RTC Summer School: Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by rtmsf on August 31st, 2012

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

Majerus Will Be Missed by A-10 Fans and Foes Next Season

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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

Butler. Originally scheduled to join the Atlantic 10 in the 2013-14 season, Butler decided to initiate the move a year earlier on the heels of a Horizon League vote to exclude the Bulldogs from the 2013 HL Tournament. With both the Horizon League and the A-10 agreeable, Butler will play a full A-10 slate this season. Ronald Nored is gone, much to the relief of 15 other A-10 coaches who will not have to prep for him, but Brad Stevens will return 56% of the minutes and 58% of the points from his 2011-12 squad and add Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke. Clarke should be eligible next season and will team up with the underrated Roosevelt Jones (sophomore forward) and Chrishawn Hopkins (junior guard) to form the nucleus of a resurgent Bulldog squad.

Charlotte. Though whispered throughout last April, the May 4 announcement that Charlotte would return to C-USA in the 2013-14 season came as a surprise to conference watchers. The 49ers will enter their last A-10 campaign with a re-engineered roster. Five contributors, graduated backcourt starters Javarris Barnett and Derrio Green and transfers K.J. Sherrill, Jamar Briscoe and Luka Voncina, will move on from a squad that posted a 13-17 record in Alan Major’s second season. Major reloads with a fifth year senior, 6’ 6” J.T. Thompson of Virginia Tech, and five freshmen, of whom 6’ 7” Willie Clayton and  6’ 8” Darion Clark have drawn the most notice, to round out his 2012-13 roster. A Bahamas exhibition tour (August 14-17) yielded a 2-0 record and several important preseason practices.

Dayton. Archie Miller returns 49.6% of his 2011-12 minutes and points, which means there will be opportunities in both the frontcourt and backcourt next season. Twice injured Josh Benson, along with senior Matt Kavanaugh, sophomore Alex Gavrilovic, junior Devin Oliver and reserve Mitch Asmus provide experience in the frontcourt. They will be joined by freshmen Jalen Roberts, Dyshawn Pierre and Devon Scott and transfer Matt Derenbecker. Transfer Vee Sanford, senior starter Kevin Dillard and reserve Dennis Willliams will provide, given the loss of Paul Williams, experience in the backcourt. Freshman guard Khari Price should get minutes. Early June rumors that Croatian guard Mislav Brzoja, denied admission to Northwestern, would join the Flyers proved false. Brzoja would have helped out right away.

Duquesne. The whispers last March that Danny Herrera, Mike Talley and T.J. McConnell intended to transfer hinted that the disappointing 2011-12 season was a prelude to another uncertain offseason. Transfers (in and out) were an ongoing fixture of Ron Everhart’s four-year regime, but the number stopped at 16 when Everhart himself was forced out days after McConnell announced his departure.  The squad returns 45% of its 2011-12 minutes and 42% of its points. Starters Sean Johnson and Andre Marhold will be joined by returning subs P.J. Torres, Kadeem Pantophlett and Mamadou Datt, along with deep bench players Sam Bott and Jerry Jones. New head coach Jim Ferry recruited three freshmen, Derrick Coulters, Quevyn Winters and Jeremiah Jones, to go with a JuCo (Marvin Binney) and transfer Ovie Soko (from UAB). Academic casualties Derrick Martin and Martins Abele should also be eligible .The backcourt was decimated by graduation and transfer, and though summer league reviews of Marvin Binney and Derrick Coulters have been cautiously optimistic, Ferry has a big rebuilding project ahead of him.

Fordham. 6’ 7” senior swing man Chris Gaston toiled through two dreadful campaigns on Rose Hill when the program posted a total of nine wins and a 1-31 record in conference play. Tom Pecora’s third season at Fordham will feature a nucleus of six sophomores headlined by guards Devon McMillan and Bryan Smith (backed up by Jared Fay, D.C. Gaitley and Jeffrey Short) to go with frontcourt players  Ryan Canty and Luko Zivkovic. Gaston, along with junior Branden Frazier, a two-year backcourt starter and senior deep bench guard Khalid Robinson will provide the leadership experience for the squad. Pecora addressed the thin front line with a pair of 6’ 8” freshmen, Travion Leonard and Ryan Rhoomes. Guards Nihad Musovic, Jermaine Myers and Mandall Thomas round out the Rams’ recruiting class. For the sophomore-heavy squad an appearance on the floor at the Barclays Center may be a stretch, but the program is at last headed in the right direction.

