VCU AP

Conference Catch-ups: Atlantic-10 Battle Royale

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Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our Atlantic-10 Conference Catchup:

Favorite: Virginia Commonwealth
The Ram’s blend of experience, leadership, 3-point firepower and HAVOC defense is what sets them apart from the rest of the A-10.

Both Troy Daniels and Darius Theus were members of the 2010 Rams squad that lost to Butler at the Final-4 and are now the heart and soul of the Ram’s team. Juniors Juvonte Reddic, Rob Brandenburg and D.J. Haley have all been vital contributors during their time in Richmond. It seems like every season Shaka Smart loses 2-3 talented experienced seniors, only to see a new crop of leaders emerge from the underclassmen ranks. It has happened nearly every season since he took over in 2009. Sophomore Treveon Graham leads the team in scoring with 14.8-ppg and sophomore Briante Weber is the nation’s leader in steal percentage (8.67%).

The Ram’s patented “HAVOC” defense continues to give people fits and their offensive firepower goes unrivaled in the A-10. There are a handful of teams that could win the Atlantic-10, but VCU looks like the only team right now that should.
 
 
Contenders: The top of the Atlantic-10 is as deep as any conference in the country, even the Big-Ten. No team has been through as much as the Saint Louis Billikens have this season. They got a new coach, lost their best player to injury, and mourned the passing of Rick Majerus. But after losing three of their first six games, the Billikens have rattled off seven in a row, including a 14-point win over No. 20 New Mexico. Oh, and they’ve got their star player, Kwamain Mitchell, back from injury.

But we shouldn’t forget about Butler or Temple. In fact, the top four teams in the A-10 are all capable of making a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Rotnei Clarke has added the scoring threat the Butler Bulldogs desperately needed, and it showed in high-profile wins over Marquette, North Carolina and Indiana. The Bulldog’s frontcourt of Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith has been as good as advertised.

Then there is Temple. The Owls are just a Canisius loss away from being talked about among the nation’s elite. Their only other losses were to No. 1 Duke and No.6 Temple. Plus they dominated No. 3 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. They also have the conference’s best player in Khalif Wyatt.
 
 
Biggest Surprise: Charlotte
This isn’t really a surprise, since Charlotte ranks 292nd in strength of schedule and lost their only two non-conference games against BCS-conference teams. But at 12-2 heading in to A-10 play, the 49ers should be commended for winning all the games they should win and not slipping up against inferior competition. This team has enough experience and youthful talent to cause a scare in the A-10. Freshman forward Willie Clayton has the second best offensive rebounding percentage in the country (19.4%) and sophomore Pierra Henry ranks 9th nationally in steal percentage (5.82%). They deserve the recognition now because in a month they will start one of the most hellacious 6-game stretches of any team in any conference: at Temple, VCU, at Butler, at Saint Louis, Temple, and Dayton.
 
 
Biggest Disappointment: Saint Joseph’s
Considering the Hawks were preseason favorites to win the A-10, sitting at 8-4 with ugly losses to Creighton, Florida State, Villanova and Fairfield is troubling. What’s also troubling is the manner in which they lost. They were outclasses by Creighton on the road, lost their composure against Villanova and came up flat against a bad Florida State team and Fairfield. The Hawks have one of the most talented rosters in the A-10, and aside from an overtime win against Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden, they have not won any signature games.
 
 
Player of the Year: Khalif Wyatt, Temple
The senior guard leads the team in scoring with 16.1-ppg and was the driving force in Temple’s huge win against Syracuse. He scored 33 points on 8-for-17 from the field and a perfect 15-for-15 from the free throw in the Owls’ 83-79 win at Madison Square Garden. Aside from his six point performance against Duke, Wyatt is usually the best player on the court, which should bode well for the Owls as they head in to A-10 play.
 
