This is part two of a series. If you would like to read part one, click here.
The Explorers were picked to finish within the pillow fight in the regular season, but something clicked with them in the conference tournament. Fran Dunphy turned back the clock to his prime when Temple was running the A-10 which carried the Explorers all the way to the quarterfinals against the third seeded Fordham Rams. Unfortunately for La Salle, Fordham’s defense was too much with Fordham shutting them down from three in the first half, getting killed on the boards 40-34, and being rejected 10 times.
A likely returning nucleus of Khalil Brantley and Jahmir Brickus will keep the Explorers in the hunt for improvement. This potent guard duo is best suited for Dunphy’s three point happy system that took the sixth most threes (21.4) on a team clip of 34%. Expect the Drame twins to return for their final year of eligibility as Hassan and Fousseyni provide their inside-out play. With Daeshon Shepherd’s withdrawal from the portal this gives Dunphy another wing who’s advanced defensive box score should turn from -0.7 to numbers in the 0.5-0.9 range. The developments of the now sophomore class, headlined by big body Rokas Jocius, will be paramount for the Explorers as they may find some solutions within before they hit the portal.
The Explorers must improve defensively, a huge key. They ranked 235th in adjusted defensive efficiency (KenPom)and gave up the second most points in conference (72.6). Rebounding was already a concern for the Explorers and one that could be a real issue if not addressed swiftly. Khalil Brantley can’t be a lead glass cleaner at 6’1”, nor can the Drame twins do everything on the glass. Dunphy’s teams tend to gravitate towards gang rebounding but the A-10 still has tall, physical teams like Fordham, George Mason, and UMass that finished sixth or better in team rebounding. Jocius can become a dominant big, however, he can’t be the only true five on the roster. The outlook is trending upward for La Salle, and if the aforementioned guard tandem remains intact I can see the Explorers making some strides even with Josh Nickelberry in the portal.
Update: As of March 29, the Drame twins are in the portal.
Hiring Chris Caputo was a step back in time for the program. Why? Because they went back to the formula that made GW a massive success with Karl Hobbs: dominating on offense with outstanding perimeter play. Caputo milked one great season out of Brendan Adams, this year’s most improved player, and allowed Bishop to lead the conference in scoring again with an obscene point total of 691. Maximus Edwards won this year’s A-10 rookie of the year award and looks every part of being the next great program icon to lead the team.
Edwards’ support system is going to look quite different next fall: Bishop does have one year remaining but his return to foggy bottom is…well, foggy at the moment. Adams, Amir Harris, EJ Clark, and Ricky Lindo Jr. are all graduating which drains the bench but guard depth shouldn’t be a huge issue for Caputo with three very good freshmen incoming between Trey Autry, Christian Jones, and Jacoi Hutchinson. Hutchinson seems to be the best out of these three having had some legit power five offers and should make for a nice pairing next to Edwards. Losing Quanzi Samuels isn’t ideal for the front court situation. The big man situation peaked in the home stretch but Hunter Dean and Lindo were not enough to get past Saint’ Joe’s.
It would behoove George Washington if they didn’t attempt to do an entire frontcourt renovation. Like La Salle, the lack of a somewhat dominant frontcourt could be a problem next season. Also considering GW was the worst defense in the conference (76.7 points allowed), and the 9th best rebounding team, GW’s pace and space offense won’t be able to flourish like it did unless the team can defend and rebound better next year. On top of potentially losing key assistant Brendan Straughn to Syracuse, recruiting in the DMV could take a hit especially if a big time transfer accompanies him (a la James Bishop).
Update: As of March 29, Hunter Dean, Noel Brown, and Daniel Nixon are in the portal.
A painfully average conclusion to the out of conference slate along with losing their first four in conference games, it looked as if Joe’s was in for another disappointing year under Billy Lange. Ending the regular season at 14-16 certainly made it feel that way despite incremental improvements, until conference tournament play. The Hawks made an unexpected run to the quarterfinals taking out Loyola and George Washington along the way, then pushing Dayton to their absolute limit late which ultimately had them losing by three.
