I am a serious sports addict. I love watching just about any live sport. I make plans to go to high school basketball games two months ahead of time. I will watch La Liga soccer for multiple hours on end just because I somehow get the all-access soccer subscription for free at my house and I’m not trying to ruin a good thing anytime soon! And then there is basketball. The sweet, sweet game of makes and misses. I love basketball far more than I should. Basketball keeps me up late at night and has contributed heavily to the dire straights of my detonating liver! But the game is almost like a drug for me and once November rolls around I start scratching and itching like a champ. I am interested in all levels of basketball but college hoops will always be my first love.
As someone who has lived in the Mid-Atlantic region for the past 37 years, the A-10 conference has always been of great interest to me. I can go off on an “I remember when….” tangent but I’m going to leave that to far better writers than myself. I’ve been looking at various articles, videos, and basically anything A-10 basketball related over the past few weeks and have come up with some reasons why each member of the conference should be at least somewhat excited for basketball season. This is by no means an all-inclusive preview for each team. I realize that teams have transfers and under the radar recruits who will be difference makers for their respective schools. There are a lot of good players in this conference and I am very confident in my ability to misjudge and forget about very important returning players from each team in the league. I have been described by many as “not smart” or “kind of a dumbass” so making mistakes is right in my wheelhouse. As is the case in every season, teams will have players who step up and shine when the lights are at their brightest and other players who are not ready to seize that moment. As November gets closer, college basketball fans can feel the buzz and excitement of another year of hoops approaching. The pain and heartache caused by the tough losses from last season are being replaced by anticipation and the promise of a new year. Even in the everchanging landscape of college basketball, the A-10 has managed to secure a strong position as a high-quality basketball conference. Here are just a few reasons for each fanbase to be pumped for hoops this season:
What is not to like about this school? Seriously? They are a bunch of really smart kids who play some incredible basketball. Davidson’s coach is one of the best in the game today but I seriously doubt 20% of “true basketball fans” could tell you the first thing about Bob McKillop. Well, I can tell you that he has a freaking basketball court named after him and who knows what else down there in North Carolina! The man is a great coach and fans will get real familiar with backdoor cuts, precision passing, and volume three-point shooting this year as Davidson enters the A-10. Brian Sullivan hoisted up over 200 three-pointers last year and that number might increase this season. Tyler Kalinoski and Jake Belford will really need to be able to score on a consistent basis for Davidson as the Wildcats look to replace leading scorer and rebounder De’Mon Brooks. The fact that Davidson has actually been a very good defensive team year in and year out for the past 20 years often gets overlooked but A-10 fans will see why these guys have been such a quality squad for so long. Of course there will be the inevitable conversations about size and skill level of players since Davidson is making a big jump in conferences this year, but we would all be foolish not think that they won’t pick up at least a couple of quality wins this season. The pedigree speaks for itself. Also, a buddy of mine recently told me that students at Davidson get a complimentary laundry service while attending the prestigious college. I have yet to verify this information and my source is a bit of a wanker but if this is true…DAMN!!!!!!! It is a lot easier to bounce back from an overtime loss when you know your closet is full of nicely pressed and lightly starched shirts.
