Atlantic 10 Summer Reset: Dayton ready to contend again
With summer recruiting heating up and summer sessions underway, SI.com is taking a look at the state of each conference. Players are listed by what year they will be in the 2016–17 season. Click here for the American and the ACC. Below, the Atlantic 10.
State of the champions: Dayton, St. Bonaventure, Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Joseph’s
There are four champions to address in this conference: Dayton, St. Bonaventure and VCU split the regular-season title, and Saint Joseph’s took the tourney crown.
Senior guard Charles Cooke’s decision last month to withdraw from the NBA draft ensured that the Flyers would bring back four of five starters (Cook, Scoochie Smith, Kyle Davis and Kendall Pollard) from the team that last season led the A-10 in adjusted defensive efficiency and was eliminated from the NCAA tournament by eventual Final Four team Syracuse. The lone starter who’s not returning, forward Dyshawn Pierre, doubled as one of Dayton’s best scorers and rebounders in 2015–16, but coach Archie Miller can craft another league champion without him.
The departure of leading scorer Marcus Posley strips St. Bonaventure of one half of the best backcourt in the A-10 last season, but the other half, junior Jaylen Adams, can lessen the blow by reprising the scoring and playmaking load he shouldered last season (which earned him a spot on our list of most surprising players). The Bonnies also lose their top rebounder from 2015–16 in Dion Wright, but 6' 10"’ forward Chinonso Obokoh will be eligible immediately after transferring from Syracuse, where he logged only 67 minutes last season.
The best news VCU received this off-season didn’t involve any player. Coach Will Wade, a Nashville, Tenn., native who was considered a target for the Vanderbilt job vacancy (since filled by Bryce Drew), signed an eight-year extension with the Rams. That doesn’t mean Wade won’t be a target for other, more high-profile jobs going forward, but VCU gets to keep him for at least one more season. Wade will have a pretty good team to work with, too: seniors JeQuan Lewis, Mo Alie-Cox and Jordan Burgess are all back.
If you watched the draft last month, you know Saint Joseph’s is losing its best professional prospect, wing DeAndre’ Bembry (first round pick to the Atlanta Hawks), but coach Phil Martelli also must replace an important piece in the Hawks’ frontcourt, 6' 7" senior Isaiah Miles—who led the A-10 in True Shooting percentage and posted the second highest offensive rating in the conference while sinking 38% of his threes during conference play, according to kenpom.com—in addition to big man Papa Ndao and guard Aaron Brown.
Notable newcomer: E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
Matthews isn’t really a “newcomer,” but he’s new in the sense that he missed almost all of last season. Plus, using Matthews here is an excuse to discuss Rhode Island, which has the potential to win the league in 2017. Voted first-team all-A-10 in the preseason after leading the Rams with 17 points per game two years ago, Matthews suffered a torn ACL in his right knee 10 minutes into the Rams’ season-opening victory against American last November. CBS reported in June that Matthews will be “fully cleared” for basketball activities by mid-September. A proficient scorer who’s adept at creating offense off the dribble, Matthews will return this season to lead a Rhode Island team that brings back guards Jarvis Garret and Jared Terrell and forwards Kuran Iverson and Hassan Martin; gets Indiana transfer Stanford Robinson eligible and, most importantly, kept coach Dan Hurley away from the Rutgers job (which was filled by former Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell).
Notable departure: Jim Crews, Saint Louis
Saint Louis fired Crews in March. He took over as interim coach in the summer of 2012, when Rick Majerus took a leave of absence because of heart issues, and was named permanent head coach prior to the 2013–14 season, after Majerus died the previous December. Though Crews led the Billikens to consecutive NCAA tournament wins in 2013 and 2014, they didn’t make the field the last two seasons, posting consecutive 11–21 records, finishing 298th and 235th, respectively, in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency rankings, and missing on nearby Chaminade College Prep five-star recruit Jayson Tatum (who chose Duke). To replace Crews, Saint Louis tabbed Travis Ford, who was fired by Oklahoma State after posting a 155–111 record in eight seasons. Don’t expect the Billikens to contend in the A-10 this season, but they have added several transfers this off-season—Javon Bess (Michigan State), Adonys Henriquez (UCF) and D.J. Foreman (Rutgers)—who could help Ford elevate the program in 2017–18.
Davidson: Jack Gibbs will need to take the next step in his development as an elite scorer and facilitator. Last season the senior led the A-10 during conference play in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and ranked second in assist rate, and only seven players in the country used a higher percentage of their teams’ possessions, according to kenpom.com, with Gibbs posting a higher Offensive Rating than all but one of them (Wyoming’s Josh Adams).
