Chaz Williams, Eric Mika

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

Villanova’s Jenkins to return for senior season

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) reacts to play against North Carolina during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After briefly taking part in the NBA Draft evaluation process, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins announced Monday night that he’s decided to withdraw and return to school for his senior year. Jenkins, whose three-pointer as time expired gave the Wildcats the win over North Carolina in the national title game, announced the news via Twitter.

2015-16 was a breakout season for Jenkins, who moved into the starting lineup and averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. The 6-foot-6 forward shot 45.9 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc, and with starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu graduating he’ll have even more opportunities to produce next season.

Jenkins’ decision to return leaves wing Josh Hart as the lone Wildcats going through the early entry process at this time. Hart was a first team All-Big East selection as a junior, and his return would be the final piece to the puzzle for a team that many expect to be a national title contender in 2016-17.

Jenkins and Hart wouldn’t be the only returnees who had a part in the national title run, with guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth, wing Mikal Bridges and forward Darryl Reynolds back as well. To that group Villanova adds Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and a recruiting class anchored by Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter with Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney available after being hampered by injuries last season.

Delaney missed all of last year after undergoing surgical procedures on his hips, and DiVincenzo played a total of 74 minutes over the first nine games before having to sit due to a broken foot.

Florida State guard Rathan-Mayes to return for junior season

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) drives past Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger, left, for a score in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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With their top three scorers from last season all deciding to declare for the NBA Draft, Florida State was facing the possibility of having to rebuild their backcourt ahead of the 2016-17 season. However two of those three have decided to return to Tallahassee, with rising junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announcing on Monday that he will be back in school.

Rathan-Mayes joins rising sophomore Dwayne Bacon in returning to play another season for head coach Leonard Hamilton, with Malik Beasley hiring representation and remaining in the draft.

Rathan-Mayes had more scoring help last season and as a result was able to concentrate more on the distribution aspects of the point guard position, as he averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest. With the return of Rathan-Mayes and Bacon, Florida State will have two of its top three scorers from last season back on campus.

The Seminoles did lose some veteran players, most notably guard Devon Bookert and center Boris Bojanovsky, but the returnees and a recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Jonathan Isaac means that they won’t lack for options next season.

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP
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After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.

Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.

SMU lands former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt

Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt (24) leaps for a layup past Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips (25) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Arkansas won 75-65. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP
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With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.

As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.

At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.

 

Boise State assistant named head coach at Northern Colorado

rp_primary_Linder_Jeff_Action_vs_Dayton_031815_2_
Courtesy UNCBears.com
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GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.

Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.

University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.

Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.

In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”

Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.