2015-16 Atlantic 10 Basketball Preview

Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Preview

It’s October, which calls for the annual college basketball conference previews. Here is your Atlantic 10 basketball preview.

1. Davidson: The Davidson Wildcats are coming off of another successful season after getting to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Under head coach Bob McKillop the Cats finished 24-8 and are looking to reload after its playing first season in the Atlantic 10. Davidson is getting its core nucleus of guards back with senior Jordan Barham and junior Jack Gibbs. In addition to a strong backcourt, the Wildcats also possess sophomore forward Peyton Aldridge who averaged only 9.4 point per game but had a strong showing in the NCAA tournament and finishing the season with 14 points in a second round loss to Iowa. Coming off a decent freshman season, Aldridge will look to play an impact for the Wildcats.

Player to watch: Davidson will be relying heavily on incoming freshman Dusan Kovacevic who was born in Serbia but played all four years of high school basketball in Georgia. Kovacevic is strong on the boards and will be relied on heavily following the loss of former center Tyler Kalinoski who after playing four years with the Wildcats signed a summer league contract with the Miami before signing with french club Elan Chalon. If Kovacevic can provide the same production Kalinoski provided, look for the Wildcats to stand on top of the Atlantic 10 once more.

2. Dayton: Despite losing three players last year due to disciplinary issues, Archie Miller put together one of the most impressive seasons coaching wise despite being physically over-matched and lacking depth. Lead by Jordan Sibert, the Flyers once again continued to wreak havoc despite not having overpowering statistics during the season. In fact the category that Dayton ranked highest in was points allowed which only went for being 40th in the nation. Despite the numbers, last season the Flyers finished the season 27-9 with an unbeaten record at home and making it all the way to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season.

Player to watch: Scoochie Smith will provide the veteran leadership to balance out Dayton’s offense. Smith is a point guard that can run Griffin’s offense but also has the ability to be a playmaker when the time is needed. He has a strong midrange game as well as the ability to penetrate should give the Flyers a calming presence at the point guard position.

3. Rhode Island: Rhode Island basketball is famous for two things: Lamar Odom played there and actor Bill Murray’s son works as an assistant coach. As a program the ‘Rhodys’ are on the rise. Thanks to coach Dan Hurley (who is the son of Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley and younger brother of Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley) the Rams have climbed back into relevancy going from the worst team in the A-10 just two seasons ago to earning a trip to the NIT tournament in 2015.

Player to watch: Point guard EC Matthews will only get better and has been the leader of the Rams since he set foot on campus as a freshman. As a result he was named the A-10 freshman of the year in 2013-14. Matthews who is a native of Detroit is left handed and dictates the game with his strong hand. In addition he is an excellent perimeter shooter off the dribble and can score through contact. Matthews, now a junior will look to help Hurley get the Rhode Island Rams into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999.

4. VCU: After winning the Atlantic 10 tournament last season the Rams are in rebuilding mode having lost former head coach Shaka Smart who took his Havoc style of play to the Texas Longhorns. It also didn’t help that VCU lost leading scorer Treveon Graham to the NBA. Fortunately new head coach Will Wade was an assistant under Smart from 2009-2013 and the Rams went 111-39 during that span including a trip to the Final Four in 2011. Can Wade bring the same charisma and intensity that helped make VCU one of most electric teams in the country? That remains to be seen.

Player to watch: VCU will be relying heavily on Mo Alie-Cox who is one of the few remaining veterans from last season’s team. Alie-Cox is one of the most athletically gifted and strongest players in the A-10 pound for pound. He lead the Rams last season in blocks and was second in rebounds. It will be up to Alie-Cox to set the tone for a Rams team that has four incoming freshman this season.

5. Richmond: Richmond has not made the NCAA tournament since 2011 but that doesn’t mean the fate for the Spiders can’t change. Head coach Chris Mooney has taken the Spiders to the tournament twice during his nine seasons as coach. Mooney has plenty of athleticism to be competitive in the A-10, but could be on the hot seat after this season if the Spiders fail to make progress. Last season Richmond finished fifth in the conference standings.

Player to watch: Terry Allen is a forward that can play either 3 or 4 because of his size. Allen lead the Spiders last season in rebounding but can also stretch out the floor with his perimeter game. In addition to being a consistent scorer Allen is a sneaky defender and lead Richmond in steals. An area of Allen’s game that will need to be improved is his decision making. Last season he turned the ball over 67 times in 35 games which accounts to nearly two turnovers per game.

6. George Washington: George Washington is looking to build off of last season’s sixth place which was a rebuilding year for the Colonials. After earning a trip to the NCAA tournament in 2014 under Mike Lonergan’s squad was able to have early success in 2015 winning six of its first eight non conference games well picking up a marquee win against #11 ranked Wichita State. However, the Colonials struggled mightily down the stretch in conference losing six of its final ten games.

