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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: North Carolina ball boy makes three straight halfcourt shots

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During North Carolina’s blowout win over N.C. State on Jan. 8, the Tar Heels weren’t the only ones in the building who were feeling it.

As it turns out, North Carolina ball boy Asher Lucas was the hottest shooter of anyone in the building that night.

During halftime of that Jan. 8 game, Lucas nailed three consecutive halfcourt shots, as his father, Adam Lucas, a North Carolina columnist, released the video this week to YouTube. The video quickly went viral as Asher’s unreal streak of shots was all over TV and the Internet.

The Tar Heels have been struggling to find consistent perimeter shooting for the last few seasons, so maybe they need to start scouting Asher for a future roster spot.

 

VIDEO: Milwaukee wins on Brock Stull buzzer-beater

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Milwaukee Athletics
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Milwaukee picked up a Horizon League win on Friday night as guard Brock Stull knocked in a buzzer-beater to topple Cleveland State.

Stull only had four points on the night as he played 30 minutes and finished with five assists and six rebounds.

Oregon’s Dillon Brooks is ‘in a walking boot’, status still unclear

EUGENE, OR - DECEMBER 11: Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks shoots the ball over Ar'Mond Davis #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first half of the game at Matthew Knight Arena on December 11, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
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Oregon released a statement on Friday afternoon that said star forward Dillon Brooks had seen doctors and was in a walking boot, but gave no further update on his condition.

Brooks suffered what the program termed a “lower leg injury” on Thursday night against Cal. The injury was to his left leg – on replay, it looked like he rolled his ankle – which is concerning because his left foot is the foot that he injured over the summer, which caused him to miss the first three games of the season.

“He’ll be evaluated in the next couple of days and see where he’s at,” head coach Dana Altman said after Thursday’s game.

Allonzo Trier cleared to play vs. UCLA

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star
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Allonzo Trier’s most recent drug test came back negative, meaning that the leading returning scorer for the Wildcats will be eligible to play on Saturday when Arizona plays a visit to UCLA.

Trier had been suspended for the first 19 games of the season following a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug. He appealed to the NCAA and actually won, claiming that he unknowingly ingested the substance after someone he trusted gave him a product to help him recover from a car accident during the offseason.

The NCAA’s stipulation, however, was that he could not play until the PED had cleared his system.

Trier averaged 14.8 points last season for Arizona. He’ll join a back court that already includes Kadeem Allen, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons, as well as Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright. Along with Lauri Markkanen, who has the look of a lottery pick, Trier was expected to be Arizona’s best player this season. While he has not been allowed to play this year, Trier has been practicing and traveling with the team. It may take him a while to work his way back into game shape and into the flow of the team, but it won’t be because he’s rusty.

The Wildcats are currently 17-2 on the year and 6-0 in the Pac-12. They play No. 3 UCLA in Pauley Pavilion on Saturday. The Bruins are a game out of first place in the conference standings.

Myles Davis leaves Xavier program

Myles Davis
AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Myles Davis announced in a post on twitter on Friday evening that he will be leaving the Xavier basketball team.

“I would like to thank everyone and Xavier for allowing me to get my degree but my family and I have decided that it is time for me to move on from Xavier and start a new chapter in my life,” Davis wrote in the statement. “Wish my teammates the best of luck the rest of the season.”

Davis averaged 10.8 points and 4.1 assists while shooting 38.1 percent from three as a junior in 2015-16, and his skill set would have filled a void that the Musketeers are currently missing on their roster.

But he was suspended for the first 15 games of the regular season following a pair of incidents involving an ex-girlfriend over the summer, and since being reinstated to the team just three games ago, Davis has averaged 11 minutes, scored just two points and shot 0-for-8 from the field and 0-for-6 from three.