In Southwest Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. I think I read that in a letter somewhere. But seriously, give it up for your Great 8 Dayton Flyers. Now keep it up (unless you have a heart condition – then see a doctor.) Archie Miller is not messing around out there in Ohio. I will be the first to admit that I was writing Dayton off last year after their slow start but damn if I wasn’t completely wrong. Those guys went OFF and had themselves one hell of a run. Some folks are of the mindset that last year was a bit of a fluke but I don’t think Dayton is a one-trick pony. I really like what Dayton has coming back and I think that Dyshawn Pierre will be a serious headache for opposing coaches all year. Khari Price and Scoochie Smith could develop into a really nice tandem for the Flyers. Scoochie is viewed by most observers as having a greater upside to his game and even if that is the case, both players should be serious contributors for Dayton this season. Archie Miller seems to be the kind of coach that kids want to really sell out for and if he can keep his guys on track, Dayton can be a really good team once again year. Solid leadership is the only way a team can get the train back on the tracks the way the Flyers did last season after their slow start. We live in a world of instant gratification and complete overreaction so to be able to “stay the course” when things are falling apart really shows some gumption. There should be a nice mix of confidence and experience with the Flyers this year and that can be a lethal combination in college basketball. Dayton is not a really big team but they are athletic and have the potential to be at least serviceable on the boards due to the fact that guys like Pierre and Pollard, can be very active. Jalen Robinson will need to be able to step in and battle in the frontcourt on a nightly basis. A strong recruiting class is another reason why fans in Southwest Ohio have every reason to be excited. A combination of JUCO players and highly-touted freshman Darrell Davis will have a serious impact upon the Flyers’ roster. How well the Flyers play together on the defensive end will likely determine how far they go in Brooklyn and beyond because this squad should be able to put points on the board.
Looks like the Steelers are going to battle the Bengals for the AFC North and the Pirates made the playoffs again so things are rolling along up in the Burgh. Relax Dukes; I’m just messing with “yinz guys.” I actually kind of like the trajectory of the Duquesne program right now. Jim Ferry is a good basketball coach and guys like Brian Nash and John Rhodes can help him get the kind of players he is going to need to get the Dukes back into the postseason for the first time since 2009 (I mean, you can count the CBI if you want to but I really don’t think you do.) I know losing the leading scorer and rebounder in Ovie Soko off of a team that went 13-17 isn’t exactly a good reason to start making travel plans for March, but the addition of Jordan Stevens could be really significant. Micah Mason and Derrick Colter absolutely will need to continue to improve but if they do the Dukes will be a better team than last season. Mason is already a fantastic shooter but needs to improve mid-range game and ability to attack the rim. Look, I’m not going to sit here and blow a bunch of sunshine up the Steel City’s collective bung hole but I really do think these guys have some serious potential. I watched the Dukes play 5 games last year (small sample size I realize but that is probably 4 more than most Duquesne fans (again, I kid) and I liked the fact that those kids played really hard. They could have and probably should have beat St. Louis twice and the 15-point loss at VCU was a much tougher game than the score indicated. Richmond’s own L.G. Gill is a player who showed some promise last season and should be looked at as a building block for the Dukes. Bringing in a kid like Jordan Robinson (6-8/255) to go along with Dominique McCoy can only help the frontcourt and bring some added toughness to a developing group. The most intriguing kid on the team might be TySean Powell, a freshman forward with some serious athletic ability. Long and lean but with a serious vertical; this kid has the ability to make them dance in the stands up in Pittsburgh this year.
There are some tough times going down in the Bronx these days. Derek Jeter hung up his spikes and the Fordham Rams seem to be, well they seem to be the Fordham Rams. In 1992 Fordham lost to UMass 85-58 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The past 22 years haven’t been too kind to the Rams and this year doesn’t really appear to be that much different. Hopefully incoming freshman Eric Paschall can be a strong contributor and Jon Severe can become a more efficient player. Severe definitely has some skills but he was all over the place last season. Part of that was being a young player and another part was probably trying to do too much and forcing things from time to time at the offensive end. Pachall is a very interesting prospect for the Rams. He is another in a long line of athletic forwards coming into the conference this season who has the ability to score in a variety of ways. A bright spot for the Rams heading into this season is the fact that they have a couple of redshirt freshmen in Many Suarez and Antwoine Anderson who should provide some depth and in the case of Suarez, the ability to stretch defenses a little bit more from the outside. Tom Pecora has been bringing in kids from all over the map lately and maybe a nice mix of international and local talent will help propel the Rams to more victories this season. Fordham has a lot of young players who have been gaining experience over the past couple of years and more guys should be able to contribute this season. All of that is good and well but the bottom line for Fordham has to be an improvement on the defensive end of the court. When you allow an average of 78 points per game you are putting yourself in quite a rough spot. It wasn’t that long ago when Tom Pecora was winning a lot of games out on Long Island for Hofstra. Hopefully for Coach Pecora and the Rams, an improvement upon last season will occur and Fordham can make some headway into ending that 22-year drought from the postseason.