Player to watch: One of the big surprises to come out of the A-10 was Yuta Watanabe. Watanabe who was born in Japan showed a lot of growth as a freshman throughout the season and in his final game against Temple in the NIT he scored 15 points. He also scored a career high 21 points against UMass. Now a sophomore, Watanabe could be one of the best all-around players in the conference. Watanabe is very stretchy at 6’7 and with solid ball-handling skills he can play the point guard position if needed. Watanabe is also a consistent scorer and has the ability to create his own shot.

7. St. Bonaventure: There was a time, 45 years ago to be exact, the Bonnies were the talk of the NCAA. They had future NBA Hall of Fame great Bob Lanier on their side and were supposed to be the team to knock off John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins. However Lanier suffered an injury just before the team went to the Final Four and, in a nutshell, tells you the illustrious history of Bonnies basketball. Now the Bonnies are trying to reclaim the glory days and have made progress thanks to Mark Schmidt who got his team back to the NCAA tournament in 2011.

Player to watch: This season the Bonnies will be turn toward Marcus Posley to lead the offense. Posley who is known as ‘Mr. Clutch’ in Allegany, NY led the Bonnies 16.7 points per game. How did Posley get the nickname? Last season Posley scored game winning shots against both VCU and Davidson. Posley shot only 38.2 percent from the field last year, but he is known to hit big shots when his team needs them the most. The Bonnies will need Posley to be productive once again in his senior season to contend for a conference championship.

8. Massachusetts: The Minutemen are in rebuilding mode after a disappointing season where they finished eighth in the conference standings. UMass made it to the NCAA tournament in 2014 with Cady Lalanne playing a significant role in the team’s success but then failed to gain any momentum the following season. As a result the Minutemen lost five of its last six games including a first round exit to La Salle in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Player to watch: UMass will find support from Trey Davis to lead the frontcourt. Now a senior, Davis averaged 10.8 points per game last season. The Minutemen will be more reliant on Davis after the loss of Lalanne who was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs. The 6’1 Texas native is a good mid-range shooter and also has a high basketball IQ that allows him to find the open man on the fastbreak or in transition.

9. La Salle: The Explorers are looking to return to the glory of 2013 when La Salle made a surprise run in the NCAA tournament to the Sweet 16. This past season however the Explorers fell short of making another postseason appearance losing to Davidson 67-66 in the second round of the A-10 tournament. La Salle has potential to be solid enough offensively this season with redshirt junior Jordan Price who led the Explorers in scoring last season.

Player to watch: Jordan Price will look to continue to improve on where he left off in the 2014-2015 season. A transfer from Auburn, Price is a scoring point guard with plenty of muscle to attack the basket. Price will need to improve his shot selection after shooting just 38.1 percent from the field last season.

10. St. Joseph’s: Last season a loss to lowly Fairleigh Dickinson set the tone for what was to come for the Hawks. As a result the Hawks finished ninth in the conference rankings and were ousted out of the round of the A-10 tournament a year after qualifying for the NCAA tournament. St. Joseph’s were one of the worst outside shooting teams in the Atlantic 10  with a three point shot percentage of 29.1 compared to an opponent’s percentage of 34.1. Head coach Phil Martelli knows the ups and downs of coaching college basketball so don’t expect the Hawks to stay down for long.

Player to watch: With the ability to play through contact to go along with a soft touch, DeAndre’ Bembre has all the attributes needed to make the Hawks competitive. Bembre was named Atlantic 10 co-conference freshman of the year in 2013. Now a junior Bembre can open the floor from the outside but is most lethal when attacking the basket. In addition Bembre lead the team in rebounding last season. For the amount of contact Bembre draws he will need to improve his free throw shooting just making 63.8 percent of his shots.

11. Duquesne: Duquesne is looking to build a program under fourth year head coach Jim Ferry. Ferry hasn’t had much success in his first four seasons with the Dukes but that doesn’t mean the Dukes aren’t progressing. It took Ferry eight seasons at Long Island University before getting the Blackbirds into the NCAA tournament. Ferry would then lead LIU for another trip the following season before joining Duquesne in 2012.

Player to watch: For Duquesne senior Derrick Colter the game of basketball may feel more satisfying than to most players in A-10. That’s because in his sophomore year Colter was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer that is found in the lymphatic system. After a lump was found in the back of his throat, it sent a shock toward the Duquesne basketball community and Colter’s family about how precious life could be. Two years later however Colter is still reportedly cancer free and looking to make an impact for the Dukes in his senior season. Colter lead Duquesne in points per game and while shooting 44.4 percent from the field last season. If Colter can continue where he left off after a solid 2013-14 season, the Dukes could make some noise as they look for their first NCAA appearance since 1977.

