The Atlantic 10 Conference tournament went pretty much according to script last March, with the higher-seeded team almost always advancing. As the league gets ready for the new season, many are optimistic they can be the team to shake things up and blow the chalk right off the bracket.
George Washington was the team that got the automatic bid to the big dance last year, and were chosen by all but two coaches to win the conference again this season. The Colonials won a program-record 29 games, and made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2007-08 season.
Despite failing to win a game in the tournament, the George Washington team that earned a 6-seed is returning four of its five starters, and will open this season ranked 21st in the USA Today preseason poll. The Colonials are ranked in the preseason for the first time in seven seasons.
"I think you're in a position where you're trying to build on last year's momentum, and keep your team hungry," said reigning A-10 Coach of the Year Jonathan Tsipis. "I think I have a very competitive group, and obviously, having two players on the preseason first team, we are really trying to continue to build on the consistency that has so long made George Washington women's basketball one of the best programs in the nation.
Those two players Tsipis mentioned are Caira Washington and reigning A-10 Player of the Year Jonquel Jones.They are joined on the Preseason All-Conference First Team by George Mason's Taylor Brown, Saint Bonaventure's Katie Healy, and Dayton's Amber Deane.
The Dayton Flyers were picked to finish second in the conference, and were the only team not named George Washington to get a first place vote. The Flyers made a name for themselves in last year's NCAA Tournament as a 7-seed, after knocking off Iowa State, Kentucky and Louisville to advance to the Elite 8.
Two key players from that team are now in the WNBA, but Dayton Head Coach Jim Jabir says he hopes to capitalize on his team's success from a year ago.
"We've lost quite a lot, but I think the way we play will make that a little easier to deal with," Jabir said. "We're going into a season with three seniors again, and they're three very talented kids, so we'll see how we all come together and how we handle the new roles because it's a new team, a new year and everything changes."
Dayton returns three starters from last year's squad. In addition to Deane, the Flyers will be relying on Kelly Austria and Jodie Cornelie-Sigmundova, who were named to the Preseason All-Conference Second and Third Teams respectively.
Duquesne's April Robinson was also named to the Preseason Atlantic 10 Second Team, and is a big reason why the Dukes were selected to finish third in the conference for the second year in a row. Robinson was called a "catalyst" and "the rock" of the program by head coach Dan Burt. Robinson set a single-season record for 3-pointers made in a season last year (87), and will be looking to help her team make their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2016.
Duquesne is coming off seven consecutive WNIT appearances, and Burt says he is hoping not to continue that streak this season.
"We're very appreciative of the WNIT, and we're honored to play in it," Burt said. "But we're tired of playing in the WNIT. We want to play in the NCAA Tournament. Three of the last five years we've been right on the bubble. It's my responsibility to take us from being a good program to a great program, and I'm hoping we do that this year."
Fordham was picked to finish fourth in the conference, and is led by senior Samantha Clark, who started every game for the Rams last season and was named to the Preseason All-Conference Third Team for the second year in a row.
Saint Louis rounds out the preseason top five, and return all five starters from a team that handed George Washington their only conference loss last season.
The conference's Rookie of the Year last season, Charise Wilson, was instrumental in her team's biggest turnaround in program history. Wilson helped the University of Rhode Island win 17 games, ten more than they had in 2013-14.
Many teams in the conference will be looking to pull off the kind of turnaround the Rams had last season, while others are trying to take that next step into the NCAA Tournament. The league features a lot of talented players, and is more ready than ever to be considered one of the best in the country.
"I think it's going to be a very interesting year (in the A-10)," Jabir said. "I think a lot of teams have improved, and our level of players have gone up. "Jonquel Jones and Caira Washington are the two that grab your attention immediately. I love both of those kids and what they're capable of doing. Sadie Stipanovich and Erin Nelson at Saint Louis are two more. You can go down the list in this league. I think it's going to be a great year for the league."