The 2013-2014 season was a big one for the Patriots from Fairfax, Virginia. Moving from the CAA to the A-10 was not all that easy or smooth but that tends to be the case for most schools when they move to a more competitive league. Mason loses a combined 30 points per game with Sherrod Wright and Bryon Allen having used up all of their eligibility so most people are going to wonder where the points in the 2014-2015 season are going to come from. It would be nice if Eric Copes stepped up into the role of senior leader and dependable post presence but he doesn’t really seem like he wants to be that guy. The Patriots will most likely need a solid group of contributors to be consistent and go with a “heat check” approach in order to contend in the conference. I think that is fine and with a pretty nice group of freshman coming in and Georgia Tech transfer Julian Royal now eligible, competition will allow for the guys who are ready to contribute to step up when things get going. Royal is a very intriguing guy to me. He is a legit 6’8” and has the potential to be a tough match up for teams this season because of his ability to shoot the ball. JUCO transfer Shevon Thompson is a legit 7 footer and should hopefully help solidify Mason’s defense in the paint. I’m sure any Mason fan reading this and thinking, “Nice freaking insight Einstein! Next you are going to tell me that water is wet and not to spit into the wind.” Well, don’t spit into the wind because I accidentally did just that the other day (totally got screwed by a cross-breeze) and the dude behind me at Logan Airport caught a monster loogie right in the face. I was able to miss my own saliva by tilting my head while projecting said wad of spit out of my mouth but I digress. The most important thing for this years’ Patriots is to find an identity that works with their personnel. A guy like Patrick Holloway could be a real key piece for Mason this year. I’d say he is about 6’0’ but the kid can score the ball and create problems for defenses when he is aggressive. I know a lot people are questioning Coach Hewitt these days but I think he might have a bit of a sleeper squad on his hands this year (not like 22-8 but better than 11-20.) Then again I thought Crystal Pepsi would have some serious staying power so you know…
Oh man, the Colonials are soooo back! I know they were strong last season but I would not be surprised at all if this squad wound up taking the A-10 title this year. McDonald, Savage, Garino, and Larsen all can play. Plus, this team is filled with guys who know their roles and play them well. The 1-3-1 or sometimes 3-2 match-up zones that the Colonials run are brutal for teams to deal with and if you throw in some young guards with limited experience then things can really get ugly. Coach Lonergan got through two lean rebuilding years and now has a team with solid depth and multiple scorers all over the court. Last year I watched GW just carve up VCU in D.C. and it was something to see (the flip side to that was VCU laying the wood to the Colonials at their place and in Brooklyn but still). Patricio Garino looked like a man possessed and the rest of the team seemed to follow his lead. A nice recruiting class headlined by Matt Cimino and Yuta Watanabe is another reason people up in the D.C. area are pumped. Cimino has the potential to be a really nice player as he is 6-10 with a skilled post game and the ability to knock down the 15-20 foot jumper. I don’t care if he stinks and never does anything for GW, Yuta Watanabe is one of the most fun names in the history names to say and I will always love him. But Watanabe has a lot of people excited and if he can put on some weight he will probably pretty darn good for the Colonials. I know my praise for this team might be a bit much but I just think it is cool that the GW fans have something to be excited about for the first time since the early Karl Hobbs days. One last thing about these guys; that gym with all of the flags and banners is like the Baskin Robbins of college hoops. Maybe not 31 flavors but a very cool and distinct home court atmosphere for sure. I have been watching a lot of GW’s games from last season again over the past few weeks and I continue to be impressed. I really like how these guys share the ball and play unselfish basketball. Joe McDonald is a tough kid and a great floor general. Not the flashiest of players but definitely effective and kind of underrated in my opinion. Kevin Larsen could be the best big man in the conference this year. How is this kid only a Junior by the way? I think he is college basketball’s version of Vlady Guerrero. This dude is a grown man and I could easily see him going for 15 and 10 on a regular basis. A healthy Kethan Savage will bring strong shooting and overall scoring to a very balanced lineup. If Savage had not broken his last season, GW could have pushed St. Louis for the regular season title. These guys are good and continuing to improve.
