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Rebuilding (reloading?) the flagships

Dayton and VCU have arguably been the A-10’s best since the Rams joined the conference in 2013. If nothing else, the two have been the league’s most consistently good during that time.

The black and gold went a combined 64-22 in conference under Shaka Smart and Will Wade as an A-10 member and have not once failed to advance to an A-10 tourney final in those five seasons. The Rams are the A-10’s only conference member to have advanced to the NCAA tournament in all five of those seasons. Dayton on the other hand has advanced to four consecutive NCAA tournaments, has won the A-10 regular season the past two years (finished second the season before that) and threw in an Elite 8 appearance along the way.

But this offseason leaves both in interesting positions. Rebuilds? I’m not so sure. Reloads? Perhaps.

Not only did UD and VCU lose two of the conference’s top coaches, but lost them in heavy-graduation years as well. After the Flyers replace Archie Miller, UD’s new coach will inherit a roster losing 68% of their scoring and 100% of their leadership.

Gone is the talented and consistent group of Kendall Pollard, Charles Cooke, Scoochie Smith and Kyle Davis, winners of 102 games for the Flyers. VCU will say goodbye to just under 48% of their scoring with the graduations of five seniors including all-conference selections JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox, Alie-Cox joining Burgess as fifth-year players leaving a very experienced roster that knew nothing but NCAA tournaments during their time in Richmond.

Both new coaches will look to keep these conference flagship programs rolling despite high levels of uncertainty.

VCU is off to a good start. The Rams hired former Final 4 assistant Mike Rhoades away from Rice, reuniting the longtime Richmond native with several of his past key recruits including rising seniors Justin Tillman (2017 A-10 Third Team selection) and Jonathan Williams. The Rams look to retain all of their key returning pieces and have already sured up one 2017 re-commit, 6’9 ESPN 4-star Sean Mobley (who coincidentally held a Dayton offer at one point as well).

Rhoades has three 2017 commits from Will Wade’s 21st-ranked recruiting class left to secure highlighted by ESPN top-100s Lavar Batts and Mayan Kiir. Historically, coaching changes have equaled recruiting class turnover, but so far Rhoades is batting 1.000.

Dayton is further behind in their recruiting, having yet to secure a coach after Archie Miller’s departure to Indiana just yesterday. UD has a five-man class scheduled to start their careers in the A-10 but as of today, three (Jordan Pierce, Jordan Davis and Nahziah Cater) told Dayton Daily News’ David Jablonski they did not know their plans.

Regardless of recruit decisions, the Flyers have an underrated returning group and are scheduled to activate 2016-17 partial qualifier Kostas Antetokounmpo, brother of Milwaukee’s “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo. UD’s next coach will not only inherit a rabid fan base that consistently packs in the A-10’s largest crowds (13,018 fans per game this past season), but an unproven yet very capable 2017-18 roster.

DAYTON SNAPSHOT

Key returner: Xeyrius Williams
Williams’ 23.1 player efficiency rating was tops among Dayton’s key players. The 6’8 forward ranked second in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage among players who averaged double-digits. Kid can do it all and is a future A-10 superstar.

Key newcomer:
Kostas Antetokounmpo
The 6’10 Jr. Freak had the length and skill to make a splash this season before eligibility issues forced him to miss the year. Kostas is setup to make an even bigger splash now as a redshirt freshman, having a year at UD under his belt and opportunity galore to be an early breakout player for the Flyers.

Sleeper:
Trey Landers
Going to the very end of the bench for this one but I think Landers could be a potential sleeper for next season’s UD team (going reeeeal deep on this sleeper pick). The athletic 6’4 guard saw just garbage duty (52 total minutes) on last year’s stacked team but put up incredibly efficient numbers while in there. Lander’s boasted a PER of 23.2 (tops on the team) and a box plus/minus of +7.8 (second to only Kyle Davis). Now, if we could only get his insane foul rate down from 12.1 per 40 minutes to something that’ll actually keep him in the game (note: that number could be skewed by close game planned fouling).

VCU fans have seen this story before, welcoming their fifth coach to the program since Jeff Capel’s departure in 2006. Somehow all of which in this new era of VCU hoops managed to build on the success of their predecessor, with VCU’s Will Wade perhaps being the lone exception. The Rams have some talented pieces returning and are set to add some more, both in what they’ll hope to retain in the incoming recruiting class and perhaps on the transfer market as well (VCU had one available scholarship Wade set aside for a potential grad transfer).

VCU SNAPSHOT

Key returner: Justin Tillman
The Detroit native was second in scoring and first in rebounds on last year’s VCU team and returns as the Rams top player from this past season’s team. Tillman plays with a high motor and cleans up on the glass for VCU for easy put-back buckets. He’ll be the key interior piece on a Rams team that will spread the floor much more than last season’s team.

Key newcomer: TBD
Right now Mike Rhoades and Co. have locked up just one of four 2017 VCU recruits, Sean Mobley. The 6’9 stretch 4 could be a very valuable piece if Rhoades runs an offense similar to the one he ran at Rice that saw 41% of their attempts come from beyond the three-point line. I suspect that’s what theyll do. But don’t be surprised if the Rams add at least one immediate impact player in the form of a grad transfer.

Sleeper: Malik Crowfield
It seemed as if Will Wade couldn’t quite figure out what to make of the VCU freshman this past season, opting to start him early, then barely using him, then kicking up his minutes in the later parts of A-10 play before benching him again. Either way, the freshman hit a solid 35.6% of his threes in this first go with the Rams. He could stand to benefit greatly from a VCU offense that should see more three-point attempts next season under Mike Rhoades.

Based off both returning production and history of coaching turnover success, I think VCU is better set to rebound from this year’s wild offseason. But don’t count out the Flyers. Archie Miller may be headed to Indiana, but he left UD in a better position to succeed than it was when he arrived in 2011.