Takeaways from Atlantic 10 Media Day

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Washington, D.C.– Tuesday morning, the Atlantic 10 hosted its annual men’s basketball media day at the Capital One Arena. With several new faces joining the conference this season, there were several things to take away from this year’s media day. Here are some topics to consider as non-conference play draws near.

Saint Louis trying to find the right combination

What is known about this season for the Saint Louis Billikens is that it is expected to improve. How much that improvement will be is anyone’s guess. Saint Louis was placed anywhere between second and eighth in preseason polls, ultimately settling for seventh place in the official Atlantic 10 poll.

Expectations have been placed significantly higher on Saint Louis because of its incoming recruiting class. With these heightened expectations come a responsibility to get everyone among key returners and incoming Billikens playing time.

Saint Louis coach Travis Ford concedes that this is challenging. but seems optimistic that a plan will be put in place.

“We had some guys last year that played some significant minutes, as in high-30’s and we had freshman, juniors and even a walk-on,” he said. “I thought we ended the year on a high note as far as how we were playing, and now you bring in a lot of new faces and a lot of new names. You are trying to create a culture where nobody needs to be worrying about minutes. This is all about us being our best as a team. It’s a challenge and you know they understand it because of how hard they play every day. The practices are competitive to the point that we have had several injuries, because guys are going so hard. The competitive environment, I think, will make us a better basketball team. I believe I can get everyone minutes but they have to understand that starting is really not a big deal.”

McCall embraces challenge

Not many coaches have had as challenging of a first five months as UMass coach Matt McCall.

Upon being hired for the UMass job, seven players left the program and immediately McCall had to find players that were the proper fit for his program.

“We have to get guys in there that really want to play for the university, so that was a challenge right away,” he said. “We did not panic or pick the wrong guy. We understand that we are building a program here and it’s not going to happen with a snap of the fingers. It’s going to happen over time and we have to make the right decisions.”

Things only became tougher when graduate transfer Jaylen Brantley, who was being counted on to play a lot of minutes saw his season come to an end because of a previously undiagnosed heart condition.

Then another impact player in junior center Rashaan Holloway who will be out 4-6 weeks with a broken thumb.

It would be easy for McCall to panic, but it is his belief that all of this adversity will only strengthen the team to move forward.

McCall prides himself on leading by example, especially in regards to using high energy that is passed down to his players. He understands that the players look to him and a lack of high energy could become contagious if that message starts at the top.

What UMass does have in McCall is someone who is committed towards building the program back towards becoming a success. McCall has been part of this process before.

“I had a front row seat to see the success,” McCall said. “Coach Donovan in Florida, built a program and it took some time but I had a front row seat for that and those experiences. It is an unbelievable opportunity at an unbelievable place and we just need to pound it out one day at a time.”

Davidson sees Kovacevic return to health; McKillop challenges Steph Curry

It has been a tough two years for redshirt sophomore Dusan Kovacevic but his journey back to the court may potentially pay off with a spot in the starting lineup.

Kovacevic missed all of what would have been his freshman year with a torn ACL. He was able to recover from this injury in June 2016. After routinely playing double digit minutes during the team’s 2016-17 non-conference schedule, Kovacevic had last season cut short in mid-December with a stress fracture in his foot. This ended his season while also securing his absence in participation from both spring and summer workouts.

In August, Davidson went to Europe and Kovacevic was able to play 10 minutes a game. He was not 100% at the time but since returning is currently around 95%.

All of the intensive rehab and willingness to do whatever it takes to get back on the court have paid off as Davidson coach Bob McKillop stated that his 6-foot-10 forward will have a chance to make the starting lineup.

“He’s been working hard, and it’s been unfortunate that he has had injuries, but it’s never deterred him,” senior forward Peyton Aldridge said. “These past couple of weeks have been the best he’s ever played and he can be very helpful for us because he is very hard to guard in the post. He’s working hard for us and that would be a big step for us bigs to be able to score inside, that’s something we have been lacking.”