The La Salle Explorers are one of the more intriguing teams in the league and really in the country coming into this season. Their strong run to the Great 8 in the NCAA Tournament two years ago made the college basketball world stand up and take notice of the boys from Southwest Philly and their clutch floaters. Last year however was a bit of a mess as the team struggled to regain its form from 2012 and came up well short of expectations. Can the Explorers turn things around this season and contend for a conference championship after losing guards Sam Mills, Tyrone Garland, and Tyreek Duren? Well, La Salle is very fortunate to have Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack in frontcourt to lean on and provide some veteran leadership. Zack is 6-11 but sometimes it looks like he is 7-2 out there. He is a very good on the ball defender and rim protector which is something a lot of the teams in the A-10 wish they had. He also is a great rebounder but if you are 6-11 and can’t rebound you should probably be playing volleyball. Jarrell Wright is another A-10 player with a lot of ability and perhaps on the verge of really breaking out this season. Something that I tend to forget about when it comes to big men in the college game is just how difficult it can be for them to get consistent quality touches in games these days. I think Wright will be much more a focal point for the La Salle offense this year and that could very well mean a first-team all A-10 selection at the end of the season. Transfers Jordan Price and Cleon Roberts give the Explorers a very nice shooter and another athletic wing to add to the mix. It is never ideal to have an inexperienced point guard but La Salle needs at least one of their younger guards emerge as a dependable option. Amar Stukes and Jonnie Shuler are going to have to step up and meet the challenge head on. Expectations for La Salle will be tempered a bit this year after what happened in 2013 but I think that plays right into Coach Giannini’s hands. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if La Salle is right in the mix for a top seed in the conference tournament once March rolls around.
I can’t believe Chaz Williams doesn’t play for UMass anymore. I am surprised when I watch highlights of Marcus Camby or Lou Roe that the little dynamo is not throwing them alley-oops or slashing his way to the hole. He was a hell of a college basketball player and he will be missed along with Sampson Carter and Raphiael Putney. But I’m not exactly ready to start crying in my chowder for the Minutemen just yet. West Virginia transfer Jabari Hinds is a really quick point guard who should be able to take control of Coach Kellogg’s team and keep things moving in the right direction. Cady Lalanne, Trey Davis, and Derrick Gordon all return and all are very solid players. LaLanne has gotten better each year and could definitely(and probably should) average double figures in points and rebounds this season. Trey Davis has some solid experience and has and can make teams pay if they sag on Lalanne in the paint. And Derrick Gordon is gay. I didn’t know that last season and I’m guessing neither did you. I can only speak for myself but I can’t imagine keeping such a huge secret and being able to play major college basketball at such a high level. Derrick Gordon can flat out play ball and now he doesn’t have to worry about anyone finding out about something that he wasn’t comfortable sharing. I know there will be jackass fans who will heckle him or try to intimidate him because they are ignorant and small-minded but I don’t see that ruining his career. There will be people who say that he will be a distraction. Why? Is he going to demand that UMass warm up to RuPaul or The Village People for every home game? We all know that ain’t happening up in Amherst. These guys will be as prepared as possible for all of the redundant questions from the media and any taunting or name calling that will occur this season. I’m of the opinion that the team will rally around Gordon and become an even tougher opponent for the rest of the A-10. Freshman Donte Clark is a big guard who could should become a regular contributor to Coach Kellogg’s rotation early in the season. Derek Kellogg returned to his alma mater in 2008 and has taken a program that was in rough shape and turned them into a team to be reckoned with. Full court pressure on defense and an attacking offense have been UMass’ calling card the last couple of seasons and they aren’t looking to change now. Kellogg has UMass playing fast and inflicting P.A.I.N these days and they should be right up in the mix again this year for a top spot in the conference.
