toughness as a sophomore, and he’ll likely start at power forward. The backcourt looks much more stable. Senior Jermaine Thomas has enjoyed a very good three-year career, running alongside Smith. Sophomore Darnell Harris, a bit of a recruiting steal out of Baltimore two years ago, averaged 11.3 points as a freshman.
La Salle’s lack of depth will be difficult to overcome, but a run at .500 is certainly possible.
11. Richmond (14–15, 8–8)
The loss of a coach as talented and successful as Jerry Wainwright was in three seasons in Richmond can set a program back a bit, and that’s what the Spiders are looking at this season. Wainwright, an Illinois native, returned to his roots to ride DePaul into the Big East. His loss was costly: The Spiders’ top recruit, A.D. Vassallo, enrolled at Virginia Tech, and two key guards left the team — Daon Merritt, the top backcourt scorer, transferred to South Alabama, and Courtney Nelson transferred to Rutgers.
With NIT and NCAA berths in two of Wainwright’s three seasons, the Spiders certainly learned how to win, and that’ll be one of Chris Mooney’s selling points. Mooney comes from Air Force, where he went 18–12 in his only head coaching season.
Richmond slipped a year ago, mainly because of injuries. While the team’s leaders should be good-shooting big man Kevin Steenberge and wing Jermaine Bucknor, the Spiders need contributions from some of the injured talent, especially forwards Gaston Moliva and Jahron Giddings.
12. Duquesne (8–22, 5–11)
The Dukes were hopeful that a turnaround was near in Danny Nee’s fourth season, but Duquesne lost seven of its first eight games and rolled back to an ugly eight-win season.
The Dukes welcome back senior guard Bryant McAllister and promising junior center Keiron Achara, but with the possible exception of shooters Jack Higgins and Ryan Tricco, young players will grab most of this team’s playing time.
Nee watched swingmen DeVario Hudson and Chauncey Duke play well over the final 15 games of their freshman seasons. They’ll certainly be in the mix, as will Ryan Lambert, a transfer from Western Kentucky.
13. Saint Louis (9–21, 6–10)
The Atlantic-10 is set to welcome the Billikens of Saint Louis into the fold this season, and most of the coaches in the conference are smiling. For one, everyone gets to visit a great Midwestern city with delicious ribs. For another, the Billikens aren’t exactly a powerhouse.
Coach Brad Soderberg is in a serious rebuilding stage, and the switch from the stronger Conference USA to the A-10 should help. His team lost 14 games by less than 10 points a year ago and saw two key players, guard Reggie Bryant and forward Isik Ohanon, graduate.
The inaugural spin through the A-10 will feature senior guard Anthony Drejaj and big man Ian Vouyoukas, neither of whom averaged more than seven points per game.
14. St. Bonaventure (2–26, 1–15)
One of the country’s toughest coaching jobs could get a bit easier in Anthony Solomon’s third season in Olean. After two wins in 2004-05, things are bound to improve.
Solomon welcomes back all of his key players from the nightmarish season, including senior guard Ahmad Smith, the only A-10 player to rank in the league’s top 10 in scoring, rebounding and assists. Impressive sophomore forward Michael Lee is a scary scoring forward and will help loosen up opposing defenses.
The other key returnees are senior guard Wade Dunston and point guard Isiah Carson. They’ll both be pushed for instant playing time by West Virginia transfer Tyler Relph, a Rochester, N.Y., native who shoots with range.