2022 was a chaotic calendar year for the Dukes: Keith Dambrot’s team posted a singular win in conference against UMass but lost all the games the rest of the way. Dambrot was aggressive in the portal and brought in many new faces. Chief among them was former Miami Ohio standout Dae Dae Grant who made all conference second team this season. Others included former VCU guard Jimmy Clark, who made all-defense. Duquesne recorded 20 wins this season while going 10-8 in conference. The out of conference schedule, which was ranked 202nd in the nation (Kenpom), had a signature win over a 10 win DePaul team but included losses to Marshall and New Mexico State. There was reason to be excited about them entering A10 play at 10-3: a revamped style, new (and very good) players, Duquesne showed promise.
But there were a lot of flaws in this team that were very obvious. Beyond being fifth worse in defensive rating (102.8), Duquesne was the 8th best rebounding team (35.8), the second best offensive rebounding team (12.4), but were bottom three in team free throws (69%), but tops in threes (36%) and ninth in team field goal percentage (44%). Conference play began and they picked up an early victory over the eventual champion VCU. Duquesne bobbed in and out of wins and losses, went on a four game run in the back third of the conference slate only to have the wheels completely fall off the train going 2-3 in the final five which included a 27 point loss at Fordham. Tempers flared in that game from the Dukes, and then they were upset in their only A10 tournament game against the surprise La Salle Explorers.
This sounds like an extremely messed up math equation, which it is to a degree but Dambrot tallied wins which he needed to save his job. The Dukes were on an upward trend until the 2019-20 season was put on pause. Then things went downhill extremely fast but rebounded this season. Dambrot needs to expand the bag of tricks beyond being a jump shooting team. While it may work in the regular season because teams haven’t seen you up until conference play, the tournament is filled with higher level coaching with teams adjusting much faster than normal. It wouldn’t hurt to spend the summer renovating schemes, hammering home fundamentals, and adding some size with RJ Gunn and Austin Rotroff leaving.
A 25-8 season that saw a number of new records set, such as 12 in-conference wins and the first 20+ win season as an A10 team. Keith Urgo won A10 coach of the year, the first Fordham coach since 1999 to achieve that feat. Three players garnered all-conference awards coupled with a double bye, Fordham went to the A10 semifinals for the first time since 2006 (when they also beat La Salle to get there) but would fall to Dayton. It was a much better showing against the Flyers than their game at home in January, only losing by 10 but maintaining a lead multiple times in the game. Fordham showed everyone on national television they are here to stay and not far off from competing for the A10 crown. Replacing the outgoing Daruis Quisenberry, Khalid Moore, and Rostik Noyvitskyi will be challenging but thanks to the depth, some solutions can come from within.
The team now goes with Will Richardson, who showed a lot of promise in conference play eventually taking over the starting point guard spot. He’ll have to make a Kam Jones-esq jump as a sophomore. Angel Montas was a highly touted prospect in high school whose season was derailed due to injuries, but enough practice time should get him ready to play alongside Richardson. Players like Romad Dean, Elijah Gray, and returning glue guys of Abdou Tsimbila, Antrell Charlton, and Kyle Rose should all see their numbers spike. Fordham has already done elite portal work with graduate transfer Japhet Medor coming in from UTSA and Josh Rivera climbing aboard from Lafayette. With two freshmen on board for the fall, Fordham should be able to pick up where they left off this past March.
An obvious complaint is the out of conference schedule (and has been for years at Fordham). The first Urgo schedule was not ideal but he and the staff were put in a bad spot given the 2022 offseason. Expect a more challenging schedule. If they don’t go 25-8 again it will make sense if there is some regression in the wins department. The other conundrum is the center position. Tsimbila’s numbers did climb and is already great defensively but is still limited offensively. Gray has tons of raw skills but needs more time. They’ll need a dominant big or they can pull a Penn State and include more outside-in action to make up for the lack of size. Fordham had issues against dominant bigs a la DaRon Holmes, Josh Oduro, and Toumani Camara but aren’t far off at all as a team. Speaking of Dayton…
Anthony Grant has not done much with literal gifts from god with the lone exception being a season derailed by COVID. The last two seasons were full of overpromising, underperforming, and injuries. The injury bug was more apparent this season with Malachi Smith, Kobe Elvis, Koby Brea, Mike Sharavjamts, RJ Blakney, among others missing time. Kaleb Washington transferred mid-season along with Tyrone Baker, who never played a game for the Flyers. Only Holmes, Camara, and Mustapha Amzil played in all 34 contests for the Flyers. After a 3-1 start, the Battle 4 Atlantis was the start of the alarm bells going off when they lost all three of those games in the final minutes.
