Atlantic 10 conference tournament preview

1 Comment

Early in the year, the Atlantic 10 was all Xavier.

With a lofty preseason ranking, an all-american anchoring a back court that could match up with anyone in the country and a pair of come-from-behind wins over Purdue and at Vanderbilt, it really shouldn’t be any wonder that the Musketeers were the talk of the conference.

But a Dec. 10th brawl with Cincinnati sparked a collapse for Xavier, one that would see them lose five of their next six games and eventually drop to 10-6 in league play, it became evident that this conference wasn’t going to be Xavier’s to lose. We probably never should have felt that way in the first place, because the A-10 has proven that, this season, they are as competitive of a league as you are going to find.

The problem?

There may actually be too much balance.

Temple is the class of the conference and St. Louis isn’t all that far behind them. There’s a noticeable gap between those two teams and the rest of the pack. But with six teams sitting within a game of third place, its quite obvious that the ‘pack’ has eaten itself alive. The A-10 is probably looking at a situation where they are going to get, depending on how the tournament plays out, three or four teams. But if La Salle and UMass, and even Duquesne and Richmond, hadn’t knocked off some of those other middle-of-the-pack teams, five and even six bids wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility.

Competitive balance makes for fun conference races. But a stockpile of good teams at the top of the league may actually lead to more of a postseason presence for teams.

The Bracket

Where: Campus sits and Atlantic City, NJ

When: March 6th-March 11th

Final: March 11th, 1 p.m. CBS

Favorite: Temple

Its hard not to love what Temple has done this season. The Owls won a competitive league outright, which is not an easy thing to do, particularly when you are playing a completely different style than you are used to. Fran Dunphy has become synonymous with tough, defensive-minded basketball in his time with the Owls, but this season they like getting up and down the floor. They win thanks to the ability of guys like Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez to score. With Michael Eric back, the Owls now also have the size to battle bigger teams in the paint.

And if they lose?: St. Louis

Rick Majerus has done a great job with the Billikens. They finished second in the Atlantic 10 despite being just one season removed from a rape allegation that resulted in their best player getting kicked off the team for a year. This group defends well, controls the pace and shoots it from the perimeter. And if you believe Kenpom, you might want to pick St. Louis. He’s got them 12th in the country. Overall.

Other contenders?: Its impossible not to put Xavier in on this list. When you have a back court of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, a glue-guy with the talent of Dez Wells and a front line with high-major size and talent, you expect victories. We’ll see if they can get back into that rhythm.

Sleeper: St. Joseph’s

I really like this group now and I’ve really liked them all season long. They have a terrific back court and an athletic front line that is capable of putting on a show for the folks at Sportscenter. The Hawks won five of six games in February to get themselves back into the bubble discussion, but stumbled down the stretch, losing two of their last three games.

Deeper sleepers: St. Bonaventure is playing well and has the league’s Player of the Year, Andrew Nicholson, anchoring the paint. La Salle and UMass have both won enough games this season to garner a mention here as well.

Studs:

Carl Jones and Langston Galloway, St. Joe’s: This back court duo averages 32.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 5.5 apg.

Chris Gaston, Forhdam: He may be the most productive player on the country, but he also plays for Fordham. Who is going to recognize him from there?

Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt, Fairfield: These two combine to average 34.9 ppg, 6.8 apg and 7.4 rpg.

Kevin Dillard, Dayton: The A-10 is loaded when it comes to back court players, but Dillard has stood out because he has been the catalyst and one of the lone bright spots for a confounding Flyer team.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

(Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

Leave a comment

Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

Baylor Athletics
Leave a comment

Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.