I realize that I’m starting to sound like Jon Gruden here but I really like this team. I really like this team and I love E.C. Mathews. Mathews will be one of the best players in the league this year and he was one of the best players in the league last year as a true freshman. He has NBA potential and should really make a strong push for player of the year in the conference this season. Mathews outside game should continue to improve as he gets more comfortable in the leadership role he will need to take on in 2014. I really like how he finishes at the rim with both hands which is usually not the case for younger players these days. Hassan Martin is a big kid who really did well last year down low and came on strong at the end of last year. Plus he doesn’t need a lot of touches to be effective which means he will get a lot of minutes if he continues to work hard. It looks like Jordan Hare is back after missing last year due to family issues. Hare is a kid with a ton of upside and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him average between 2-3 blocks per game this season if he is in shape and ready to go. Gilvydas Biruta is a quality post player with the ability to score and rebound. He is another double-double guy waiting to happen if he can stay out of foul trouble. Jared Terrell comes in with a ton of hype but it is definitely deserved. He is a powerful and exciting guard who looks like a linebacker but definitely doesn’t shoot like one. If he can adjust to college life and all that comes with it, opposing coaches will have their hands full. Whether you like him or not, Danny Hurley knows how to coach. Yes he is intense and might rub some people the wrong way but he has won everywhere he has coached. URI lost 9 games by less than 6 points last season which led the conference. Losing Hare was bigger than most people probably realized and it really hurt Rhode Island in many of those close games. If the Rans can get some wins early in the season and enjoy some success; I think there is a strong possibility that they will be dancing when March comes around.
Ahh the Spiders. There always seems to be a team in every conference that has a year where they are “playing this year’s schedule with next year’s starters.” By the second half of last season, the Richmond Spiders were definitely that team. Richmond lost two seniors for the year around the midway point of the season and had no other choice but to play underclassmen for extended minutes to finish the season. There were definitely some rough patches for Chris Mooney and his guys, as will be the case when younger players get most of the minutes for a team, but now those same players are back and back with experience. In college basketball, a dominant point guard can sometimes single-handedly will his team to victory. Kendall Anthony is as dominant a point guard as you will find in the A-10. Listed at 5-8, Anthony plays as if he is 6-8 some nights as he dominates games with his electric play. His ability to get his shot in just about any situation against any kind of defense makes him a threat at all times. Sophomore ShawnDre’ Jones is a pretty fearless shooting guard, especially since he MIGHT be 5-10. He plays with an edge to his game and has a nice stroke from deep. He and Anthony might be one of the smallest backcourts in the country but they are also one of the quickest. With the way games are being called these days and the lack of guards who have any kind of “back to the basket” game, the little guys from Richmond will be more than fine. Trey Davis and Deion Taylor are a couple of forwards who are solid players and know exactly how to play in Mooney’s system on both ends of the floor. Davis is a kid who I could see breaking out a little bit this year. He is an effective shooter from inside the arc and is another forward in the league who can finish at the rim. The guy who I think Spider fans should be really excited about though is Alonzo Nelson-Ododa. He might only be 6-9 but I saw recently where his wingspan was measured at 7-2. I would give my left are to “only be 6-9” by the way. That is like me telling my wife I “only” had 10 beers and a couple of shots, but I’m sure you aren’t interested in my drinking habits or the relative meaning of the word “only.” Nelson-Ododa is really quick off the floor and is an excellent rim protector. Big guys love getting blocks from the weakside on rotations, as it easier to get the ball without fouling/making contact with the shooter and Nelson-Ododa is a perfect example of this. He even has some range from behind the arc (but I’m pretty sure you can’t even be a manager on Mooney’s squad unless you can hit at least 30% from 30 feet.) I’m sure if you ask Coach Mooney about any of the Spiders freshman class he will tell you about their “feel for the game” and “toughness or competitiveness.” Some of that is just coach talk but it isn’t any secret that Richmond wants and needs smart kids who will understand and embrace their version of the Princeton offense and a defense that requires more communication than most in order to be effective. Transfer T.J. Cline will most likely be a great fit for the Spiders as a shooter and a low post option who understands how Mooney wants to play.