Dayton: The Flyers have a lot of talent and experience coming back, but they need to develop a sound plan for replacing the rebounding and scoring Pierre provided. If Dayton can do that, it’s a safe bet to challenge for the conference title and has a pretty good shot to win it plus earn a favorable tourney seed.
Duquesne: The Dukes need to account for the departures of their two top possession-users in guards Micah Mason and Derrick Colter, plus transfer forward LG Gill (who landed at Maryland). Junior wing Eric James can help fill the scoring void, but coach Jim Ferry will need contributions from graduate transfers Emile Blackman and Kale Abrahamson.
Fordham: The Rams must work to build on the promising first season under second-year coach Jeff Neubauer. After going 10–21 in the final two years under former coach Tom Pecora, the Rams posted a 17–14 record and finished 167th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency rankings in 2015–16, a 46-spot jump from the previous season. Neubauer gets conference rookie of the year Joseph Chartouny back and adds high-scoring Eastern Kentucky graduate transfer Javontae Hawkins.
George Mason: The Patriots will hope for better performance from a pair of promising underclassmen: guards Otis Livingston II and Jaire Grayer. If they can take modest leaps as sophomores, and senior Marquise Moore can approximate the 11.4 points per game he delivered last season, coach Dave Paulsen’s team can continue to improve in his second season in charge.
George Washington: The Colonials will look to find out the best way to use Harvard graduate transfer Patrick Steeves. Steeves, a 6' 7"’ forward from Montreal, will have two seasons of eligibility for the Colonials. He ranked 11th in the nation last season by knocking down 47.1% of his threes (70 attempts) and can help offset the losses of forwards Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen.
La Salle: Getting instant production from three high-major transfers will be key to La Salle’s season. Former Memphis guard Pookie Powell, former Syracuse forward B.J. Johnson and former South Carolina forward Demetrius Henry all will be eligible for the Explorers in 2016–17. It’s up to coach Dr. John Giannini to figure out how they can help his team improve on their sub-200 adjusted efficiency marks from last season.
Massachusetts: Can the Minutemen get their group of promising recruits to mesh with capable returnees such as guard Donte Clark and big man Rashaan Holloway? Though the Minutemen lose leading scorer Trey Davis, they’re adding one top-70 recruit (guard DeJon Jarreau) and two other three-star prospects (power forward Brison Gresham and guard Unique McLean) in the class of 2016. And one talented class of 2015 prospect (point guard Luwane Pipkins) should help out after being ruled academically ineligible last season. The Minutemen also will have Canisius transfer guard Zach Lewis available.
Rhode Island: Getting Matthews healthy for the start of the season and finding the optimal mix of scoring and playmaking with which to surround him will be the mission this summer in Rhode Island. If Hurley can do that, and get his guys to defend the way they did in 2014-15—when they ranked ninth in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom.com—this team can earn and maintain a spot in the top 25 of the polls.
Richmond: Guard ShawnDre’ Jones, big man T.J. Cline and sharp-shooting forward Marshall Wood (42 3P% in conference play last season) are back to power one of the A-10’s top offenses. Now the Spiders just need to tighten the screws on the other end of the floor, where they finished 203rd nationally in adjusted points allowed per possession, according to kenpom.com.
Saint Joseph’s: With Bembry and Miles out of the picture, Martelli will need to develop underclassmen such as center Pierfrancesco Oliva (the Hawks’ top returning rebounder at 3.7 per game) and guard Lamarr Kimble to complement junior forward James Demery (the Hawks’ leading returning scorer at 8.1 points per game) and junior guard Shavar Newkirk.
Saint Louis: Travis Ford will look to lay the foundation for a successful tenure. Ford has a reputation as a strong recruiter, but this season will offer a better glimpse of his tactical acumen. The Billikens aren’t expected to compete at the top of the league, but let’s see how well they fare in their first campaign under the embattled coach.
St. Bonaventure: While Posley and Wright are gone, coach Mark Schmidt can construct a formidable squad out of what’s left. He should hand Adams the reins on offense and hope that he builds off the massive leap he took as a sophomore in 2015–16. Obokoh’s body of work at Syracuse is limited, but the Bonnies will need him to contribute after losing Wright and forward Jordan Tyson (to transfer).
VCU: The Rams should pray that their eventual tourney draw does not feature a matchup against a scorer as prolific as Buddy Hield, who dropped 36 points in Oklahoma’s second-round win over VCU. Wade’s squad should be a tough matchup for whoever it does face, though, given its abundance of returning production and proven defensive track record.