George Washington. The Colonials can use the extra practices and preseason exhibition games provided by their tour of Italy this month to find answers for the coming season. Mike Lonergan has to integrate/orient five new freshman and a transfer into a squad that returns 62% of the minutes and points from the team that posted a 10-21 record last season. Finishing the tour with a 3-1 record, the early returns suggest that freshmen guard Joe McDonald and forward Patricio Guarano will start alongside returning senior guard Lasan Kromah and junior forward Nemanja Mikic. The fifth spot may well go to one of senior forwards David Pellom or Dwayne Smith, sophomore forward John Kopriva, or senior guard Bryan Byrnes, but expect transfer Isaiah Armwood (taking his second foreign tour in two summers) along with freshmen Paris Maragkos, Kevin Larsen and Kethan Savage to contribute immediately.

La Salle. Starters Devon White and Earl Pettis (the A-10’s Most Improved Players last March), along with occasional contributors Matt Shehan and Matt Lopez have moved on. White will take a fifth year of eligibility to Niagara while Lopez is off to Utah State; Pettis and Shehan graduated. With a nucleus of guards Tyreek Duren, Ramone Galloway and Sam Mills, along with forward Jerrell Wright, Explorers fans expect an improvement over last season’s 21-13 record. Guards Taylor Dunn and D.J. Peterson, along with center Steve Zack should see more playing time. Virginia Tech transfer Tyrone Garland will be eligible at the end of the fall semester. Freshmen newcomers Rohan Brown (redshirt guard) and Jermaine Davis (center) have been joined by late transfers Khalid Lewis (guard, Delaware) and Garvin Hunt, a fifth year center from Penn.

Massachusetts. All-Conference First Teamer Chaz Williams headlines the squad that ran to the NIT semifinals last March. The Minutemen lost starter Sean Carter and role players Matt Hill (graduated), Jordan Laguerre (left school) and Andrew McCarthy (left the program), but Dereck Kellogg brings back Jesse Morgan (a broken wrist in July may limit his availability early), Raphiael Putney and Terrill Vinson, the unit that started the last seven games of the season. Four newcomers, freshmen Tyler Bergantino, Trey Davis and Isaac Freeman, along with transfer Derrick Gordon (Western Kentucky), will compete for time with returning contributors Sampson Carter, Maxie Esho, Javorn Ferrell, Cady Lalanne and Freddie Riley. The only question marks to resolve this summer are medical –Morgan, Lalanne and Carter continue to rehab from injuries that cut short their 2011-12 seasons, and Javorn Ferrell underwent surgery on August 10 to correct a lingering ankle injury.

Rhode Island. New head coach Dan Hurley’s extreme makeover began with the Rams’ coaching staff where he replaced four of the six staff members. He kept assistant coaches Preston Murphy and Mike Monteiro on his staff. The roster saw a similar turnover. Nine of the 14 players who logged minutes in 2011-12 are gone. Two players graduated (or exhausted their eligibility – Jim Baron dismissed a third senior, Jamal Wilson, during the season), the other six transferred (Billy Baron, Dominique McKoy, Levan Shengelia, Rayvon Harris and Blake Vedder) or were expelled before the end of the spring term (Jon Holton). Hurley has restocked with a mix of freshmen and transfers. Freshmen forward Mike Aaman and Jordan Hare will see action immediately, while transfers Jarelle Reischel (forward, Rice), Xavier Munford (guard, Iowa Western), DeShon Minnis (guard, Texas Tech) and Gilvydas Biruta (forward, Rutgers) will sit a year before contributing.

