This is part two of a series, click here for part one.
After five seasons of falling just short, Mike Rhoades finally captured the first VCU conference tournament trophy since 2015. An open vacancy at Penn State saw Rhoades depart for Happy Valley, whisking A10 great Adrian Baldwin and Nicholas Kern for the next challenge. Kern and Baldwin led a massive departure as other teammates left for greener pastures: Jayden Nunn (Baylor), Jalen DeLoach (Georgia), Jamir Watkins (Florida State), Josh Banks (UNC Ashville), and the graduating players of Brandon Johns and David Shriver. The Rams are turning over their program again but not to a former Shaka Smart assistant.
The next rising coach to take the job is Ryan Odom from Utah State. What makes this hiring important is Odom is an offensive-minded coach, unlike his predecessors. Long-range snipers Sean Bairstow and Max Shulga followed Odom from Utah State, both shot 36% and 38% from three. Odom recruited Kuany Kuany from California, a 6’9” athlete who can shoot and finish in an array of ways. Roosevelt Wheeler joins after two unproductive seasons at Louisville. However, his highlight tape on youtube suggests he will be the dunk-and-defend center we see in perimeter-centric offenses. Odom stole Jason Nelson from Richmond and Joe Bamisile for his second A10 stint after two transfers. Four players remain from last year’s team: Zeb Jackson, Tobi Lawal, Fats Billups, and Christian Fermin while Odom welcomes two freshmen.
Odom’s team presents astounding physical tools- a staple of VCU teams regardless of the coach. Some questions bubble here: one is the status of Joe Bamisile. Multi-time transfers require a waiver from the NCAA to play this season which he has not received, yet. The other will be how the reigning champs will adjust after losing every significant rotation piece, let alone the new style of play the program will see. Does that mean they’ll fall off defensively? No, Odom is equally as good at coaching the defensive end. It will take time to build chemistry with all the new parts but expect VCU to find a way.
Final Grade: A for the Rams.
The “Revolutionaries” are in town to start the 2023-24 season, and with that comes significant change at Foggy Bottom. Chris Caputo proved he belonged by squeezing out a 16-16 season from what most saw as a motley crew. James Bishop led the conference in scoring again but by a wider margin on much-improved efficiency. Maximus Edwards won Rookie of the Year for the first time since Sirvaliant Brown did it in 2000. Brendan Adams closed his college career in style with a career-high 17.4 points per game, taking home the Most Improved Player, the first since Kevin Larsen in 2014. Although their postseason ended at the hands of Saint Joseph’s, there is a lot to like about the Revs’ coming into November.
Edwards will unite with Bishop again for a dynamic backcourt to shake up opposing defenses, with Caputo handing more duties to Edwards as a sophomore. Following the departures of Hunter Dean and Noel Brown, Caputo took a flyer on Babatunde Akingbola from Auburn for a graduate year. He’s also included Antoine Smith Jr from Evansville who shot 36% from range last season, and Oklahoma leftover Benny Schroder. Caputo is also taking flyers on redshirt freshmen Garrett Johnson (Princeton) and Darren Buchanan Jr (Virginia Tech) to replace some of the lost wing depth. Four true freshmen join the Revs: three guards and a power forward for the upcoming year.
One element stands out with almost all of the transfers: they either played sparingly or not played at all in the last year. Johnson and Buchanan didn’t even suit up for their previous teams, Schroder played six games for Porter Moser before suffering long COVID, Akingbola has played a combined 10 games the last two seasons, and Keegan Harvey is coming off a season where he logged eight games for GW last year. Caputo is taking gambles and banking on developing them. Besides Edwards, evidence that he can get productive seasons out of these new guys right away is unproven. With an eye on the future, all indications are that GW may be willing to expense this season for long-term continuity.
Final Grade: B for the Revolutionaries.
Another season for Saint Louis of “very good but not good enough” for the Billikens. Travis Ford’s 2019 A10 tournament seems like eons ago, but that isn’t to say he hasn’t had good years in between. In three of the last four years, SLU has won 21 games or more, making three straight trips to the conference semifinals, and at least two Billikens have made the all-conference teams. Many teams in the conference would ask for such consistency, but the timing of Javonte Perkins’ torn ACL in 2021-22 messed up the timeline. They had everything to get their crown that year and added more for this past year, but fell short again.
Almost every major piece of the team has departed: Yuri Collins and Francis Okoro decided to forgo their fifth years, Fred Thatch’s year ended early with an injury, and they lost two graduate students in Javon Pickett and Jake Forrester. Gibson Jimmerson is back for a fifth season along with Terrance Hargrove Jr. Sincere Parker will likely be trusted as a starter after an up-and-down first year. Ford adds a two-time transfer in Bradley Ezewiro (who will need a waiver) and Tulsa graduate transfer Tim Dagler will help fill out the forward spot. Ford sprinkles in five freshmen, four of whom are foreign prospects that had very little interest from other schools. Ford did have former Oklahoma guard CJ Noland committed early in April, but he has since de-committed will play for North Texas.
