2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on November 8th, 2012
- The Best Basketball (Only) Conference in the NCAA? You Bet– With the departure of Temple (to the Big East) and Charlotte (to CUSA), A-10 fans knew the conference would not “make due” with a 12-team configuration. The question was which candidates would match best with the conference profile and mission and not in the chase for football money? The A-10 could afford to focus on candidates with high quality basketball programs, thereby offering regional rivalries to the Midwestern and Washington D.C. metro area members. Virginia Commonwealth and Butler were the logical choices as both have had recent Final Four appearances, are high quality programs, and boast two of the hottest young coaching names in Division I. Both schools accepted and the existing circumstances of member departures and arrivals means that the A-10, with 16 members and an 18-game conference slate, will have a superconference look and feel this season.
- The New TV Deal – The conference announced an eight-year partnership with ESPN, the CBS Sports Network and the NBC Sports Network, worth an estimated $40 million dollars ($5 million per year) to run from 2013-14 through 2021-22. The three media outlets will televise 64 regular season men’s games (CBS and NBC Sports Network will televise 25 apiece and the ESPN outlets will televise 14). These three outlets will divvy the responsibilities for the conference tournament with NBC televising the men’s (and women’s) quarterfinals, CBS televising the men’s (and women’s) semifinal games, and ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU televising the men’s championship game. Though financial details were not disclosed, the conference’s 14 members are expected to collect about $400,000 apiece each season.
- Brooklyn, Here We Come – A quiet affirmation that the move to lock up the Barclays Center in Brooklyn came with Hurricane Sandy. The superstorm swamped Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the Boardwalk Hall, previous site of the conference’s championship tournament. The Barclays Center has garnered positive reviews for its architecture, facilities and amenities. The brand-new facility will work out the kinks with a number of invitational tournaments (Barclays Center Classic, Coaches vs. Cancer, Legends Classic, Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival and Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational) and be ready to host the conference tournament next March.
Reader’s Take I
Predicted Order of Finish
Signs that the A-10 is in for a wild ride this season are everywhere. CBS Sports’ five basketball experts (Jeff Goodman, Doug Gottlieb, Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello) tabbed four different schools (Butler, Massachusetts, Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth) to take the regular season crown. The A-10 coaches named a fifth school – Saint Joseph’s – at the conference’s Media Day earlier this month. Note that nobody in that group is named Temple or Xavier – the two schools which have passed the regular season crown back-and-forth for the last five seasons.
- Saint Joseph’s (14-2)
- Massachusetts (13-3)
- Saint Louis (13-3)
- Virginia Commonwealth (12-4)
- Temple (11-5)
- Butler (10-6)
- La Salle (9-7)
- St. Bonaventure (8-8)
- Xavier (8-8)
- Richmond (7-9)
- Dayton (7-9)
- George Washington (6-10)
- Fordham (4-12)
- Charlotte (3-13)
- Rhode Island (2-14)
- Duquesne (1-15)
Preseason All-Conference Selections (last season’s stats in parentheses)
- G Chaz Williams, Massachusetts (16.9 PPG, 6.2 APG, 2.2 SPG) – The Minutemen finally have a point guard who knows when to drive and when to dish. The senior combines high scoring efficiency (107.6 per Ken Pomeroy) with high utilization (26.1% possession rate when he is on the floor) which can only improve as his surrounding cast matures.
- G Khalif Wyatt, Temple(17.1 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.2 SPG) – The Owls will need Wyatt if they plan to make noise in their last A-10 campaign. At 6’ 4” and 210 pounds, Wyatt is one of those senior ‘tweeners Coach Fran Dunphy consistently grooms for a leadership role.
- G Kevin Dillard, Dayton (13.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 1.4 SPG) – The Southern Illinois transfer took the reins last season and made the Flyers team his own. With the roster turnover this season expect even more of the offensive responsibility to fall to him.