Richmond. Richmond, the fourth A-10 team to take extra practices to prepare for an exhibition series abroad,  ended its swing through Switzerland and Italy on a 3-0 high note. The team scored an average of 107.5 points per game with a 61-point average margin of victory. Good news to Spider fans who bade goodbye to another five seniors (Darrius Garrett, Josh Duinker, Zak Estes, Francis Martel and Conor Smith) last March. Chris Mooney had the chance to see his five freshmen in action (three redshirts and two true frosh). He had to like freshman forward Terry Allen’s double-digit point contribution in the last two games. Allen logged a double-double versus Gaeta Serapo in Richmond’s last game. Other double-figure contributors included redshirt freshman forward Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, seniors Darien Brothers and Greg Robbins and sophomore Wayne Sparrow. Don’t expect A-10 Freshman of the Year guard Kendall Anthony to have a quiet year.

Saint Bonaventure. The A-10 Player of the Year Andrew Nicholson was drafted by the Orlando Magic in the #19 spot of the first round in June. Forward Da’Quan Cook signed with BC Yambol in Bulgaria’s National Basketball League in July. St. Bonaventure extended head coach Mark Schmidt’s contract through the 2018-19 in May. Redshirt senior guard Michael Davenport saw his first game action since last December when he and junior guard Matthew Wright took a nine-day, five-game tour of Europe with the Global Sports Academy Select/All-Star team earlier this month. Davenport reported no problems with the shoulder that sidelined him last season. Schmidt returns 68% of the minutes played and 60% of the points scored in 2011-12. Redshirt senior contributor Jake Houseknecht decided to pass on a fifth season of eligibility, saving Schmidt a scholarship crunch as he will bring in two small forwards, Dion Wright from California and Jean Yves Toupane, a native of Senegal who finished at Lee Academy in Maine.

Saint Joseph’s. Aside from entering freshman Kyle Molock’s ACL injury (August surgery was scheduled, with the freshman expected to redshirt in 2012-13), the summer has been very quiet. And Phil Martelli could not be happier. Martelli kept the entering Class of 2010 together and St. Joseph’s was one of nine programs nationally to register a 20-win season on the heels of a 20-loss season. Are fan expectations (soaring high over Hawk Hill) justified? Consider that every minute and point from the 20-14 team that earned an NIT bid last March is back for this year’s campaign. Ten of the returners logged time in at least 10 games last season. German import forward Javon Baumann, is expected to redshirt, leaving fellow entering freshman forward Isaiah Miles the only new face in the 2012-13 rotation.

Saint Louis. News of Rick Majerus’ leave of absence cast a late summer pall of uncertainty over the Billiken program. The staff will return 76% of the minutes logged (and 75% of the points scored) in 2011-12. Gone are Kyle Cassity and Brian Conklin (and Grant Gehlen and Brian Daly). Conklin, an undersized pit bull in the low post will be missed, but redshirt guard Austin McBroom and freshmen Keith Carter (guard) and Jared Drew (forward) will be available. Interim head coach Jim Crews, a disciplinarian who forged a 353-349 record in 24 years at Evansville and Army, will set the tone with strenuous practices, but probably has the most talented squad in his career to work with.

Temple. The wave of positive publicity continues as the Owls were tabbed as #18 in ESPN’s Top 50 programs in the last 50 years. Fran Dunphy was recognized earlier this month by his Division I peers, a plurality of whom voted him the Most Underrated Coach in college basketball (see Buzzworthy below). Entering his sixth season on North Broad – Temple’s last in the A-10 — Dunphy faces possibly his biggest rebuilding job since taking the reins from John Chaney. Starters Ramone Moore (All A-10 First Team), Juan Fernandez (All A-10 Third Team) and never-consistently-healthy Michael Eric, who was effective in spurts, are gone, along with off guard Aaron Brown (Southern Mississippi). Khalif Wyatt, arrested in Atlantic City for soliciting a prostitute (an ill-considered birthday excursion), just received a third trial postponement. Yet Owl fans are optimistic. Scootie Randall, out last season with an injury, should return and West Virginia transfer Dalton Pepper has the right dimensions to step into the role defined by Dionte Christmas and Moore. Wyatt, Randall and returner Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson will form the nucleus, with T.J. DiLeo, Will Cummings, Anthony Lee and Jimmy McDonnell expected to contribute.