I recently mentioned to some people how I wish I could have seen Bob Lanier play. I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who thinks of Lanier when he thinks of the Bonnies. It can’t be a coincidence then that the Bonnies happen to have a 7 footer right now who might not be on Lanier’s level but is still a guy whom a lot of coaches are wishing they had signed four years ago. Of course I’m speaking of Youssou Ndoye and the big fella from Senegal should be the first option for the Bonnies on offense this season. Losing Matthew Wright and Charlon Kloof to graduation; St. Bonaventure will more than likely go to the imposing center early and often this season in order to establish a post presence and give new starting guards Iakeem Alston and Jordan Gathers(just a hunch) a strong centerpiece to lean on in games. Ndoye has the potential to be a 15-12-3 guy this year in the league. Even if he doesn’t score in double figures consistently, Ndoye’s presence in the middle should open things up quite a bit for guys like Gathers, Andell Cumberbatch, and junior Dion Wright. If Cumberbatch and Gathers can improve on their shooting from three-point land 5-10%, the Bonnies could have one of the more effective inside-out games in the conference. St. Bonaventure’s lost a lot of close games last year which makes me think they are due for some close wins this year but losing Wright and Kloof makes me hesitant on the prediction. The fact that the Bonnies have an awesome (and highly underrated) home court advantage is another reason why I can see a lot people hooking up to the bandwagon taking off from Olean this season. I swear I thought I saw a keg in the second row of the student section two years ago when I was watching the Bonnies play VCU on the tube. Their student section looked like a scene from “Animal House” and I mean that in the best way humanly possible. I’m sure there is a pretty good amount of optimism around Olean right now regarding the Bonnies and I get it. There aren’t that many dominant or even decent big men in college basketball anymore. The game is dominated by guard play now so teams with really good centers have a distinct advantage if they can control the tempo and pound the ball inside. A bunch of newcomers will have a significant impact on where the Bonnies wind up in the standings this year because they will be required to play significant minutes. Big man Jordan Tyson and forward Idris Taqqee will most likely be called upon to contribute significant minutes for the Bonnies this season. I don’t know if the Bonnies are going to be good enough to get into the top four of the conference this year but I’m positive that no one will enjoy playing in Olean and if in fact they do have kegs at their games that I will be rocking a Bonnies sweatshirt and a funnel when I come up to New York this year.