- F Chris Gaston, Fordham (17.9 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 1.6 BPG) – Fordham’s senior forward is on track to finish his career among Fordham’s top five all-time scorers and rebounders. He would need a monster 572+ point season to become the Rams’ first 2,000-point scorer, but even with an “average” season he should eclipse Fordham legend Ed Conlin’s 58 year old career scoring mark.
- F C. J. Aiken, Saint Joseph’s (10.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.5 BPG) – The A-10 Defensive Player of the Year for 2012, Aiken’s 120 blocks last season fell one short of Saint Joseph’s single season record. If the trend holds Aiken should break the single season record this around, and eclipse the school record for career blocks sometime in December of 2014.
Sixth Man: Cody Ellis, Saint Louis (10.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG) – Brian Conklin’s graduation has handed the junior, an Australian import who became an efficient sub, the opportunity to nab a starting role. His 38% conversion rate from beyond the arc will bridge the scoring deficit created by Kwamain Mitchell’s untimely injury.
Impact Newcomer: Rotnei Clarke, Butler – The wing transferred in from Arkansas in the 2011 offseason and given the dearth of three point shot completions last season not a moment too soon. Clarke completed 42% of his three point attempts over three seasons at Arkansas. He will make Butler’s perimeter offense credible.
Saint Joseph’s (NCAA Seed: #5) – The Hawk should live large this season as Coach Phil Martelli returns one of the most talented squads since his 2004 #1 seed (NCAA) team. Saint Joe’s returns 99.9% of the minutes played and points scored from the roster that posted a 20-14 record on their way to the NIT postseason tournament. Although they were eliminated in the first round, 67-65, by Northern Iowa of the MVC, this squad is poised to post 24 or more wins for the fifth time in Martelli’s 16-year tenure on Hawk Hill and return the Hawks to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.
Shades of the 2004 squad, Saint Joseph’s 2012-13 team begins in the backcourt. For the third consecutive year, senior Carl Jones (36.5 MPG, 17.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.3 APG) will team with juniors Langston Galloway (35.7 MPG, 15.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG) and 6’6” wing Daryus Quarles (20.2 MPG, 4.9 PPG, 1.1:1.0 ATO). Sophomore Chris Wilson (20.5 MPG, 3.3 PPG, 2.7 APG) returns to the rotation to give the Hawks a potent backcourt. Galloway nailed 46% (90-193) of his three point attempts, earning him quite a bit of attention from perimeter defenders. Those four, along with role players Evan Maschmeyer, Chris Coyne and Taylor Trevisanposted 56.1% of the points scored in 2011-12.
The frontcourt also features a rotation that has played together for at least two seasons. Junior C. J. Aiken (31.4 MPG, 10.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.5 BPG) drew most of the attention when he entered as a freshman, but fellow junior Ronald Roberts (25.0 MPG, 10.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG) started 12 games as a freshman and increased his playing time in the rotation last season. Fellow junior Halil Kanacevic (27.9 MPG, 8.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG) transferred in from Hofstra and though he sat for the 2010-11 season, practiced with Aiken and Roberts. 6’8” sophomore Papa Ndao, a native of Senegal, started four games last season and saw spot duty behind Aiken, Roberts and Kanacevic. Expect Ndao to see more playing time this season as he pushes Roberts and Aiken. Given the experience and talent, freshmen forward Isaiah Myles will get great experience … in practice. Freshman forward Javon Baumann and (injured) freshman guard Kyle Molock will redshirt.
The schedule features an early season clash with Notre Dame in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn with a following game against either Brigham Young or Florida State. December will include tough away games with well-regarded Drexel and Villanova (both City Series rivals). 10 or more wins going into conference play would bode very well for Martelli’s charges.