 
Best Freshman: Semaj Christon, Xavier
The freshman guard has been the lone bright spot for the Musketeers, who have lost four in a row and sit at 7-6 with losses to Wofford and Pacific. Christon is a play-making guard who can score from almost anywhere and have stepped up in big spots, like on the road at Purdue, where he scored 25 points on 8-for-12 from the field. Unfortunately, he is being asked to do too much for a freshman, and is not getting the support from the front court that the team needs.
 
 
Three Predictions:

  • The A-10 Tournament in Brooklyn will be the best Championship Week Tournament. The A-10 is leaving Atlantic City in favor of the fresh digs at the Barclays Center in Brookyln. This conference is going to have multiple NCAA Tournament bids hanging in the balance come Championship Week, and with the Big East Tournament taking place on the other side of the bridge, there is going to be a lot of buzz surrounding Brooklyn.
  • An Atlantic-10 team will make the Final-4. This is one of the deepest conferences in the country. If VCU can escape league play with only minor scrapes and bruises, there is no reason to believe they can’t win six games in-a-row at a neutral site. Temple and St. Joseph’s have the talent to compete with any team in the country and Butler is still Butler, only now they Rotnei Clarke.
  • Xavier will not win the A-10. I know, I know. Not that bold of a prediction. But the Musketeers have dominated the conference for what seems like the last two decades. However with the addition of Butler and VCU, along with the team’s lack of depth and production in the frontcourt, the Musketeers will be on the outside looking in. Semaj Christon has been great, but the X-Men could really used a boost in play from their experienced leaders like Jeff Robinson and Brad Redford, but they aren’t getting it.

Power Rankings (* = tourney team):

1. Virginia Commonwealth*
2. Temple*
3. Butler*
4. Saint Louis*
5. Saint Joseph’s
6. Dayton
7. Xavier
8. UMass
9. Richmond
10. Charlotte
11. LaSalle
12. Duquesne
13. St. Bonaventure
14. Rhode Island
15. George Washington
16. Fordham

You can find Troy on Twitter at @TroyMachir

VIDEO: Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene hits ridiculous three

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You should know the name Marcus Keene by now.

He’s the nation’s leading scorer, the only guy in the country averaging better than 30 points this season; at just 5-foot-9, he’s averaging 31.4 points, 5.1 assists and 4.6 boards. On Tuesday night, Keene went for 40 points. He was in such a zone, he felt the need to make this little pirouette before banging home a three.

I mean, just check this out:

Here’s what makes that shot so crazy: this game wasn’t close to over!

Central Michigan was up by six points with more than two minutes left, and Keene not only buried that shot, he actually shot it.

Former Kentucky coach Gillispie announces retirement

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 18:  Head coach Billy Gillispie of the Kentucky Wildcats looks on during the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Dean E. Smith Center on November 18, 2008 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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One of the most mercurial college coaching careers of recent years is coming to a close.

Billy Gillispie, who rose in the profession to helming Kentucky and then fell to the junior college ranks, is retiring amid health concerns, he told the Dallas Morning News.

“No one’s ever enjoyed coaching more than I have, I promise, and no one’s ever been luckier in the coaching profession than I have,” Gillispie told the newspaper in a text message. “What a wonderful career!

“I’ve been very sick with blood pressure issues since the summer, but I’ve tried to fight it out. I got a report Monday that told me if I didn’t address this blood pressure situation immediately, irreversible, bad things were very likely to happen here relatively soon and my long-term health could be compromised.

“Timing isn’t great, but I’ve decided to do what I was told and try to return to healthy ASAP.

“I’ve had a wonderful career and in the last two years some of the best days I’ve ever experienced as a coach. I hate leaving this team because they are really coming around, but they understood me being sick. That’s the worst part of it, not coaching.”

After lengthy stints as an assistant, Gillispie got his first head coaching job at UTEP in 2002 and turned the Miners into an NCAA tournament team by his second season, which paved the way for his exit to Texas A&M and the Big 12. He won 20-plus games in all three of his seasons with the Aggies and brought them to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, spending much of the 2006-07 season ranked in the top-10.

Gillispie then took over for one of the most storied programs in the history of the sport when Tubby Smith bolted for Minnesota, but he would last just two seasons in Lexington before being fired after missing the 2009 NCAA tournament.