I love Phil Martelli. Maybe it is because I will be a fatter version of the coach from St. Joe’s in a few years; unless I get some assistance from Rogaine. I actually have quite a few family members living in Philadelphia and the South Jersey vicinity and over the years I’ve been able to appreciate what he has done as a coach and now as an elder statesman for the Atlantic 10 Conference. Martelli embodies Philadelphia hoops in a lot of ways. He is tough and brash and really doesn’t give a shit what you or I think of him or his team. He calls it like he sees it and quite frankly I find him refreshing in an era where the media vs. coaches clash has become comical to the point where many interviews should be viewed as “Mad Libs” for sports. There is also the minor detail which is the fact that St. Joe’s has consistently had super competitive basketball teams over the past 20 years. This year the Hawks are “rebuilding” because three of their top players from last season in Ronald Roberts Jr., Langston Galloway, and Halil Kanacevic are all getting payed to played basketball overseas or possibly in the NBA. It is reasonable for to think that the Hawks will be a lower-level team in the A-10 based on their graduating seniors but I wouldn’t be too quick to rush to that judgement. DeAndre Bembry returns and he returns as a bad-ass dude with a sick afro who will dunk on you and your Momma for fun! This kid is the real deal and he will definitely be one of the best players in the conference this season. Bembry was more of an option player last season with the Hawks having three great senior players but this year he will be a much more of a focal point in Martelli’s offense. There were multiple games last season where he made the “Big 3” seniors better players with his unselfishness and ability to impact games without needing a lot of touches. Needless to say, I think he is one of a handful of guys who is worth the price of admission on his own accord and will be the focal point of every scouting report from opposing teams from here on out. Chris Wilson is a player at point guard who could also shine this season for the Hawks. Wilson has good size and is enough of an athlete to create problems for teams who don’t have physical guards who will body-up on defense. West Virginia transfer Aaron Brown is another big guard who will probably play a lot better in Philly than he ever would have in Morgantown. I could very well be wrong but I think Brown is the perfect fit for St. Joe’s and will become an impact player in the A-10 before his time is up. A strong recruiting class headlined by guards James Demery and Shavar Newkirk and power forward Markell Lodge will bring needed depth to a St. Joe’s squad looking to repeat as conference tournament champions. I have no doubts that Martelli will coach up his freshmen and when you have one of the top 5 players in the league you always have a chance to win so the reports of the Hawk’s demise may be a bit premature. Anyway you slice it, St. Joe’s will continue to be a tough squad coached by a tough guy and that is good enough for some quality wins this year.
Jim Crews and Phil Martelli could probably get together and form some sort of support group this season. St. Louis is replacing 75% of its offense and over 60% of its rebounding from last year. Dwayne Evans, Jordair Jett, Mike McCall, Rob Loe, and Jake Barnett will go down in SLU history as a group of great players who were nothing short of spectacular at times and helped lead their school into national prominence after the tragic death of former Coach Rick Majerus. They may have moved on but Coach Jim Crews is still going to be on the bench at Chaifetz Arena, coaching up a new bunch of players. Austin McBroom, Tanner Lancona, Mike Crawford, and Grandy Glaze are the most well-known returning players for St. Louis along with big man John Manning. McBroom was a 35% shooter from the floor last season but was much more of a complementary player compared to what will most likely be asked of him this season. Glaze has never attempted more than eight shots in a college game so if he can just provide a decent post presence it will be a significant contribution for the Billikens. Villanova transfer Achraf Yacoubou will be asked to step in at shooting guard and provide consistent scoring. Yacoubou can shoot the ball effectively from beyond the arc and will more than likely be asked to play significant minutes (at least in the earlier portion of the schedule) as he is a better athlete and defender compared to Crawford right now. SLU has an enormous freshman class and many of them will be asked to grow up quickly and contribute in every game for the Billikens during the 2014-15 campaign. Point guards Davell Roby and Marcus Bartley are both nice players with really good size. Roby seems like a pretty tough kid and definitely looks like he plays the game with a chip on his shoulder. I could see him becoming a factor in the Billiken’s rotation sooner rather than later this year. Milik Yarbrough is a smooth 6-6 wing player who looks like he is gliding around the court at times. Brett Jolly and Austin Gillmann are a couple of bigs who are going to need time to add weight/muscle and develop their games before they can be looked at as serious threats in the post. Rebounding and solid defense should be their tickets for early playing time. The run that St. Louis had over the past two years was pretty amazing on a lot of different levels and should never be downplayed or glossed over. Jim Crews will now be forced to coach up a young team and get them the experience they will need in order to make another run at an A-10 title in the future. If these guys play can play as hard as the fellas they are replacing, they will be off to a solid start.
