VCU picked to win Atlantic 10 as conference looks to build on last year's NCAA success

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NEW YORK — There's a little bit of a swagger to the Atlantic 10 this season.

The league, which had five NCAA tournament teams in 2013, put six teams in last season's field despite losing Xavier, Temple and Butler to other conferences.

Once a one-or-two bid league, the A-10 had six teams win 24 or more games last season. Speaking at the conference's media day on Tuesday at the Barclays Center, coaches said they believe the league may have finally shed the image of mediocrity that comes with a mid-major label.

"It's like a player that comes as a freshman and by the time he's a senior he becomes a great player," said Bob McKillop, whose Davidson team becomes the 14th member of the conference this season. "The league has just gotten better and better and better, top to bottom."

Virginia Commonwealth, in just its third year in the conference, is again the favorite. The Rams, led by preseason all-conference picks Treveon Graham and Briante Weber, received all 28 first-place votes in the annual poll of the conference's coaches and selected media, which was released Tuesday.

Joining Graham and Weber on the all-conference first team are Dayton guard Jordan Sibert, George Washington swingman Patricio Garino, Richmond guard Kendall Anthony and Saint Joseph's forward DeAndre' Bembry.

VCU also was the preseason choice last year before finishing 26-9 and 12-4 in the A-10, losing in the conference tournament final to Saint Joseph's.

They were joined by Saint Louis, George Washington, Massachusetts and Dayton in the NCAA Tournament, with the Flyers making a memorable run to a regional final.

"Our league is going to be one of those leagues that every year there is going to be a couple teams that come out of nowhere," said Dayton coach Archie Miller. "That's what our league has always been about."

The Flyers are picked third this season, led by Sibert. They are just behind George Washington, which returns Garino and three other juniors from a team which won 24 games last season.

UMass, Richmond and Rhode Island also are expected to compete for the conference title. Last year's champion, Saint Joseph's is picked to finish eighth.

"This is a multiple-bid league," said coach Phil Martelli. "Who they are? I don't know. How many that is, I don't know. But this is a special, special time for the Atlantic 10."

VCU coach Shaka Smart said he wouldn't consider the A-10 an elite league quite yet, but doesn't believe it is a mid-major, either.

"I think we're somewhere in between," he said. "Fifteen teams have gotten NCAA tournament bids over the last three years. It's not like a flash in the pan type of deal. I think that number, 15 over three years, compares pretty favorably to almost any conference in the country."

Realignment has been a major factor. The breakup of the old Big East has led to regional recruiting opportunities that were not there before, the coaches said. The league also has retained some key rivalries, such at Richmond and VCU, or LaSalle and Saint Joseph's, making it attractive to fans and the parents of players who don't want to travel hundreds of miles to watch some road games.

Martelli and Smart said they believe the league has also done a great job scheduling non-conference opponents to show where it stacks up. The A-10 won more than 70 percent of those games last season.

"There's an opening in the Northeast to establish itself as the premier league," said George Mason's Paul Hewitt. "So, why not us?"

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