Two years later he resurfaced at Texas Tech, but didn’t make it to a second season in Lubbock after allegations of player mistreatment.

He’s spent the last year-and-half at Ranger College in Texas.

Report: Former Buckeye Mitchell headed to Arizona State

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 11: Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes talks to Mickey Mitchell #00 against the Michigan State Spartans in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 11, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Yet another one of the members of the heralded 2015 Ohio State recruiting class won’t be playing at his second choice of school either.

Mickey Mitchell will transfer to Arizona State after initially planning on going to UC-Santa Barbara upon his exit from the Buckeyes, according to Scout.

Thad Matta lost four players from that top-10 five-man recruiting class with Austin Grandstaff, Daniel Giddens and A.J. Harris all also deciding to leave Columbus.

Grandstaff also did not play at his first choice after Ohio State, deciding to ultimately depart Oklahoma for DePaul after heading to Norman from OSU.

Mitchell, once a four-star recruit, appeared in 23 games for the Buckeyes as a freshman, averaging 2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. He is expected to enroll at Arizona State in time for the next semester and will be eligible at the semester break next year for the Sun Devils.

Utah’s Krystkowiak reveals he had cancerous thyroid removed

Larry Krystkowiak
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Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak had surgery this spring to remove his thyroid after cancer was discovered in it, he revealed Monday during his coach’s radio show, according to the Deseret News.

“I had my thyroid taken out this spring,” Krystkowiak said. “Found some cancer in it.”

Krystkowiak made light of the situation, mentioning it contributed to some weight game.

“It’s OK if I skip a meal from time to time,” he said. “I gotta watch the midsection. That’s one of the byproducts of not having a thyroid. I guess you get a little chunky.”

Krystkowiak, who has been at Utah since 2011, and the Utes are currently 6-1 with their lone loss coming to Butler. They travel to face Xavier on Saturday.

Bobby Hurley ridicules his Arizona State team’s effort in loss

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 16:  Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils yells to his players during their game against the UNLV Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center on December 16, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Arizona State won 66-56.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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NEW YORK — A totally forgettable Arizona State performance in the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday night led to some truly unforgettable comments from head coach Bobby Hurley.

Hurley, who has a reputation for having something of a temper, teed off on his team in the press conference after the game, criticizing them as harshly as you’ll ever see a coach do in public. He called them “embarrassing” and the performance “disturbing”.

“I thought we competed for about eight minutes out of 40,” Hurley said. The Sun Devils were down 47-21 at the half, by as many as 42 points in the second half and eventually lost 97-64 to a Purdue team that scored 19 first half points against Louisville exactly a week ago. “It’s unfortunate that our team didn’t even come close to the energy that Jimmy V had in his life and his passion. We had no passion for playing. We did a disservice to this game and this event and what he represented.”

It’s not often that you see a coach publicly ridicule players like that. Humiliation isn’t always the best motivating tactic. Oftentimes, it’s the easiest way to lose a locker room.

Hurley wasn’t done.

“For a city that’s a blue-collar city and an arena that has so much tradition and so many good players that have played on this court — to look like that, it was embarrassing,” he said. “And then the cause, such a great cause that we’re playing for tonight. Did my players play as hard as the people that are going through what they go through in cancer, as families go through in their personal situations? I don’t think so.”

Oh, there’s more.

“That was really disturbing, how we competed,” Hurley said. “It’s not a reflection of my personality or the teams I’ve coached in the past, so we have to make some changes.”

For better or worse, this is the second time in Hurley’s tenure with Arizona State that he’s made national headlines. Last season, he went viral during a theatrical ejection in an Arizona State loss against in-state rival Arizona.

Hurley is trying to make Arizona State relevant, which is why he’s scheduling games against anyone and everyone in an effort to get his brand on national television.

And he’s succeeded in a sense.

After this rant, you’ll see his name on every sports website this morning.

I’m not so sure that’s the best way to build recruiting momentum.