12. Fordham: New York City is the land of five boroughs. The town where kings are made and legends are born. A city that has such a rich tradition in the sport that New York has been given the moniker of the “Basketball Mecca of the world.” Yet with all the heritage and folklore of producing playground legends such as “Dr. J” Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bernard King couldn’t help save the Fordham Rams from being one of the most disappointing programs in all of college basketball. However the fate of the Rams is about to change thanks to new head coach Jeff Neubauer. After being an assistant at Richmond and West Virginia, Neubauer had a successful 10 years being the head coach at Eastern Kentucky University where he lead the Colonials to the NCAA tournament in just his second season. In his tenure with Eastern Kentucky, the Colonials had five postseason appearances and took the program to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in its history.

What Neubauer brings to Fordham is a team that will be dedicated to play hard-nosed defense. The Rams last year were one of the worst defensive teams in the Atlantic 10 allowing opponents 44.1 percent from the field. In addition the Rams lacked discipline offensively as well committing 14.6 turnovers per game. Neubauer will look to clean up Fordham’s act into a team that will play tough defense while maintaining control and poise offensively. The good news with the Rams is the fact that they have their core nucleus in place with Christian Sengfelder, Mandell Thomas and Jon Severe despite losing leading scorer Eric Paschall who transferred to Villanova.

Player to watch: With a long wingspan to go along with an improved will on defense, Christian Sengfelder will set the tone for the Rams this season. Sengfelder as a freshman made a strong impression in the Bronx and started every game last season. The German born 6’7 forward continued to progress throughout the season and had a 31 point outburst against George Mason in the first round of the A-10 tournament. Sengfelder finished the year averaging 11.7 PPG and shot 49.5 percent from the field. Now under the tutelage of Neubauer, Sengfelder will have the defensive prowess to go along with his strong scoring ability.

13. George Mason: Since the departure of Jim Larranaga the Patriots have struggled to find the swagger that help lifted the program to its only Final Four appearance in 2006. Since Larranaga’s departure in 2011, George Mason has been looking for answers and didn’t find it with Paul Hewitt who was fired after four seasons on the job. Now the program looks to Dave Paulsen who was previously coach at Bucknell for seven seasons. During Paulsen’s tenure with Bucknell, the Bison made the postseason four times including earning a trip to the NCAA tournament twice.

Player to watch: Coming from a school with a rich sports history in the west coast, freshman Kameron Murrell will be the burst of youth the Patriots need to fight for contention in the Atlantic 10. Murrell a native of Long Beach, Calif and also attended Long Beach Poly high school (produced athletes such as DeSean Jackson, Tony Gwynn and Herschel Walker) is a sweet blend of pedigree and consistency. Murrell has the ability to knock down three point shots at will. Murrell however isn’t one-dimensional dimensional shooter and loves to score inside by driving baseline. He also possesses tremendous defensive IQ and will create havoc in the passing lanes. He is a big pickup for Paulsen who is entering his first season of coaching in the Atlantic 10.

 

14. St. Louis: Under head coach Jim Crews the Billikens in the last few seasons have put a scare in teams in the last few seasons. That was before the 2014-15 season where St. Louis finished dead last after consecutive NCAA tournament appearances well finished first in conference in Crews’s first two seasons. Now Crews looks to get St. Louis back to the promised land after only won three games in conference last season. What Crews lacked last year in experience will gain this season in youth. The Billikens only have only one senior and four juniors on the active roster. The rest are either freshmen or sophomores including last year’s leading scorer Malik Yarbrough.

Player to watch: Expect Milik Yarbrough to improve from last season. Yarbrough stepped up even though he only started in 22 of 32 games. Possessing tremendous athletic ability and size, he will need to show he will have worked on the details of his game. Besides making only 20 percent of his three point attempts, Yarbrough also shot a meager 56.9 percent from the foul line. Numbers aside, Crews possesses one of the youngest teams in the Atlantic 10 and hopes the youth will blossom in the 2015-16 season.

 

Conference game of the year: Dayton vs VCU: What makes the matchup so intriguing is will the Rams be able to play with the same type of passion and nastiness under new head coach Will Wade. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the ball, the Flyers have all the ingredients needed to be great. With Scoochie Smith running Archie Miller’s offense, the Flyers should be flying higher than ever. Besides the games both the Flyers and VCU Rams fan base have a thirst for basketball that can never be quenched. Whether the Flyers theme song being chanted throughout UD Arena or VCU peppas band leader Ryan Kopacsi is rocking with an intensity in an array of flashy costumes the hype is at its highest when VCU and Dayton take center stage.

VCU will play at Dayton in the last conference game of the season on March 5th.

 

Surprise team of the year: It has been 24 years since the Bronx has had a taste at the big dance, but that drought may soon come to an end. Fordham will be better this year under new head coach Jeff Neubauer. Usually when a new coach like Neubauer comes to a program it takes years to rebuild and to find players that fit their system. Former coach Tom Pecora left some fine pieces behind for Neubauer to start being competitive immediately. The problem with the Rams wasn’t the fact that they could not score, they mainly lacked discipline and it cost them down the stretch late in games. Once the Rams learn how to play defense it could morph into becoming a basketball renaissance at Rose Hill Gym.