This weekend represents the end of the summer, and as such, our last offseason status of the high mid-major leagues. Up next: the Atlantic 10.
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Five Offseason Storylines
- The Evolving Conference. Recruiting new members to replace those moving on, hiring new coaches to meet rising expectations and postseason performance, and finding a brand new venue to highlight the conference championship tournament, the Atlantic 10 and its individual members continue to respond proactively to the Division I conference realignments of the past eight years.
- Changing Membership. “Atlantic 10” is a misleading description for this conference. The footprint stretches from Kingston, Rhode Island, south to Charlotte, North Carolina, and west to Saint Louis, Missouri. The membership will expand from 14 to 16 for the 2012-13 season (only… at this point). The “not quite Atlantic, not quite 10” conference will add Virginia Commonwealth University (late of the Colonial Athletic Association) and Horizon League powerhouse Butler, before returning to 14 teams in 2013-14. Two schools – Temple, a conference stalwart since 1982 will depart for the Big East, and Charlotte, a member since 2005, will rejoin Conference USA. The faces may change, but all the departing and arriving members share a common passion – outstanding college basketball.
- Changing Faces. Since expanding to 14 teams in 2005, the conference has welcomed 14 new head coaches, an average of 1.75 new regimes per season. In the early weeks of the 2012 offseason both Rhode Island and Duquesne fired their head coaches. Jim Baron’s curmudgeonly reputation was tolerated (barely) as his teams recorded four consecutive 20-win seasons. The 25-year veteran (11 in Kingston) had no good will to draw on as the Runnin’ Rams struggled through a 7-24 season. Rhode Island AD Thorr Bjorn tabbed Wagner head coach Danny Hurley as the man to bring the program back to the NCAA Tournament. The offseason shocker came with Duquesne AD Greg Amodio’s announcement that 18-year (the last six at Duquesne) veteran Ron Everhart was out. Everhart interviewed for the Penn State job in the 2011 offseason before he withdrew from consideration (much to the relief of Dukes fans). Duquesne hired 14-year veteran coach Jim Ferry, who spent the last 10 years at Long Island University, to bring stability to the roster and coaching staff.
- Changing Venues. When Saint Bonaventure cut down the nets in Boardwalk Hall last March, the conference closed out a six-year run in the venerable old facility. The 2012 conference championship will be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on track for completion next month. The brand new venue offers 675,000-square feet devoted to state-of-the-art sports and entertainment with an 18,000 seat basketball arena as the centerpiece. Given the access to the New York City media, will the stage be bright enough for the geographically diverse membership, which includes seven members not located along the Mid-Atlantic coast?
- Rick Majerus Takes a Leave of Absence from Saint Louis. For those who attended postgame pressers hosted by the Billiken mentor last season knew that head coach Rick Majerus was in fragile condition. Though he was attentive and animated during the games, his voice was lower and answers more deliberate than in previous years afterward. Athletic Director Chris May’s August 24 announcement that the 25-year veteran — the last five with Saint Louis — was in California “undergoing evaluation and treatment for an ongoing heart condition” and would not take the first chair this season at SLU was not surprising. Jim Crews, a former head coach at Evansville (1986-2002) and Army (2003-09) will assume the job on an interim basis. Crews was hired in October 2011 and was set to start his second season as an assistant when Majerus made the decision to step aside temporarily. Crews will be assisted by Jim Whitesell, also hired last offseason. The timing – late August after a stent operation in July – speaks to both Majerus’ reluctance to step aside and to his confidence in Crews and Whitesell.
Reader’s Take I
Summer Team Notes