Other Postseason Teams
- Massachusetts (NCAA Seed: #7) – Coach Derek Kellogg pulled himself off of the hottest seat in the conference last season when the Minutemen posted a 25-12 record, the best in Kellogg’s tenure in Amherst. Massachusetts returns 85% of the minutes and 89% of the points from the squad that ran to an NIT semifinal finish. Consensus All-Conference first teamer Chaz Williams (34.9 MPG, 16.9 PPG, 6.2 APG) will again team with junior Jesse Morgan (26.7 MPG, 9.9 PPG, 2.9 APG) (if Morgan’s broken wrist has healed) in the backcourt. Kellogg will look to sophomores Maxie Esho (13.8 MPG, 5.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG) and Cady Lalanne (14.9 MPG, 6.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG), a pair of 6’8”/6’9” ‘tweener forwards, who will balance the loss of departed center Sean Carter’s bulk with mobility. Seven foot newcomers Tyler Bergantino and Isaac Freeman will also see minutes in the low post. Senior Terrell Vinson (26.2 MPG, 9.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG) and sophomore Raphiael Putney (24.2 MPG, 10.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG) round out the starting frontcourt. Seniors Freddie Riley and Javron Farrellcomplete the rotation and will supply firepower if needed. The toughest opponents on Massachusetts’ non-con slate – Harvard, Puerto Rico Tip-Off opponents Providence and possibly NC State (and Oklahoma St./Tennessee), and Miami (FLA) – come December 1 and earlier. The staff will have the balance of December to tweak before conference play begins.
- Saint Louis (NCAA Seed: #8) – The consensus projected champion as of last April, the Billikens’ ride to this season got bumpy when Rick Majerus’ chronic heart problems sidelined the 25 year veteran in late August. Aside from losing starter Brian Conklin (an overachiever at the forward/center spot last season) and guard Kyle Cassidy, the Bills return 76% of the minutes and 75% of the scoring from the 26-8 team that ran to the third round of the NCAA last March. Assistant coach Jim Crewes, a journeyman with 24 years of head coaching experience at Evansville (294-209) and Army (59-140) will guide Saint Louis this season. Crewes, a long-time Bobby Knight assistant at Indiana, has Knight’s temperament, but does he have Knight’s acumen? Kwamain Mitchell’s broken ankle (announced October 15) complicates the picture. Mitchell, who would have been this writer’s pick for the A-10 preseason Player of the Year and consensus First Team, is expected back in mid/late December, but how effective will he be in the last 90 days of the season? The backcourt features shooting guard junior Mike McCall (22.9 MPG, 7.0 PPG, 3.3 APG), with sophomore rotation player Jordair Jett (22.2 MPG, 6.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG) and freshman Keith Carter (Provost East in Chicago) who will bridge the gap in Mitchell’s absence. Carter is a true point guard, which should earn him a hard long look by Crewes. The frontcourt is solid, with returnees Dwayne Evans (junior, 25.1 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG) at small forward spot and junior center Rob Loe (16.3 MPG, 5.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG) whose dimensions masked an outside game that confounded opponents. Conklin’s power forward spot will be taken by senior Cody Ellis (21.2 MPG, 10.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG), a sometime starter in 2010 and 2011 before being displaced by Conklin. The non-conference schedule should not be too strenuous (thankfully given Mitchell’s recovery) with Texas A&M and Kansas/Washington State in the CBE Classic and a trip to Seattle for a rematch with Washington, a team Saint Louis throttled 77-64 at the Chaifetz last season as the major challenges. If the Billikens can start conference play with 13 or 14 wins, the prospects for a conference title are excellent.
