Looking ahead: Atlantic 10 preview

VCU, Rhode Island lead early superlatives for 2014-15 season

Updated: April 16, 2014, 2:11 AM ET
By Jordan Brenner | ESPN Insider

VCU/VirginiaGeoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsThe Rams will have the most talented squad of Shaka Smart's tenure, with Final Four potential.

After a season defined by balance and depth, there is a shift coming to the Atlantic 10. Just three games separated first-place Saint Louis from the two teams that tied for fifth in the conference. One of those squads, UMass, went on to earn a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament. The other, Dayton, reached the Elite Eight. But attrition will all but assure that the A-10's top six teams -- which all went to the NCAA tourney -- won't bunch up so tightly again. The best teams should be able to separate themselves from the rest of the field, starting with VCU, a clear pick for the conference title.

Dayton, the Rams' top challenger, is a notch below in overall talent, and the Flyers hold a similar gap over the rest of the conference. That doesn't bode well for matching this year's six-pack of tourney teams, but the potential is there for the A-10 to send another team to the regional final -- and possibly further than that.

Favorite: VCU Rams

Welcome to the next phase of havoc. Shaka Smart already had excelled at finding under-recruited players with the quickness and length to thrive in his pressing system. Well, now that he has established VCU as a consistent Top-25 team, that recruiting profile has changed. Smart is now pulling in top-100 prospects with those same attributes -- and a host of other skills. Smart will add three such players to next year's squad, which hardly needs much help. Treveon Graham and Briante Weber are still in Richmond, Melvin Johnson and Jordan Burgess are itching to break out, and the Rams should again feature serious depth. Smart must find a way to replace Juvonte Reddic in the middle, which is no easy task, but VCU's perimeter talent should ease that transition for Mo Alie-Cox and Jarred Guest.

Jordan Brenner | email

ESPN The Magazine contributing writer
Brenner writes for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Insider. He covers the NBA and college basketball.