This roster raises more questions than it does answers, one of which is who is going to take Collins’ place at point guard? Larry Hughes Jr struggled and Parker totaled just eight assists all of last year. Phil Jones and Lamont Evans played sparingly if they played at all. The most promising point on the roster is freshman Cian Medley, and even his high school numbers weren’t eye-popping. The center position, until Ezewiro receives his waiver, is totally up in the air. Stef van Bussel is a 6’10” freshman and Bruce Zhang is 7’1”, both present amazing physical tools but are they ready to play big minutes at that spot right away? The remains on the roster, besides Jimerson and Hargrove, present inconclusive evidence that they can even band-aid the open spots. While it is hard to replace what was lost, Travis Ford’s portal work is what makes me question the season coming for Saint Louis.
Final Grade: C for the Billikens.
Duquesne fans know the pain of losing as well as Fordham fans do- their past is severely underwhelming for being one of the original A10 teams (and the first winner of the conference tournament). Keith Dambrot has traveled to both ends of the spectrum the last two seasons: winning six games in 2021-22 and then posting a 20-win season in 2022-23. Dambrot’s team had issues: a lack of commitment to defense, a flawed style, and finishing the season out strong. Going 2-3 in the final stretch of the regular season isn’t great, but when it’s marred by a 27-point rout at Fordham AND getting upset by the 11th seed in the A10 tournament, tensions become a little high (Duquesne participated in the CBI but lost to an inferior Rice team).
The Dukes made major moves in the transfer portal: first came Andrei Savrasov from Georgia Southern, a 6’7” forward who posted 14 and 7 last season on 36% from three. The second came in a pair: the Drame twins jumped ship from La Salle to the other side of the state for their graduate seasons. Dambrot then finished his portal work with Dusan Mahorcic, a man in his sixth school after stops at Lewis (Division II), Moberly (Community College), Illinois State, Utah, and NC State with a history of knee problems. Duquesne returns their jump shot-happy backcourt of Jimmy Clark and Dae Dae Grant, promising speedster Kareem Rozier, and Joe Reece for his sixth year of eligibility. Dambrot will also welcome two freshmen into the fold who will contribute in limited roles.
Duquesne is going for it this year, they have to with how old this roster is. Eight of their main rotation guys are all graduating this year which makes for prime contending material. Dambrot has given himself a fighting chance to secure a top-four spot in the conference but questions remain about their playstyle. We’re going to learn more as the season inches closer (and teams start playing the games), but there is no question Dambrot wants to contend. He saved himself after failing to keep the 2019-20 momentum going, totally renovating the roster, and giving himself room to breathe.
Final Grade: A for the Dukes.
When a dominant program hasn’t won the conference tournament since 2003 there comes a point where things start to bubble over. Dayton, with all its economic might and state-of-the-art facilities, has failed to capture an A10 tournament crown. They’ve had some great seasons with some at-large bids, sent guys to the NBA, and captured a few regular season titles, but have been bedeviled by that conference tournament (2020 they would have likely run through everyone). This was the team most saw as the one who could break said curse, but Anthony Grant’s team dealt with tons of injuries that almost derailed the season. They were healthy for conference tournament time only to sleepwalk against Saint Joe’s, Fordham, ultimately to be pushed aside in the championship game by VCU.
A majority of the Flyers’ rotation was surrounded by transfer smoke that ended up coming to fruition: Toumani Camara declared for the NBA draft and was selected by Phoenix in the second round, Mustapha Amzil joined New Mexico, Mike Sharavjamts left for San Francisco, and RJ Blakeny joined Old Dominion. Grant’s new replacements are a mixed group: Javon Bennett (Merrimack) who was last year’s NEC Rookie of the Year, Enoch Cheeks (Robert Morris) a third-team all-Horizon league pick, 6’11” Isaac Jack (Buffalo), and little-used Nate Santos (Pittsburgh) who reeks of Camara’s replacement. Grant also managed to keep Malachi Smith, Kobe Elvis, and Koby Brea and stole Marvel Allen after he committed to Georgetown while including three more freshmen.
The biggest news of the offseason was DaRon Holmes dropping out of the NBA Draft and coming back for his junior year. That alone keeps Dayton on the hunt. They also added tons of guards to keep them afloat when guys are injured. Smith missed tons of time with multiple ankle issues, Elvis also logged 19 games last year, and Brea missed a couple of games. Bennett and Cheeks don’t have any real injury history in college, Santos missed his entire junior year of high school with an injury but turned in consecutive seasons of 25+ games played at Pitt, and Jack played all 34 games of his freshman season. The pieces all fit, Grant is a very good coach with tons of resources at his disposal (which he took full advantage of).
Final Grade: A+ for the Flyers.