The Atlantic 10 has scored 11 NCAA tournament bids over the past two seasons, putting it firmly on the national radar. Most of the six teams that went to the Big Dance this past March, however, will need to reconfigure after losing some important talents.
Rhode Island seems like an odd candidate for improvement, since it also lost a primary piece in leading scorer Xavier Munford. However, everyone else returns to a program that's doubled its win total since coach Dan Hurley arrived from rebuilding his first program at Wagner.
The Rams return A-10 co-Freshman of the Year E.C. Matthews, building around him a core of transfers and relatively unheralded freshmen. Matthews produced 21 points and nine rebounds in a January upset of LSU, then racked his first career double-double with 20 and 10 in a win over Dayton.
Before Hurley ever coached a game at URI, he brought in wing Jarelle Reischel from Rice, point guard Biggie Minnis from Texas Tech and power forward Gilvydas Biruta from Rutgers. Biruta averaged 10.6 points and seven rebounds last season, and the other two became solid bench performers.
URI may sport one of the best groups of post players in the A-10 if forward Jordan Hare completes his intended return to the team. The 6'10" Hare, who left school in October to handle family matters at home in Michigan, averaged 5.2 points, four rebounds and 1.8 blocks as a freshman in 2012-13.
Hare, Biruta, junior Ifeanyi Onyekaba (15.2/14.9 rebounding percentages, per Ken Pomeroy) and rising sophomore Hassan Martin (6.3 points, 5.7 rebounds) will be joined by junior college big man Earl Watson, who fell one class short of being admitted to Wichita State last fall.
Backcourt depth needs some help, but Hurley is close to clinching the services of 4-star shooting guard Jared Terrell, formerly committed to Oklahoma State. Terrell is said to be down to Boston College and URI, while Pitt has also come in with a late offer.
Hurley is proving adept at procuring talent by all possible means, and that stands as a sign of good things to come as long as he's roaming the sidelines in Kingston.