VCU’s conference sweep has them dancing along into March madness, but for the other 14 Atlantic 10 teams their offseason work begins now.
Here is part one of my three part series of what each team’s offseason should look like.
What was a glorious offseason for the Minutemen ended the way it deserved: ugly. The preseason hype around them was real, fans and media alike had every reason to gas the Frank Martin era. He brought along great transfers from South Carolina in Wildens Leveque and Brandon Martin, he stole Rahsool Diggins from UConn, Matt Cross came from Louisville, and secured two stud freshman in RJ Luis (all-freshman selection) and Tafara Gapare who was off to DePaul until he reclassed.
They got off to a 9-3 start, winning the Myrtle Beach Invitational and beating teams like Hofstra and Colorado. But all of that was whisked away once the injuries piled up: Luis and Diggins missed time, so did Noah Fernandes, Matt Cross tried his best but the lack of offensive firepower was too much. Last tuesday’s result was jarring, and scoring 38 points with an almost fully healthy team was not great, but that doesn’t mean that UMass doesn’t have a bright future ahead.
With Fernandes already in the portal, expect the remains of the Matt McCall era (Dyondre Dominguez and TJ Weeks) to follow. RJ Luis, Rahsool Diggins, and Tafara Gapare are the main building blocks here. If they become the modern iteration of Edgar Padilla, Carmelo Travieso, and Marcus Camby, that makes the Minutemen a legit A-10 contender. Martin has the advantage of depth as well, especially if Leveque returns. Martin’s four freshmen coming in are listed at 6’4” and beyond which fits his mold perfectly. While UMass had a hideous end to their mediocre year, also sprinkled by some interesting Frank Martin comments, expect them to turn around and improve next season.
Rambler nation was getting tons of preseason love, particularly in the fourth spot from the official preseason poll. Drew Valentine did prove himself to be a competent coach last year, but their performance was a total antithesis from what polls suggested.
Applying the learning curve concept while factoring in a tough out of conference, and losing six players from last season, Loyola was going to regress. Their team numbers for defense are not fun to look at, neither are the team’s offensive numbers, but certain results are telling of the direction they may go. Taking Dayton to overtime at their house is telling, so is beating George Mason, and Clemson in Atlanta. The box scores are mostly lopsided despite the team fielding competitive efforts.
Loyola needs to do more portal work and pull leftovers from Big East teams or stowaways on power five benches. Saint Thomas and Jacob Hutson have gone portaling, but are not as big of losses as many may think. As of the time this is being written, Miles Rubin is the lone freshman coming in next fall for Valentine. Not that he can’t be impactful, but the team must match the physicality of the conference’s best to have a chance to compete. Ben Schwieger’s all-freshman selection is a good first step, potentially another year of Philip Alston and Bud Norris would be uplifting, especially if Jalen Quinn climbs in production.
Update: As of March 15th, Hutson has committed to Northern Iowa and Marquise Kennedy has entered the portal.
Archie Miller objectively had his worst season as a head coach with just nine wins. From Brayon Freeman’s midseason dismissal, a season ending injury to Josephat Bilau, to the pieces not fitting, Miller’s team losing in round one of A-10’s is a blessing in disguise. The program went through way too much even if they beat Dayton at home in a stunning upset, the one positive they can look at on the schedule.
The first order of business is more emphasis on culture. Observing from a distance, and calling the Fordham-Rhode Island game at Rose Hill, watching Miller’s mannerisms in the huddle were dull. They do have their identity of “Attitude is Everything” all over social media, however, the body language of the players from the game I called in person said otherwise. College players need something to identify with, “Attitude is Everything” is what that is but there needs to be more culture building as opposed to actual basketball, especially with three freshmen locked in for next fall.
Getting healthy and hitting the reset button will have to be number two on the summer agenda. The Freeman saga past, Bilau has a summer to rehab and return in the early parts of next season, all while placing massive emphasis on the development (and pairing) of Sebastian Thomas with Ish Legget. This duo has the potential to be one of the best backcourts in the conference; Thomas’ advanced defensive numbers are very promising along with Legget’s new found scoring ability. Pair that with an advancing Brandon Weston on the wing, and Abdou Samb and Alex Tchikou holding down the paint, something is there for Rhode Island.
Update: As of March 15th, Legget has entered the transfer portal. Abdou Samb has also entered the portal as of March 16th. Sebastian Thomas entered the portal March 18th.
A message from high said it was time to close an era: losing their Iron Man five was a necessary reset. Mark Schmidt’s group did better than expected considering they started players who never played with each other before, factor in two freshmen in Yann Farell and Barry Evans, it was all new. There were times where they looked to overachieve and others displaying horrendous basketball. Given the youth and newness of the team, growing pains were inevitable but that was what this season was for the Bonnies: growth.
I was thoroughly impressed with Farrell; his length and skill set is what Schmidt wants in his system. Add to his 42% shooting from range this season, it stands within reason to invest heavily in his potential. Evans and another year of Chad Venning is the ideal front court with Farell, a summer for these three being together will make them a nightmare matchup for most A10 opponents with strong forward and big play. The overall rebounding (32.8 per game) was the third worst in conference, but that will change with an offseason of growth.
Bonaventure’s issue is guard play which killed them in more than a few games. Banks is a good scorer with his overall efficiency not the best despite a career year. Moses Flowers is a shooter and that is about it, plus Kyrell Luc who is a nice all around point guard but unfortunately you can’t change height. The turnovers were also something, with Banks and Luc averaging 1.9 and 2.1 or per contest in conference play. I do not believe Schmidt will hit the portal hard; he has his guys and is adding one freshman at the time this is being written. The guard play just has to improve, especially ball security and decision making but will come with a summer and more time in the Schmidt system.
Update: As of March 17th, Anouar Mellouk and Max Amadasun are in the transfer portal.
Championship hangover? Check. Lose your four graduate students? Check. Extend Chris Mooney? Triple check. After a run like last season it was 100% justified that Chris Mooney was extended but his team wasn’t going to be the same. Losing Gilyard, Golden, Cayo, and Sherod was inevitable but they ended their college careers on top. Mooney brought in some new Spiders to support Tyler Burton but they weren’t able to uphold a structure that they had last year from their support system.
Mooney did have to step away from the team to address his health, I hope he is recovering well and that he returns to the sidelines soon. The team does need to address a few quarrels: Tyler Burton is first and foremost. Will he elect to stay or use his fifth year elsewhere? I will lean more towards the latter in this case because he is good enough to play on a Big East team or a power five school. Jason Nelson and Neal Quinn are to become the focal points here offensively, their scoring production must take a step up, especially Quinn. He’s had flashes of brilliance and some really good games, and if he is that for an entire year he is easily an all conference player.
Nelson is by no means the next Gilyard, but he should be a quality point guard for years to come in Virginia. Mooney has recruited some nice freshmen in Collin Tanner and beat out a number of high major schools for Trevor Smith. Pairing Nelson and Smith could be one of the smallest, but quickest backcourts in the A10 if things go right. Destroying a mostly healthy UMass team is good but shooting 1-12 against George Mason is unacceptable. These are tweaks that can be fixed with a summer in the gym, but if the Spiders can’t hang onto Burton things are going to get real fascinating.