- Virginia Commonwealth (NCAA Seed: #8) – Shaka Smart offers a strong contender for “Best in Conference” backcourt with senior Darius Theus (31.2 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 4.7 APG) manning the point and Troy Daniels (24.4 MPG, 10.0 PPG, 94-247 38.1% for 3 point shots) at the off guard. Filling out the backcourt rotation, sophomores Teddy Okereafor (5.6 MPG, 0.8 PPG, 1.3:1.0 ATO), Briante Webber (18.7 MPG, 4.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG) and Rob Brandenburg (25.9 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 1.8 APG), along with 6’ 3” freshman combo guard Melvin Johnson will split minutes. Junior Juvonte Reddic,(27.3 MPG, 10.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG) and sophomore Jared Guest (4.1 MPG, 0.9 PPG, 0.6 RPG) give the Rams’ frontcourt a small but athletic/quick feel as they top out at 6’9” (Reddic). For more height/bulk, Smart has a low post/wing rotation that includes 6’5” sophomore Taveon Graham (16.8 MPG, 7.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG) and two freshmen, 6’9” Justin Tuoyo and 7’ D. J. Haley. Heralded freshman Justin Burgess, the brother of VCU favorite Bradford Burgess did not qualify academically and is sidelined this season. VCU blends experience (84% of the minutes and 80% of the points return) and youth well, which should keep Smart’s charges in the hunt for a conference title, but that first run through the conference might spring a few surprises for the newcomers.
- Butler (NCAA/NIT) – Brad Stevens has 44.9% of the minutes and 43.5% of the points scored by the club that logged a 23-15 record overall (11-7 in the Horizon League) last season available as the Bulldogs play their inaugural season in the A-10. Notable absences include Ronald Norad, a backcourt spark plug and Chrishawn Hopkins, a 24 game starter dismissed in September. Arkansas transfer (and RTC’s Impact Newcomer) Rotnei Clarke and will pair with either senior Chase Stigall (22.4 MPG, 5.2 PPG, 2.1 RPG) or freshman Kellen Dunham, the Indiana scoring champion last season for the starting backcourt. Jackson Aldridge (13.7 MPG, 3.7 PPG, 0.9 APG), freshmen Devontae Morgan and Chris Harrison-Docks round out the backcourt rotation. 6’ 11” senior Andrew Smith (26.4 MPG, 6.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG) anchors the low post and teams with junior Khyle Marshall (21.2 MPG, 9.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and sophomore Roosevelt Jones (27.8 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.1:1.0 ATO) to fill out the front court. Sophomore Kameron Woods (17.6 MPG, 4.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG), junior Erik Fromm (11.0 MPG, 4.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG) and sophomore Andrew Smeathers (5.4 MPG, 1.4 PPG) provide frontcourt depth. Clarke will supply some long range fire power missing from the 2011-12 squad, but successful perimeter offense in the A-10 will require at least two legitimate outside threats. Stigall, Woods and/or Fromm will have to improve greatly. Or Dunham will have to pick up where he left off in high school.
- Temple (NCAA Seed: #9) – Can Fran Dunphy again work some magic in the Owls’ conference curtain call? Temple may be light in returning minutes (52%) and scoring (46%) from the 2011-12 squad, but the Owls do not lack experience as redshirt senior Scootie Randall returns for his last season, junior West Virginia transfer Dalton Pepper and Jake O’Brien, a fifth-year senior from Boston University will take minutes on the wing and frontcourt. Senior Khalif Wyatt (33.0 MPG, 17.9 PPG, 3.3 APG) and sophomore Will Cummings (6.3 MPG, 1.4 PPG, 0.4 APG) will split the point guard minutes, with Wyatt, Randall, fifth year senior T. J. DiLeo (16.5 MPG, 2.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG), Pepper and two freshmen, Daniel Dingle and Quentin DeCousey divvying minutes at the off guard and small forward. Senior Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (33.9 MPG, 9.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG) will start at power forward while O’Brien (his ankle willing) and sophomore Anthony Lee (17.8 MPG, 5.0 PPG, 1.2 BPG) will split time in the low post. Freshmen Devontae Watson’s length (6’ 10”) is too tempting to leave out of the mix. Temple’s success will be tied to Cummings’ progress at the point and whether Dunphy can craft another Deonte Christmas or Ramone Moore out of his collection of ‘tweeners. Games at Villanova, with Duke, Syracuse (at Madison Square Garden) and at Kansas, all in the month between December 5 and January 6, should provide fans with a good early look.
