Over 200 guests and media members were in an empire state of mind as they descended upon the new arena for a chance to see the coaches of all 16 teams together.
Saint Joseph’s was picked to win the Atlantic 10, receiving 11 first-place votes. Saint Louis University followed close behind though, receiving ten first-place ballots. Overall, six teams received votes to win the A-10. While SLU is an early front-runner for the league title, it will certainly be a hard knock life for them as the league added two traditional basketball powerhouses, and Temple does not leave the league until next season.
Saint Joseph’s will welcome the return of all five starters from last season’s (20-14) team. Saint Joesph’s returns the best frontcourt in the a-10, led by NBA prospect C.J. Aiken. Likewise, SLU will see the return of four of their starters, only losing forward Brian Conklin.
Of course, SLU is also missing perhaps its most important piece, as coach Rick Majerus continues to recuperate in a California hospital. National media outlets in attendance, including ESPN’s Andy Katz, speculated as to if Majerus’ absence swung the pre-season voting in Saint Joseph’s favor. Interim coach Jim Crews will seek to fulfill the lofty expectations thrust upon this Billikens squad.
There was certainly a palpable buzz around this season’s media day, as the A-10 further strengthened its position as the top basketball-led conference in Division I. To add to the hype, Jim Crews and other coaches were seen in promotional videos lounging in Jay-Z’s newest 40/40 Club in the Barclays Center.
Newcomers to the league, Virginia Commonwealth and Butler, were picked to finish third and sixth, respectively. The two teams have combined for three Final Four appearances in the past three seasons. Traditional powerhouses Dayton and Xavier just cracked the top ten, coming in at eight and nine, demonstrating the depth of this year’s 16-team league.
Xavier reached the Sweet 16 in last year’s NCAA tournament, but a number of off-season departures and dismissals leave reasonable doubt as to if the Musketeers can repeat their traditionally strong showings.
Temple was picked fourth and Massachusetts fifth, rounding out what promises to be one of the deepest basketball conferences this season.
This will be the only season the Atlantic 10 has 16 teams, as Temple and Charlotte will depart after this year. The returning regular season champion Temple Owls lost two leading scorers, but will look to make a final splash before they leave for the Big East next season.
SLU is one of five teams in the new Atlantic 10 seeking an encore to last year’s efforts that landed them in the NCAA tournament. Outside of the “big six” conferences, The A-10 has sent the most teams to the NCAA tournament this century.
As interim coach Jim Crews said though, “you don’t start off with 25 wins, you start of with zero.” While Saint Joseph’s and Saint Louis are expected to finish atop the conference, they will have to watch their throne as every team in the league comes in with high expectations.
While the entire Billiken squad will certainly be in the Atlantic 10 spotlight this season, a couple individuals will be as well. Senior guard Kwamain Mitchell garnered first team All-Atlantic 10 honors, and junior Jordair Jett was named to the All-Defensive team.
“The difference between this year and last year is that people didn’t know Saint Louis was going to be good [last year],” senior Kwamain Mitchell said. “This year Saint Louis is going to be good so we need to keep the same agressiveness.”
Now that the blueprint has been laid to return to the Barclays Center for the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship, fans will watch with baited breath to see which team will be crowned Brooklyn’s finest in March.