Arrick Wilson, Interim Sports Editor
On Oct. 27, The Atlantic 10 conference released their annual preseason awards, along with their preseason poll, on the league’s media day that was conducted virtually via ESPN+.
In the preseason poll anticipating who would win the next A-10 title, the men’s and women’s basketball programs both placed fourth, each earning 144 votes in their respective polls. Last season both teams made it to the finals, yet this year the polls have predicted that the teams will ultimately not make it to the A-10 title.
Both teams will showcase their efforts from the offseason, playing some of the top A-10 teams like No. 1 St. Bonaventure for men’s basketball, and No. 1 Dayton for women’s basketball. In doing so, the programs will be given another chance to overcome the rankings and make it back to the A-10 championship.
Why not No. 1?
The awards and polls were chosen by a panel of the league’s head coaches and select media members, according to the A-10 website. The poll takes into account everything that has happened in the offseason with each individual team, including player injuries, new transfers, NBA draftees and seniors graduating.
The men’s St. Bonaventure team, who won the A-10 title last season, were unanimously voted first to win the A-10 again due to the Bonnies returning all five of their top-scoring starters from last year.
VCU men’s basketball head coach Mike Rhoades attributes the program being dropped in rankings despite prior success to the departure of former VCU guard Bones Hyland, who was named a first-round NBA draft pick to the Denver Nuggets on July 29, and the ruptured achilles tendon injury of top-scoring sophomore guard Ace Baldwin.
“We lost an underclassman [Hyland] in the draft, we have Ace out for a period of time recovering with an Achilles injury. So you know, right now we did lose some significant players, but we do have a group back,” Rhoades said.
Rhoades, who is entering his fifth season as head coach, is optimistic with the rating even with the Rams dealing with setbacks this offseason.
“I think it’s very fair for what [players] we have returning, and some of the key pieces that are missing out,” Rhoades said.
The Rams are returning six upperclassmen this season. Of the six players is graduate forward Levi Stockard III, who averaged a career-high of 6.5 points per game last year. Another player returning is senior guard KeShawn Curry, who had a personal season-high of 14 points last season, versus Memphis on Nov. 27.
Alongside the men’s basketball team ranking, senior forward Vince Williams was named to the preseason All-Atlantic 10 Second Team on Oct. 27. Last season, Williams was the second-leading scorer for the Rams, averaging 10.6 points while being named to the All-Atlantic 10 Third Team.
“Vince is definitely in the mix of being one of the better players in the league, and I’m excited to see him on the latest team this year as a senior,” Rhoades said.
Williams showed VCU basketball fans a preview of what to expect of himself during the Nov. 1, exhibition match versus Virginia State. In the game, Williams led the Rams with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Junior forward Hason Ward was also named to the A-10’s preseason All-Defensive Team. The St. Thomas, Barbados, native led the team’s defense with 61 blocks, and was ranked second in blocks per game in the A-10 last year with an average of 2.3. Ward was also ranked 21st in the nation in blocks per game last season, according to the NCAA.
“He [Ward] has potential to be one of the better players someday in the league, but people do recognize his defense,” Rhoades said.
Ward showed fans a sneak peek of his game in the men’s basketball Black and Gold Scrimmage on Oct. 16. In the scrimmage, Ward amassed 15 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block.
“I expect me to just play hard every game and do what I got to do to help my team win,” Ward said.
The VCU women’s program brought home to Richmond their first A-10 tournament championship, last year. This season, the Rams return seven upperclassmen, including graduate guard Taya Robinson. The Rams also return All-Atlantic Rookie Team member, sophomore guard Sarah Te-Biasu, who was the third leading scorer for the Rams averaging 10.8 per game.
VCU’s defending A-10 women’s basketball champion, Robinson, said she’s not letting these rankings get to her, as the team has somewhat seen this story before. The Rams were ranked No. 5 in the A-10 tournament last season, but ultimately claimed the A-10 championship title for themselves.
“We don’t pay much attention to [the rankings], I mean we finished fifth last season and won the whole thing,” Robinson stated.
Robinson was among the Rams picked for the A-10 preseason accolades, having been chosen for the preseason All-Atlantic First Team.
“It felt good, a nice recognition to be picked for that, but I know I still have to put in the work,” Robinson stated.
Last season, the Richmond native was selected for the All-Atlantic 10 First Team and A-10 All-Defensive Team, and named the A-10 Championship Most Outstanding Player. Robinson also became the 25th VCU women’s basketball player to score over 1,000 career points, according to VCU Athletics.
“She [Robinson] is, you know, a really special player for us in our program, and I think she’s gonna have another terrific year,” said women’s basketball head coach Beth O’Boyle.
Along with all the accolades Robinson received last year, she led the Rams in points with a 14.3 per-game average, ranking eighth in the A-10 conference. Robinson was also second in the Rams’ rebound rankings, with 6.0 average rebounds per game.
“It’s the new year, and we can’t wait to get out there. And know that it’s going to be a battle to get back to that championship,” O’Boyle said.
The men’s basketball squad will play their second regular-season game on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m., against the Wagner Seahawks. The women’s basketball squad will open up their regular season with a homecoming game on Nov. 12 at 6 p.m., against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. Both games will be played at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. For ticket information, visit vcuathletics.com.