The Runnin Rams of VCU have a fanbase that really doesn’t need some stupid little write-up to get excited but a stupid little write-up they will get none the less! VCU returns several key players from last year’s team and has the top rated recruiting class in the conference coming in this fall. The two players who will get the most attention from the media and fans across the conference will be Point Guard Briante Weber and Forward Treveon Graham. Weber is a freak of nature and gets justifiably labeled as “Havoc personified” by opposing coaches on a regular basis. He led the country for the third consecutive season in Ken Pomeroy’s steal percentage at 6.1%. The only game in which he did not have at least one steal was against St. Joe’s in the A-10 Conference Championship this past March. Tre Graham is often referred to as “freight train” by his teammates and coaches for the way he plays the game. He has become the Rams most important and consistent player on offense; often just putting his head down and forcing his way into the paint to get points any way he can. Graham has improved his game each season and this year he will be a likely candidate for A-10 Player of the Year. Guard Melvin Johnson is a scorer who can go off and get buckets in a hurry. Last season against Virginia Tech Johnson hit 8-11 from three-point land in only 21 minutes on the floor. Johnson has really bought into his physical training and now looks like a player who might become more than just the ultimate “heat check” scoring option for the Rams. VCU will have to replace Rob Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic this year which will be a formidable task. Both players were 1,000 point scorers during their time in Richmond and Reddic was a force at times in the paint; the one spot where VCU is noticeably thin. Combo guard JeQuan Lewis will need to build upon his promising freshman campaign as the Rams look to replace Brandenberg’s points, and more importantly defensive pressure. Mo Alie-Cox and Jarred Guest are likely to see huge increases in their minutes as they will be the Rams most experienced post players this year. Alie-Cox is only listed at 6-6 but he is much like Nelson-Ododa from Richmond in the sense that he plays much bigger than his height and also has a tremendous wingspan. Alie-Cox also possess the largest hands I’ve ever seen on a human being. I have shook the young man’s hand and it was like someone had gone to Subway and grabbed 5 footlong subs and taped them to his palm(which felt as deep as a catcher’s mitt.) Redshirt freshman Antravious Simmons is a bit of a mystery at this point but he does have size and may be needed to provide some depth to the frontcourt at times. Jordan Burgess and Doug Brooks both will be in the mix for minutes as well this season as both players are extremely hard workers on the defensive end of the floor. VCU’s “HAVOC” is predicated upon maximum ball pressure at all times with the goal of making teams play at a pace they can’t sustain or feel comfortable with for long periods of time. Players who don’t want to play defense for Shaka Smart do not find themselves on the court for many meaningful minutes. The top rated recruiting class in the conference will learn real quick that work on one end of the court leads to results at the other. Terry Larrier is a 6-8 athlete with all kinds of game. His jumper is smooth and accurate but he also can put the ball on the floor and create his own shot. If Larrier can play defense at a high level, he will wind up taking someone’s minutes from last season. Forwards Justin Tillman and Mike Gillmore are long and very athletic. Look for Tillman to get minutes early as he is an active defender with very quick feet for a player his size. Point guard Jonathan Williams was the lowest rated recruit in this years class for the Rams but he will likely become a crowd favorite with his ability to make a difficult pass look easy and the way he can go from end to end in a matter of seconds. Shaka Smart has become kind of a rockstar in the coaching world. He is constantly referred to by his first name, which is pretty badass by the way, and is always mentioned when any sort of coaching search is taking for place in college basketball. He continues to enhance his legacy as the greatest coach in school history and this season has the potential to be another special year for the Rams.
The Atlantic 10 Conference is home to some of the best basketball in the country. Each year different schools have big wins over schools from “Power Conferences” and show the country what fans all across the A-10 already know. The quality of the basketball which is played from Philly to St. Louis to Richmond and beyond continues to get better and better each year and the 2014-15 season should not be any different. Enjoy your pigskin people but just remember that hoops will be here before we know it and that is a truly wonderful thing.