Atlantic 10 Conference Catchup: Can UMass outlast VCU and Saint Louis?

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Chaz Williams, UMass

UMass runs one of the nation’s most high-powered, fast-paced offenses and Williams is the engine that makes it run. The 5-foot-9 dynamo is averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 assists this season while shooting 41.4% from the floor. He’s been in a bit of a slump in the last four games, which just so happens to coincide with the Minutemen hitting a bit of a slump. He’s the most valuable player in the conference and the reason that UMass is currently sitting in the top 25.

All-Atlantic 10 First Team:

  • Chaz Williams, UMass
  • Treveon Graham, VCU
  • Maurice Creek, George Washington
  • Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis
  • Ronald Roberts, St. Joseph’s

Midseason Coach of the Year: Mike Lonergan

source:  The most impressive part of George Washington’s start to this season isn’t that Mike Lonergan has led a team that was picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference to an 11-1 record and wins over Creighton and Maryland. It’s not that he’s turned Maurice Creek into a star again or managed to develop Kethan Savage and Joe McDonald into one of the league’s better all-around back courts, or that he’s developed a bench on a team that was knocked for their lack of depth. It’s that he’s done all of it while dealing with a bad finger injury to Patricio Garino, their starting small forward.

Favorite: UMass

The Atlantic 10 is one of the more wide-open leagues in the country, but that this point, I think that UMass is probably the team to beat. They have a ton of length and athleticism up and down their roster, they love to get up and down the floor, and they have a floor general in Chaz Williams that can control the game from the point guard spot. As long as they continue to get big contributions from the likes of Cady Lalanne, Raphiael Putney and Derrick Gordon, this team has a chance to make a lot of noise.

And three more contenders: 

  • VCU has not been quite as impressive as we expected heading into the season, but the Rams are still one of the best teams in the conference. It takes a lot for any team to be able to handle Shaka Smart’s Havoc system
  • VCU isn’t he only team known for their defense in the A-10. Saint Louis plays a much different style, but they are just as tough on that end of the floor as VCU is. Leading scorer Dwayne Evans gives them someone to run offense through as well.
  • The Colonials have been terrific this season. They still have some questions regarding depth, but the wins over Maryland and Creighton speak for themselves.

Most Surprising Team: George Washington

It’s easy to look at GW and point to the addition of Maurice Creek, the Indiana transfer, as the reason that the Colonials have made the jump this season. It would be foolish to deny that fact, as the biggest thing that GW was missing last season was consistent perimeter shooting. But that would not give enough credit to the improvements that Kethan Savage and Joe McDonald have made. The Colonials are a legitimate contender. Who saw that coming.

Most Disappointing Team: La Salle

Coming off of a trip to the Sweet 16 last season, the Explorers returned Tyrone Garland, Tyreek Duren and Jerell Wright and expected to be in the running for the A-10 title. It doesn’t look like that is going to happen. The Explorers have already lost six games this season and just don’t look like a team that can contend.

Most Important Player (in league play): Melvin Johnson

The biggest thing that VCU was missing earlier on this season was a sharpshooter on the perimeter that would spread the floor and help them become more effective scoring in the half court. They needed to replace Troy Daniels. Can Johnson be that guy? He’s shooting 42.4% from three this year and is one game removed from hitting eight in a win over Virginia Tech.

Who will slide?: Dayton Flyers

The Flyers were awesome out in Maui. They beat Gonzaga, they beat Cal, they almost beat Baylor. That shot them up into the top 25. But since then, the Flyers have lost to Illinois State and dropped an overtime decision to USC at home.

Who is the sleeper?: St. Joseph’s Hawks

I’m wary of picking St. Joe’s to do anything after they burned me both of the last two seasons, but the bottom line is that no one is talking about the Hawks and they have quite a bit of talent on their roster. Ronald Roberts, Langson Galloway, Halil Kanicevic and Deandre Bembry are as good as any top four that you’ll find in this league. The question is whether or not they’ll have enough supporting cast step up and if they can defend well enough to beat the best teams in the league.

New Power Rankings

1. UMass
2. VCU
3. Saint Louis
4. George Washington
5. Dayton
6. St. Joseph’s
7. Richmond
8. La Salle
9. George Mason
10. Rhode Island
11. Fordham
12. St. Bonaventure
13. Duquesne

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.