VCU. Virginia Commonwealth becomes the third “Ram” in the conference, hot off of a four-game barnstorming tour of Italy tour that concluded with a 4-0 sweep of the competition (average margin of victory: 55 points). Rising senior Troy Daniels, along with rising sophomores Teddy Okafor and Treveon Graham each took a turn as the team’s offensive focus, a promising development for a squad that lost the services of all-everything senior Bradford Burgess, the only loss through graduation for the squad that advanced to the third round of the NCAAs last March. Also departed are rising sophomore Reco McCarter (who transferred to Campbell). Shaka Smart will return 83.7% of the minutes and 80% of the points scored in 2011-12. Burgess’ younger brother, 6’5″ wing Jordan Burgess, along with 6’ 6” forward Mo Alie-Cox, 6’ 9” forward Justin Tuoyo and 6’ 3” guard Melvin Johnson, will join the program as freshmen this season, and will benefit from the NCAA-sanctioned practices (and games) used to prepare the squad for their tour.

Xavier. Xavier has generated plenty of news this summer, with virtually all of it bad. Graduation and eligibility losses (Andre Walker, Kenny Frease and Tu Holloway) were anticipated — planned for, actually – with the eligibility of transfer Isaiah Philmore and growing roles for Mark Lyons and Dez Wells. The intense self-examination that followed last season’s Crosstown Shootout brawl continued into the summer and may have played a large role in Mark Lyons’ transfer (he will rejoin his mentor Sean Miller in Arizona), and Dez Wells’ recent expulsion (over a sexual incident not even worthy of a grand jury). Combined with the transfer of Griffin McKenzie, these unanticipated roster changes raise the very real prospect that will this will be a rebuilding season for the Musketeers. Expect a larger-than-usual role for the freshmen — guards Semanj Christon and  Myles Davis and forwards James Farr and Jalen Reynolds.

Reader’s Take II

 

Buzzworthy

Over the past year Temple’s head coach Fran Dunphy has received a nearly continuous stream of positive press. Last October the coach shaved his iconic mustache when Dionte Christmas earned his degree, an act that provided Dunphy the opportunity (and platform) to emphasize his – and Temple’s — commitment to academics. RTC (check the Spotlight On… feature) among others took note. In January the coach and his team took a subway ride (featured by ESPN in its pregame coverage) to Philadelphia’s downtown arena on their way to an upset of then #3 Duke. An early second round exit at the hands of (future conference mate) South Florida did not dissuade his fellow coaches from voting him the Most Underrated Coach in a CBS-sponsored poll earlier this month.

Look Ahead

Fans typically temper ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s projections with the knowledge that Lunardi is a 19-year employee at Saint Joseph’s University, his latest position as the assistant vice president for marketing communications. No eyes rolled when Lunardi listed A-10 schools (Massachusetts, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis, Temple and Virginia Commonwealth) among the field of 68 in his (very) early 2013 bracket projection earlier this month. Although half of the teams that have comprised the conference since 2005 have made the Final Four at least once in its history, none since Massachusetts in 1996 have advanced to the Final Four. Since 1997 the conference has sent 48 teams (about three per season) to the NCAA Tournament. Fans may feel the conference is underappreciated because only six teams since 1997 have advanced to the Elite Eight. Lunardi’s projection, coupled with a gushing mid-summer report from Eamonn Brennan and Andy Katz suggest that ESPN finally discovered what RTC knew all along: The A-10 is stocked with high quality, competitive basketball programs. The third and fourth seeded teams in Atlantic City needed a tie breaker and seeds #5 through #8 were tied at 9-7. With the additions of VCU and Butler, expect much more of the same. Majerus’ leave of absence, the roster shakeup at Xavier, and the spate of injuries at Massachusetts are clouds on the horizon, but with a near full slate of invitations to early season tournaments and stronger non-conference schedules and some welcome favorable publicity, the conference should be able to get the RPI and mainstream media to work for them for a change. Come March the conference will have six to seven strong candidates to earn bids to the NCAA. Hopefully one of them will break through to the final weekend.

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