At each media day, McKillop is one way or the other asked about Steph Curry since the latter attended Davidson and played for the former. This time however the question was centered around golf since Curry recently competed in a Web.com Tour event.

Has McKillop beaten Curry in golf? The answer was a resounding no for a simple answer, McKillop does not play golf. That did not make him shy to challenge Curry to a different game.

“I could beat him in Catch Phrase and you can put that down for public consumption,” he said. “I’ve never beaten him, but I will beat him. I think there’s eventually going to be a time where he and I play Catch Phrase. My team will win.”

For whatever it is worth, McKillop did get the nod from a smiling Aldridge.

“We took a trip to Europe this summer and a couple of nights we just heard the coaches playing Catch Phrase and it was pretty funny just hearing them interact,” said Aldridge. ” It would be a really good matchup. Steph is an intelligent guy but I think he might have an advantage on Steph. Coach’s years may give him an advantage.”

They said it

“We are hungry like the wolf. When you experience what we got to experience in March, the excitement of those games it becomes intoxicating. We remind them of what that felt like and we want to experience that again.” Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley

“They may have come down the night before. If they come down the night before we’re alright. They will, they may come down two days in advance.” – St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt referencing his remarks made last season about the Atlantic 10 Championship being in Pittsburgh and allowing his fans to drink for three more hours. That was compared to this year’s location of Washington D.C.

“The word we’ve used this season is we are unproven. All we mean by that is Joe Chartouny has proven he can compete at the Atlantic 10 level but simply the rest of our roster is unproven and that goes for our coaching staff too. Here in the A-10, we’ve been here two-and-a-half years and we hope to accomplish a lot more.” – Fordham coach Jeff Neubauer

“I think George Mason feels like home for me and my family. There is a sense of comfort that we have with our team and on campus, now we hope to continue to progress and build a program.” – George Mason coach Dave Paulsen

“I think the challenge is going to be in and around the third or fourth of November when I tell them where they fit. Some of these roles are going to be hard for guys to accept because it’s not what they expect and up until that point in time, it’s okay to worry about me but at that moment in time, we have to worry about we. That’s not going to be easy. I am looking forward to being clear on that date but I do like that there are going to be more cards in the deck.” – Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli

Lastly here is the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll and All-Conference Teams which were reveal Tuesday morning at media day. First place votes are in parenthesis.

  1. Rhode Island (27) 390
  2. St. Bonaventure (1) 345
  3. Saint Joseph’s 300
  4. VCU 299
  5. Dayton 266
  6. Davidson 245
  7. Saint Louis 225
  8. Richmond 198
  9. La Salle 194
  10. George Mason 140
  11. George Washington 132
  12. Massachusetts 79
  13. Fordham 66
  14. Duquesne 61

Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team

F Peyton Aldridge SR Davidson

G E.C. Matthews SR Rhode Island

G Jaylen Adams SR St. Bonaventure

G Matt Mobley SR St. Bonaventure

F Justin Tillman SR VCU

Atlantic 10 All-Conference Second Team

G Yuta Watanabe SR George Washington

F B.J. Johnson SR La Salle

G Jared Terrell SR Rhode Island

G De’Monte Buckingham SO Richmond

G Shavar Newkirk SR Saint Joseph’s

Atlantic 10 All-Conference Third Team

G Mike Lewis II SO Duquesne

G Joseph Chartouny JR Fordham

G Otis Livington II JR George Mason

F Charlie Brown SO Saint Joseph’s

G Lamarr Kimble JR Saint Joseph’s

Preseason All-Defensive Team

G Joseph Chartouny JR Fordham

G Yuta Watanabe SR George Washington

G Jared Terrell SR Rhode Island

F Justin Tillman SR VCU

G Jonathan Williams SR VCU

 

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About Author

Zachary Weiss has had a 10 year journalism career, with the past three mainly focusing on Duquesne Athletics and the Atlantic 10.

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