- La Salle (NIT) – The Explorers boast a backcourt strong enough to go with a three guard lineup – junior Tyreek Duren (35.0 MPG, 13.2 PPG, 4.0 APG), junior Sam Mills (35.5 MPG, 10.6 PPG, 2.6 APG) and senior Ramon Galloway (33.3 MPG, 14.1 PPG, 3.1 APG) – with sophomore D. J. Peterson (17.9 MPG, 3.0 PPG, 1.7:1.0 ATO), junior Taylor Dunn (7.1 MPG, 1.3 PPG) and junior transfer Tyrone Garland (Virginia Tech, eligible in late December) providing a deep reserve. The big questions are up front. La Salle’s head coach Dr. John Giannini can count on sophomore Jerrell Wright (19.8 MPG, 9.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG) an All-Conference Rookie First Teamer last March, but the low post is problematic. Sophomore Steve Zack (9.5 MPG, 1.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG) will most likely start with fifth year senior Garvin Hunt from Penn to split the time. Look for redshirt freshman Rohan Brown and true freshman Jermaine Davis (after he drops 20 pounds) to round out the frontcourt rotation. The Explorers fortunes will rest on how quickly Zack (and Davis and Brown) develop and how well the backcourt can mask the frontcourt weaknesses.
- Saint Bonaventure (NIT/CBI) – Andrew Nicholson has moved on, but coach Mark Schmidt’s cupboard is hardly bare. The backcourt rotation is intact, junior Charlon Kloof (25.0 MPG, 6.5 PPG, 2.7 APG), senior Eric Mosley (16.2 MPG, 6.6 PPG, 1.2:1.0 ATO), redshirt senior Michael Davenport, sophomore Jordan Gathers (11.7 MPG, 1.1 PPG, 2.7:1.0 ATO), junior Matthew Wright (27.3 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG) and senior Chris Johnson (15.7 MPG, 6.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG) give Schmidt the option to go big, quick, lockdown defense or bombs away offense. Most likely Kloof, Davenport and one other will start to give St. Bonaventure a three guard look. The frontcourt will feature veteran senior Demetrius Congers (33.5 MPG, 12.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG), a two-year starter, who will start alongside … ? Choices include Marquis Simmons, a 6’ 8” combo forward injured in the first game of the 2011-12 season, 7’ sophomore Youssou Ndoye (10.4 MPG, 2.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG) who appeared in 31 games last season (starting once) and three freshmen. Seven-footer Mattias Runs was a late addition while the two 6’ 7” forward/guards, Dion Wright and Jean Yves Toupane need weight (and experience). The Bonnies will live or die by their guard play, and whether Davenport and Johnson can comfortably play up a position. Road games at NC State and Colorado State should tell fans if the Bonnies’ short comings are exploitable.
- Xavier (CBI/CIT) – The Musketeers usually return fewer minutes and points than half the conference, but that turnover is masked by the deep pipeline of the program’s bench. By judiciously blending late blooming (and opportunistically acquired) transfers with well-regarded redshirt freshmen, Chris Mack’s program has been able to count on an annual supply of promising prospects who could join the works-in-progress from the year before to restock the roster. Blame it on The Brawl, a run of bad luck or an out of synch administration and program staff, but the Musketeers take on their typically challenging slate of opponents this season with a shockingly short pool of talent (nine scholarship players and three walk-ons), some of whom were recruited in late August. The backcourt will feature sophomore Dee Davis (11.1 MPG, 1.9 PPG, 0.81 APG in 2012) and senior Brad Redford (11.1 MPG, 3.2 PPG, 0.7 RPG in 2012) with spot relief from junior walk-on Landen Amos. Freshman guard Semanj Christon (6’3” 187 lbs) has an opportunity to make a huge impact. The frontcourt will be manned by returning wings Jeff Robinson, a 6’10” junior (13.6 MPG, 3.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG), sophomore Justin Martin (11.8 MPG, 2.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG) and transfer Isaiah Philmore. The NCAA ruled Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis, two freshmen expected to help immediately, are ineligible this season. While both have enrolled for classes, they will not be permitted to practice with the team.
