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

Kansas made no written report of its athletics review

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas did not produce any written reports of an independent examination of its athletics department amid a federal investigation of corruption in college basketball because an external report wasn’t necessary, Chancellor Douglas Girod said.

The university review came before Kansas was named earlier this month as one of the schools where a former Adidas representative allegedly arranged payments to parents of athletes to ensure the athletes committed to the schools.

Girold said Monday he was given verbal briefings after last fall’s review but he didn’t receive any written reports. The university’s review was prompted by an Oct. 11 memo from the NCAA requiring Division I basketball programs to examine their men’s basketball programs “for possible NCAA rules violations, including violations related to offers, inducements, agents, extra benefits, and other similar issues.”

On April 13, Girod said in a statement that he had “complete confidence” that the athletics department had followed all rules.

“We didn’t feel the need to release an external report,” Girod said. “What we needed to be sure of is that we are comfortable and confident in the way our team operates and in meeting any and every requirement necessary.”

When The Lawrence Journal-World filed an open records request seeking all written reports related to the review Kansas officials said no such records exist. The newspaper said without a written report it was difficult to determine what the university examined and what methods were used.

Kansas hired an outside law firm but said the firm only provided assistance on technical matters.

Girod said Monday the examination reviewed several records to determine whether there is anything the university should be concerned about and found nothing.

The latest federal indictment in the wider investigation alleges that a former Adidas executive paid a mother and a guardian of two basketball players at least $130,000 to ensure they would play for the Jayhawks. No Kansas officials were implicated.

“We have gone back to look at anything we have access to, and we can’t find any evidence of that,” Girod said. “But we don’t have access to everything. That is all we really can do — make sure that on our side of the house we are doing everything appropriately and properly.”

Milwaukee to lose top three scorers to transfer

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Milwaukee announced this week that the three leading scorers off of last season’s fifth-place Horizon League team have been given their release to transfer out of the program.

Jeremiah Bell (14.1 ppg) and Brock Stull (13.4 ppg), both junior guards, as well as sophomore forward Bryce Nze (10.3 ppg) will all pursue other opportunities, which is trouble for a program with a coach that just finished his first season and a roster that finished below .500 on the season.

“Our staff wishes this group of players nothing but the best,” coach Pat Baldwin said in the statement. “We never like to see players leave, but each student-athlete has a unique set of circumstances and feels what is best for them is somewhere else. As they all wish to pursue options at the high-major level, we do want to thank them for their contributions to the Milwaukee basketball program.”

Commission to unveil ideas to fix college basketball’s woes

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — College basketball played an entire season amid a federal corruption investigation that magnified long-simmering troubles within the sport, from shady agent dealings to concerns over athletes who’d rather go straight to the pros.

Now it’s time to hear new ideas on how to fix the complex, wide-ranging problems.

On Wednesday morning, the commission headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will present its proposed reforms to university presidents of the NCAA Board of Governors and the Division I Board of Directors at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. And that starts what could be a complicated process in getting changes adopted and implemented for next season.

“I expect the proposals will be strong,” NCAA president Mark Emmert told The Associated Press. “They’ll certainly break with the status quo. That’s their charge and their mission. That’s what we need.

“I think it’s going to be a very good day for college sports,” he said.

That would be welcome, considering there has been no shortage of bad days in recent months.

The Commission on College Basketball formed in October , a few weeks after federal prosecutors announced they had charged 10 men — including assistant coaches at Arizona, Auburn, USC and Oklahoma State along with a top Adidas executive — in a fraud and bribery scandal.

The case involves hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged bribes and kickbacks designed to influence recruits on choosing a school, agent or apparel company. And it has entangled schools such as Kansas, North Carolina State , Louisville and Miami , among others, though prosecutors withdrew a criminal complaint in Feburary against one of the defendants, a youth hoops program director.

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford said that case has put college sports in the position of reacting instead of proactively heading off yet-to-emerge problems.

