Atlantic 10 Summer Reset: VCU faces challenging, transitional off-season
With spring recruiting having closed and nearly every transfer player in place, SI.com is here to catch you up on the state of each conference heading into the summer. So far we’ve covered the AAC and ACC. Now, the A-10.
Last season’s surprise regular season champs—the Wildcats were voted 12th in the A-10’s preseason poll—lost just one regular from a team that went 14-4 in league play before bowing out to eventual tournament champion VCU. Unfortunately that one player was far-from-regular guard Tyler Kalinoski, the conference player of the year who averaged 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 42.3% from beyond the arc. Those shoes will not be filled easily, but coach Bob McKillop has long since proven that the wheels of his program are beholden to no spokes. Junior guard Jack Gibbs—16.0 ppg and 42.5% from three last season—heads a strong stable of returnees that includes 5’11” guard Brian Sullivan (12.7 ppg) and 6’4” guard Jordan Barham (11.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg). Neither KiShawn Pritchett nor Dusan Kovacevic, Davidson’s two incoming forwards, are highly rated recruits, but such has been the norm during McKillop’s decorated tenure.
As for VCU, perhaps you’ve heard: Shaka Smart left Richmond to take a job in Texas. Smart’s six seasons at VCU’s helm catapulted the Rams from Colonial Athletic Association powers to nationally relevant A-10 contenders with a Final Four appearance and ample time in the national rankings (plus, lest we forget, a CBI title). His replacement is Will Wade, a former assistant under Smart for four years who led Chattanooga to a 40-25 mark over the past two seasons. Wade wasted little time at his introductory press conference proclaiming that Havoc—the Rams’ pressure defense under Smart—“still lives here.” Trademark-wise, he has already been proven right. Upholding not only Smart’s style but also his level of success will be the real challenge. Making matters more difficult are the graduations of point guard Briante Weber and forward Treveon Graham, the decommitments of recruits Kenny Williams (now headed to North Carolina) and Jordan Murphy (Minnesota), and the transfer of rising sophomore guard Terry Larrier. Havoc, indeed.
Notable newcomer: Four McGlynn, Rhode Island
That Rhode Island even came close to making the NCAA tournament last season was thanks in large part to an elite defense that masked a highly flawed offense. Among that offense’s many inefficiencies was three-point shooting, where the Rams made just 30.5% of shots, 313th nationally and less than a percentage point better than fellow three-challenged A-10ers Saint Joseph’s, Fordham, and UMass. (Someone get this league some wider rims.) The arrival of McGlynn, a graduate transfer from Towson who can play immediately, should give the Rams a much-needed boost from outside. Though McGlynn’s accuracy dipped a bit last year—he made 37.4% of threes last year, down from 40.8% and 38.0% in his first two seasons—he would have easily supplanted E.C. Matthews (32.4%) as Rhode Island’s top marksman in 2014-15. With much of their rotation returning to Kingston, even approaching adequacy from outside could help the Rams get over the hump and back into the dance.
Notable departures: Terry Larrier (VCU) and Eric Paschall (Fordham)
Weber’s and Graham’s graduations were inevitable and the incoming recruits were unproven, but the loss of a standout sophomore-to-be might be the most disconcerting for the beginning of Wade’s tenure as VCU head coach. Larrier, a former four-star prospect, averaged 6.6 points and 3.0 rebounds in 18.5 minutes per game as a freshman; while he was inefficient on offense, he graded as a quality defender. At the very least, he offered some chance for continuity and growth from within the program at a time of such upheaval.
On the other end of the conference standings, another promising sophomore-to-be exited as well. Eric Paschall, a 6’ 6” wing who was named last season’s Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, averaged 15.9 points and 5.5 rebounds before announcing his departure after the firing of coach Tom Pecora. Paschall has landed at Villanova, a testament to the talent that could have been a big boon to new Rams coach Jeff Neubauer’s attempts to revive the program.
Davidson: Use the runaway losses to VCU and Iowa that ended last season as motivation to tighten up its halfcourt defense, which according to Synergy Sports ranked in just the 24th percentile nationally last season.
Dayton: First off, after a season in which the roster was so depleted it was hard to practice, get some rest. And then get incoming forwards Sam Miller and Xeyrius Williams up to speed and ready to reinforce a thin front line.
Fordham: Breathe some of that “new life” Neubauer has mentioned into the program. Fordham has been so bad for so long—just one winning season, in 2007, in the last 20 seasons the school has been in the A-10—that a tone and foundation must be laid before things turn around.
George Mason: New coach Dave Paulsen, who brings a strong track record from Bucknell, would do well to address two fundamentals: don’t turn the ball over (the Patriots ranked 322nd in offensive turnover rate last year) and don’t send the other team to the line (313th in opponents’ free throw rate).
La Salle: Either turn Jordan Price into a more efficient offensive player or downgrade his green light to yellow; his 38.7% shooting from the floor is troublesome when he’s taking 33.6% of the team’s shots.
Massachusetts: The graduations of starting bigs Cady Lalanne and Maxie Esho means the eligibility—and readiness—of Rashaan Armstead-Holloway, a three-star 6’10” recruit who sat out last season, could be vital.
Rhode Island: Begin developing the offensive balance between the newly arrived McGlynn and junior E.C. Matthews, who took 30.8% of the Rams’ shots while on the floor last season.
Richmond: After fine-tuning their bodies with sensors and doohickies, the Spiders will be looking for another step forward from junior guard ShawnDre’ Jones, who was named the A-10 Sixth Man of the Year (10.3 ppg, 37.6% from three) and will need to help make up for the graduation of Kendall Anthony.
Saint Joseph’s: Underrated do-everything star DeAndre Bembry will need help reviving an oft-flat offense; further improvement from three by Isaiah Miles or a return to previous form from former West Virginia transfer Aaron Brown would help open things up.
Saint Louis: With a dearth of upperclassmen, senior wing Achraf Yacoubou will need to be a steadying presence for a team that bottomed out during last year’s sudden youth movement.
St. Bonaventure: According to Synergy Sports, senior-to-be Dion Wright was the Bonnies’ most efficient post-up scorer last season (0.872 points per possession), but only accounted for 19.4% of the team’s post-ups. Finding ways to get him the ball on the block more could boost a middling offense.