- Dayton – Senior center Matt Kavanaugh’s suspension, announced less than a week before Dayton’s first exhibition game, has scrambled an already unsettled roster. Kavanaugh, paired with returning senior forward Josh Benson (26.5 MPG, 10.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG), would have given the Flyers a “twin towers” look at both ends of the court that might have gone a long way to replace the scoring and rebounding lost from last season’s squad. The Flyers return 37.8% of the minutes and 37.1% of the scoring from the 20-13 squad that notched a 9-7 record in conference play on their way to an NIT berth. Preseason All-Conference first team pick Kevin Dillard (32.7 MPG, 13.3 PPG, 6.0 APG) combines with a wholly rehabilitated Benson (ACL tear) to give Dayton an inside-outside punch. Beyond those two, Alex Gavrilovic (12.9 MPG, 4.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG – recovering from a bout of mononucleosis) and Georgetown transfer Vee Sanford, second year coach Archie Miller has to sift through a collection of rotation players (juniors Mitch Asmus and Devin Oliver, sophomore Matt Derenbecker) and freshmen (Jalen Robinson, Dyshawn Pierre – frontcourt and Khari Price in the backcourt) to fill out the starting lineup and rotation. Oliver and Robinson appear to be early favorites for frontcourt minutes. Miller however has too many holes to fill this season. Winning nine games again will be a stretch.
- Richmond – Conference Freshman of the Year Kendall Anthony (25.5 MPG, 13.0 PPG, 1.7 APG) will resume his sixth man role, coming off the bench to spell either junior point guard Cedrick Lindsey (32.2 MPG, 11.2 PPG, 3.7 APG) or senior off guard Darien Brothers (30.3 MPG, 14.6 PPG,1.2:1.0 ATO ), the squad’s leading scorer in 2011-12. Look for junior Derrick Williams (25.9 MPG, 11.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG), a 6’ 7” wide body who has range out to the three point line (14-40, 35%). Coach Chris Mooney has two frontcourt spots to fill, and he has returnees – senior Greg Robbins (16.9 MPG, 3.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG) and sophomore Wayne Sparrow (9.3 MPG, 2.9 PPG, 1.1 RPG) – redshirt freshmen – 6’ 11” Luke Piotrowski and 6’ 9” Alonzo Nelson-Ododa – or even a true freshman 6’ 8” Terry Allen of Houston, Texas to mix and match in the two forward spots. Heights range from 6’3” (Sparrow) to 6’11” (Piotrowski), so the fans can expect a frontcourt rotation that will feature several distinct looks to the Spider offense and defense. Frontcourt development holds the key to how quickly this squad will gel and how many games they will win. The away games at Minnesota and Kansas should give a good measure of how the frontcourt is developing going into conference play.
- George Washington – Second year coach Mike Lonergan returns 62% of the minutes and 64% of the points scored on a team that won 10 games in his first season at the Washington D.C. school. Lonergan will continue the rebuilding project with seniors David Pellom (26.8 MPG, 10.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG) – when he returns from wrist surgery sometime in November – and Lasan Kromah (29.4 MPG, 11.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG). Pellom will set the tone in the frontcourt while Kromah will provide punch from the backcourt. There is a starting lineup to fill, and Lonergan, consistent with his approach last season, will sift through newcomers, both transfers and freshmen, to fashion the pieces for the team. In the frontcourt, expect to see Villanova transfer Isaiah Armwood, a 6’ 8” banger alongside Pellom. Armwood should improve the scoring and rebounding over last season’s frontcourt output. Junior Nemanja Nemic (24.5 MPG, 7.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG) and sophomore John Kopriva (12.7 MPG, 2.7 PPG, 2.0 RPG) will draw playing time, while freshman 6’ 11” Kevin Larsen, the tallest player on the squad, will get some early looks in the low post. Kromah will pair with one of freshman Joe McDonald, freshman Kethan Savage or senior Bryan Bynes (20.0 MPG, 4.4 PPG, 1.6 APG). The heavy favorite is McDonald. Armwood and McDonald will give the Colonials a stronger scoring presence, but they cannot singlehandedly close GW’s uncompetitive gap with conference opponents.