That theme continued in most of the Flyers’ games but were able to total 22 wins despite losing two of their last three and hitting a rough patch in the latter third of January. They earned a double bye but were tested in their run to the championship game. Joe’s gave them tons of fits despite outstanding individual performances from Camara and Holmes. Fordham awaited in the semis and came pretty close to their first ever A10 championship game appearance, but the Flyers pulled away in the final minutes. Dayton and VCU met in the championship which was a relatively close contest until VCU went on an 8-0 run to close things out. Holmes won the tournament’s most outstanding player award and Camara made all tourney, but it was another season of “good” but not good enough for the Flyers.
Had injuries not plagued the team, and winning some of their important non-conference games, there would be a different A10 champion. The worst part about this is that the implosion was imminent with expectations set sky high preseason and they failed at all the pre-season objectives. Anthony Grant will return and hopefully he will be able to put the off-court issues behind him, but this season’s failure is having a ripple effect on the team. As of the writing of this piece: Sharavjamts has declared for the NBA draft while maintaining his college eligibility, but does not plan on coming back to Dayton. Blakney, Amzil, and Amaefule are already in the portal. Camara walked on his senior night which indicates he wants to use his fifth year elsewhere. Holmes will likely be the next to walk, whether he declares for the draft or goes to a power six school (rumors of him at Duke are online if you look hard enough) is still unclear. Enoch Cheeks is a good portal snag for guard depth, but he can’t be the only one. All told, Flyer nation should brace for impact.
Saint Louis Billikens
Here is another team that was getting tons of national preseason love. The championship window remained on go after Yuri Collins returned and led the nation in assists again with an 10.1 per game. Javonte Perkins came back from his injury that sidelined him last season to stay healthy enough to play and be productive. He wasn’t able to return to his player of the year form but 11 points per game on decent splits from his injury were enough. The rest of the important pieces came back: Jimmerson led them in scoring for the second straight season, Okoro’s points fell but remained an elite rim protector and rebounder, Pickett was a nice fourth option who averaged 10, and a lot of the glue guys were playing fine. They just couldn’t put it all together when they had to.
What really hurt the Billikens was the defensive drop off; 81st in adjusted defense on Kenpom last year and ended this season 153rd. Fred Thatch’s season ending injury did not help matters and try as they might, Okoro and Jake Forrester can’t be the only ones playing defense. Here are some of opposing players and stat lines they had against Saint Louis: Bryce Hopkins (20 pts & 9 reb), Donta Scott (25 pts), Noah Fernandes (26 pts & 7 ast), Darius Quisenberry and Khalid Moore (27 and 20 pts respectively), and Adrian Baldwin (37 pts) all occurring in the non-conference or the A10 regular season. These are just a few examples but safe to say perimeter defense was a huge issue for a Travis Ford led group, something that isn’t entirely normal for him.
Saint Louis is entering a weird limbo stage with their program right now. Questions have surfaced around Travis Ford being the right guy for the program, to which I say: be careful what you wish for. While the product has been stale to a degree, winning 20+ games consistently with good recruiting is not something to wish away. With Gibson Jimmerson returning for his fifth season his supporting cast seems to be in question. Collins has declared for the NBA draft, forgoing his final year of college eligibility. Perkins, Pickett, Thatch, Okoro, and Forrester all walked on senior night. That is a lot to lose if they do choose to elect for the portal because, from my point of view, in-house replacements are simply not good. Like Dayton, Saint Louis needs to brace for impact.
It took six seasons of Mike Rhoades to finally capture a conference tournament title but he finally did it. His name began popping up in a number of different job openings until he was poached by Penn State. Since his departure to Happy Valley, VCU’s main core has entered the portal: Jamir Watkins, Nicholas Kern, Jalen DeLoach, Jayden Nunn, and A10 player of the year Ace Baldwin. Josh Banks and Jarren McAllister have also entered on top of David Shriver and Brandon Johns Jr graduating. The remains are Zeb Jackson and a bunch of freshmen who didn’t see much action this season. To replace the departing Rhoades is Ryan Odom, the man who is most famous for leading UMBC in their historical upset over Virginia in 2018.
This will be more brief since they are the defending champions; it stands within reason everyone leaves because they achieved the ultimate goal of winning the Atlantic 10 and making the NCAA tournament. Look at St Peter’s last season: it isn’t the same level of team but they all departed after winning the MAAC and making a magical tournament run. Perhaps the most drastic part of the offseason for VCU will be adjusting the style of play. Odom’s system includes a ton of three point shooting and is more offensively inclined, something VCU isn’t familiar with in terms of the success they’ve had as a winning program. It will be a major adjustment for the fans and new players that come into the Siegel Center next fall, but a change of pace is what VCU has likely needed now that Shaka’s coaching tree at VCU has officially ended.