No. 25 VCU picked to win the Atlantic 10 championship

NEW YORK (AP) — No. 25 VCU is favored to win the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball championship for a second straight season.

The Rams return four starters from last year’s team, which won the A-10 regular season and reached the NCAA Tournament. The Atlantic 10 held its media day Thursday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the league’s postseason tournament will be held in March.

VCU received 19 first-place votes from coaches and media members who cover the conference. Davidson, picked second with eight first-place votes, returns five starters for coach Bob McKillop. Dayton came in third.

VCU faces a challenging nonconference schedule to open to the season, with a home game against LSU on Nov. 13, playing Purdue in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida, and traveling to Wichita State on Dec. 21.

“We know with an older group we want to make sure we schedule really well,” said VCU coach Mike Rhoades, who is in his third season with the Rams. “And now let’s see if we can take the next step as an older group and have a great year.”

Marcus Evans, the team’s leading returning scorer, was selected to the preseason all-Atlantic 10 team. Evans came back from an Achilles’ tendon tear last season to average 13.6 points and led the team in assists.

“Now, the biggest concern is not every day about his body and how he feels,” Rhoades said. “It’s getting better as a senior and leading the way. So what’s the next step for him? Enjoy this for the last year and play really hard.”

The A-10 often produces surprising contenders, teams expected to finish toward the bottom that surge to the top. Last year, VCU was picked seventh and finished first while St. Bonaventure was picked ninth and ended up fourth.

“No. 1, you have coaches who develop players and have a program that is culturally consistent,” McKillop said. “No. 2, you don’t have those players who are developing leaving (early) for the NBA. When you have continuity and great coaching you’re going to see teams get better. That’s the hallmark of the Atlantic 10 conference. Teams get better.”

Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure round out the top five. Richmond was selected sixth and Saint Louis, which won the A-10 Tournament to reach the NCAAs last year, was picked seventh.

Duquesne was eighth, followed by George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, George Washington, Saint Joseph’s and Fordham.