- Fordham – Coach Tom Pecora opens his fourth campaign as the Rams’ mentor with the most talented squad yet assembled in his tenure. Sophomores Ryan Canty and Luka Zivkovic will provide depth for senior forward Chris Gaston (33.9 MPG, 17.1 PPG, 9.9 RPG), named to the preseason All-Conference First Team, but Pecora will have to get immediate help from freshmen Travion Leonard and Ryan Rhoomes for the Fordham program to build on the progress made in the last three seasons. The backcourt is rock solid as sophomores Bryan Smith (30.2 MPG, 9.2 PPG, 1.3 SPG) and Devon McMillan (27.1 MPG, 7.1 PPG, 2.9 APG), along with junior Brandon Frazier (33.9 MPG, 11.9 PPG, 4.1 APG) all return to lead an especially deep backcourt contingent. Freshman guards Mandell Thomas and Jermaine Myers, will have to push to carve out playing time. An especially challenging out of conference schedule that includes the Preseason NIT and games with Harvard, Georgia Tech and Mississippi should get the Rams ready for conference play. Four or five conference wins is possible.
- Charlotte – Senior center Chris Braswell (29.8 MPG, 15.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG) and sophomore point guard Pierria Henry (30.2 MPG, 7.2 PPG, 3.4 APG) headline the squad that returns 59.6% of the minutes and 58.7% of the points scored last season. Coach Alan Major will look to junior DeMario Mayfield and sophomore Victor Nickerson to build on their strong first seasons as 49ers. At least one from newcomers Denzil Ingram, Darion Clark and Willie Clayton (freshmen), along with J.T. Thompson (fifth year senior transfer from Virginia Tech) should start while the others draw playing time. This will be Charlotte’s last season in the A-10, and coupled with an unfavorable home-away breakdown of the conference schedule should hold this squad’s conference win total to four or five.
- Rhode Island – For the second consecutive season Rhode Island’s returning minutes (38.5%) and scoring (34.2%) rank near the bottom of the conference. New Coach Dan Hurley (Wagner of the NEC) aggressively recruited both transfers and freshmen to fill the gaps left by attrition and outbound transfer. Most of the incoming transfers (Gilvydas Biruta, Rutgers; Jarelle Reischel, Rice; DeShon Minnis, Texas Tech) will have to sit this season, so the full effect of this effort will not be felt until next season. The good news – next season should mark a significant turnaround for the program. The bad news – the program has to field a team of uncertain veterans and freshmen this season. Returnees Mike Powell (guard 30.4 MPG, 8.7 PPG, 1.1:1.0 ATO), Andre Malone (guard, 23.5 MPG, 9.3 PPG, 0.6:1.0 ATO) and Nikola Malesvic (forward, 25.9 MPG, 11.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG) anchor the squad. JUCO Xavier Mumford (Iowa Western College) will team with Powell and complete the backcourt. Support for Malone and Malesvic, two forwards who struggled last season, will come from senior Ryan Brooks, freshman center Jordan Hare (likely to start), freshman Nigerian Ifeyani Onyekaba (just cleared by the NCAA to practice) and freshman Mike Aaman. Sophomore T. J. Buchanan and fifth year senior Alwayne Bigby (Northeastern) complete the backcourt rotation. Next year …
- Duquesne – Coach Jim Ferry faces a huge rebuilding project in his first season at the helm. The Dukes return 45.4% of the minutes and 42% of the points scored from the squad that posted a 16-15 (overall) and 7-9 (conference) record last season. Of the team’s top six scorers, only senior forward Sean Johnson (25.9 MPG, 13.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG) – the lone 2012 starter – and junior forward Jerry Jones (19.4 MPG, 6.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG) return. The other three starting spots and four-to-five rotation spots will come from a pool of six returning players (front court – senior Andre Marhold, junior Martins Abele, redshirt sophomore Derrick Martin, sophomores Mamadou Datt and Kadeem Pantophlet — and backcourt – sophomore P. J. Torres) and four newcomers (freshman Quevyn Winters in the frontcourt along with JUCO Marvin Binney and freshmen Derrick Colter and Christian Johnston in the backcourt). The program may be headed in the direction AD Greg Amodio envisioned when he fired Ron Everhart in March, but it will not be reflected in the one-to-two conference wins this season.