“Sometimes unfortunately that’s what it takes,” Swofford told the AP. “You’d like to think that collectively the basketball world could’ve seen this coming and had the foresight to get out ahead of it. But that’s not reality. Organizations and people, we all sometimes need wake-up calls. And I see this as a wake-up call, and therefore an opportunity.”

One the Rice commission wants to seize.

It was charged with finding ways to reform and modernize rules, including looking at the NCAA’s relationship with the NBA, youth leagues, apparel companies and agents. It was also set to review an enforcement process that frequently takes years to resolve complicated cases of potentially major rules violations.

The commission features several prominent names in the sport, including former NBA stars Grant Hill and David Robinson, former Georgetown coach John Thompson III, retired college coach Mike Montgomery and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith.

“The stage is set, certainly, given what’s happened with law enforcement and what we’ve seen in media reports around men’s basketball at the collegiate level,” Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey told the AP. “You involve Condoleezza Rice because you want an impactful outcome.”

After Rice presents Wednesday morning, the boards will meet to consider adopting the commission’s recommendations, either fully or in part. The next stop would be the Division I Council, a group mostly made up of athletic directors, to craft legislation for implementation.

Emmert said the council is already forming subgroups to deal with the targeted areas the commission is expected to address, with the goal of having legislation ready to be presented by August in time for next season.

Swofford, for one, said he’d prefer to end the one-and-done model of top NBA prospects arriving in college for one-year pit stops before turning professional, though that would also take agreement from the NBA. Swofford prefers a model similar to baseball by allowing high schoolers to go straight to the pros but require players who enter college to spend two years there.

He’d also like to see the NBA-run G League become a stronger developmental option for athletes who don’t want to come to college, a path recently chosen by former Syracuse recruit and McDonald’s All-American Darius Bazley.

Regardless, Swofford said, changes must be broad-based because “I don’t think there’s a silver bullet here” to fix everything. And he expects the commission to offer “substantive” findings.

“If we can’t react to something like this in a way that brings significant improvement to the system and to what we’re doing, shame on us,” Swofford said.

Wichita State’s McDuffie testing NBA draft waters

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Wichita State forward Markis McDuffie entered his name into the NBA draft without signing with an agent, sources told NBC Sports on Tuesday.

It was initially believed that McDuffie would return to Wichita State for his senior season. As a sophomore, McDuffie, a former top 100 recruit, averaged 11.5 points and 5.7 boards, but he played fewer than 20 minutes a night as a junior after missing the first half of the season with a broken foot.

He will be a late-second round pick at best, but is likely to go undrafted if he opts to sign with an agent. He’s expected to return.

The Shockers are already staring down the barrel of a rebuilding season. Two players, including starter Austin Reaves, are transferring out of the program while all-american guard Landry Shamet has already made the decision to enter the draft and sign with an agent. As it currently stands, assuming McDuffie returns, just four scholarship players from this year’s team will play for Wichita State next season: McDuffie, Samajae Haynes-Jones, Asbjorn Midtgaard and Rod Brown.

Jeff Capel lands first commitment as the head coach at Pitt

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Jeff Capel is on the board with his first commitment as the head coach of Pittsburgh.

Trey McGowens, a top 100 prospect in the Class of 2019, announced on his twitter page that he will be enrolling at Pitt as a member of the Class of 2018.

A 6-foot-3 combo-guard, McGowens picked the Panthers over a handful of other high-major programs.

This is not exactly a program changing kind of commitment for Capel. Players that are late-spring commitments are almost always more celebrated because they end up in higher demand when there are fewer players left to fill the holes on rosters around the country. I’m not sure McGowens is all that different, but what’s significant about his commitment is that it’s proof that Capel is, at the very least, going to make some noise on the recruiting trail.

Capel has a long rebuild in front of him, but landing four-star prospects that will help spend a few years in the program are the kind of pieces that he needs at this point, and the kind of pieces that his predecessor was not able to land.