After a run like that? Billy Lange certainly deserved an extension (which he did end up getting). Erik Reynolds hit 1,010 career points as a sophomore and made all tournament. Lynn Greer took a huge leap in his first full year of college hoops, pairing with Cameron Brown the Hawks fielded a dynamic scoring backcourt. The frontcourt was not ideal once Ejike Obinna went down for the remainder of the season; Rasheer Flemming stepped up with a 12 & 8 performance against GW and hauled in nine rebounds versus Dayton.
Obinna’s college time is up. A developing Flemming plus front court help from incoming freshmen of Shawn Simmons and Anthony Finkley will ease the blow. Lange has added to his backcourt with local Philadelphia guard Xzayvier Brown having beat out Marquette and USC. Joe’s will continue to rain threes, willingly sacrificing height, but will need to hit them at a team clip better than 33%. If Brown does elect to stay for one more year along with the current team remaining intact, Joe’s should get close to a top four spot in the conference or at minimum finish .500 or better.
Matt McKillop’s first season at the helm was never going to be a resounding success given the roster he was left with from his father, Bob. The Wildcats entire team took a major drop in all major categories which starts with Foster Loyer. The graduate point guard saw a massive dip in his overall field goal percentage (38%) and his three point percentage (34%) compared to last season. Sam Menennga also saw a climb in production jumping from 8.4 points to 15.2 as the second option. Now fully his team, the support system around Mennenga is the real question for the Wildcats.
Yet despite a limited roster, Matt McKillop was able to coach close games against national power Purdue, beat South Carolina, and stayed in a majority of the A10 games against the top teams yet couldn’t close them out. McKillop already dipped into the portal early by bringing along Villanova leftover Angelo Brizzi. Anticipate Desmond Watson climbing with his usage along with Reed Bailey, who definitely stood out amongst the freshman group this past season.
Davidson’s backcourt likely won’t have a bona fide star like it has in the past, it will have to come from a number of players: Huffman, Bailey, Brizzi, Watson, Kochera seems like the guard/win platoon for next season. Incoming freshman Bobby Durkin at 6 ‘7 seems to fit the prototypical Davidson player of a shooting wing, and Mike Loughnane will also add to the guard rotation. Matt McKillop’s ability as a head coach is still in question as he hasn’t been fully able to coach a team with more things to work with, but with the coming year this should be either major improvement or some regression.
Update: As of March 23rd, Desmond Watson has entered the portal.
“Mindset” culture is officially done with Kim English heading out to Providence. The next coach for the Patriots is yet to be decided and so is the entirety of the roster. They said goodbye to Josh Oduro, DeVon Cooper, Saquan Singleton, and Victor Bailey. Davonte ‘Ticket’ Gaines will return for his fifth season, but now with Kim English heading to greener pastures the future is up in the air for the Patriots.
The one that makes the most sense would be Robert Jones from Norfolk State. He’s held his current post since the 2013-14 season and built the Spartans into a sustainable program that includes four 20+ win seasons, three regular season MEAC titles, two MEAC conference tournaments and only one losing season. He knows the DMV area extremely well which will benefit local recruiting.
Josh Oduro is likely not returning (per his instagram), nor the rest of the gang will likely be running it back in Fairfax. The priority now is to find a new coach. A number of candidates are in the running for the job but the one that people want is former Patriot point guard Tony Skinn, who is most known for being the starting point guard on the 2006 Final Four team. Ryan Odom of Utah State is also seeing some traction online as well with his recent success. But whoever the new coach is, the offseason for George Mason is going back to square one.
Update: As of March 23, Blake Jones, Ronald Polite, and Elvis Nnaji are all in the portal. Josh Oduro and Justyn Fernandez have followed Kim English to Providence.