Reader’s Take II
Rotnei Clark gets this writer’s vote as the impact newcomer, but make no mistake, there are enough impact newcomers to fill an All-Conference Team. Shooting guard Vee Sanford, a Georgetown transfer, will crack Dayton’s starting lineup (and give the Flyers an “all transfer” backcourt). George Washington starting power forward Isaiah Armwood was named Villanova’s team captain as a sophomore, just before he transferred to GW. Virginia Tech transfer, off guard Tyrone Garland, is good enough to draw minutes in La Salle’s backcourt rotation when he becomes eligible in December. JuCo (Western Iowa College) Xavier Munford will start at shooting guard for Rhode Island this season. Temple will rely heavily on fifth year senior Jake O’Brien, a 1,000 point scorer at Boston University, and sophomore center Anthony Lee shoulder the load in the low post this season. Towson transfer Isaiah Philmore will not only start but have to take an even larger scoring load for Xavier this season if the Musketeers are to continue their string of postseason appearances.
Invitations to Butler and Virginia Commonwealth reinforced the rock-solid commitment the A-10 has to the conference’s signature sport. The two newcomers have played Final Four minutes under their current coaches and are stellar additions to the membership. Several analysts have projected Butler or Virginia Commonwealth as conference titlists this season, which shows how little those analysts really know about A-10 basketball.
Spotlight on… Young Coaches
Butler and Virginia Commonwealth bring not only solid basketball programs to the party, but those programs are led by two of the hottest young coaches in NCAA Division I, Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart. Both Stevens and Smart have turned aside the seductive proposals of power conference suitors – at least to this point in their careers – to labor in the less showy but nevertheless fruitful vineyards of a non-power conference school… which happens to place a very high value on their basketball. Stevens and Smart are not the only young faces to pace the A-10’s sidelines this season as the conference has become something of an incubator for youthful coaches.
Richmond’s baby-faced Chris Mooney, Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley, Dayton’s Archie Miller, Massachusetts’ Derek Kellogg, Xavier’s Chris Mack, among others, with a total of nine who have less than a decade of head coaching experience (St. Bonaventure’s Mark Schmidt has coached 11 years; Duquesne’s Jim Ferry has coached 10 years). Seven have winning records; collectively they are 723-440 (0.622) and have garnered 12 bids to the NCAA tournament, four bids to the NIT, and five bids to the CBI/CIT tournaments. And if Stevens, Smart and Mooney are an indication, the conference will enjoy their work for years to come.
Sixteen teams will guarantee fans a different experience every time their team takes the court. From Temple and Butler and VCU’s (and Rhodi’s) frenetic speed to Saint Joe’s and Saint Louis’ deliberate approach to offense, fans will see basketball played at every conceivable pace. The varieties of offense and defense ensure those who earn postseason bids will have a deep inventory of experience to draw on for anything they might encounter from other conference representatives. Young(er) coaches were highlighted earlier, but Fran Dunphy, Phil Martelli, Mark Schmidt and Jim Ferry have built winners, either here in the A-10 or elsewhere. Given that mix and increased exposure, fans (or at least the national media) will start to understand that the A-10 is becoming a “Coaches Conference.” That is the kind of identification that will continue to draw quality players. The players (especially the backcourts this season) and coaches know that their games will be competitive and very watchable. Seeds for the conference championship tournament have typically been decided on the last day of conference play. This season promises more of the same.