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Atlantic 10 Conference Catchup: Is the A-10 headed for a down year in ’14-’15?

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source: AP
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The Atlantic 10 is an unpredictable conference. Look no further than Dayton. The Flyers lost four of their first five league games, and weren’t even assured a berth in the NCAA tournament until they heard their name called on Selection Sunday, but that didn’t stop them from making a run that ended a game away from Final Four.

Dayton was the last A-10 team standing out of six bids the conference received in 2014, one more than the previous season, although the other conference members failed to see the success Archie Miller’s program did during March. VCU, UMass, Saint Joseph’s and George Washington all bowed out in the Round of 64 while Saint Louis, which stumbled into the Big Dance losing four of its last five games, needed a collapse from N.C. State to advance to the Round of 32 where Louisville delivered the Billikens a 15-point loss.

RELATEDRead through all of our Conference Catchups here

Heading into next season, VCU and Dayton will be the favorites to sit atop the conference standings. The Rams have the conference’s best returning talent, Treveon Graham, who will be complimented by several key contributors and an impressive recruiting class Shaka Smart put together. Dayton’s best returner is its head coach, who was linked to high-major vacancies despite signing an extension through 2019.

Outside of the Rams and Flyers, who emerges as contenders in the A10? Can UMass, St. Joe’s or George Washington make return trips to the NCAA tournament? How does Jim Crews handle the loss of Dwayne Evans and Jordair Jett at Saint Louis?

One team that should emerge as a threat in 2014-2015 is Rhode Island. Third-year head coach Dan Hurley has previously built up a struggling Wagner program. He has the pieces this year to make a jump from last season’s 14-18 (5-11 A10) team.

Regardless, the A10 is poised to be another fun conference to track next season.

THREE UP

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Dayton: The Flyers finished sixth in the conference standings last season. Despite losing Devin Oliver and Vee Sanford, the Flyers can ride the momentum from their NCAA tournament run to rise to the top of the conference in 2014-2015. Dayton returns leading scorer Jordan Sibert along with seven of the nine players who averaged more than 12 minutes per game. Directing that cast is Miller, one of the top up-and-coming coaches, who will still be roaming the Dayton sidelines.

Rhode Island: The Rams graduate leading scorer Xavier Munford from a team which only one five conference games. However, A-10 Co-Rookie of the Year E.C. Matthews leads the crop of returnees, which includes top rebounders Gilvydas Biruta and Hassan Martin. Incoming guard Jared Terrell, a four-star recruit, adds talent and depth to the URI perimeter. The Rams were projected for a big jump this past season, but it looks as if this upcoming campaign might be the one that ends with the Rams’ first tournament appearance since 1999.

Treveon Graham: The rising senior guard saw spikes in points and rebounds per game, though, his shooting percentages dipped from his sophomore season. The 6-foot-6 Graham is the only returning A-10 first-team selection, and is surrounded by rotation guys Briante Weber, Melvin Johnson, JeQuan Lewis and Jordan Burgess and a talented class of freshmen.

THREE DOWN

Saint Louis: Crews deserves a lot of credit for his two seasons with the Billikens, but when you lose Jett, the A-10 Player of the Year and Evans, an all-conference selection, along with Mike McCall Jr. and Rob Loe, you’re bound for a down year. Saint Louis’ conference schedule includes two games against Dayton, Rhode Island and VCU in addition to a road game at George Washington.

Davidson: The Wildcats become the conference’s 14th member this season, and while they join the A-10 with five NCAA tournament appearances since 2006, the Southern Conference regular season champion makes the move without top scorer and rebounder, De’Mon Brooks, who concluded his college career this spring.

NCAA tournament bids: Over the course of the past two seasons, the Atlantic 10 has received 11 bids to the Big Dance. It’s going to be difficult to replicate that sort of success this upcoming season. UMass has to replace Chaz Williams. George Washington is without Mo Creek. Can Rhody make the large enough jump from bottom half to tournament conversation? Outside of VCU and Dayton, the A-10 has plenty of potential bubble teams.

FIVE NEW FACES

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Terry Larrier, VCU: The 6-foot-8 forward headlines a four-man recruiting class. He’s a four-star recruit, regarded as the No. 43 overall player in the Class of 2014, according to Rivals.com. Larrier has great upside, and he, with three other three-star commits, will provide Havoc with the depth it needs.

Bob McKillop, Davidson: For the last 22 seasons, McKillop has been a coach in the Southern Conference. He brings 472 career wins and seven NCAA tournament appearances into the A10, but without Brooks and longtime assistant Jim Fox, who took over the Appalachian State program, the Wildcats appear to be in an uphill battle for its first season. It will likely be a bump in the road in what should be a smooth transition.

Jabarie Hinds, UMass: The West Virginia transfer will be the added piece in a talented back court with Derrick Gordon and Trey Davis. In two seasons in Morgantown, he averaged 7.4 points per game. He gives the Minutemen an experienced scoring lead guard, who can also be a force on the defensive end.

Jordan Price, La Salle: In 2012, Price was the No. 79 overall recruit, according to Rivals. After averaging 5.4 points in 14.8 minutes per game, the 6-foot-5 guard transferred to La Salle to continue his career. He and Cleon Roberts will try and replace the perimeter duo of Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland.

Jared Terrell, Rhode Island: He originally committed to Oklahoma State over URI back in September, but had of change of heart in April. Terrell’s commitment, along with Matthews’ development help offset the loss of Munford. The powerful 6-foot-3 guard brings years experience against high-level prep school and grassroots competition.

Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

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

VIDEO: Kentucky fan makes a hype video

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 11:  Isaiah Briscoe #13 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates in the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the quarterfinals of the SEC Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 11, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Memorial Day weekend is typically a slow time for sports news, so over the weekend, the CBT crew has been discussing fan videos and songs.

If you’re not familiar, a lot of programs have fans that are so passionate, that they create something as tribute for their programs. This stuff tends to happen in the offseason.

Take this 12-minute video a Kentucky fan made that was posted by Kentucky Sports Radio’s Drew Franklin yesterday as an example:

Twelve minutes is a staggering amount for a video like this, but it captures multiple seasons and even goes into the future.

Not bad.

But it definitely doesn’t beat this Villanova song released by MRG after the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament run.

So now that we’ve seen the baseline for videos and songs, do any other fanbases have anything better in them this summer? There’s still a lot of time until college hoops begins next season and there are plenty of fans who can jump in with a submission.

Throughout the summer, we’ll post the best fan submissions on CBT (as long as they’re clean and original) and see which group of fans has the best at the end of it all.

Canisius finds a new head coach following Jim Baron’s retirement

Canisius head coach Jim Baron talks with players during college basketball practice in Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday, March 5, 2013. One year after Baron was fired at Rhode Island, the coach and his point guard son, Billy, have teamed up at Canisius to breath new life into a struggling program. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
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Canisius has found a new head coach following the retirement of Jim Baron, as the Griffins have hired former Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon, according to a report from Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News.

The 55-year-old Witherspoon was formerly the head coach at Buffalo from December 1999 until after the 2012-13 season and was recently an assistant coach at Alabama and Chattanooga the past two seasons.

During his time at Buffalo, Witherspoon went 197-225 while making four postseason appearances. He takes over a Canisius program that went 14-19 and 8-12 in the MAAC last season.

As a Buffalo native who has coached in the area as a high school, junior college and Division I head coach, Witherspoon should be familiar with the landscape of being a basketball coach in that city. It’s hard to say if Witherspoon can lead Canisius to prominence at this stage in his career, but he’ll certainly know the area enough to hit the ground running.

UNC’s Roy Williams recovering from knee replacement surgery

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MARCH 19:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts on the bench against the Harvard Crimson during the second round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on March 19, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Roy Williams is recovering from knee replacement surgery.

In an email Friday, athletics spokesman Steve Kirschner says Williams is “resting comfortably” after the procedure on his right knee performed by Dr. Walt Beaver in Charlotte. Kirschner says there’s no exact recovery timetable but Williams is expected to be on the road for July recruiting “as usual.”

The 65-year-old Williams had procedures on both knees last year but experienced discomfort during the season as the Tar Heels won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles before losing in the NCAA title game on a last-second shot to Villanova.

A week later, Williams said he was considering surgery options for a “bone-on-bone” condition and noted: “I’ve got to be able to move around.”

Utah to play rival BYU in basketball again in 2017

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 2: Nate Austin #33 of the Brigham Young Cougars and Jakob Poeltl #42 of the Utah Utes try for the ball in the second half of the Utes 83-75 win at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on December 2, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah will play rival BYU in basketball again in 2017 in a game that will end a “cooling off period” Utah demanded due to events at recent games.

Utah said in a news release Thursday that the two schools have agreed to play in 2017 at BYU. The school’s athletic directors are talking about scheduling future games.

The decision to cancel the rivalry upset BYU and ignited a controversy that lit up sports talk radio and triggered legislators to order a state audit of Utah athletics. The game had been played every year since 1909 except for during World War II.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said in January that the rivalry had become a “venomous and toxic environment.” BYU guard Nick Emery was ejected from December’s game for punching Utah’s Brandon Taylor.

Looking Forward: Defense will help Arizona sort out loaded rotation

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind let’s take a look at Arizona, an elite program that reloads with designs on erasing the bad memories of last year’s first round NCAA tournament exit. 

After going on a two-year run in which they went 67-9, won two Pac-12 regular season titles and made two Elite Eight appearances, Arizona took a step back in 2015-16. Sean Miller’s Wildcats saw their grip on the Pac-12 loosen, with Oregon taking advantage, and their NCAA tournament stay was a short one thanks to a tough Wichita State team. Many programs would sign up for a season that included 25 wins despite injuries to freshmen Ray Smith (torn ACL) and Allonzo Trier (broken hand).

But Arizona isn’t your “run of the mill” program, which is a testament not only to what the retired Lute Olson accomplished during his time in Tucson but to what Sean Miller’s managed to do as well. Since his arrival Miller’s pumped new life into the program, with Arizona racking up highly regarded recruiting classes and the wins to match.

All that’s missing from his time at Arizona is a trip to the Final Four, an accomplishment Arizona hasn’t been able to boast since 2001. And after last year’s disappointing finish, Arizona’s work on the recruiting trail in the spring has them in a position where they can get that done. There’s talent, depth and versatility on the roster heading into the 2016-17 season, with some key returnees being joined by one of the nation’s best recruiting classes.

And with that will come an important question for the Wildcats: how will they sort everything out from a rotation standpoint?

Competition within the ranks is hardly a bad thing; “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The same can be said for versatility, which will be another positive trait for Arizona in 2016-17. At first glance the roster has just two players seemingly locked into one specific position: Parker Jackson-Cartwright at point guard and Dusan Ristic at center. Outside of that, Arizona boasts a host of players capable of filling multiple spots based upon the desires of their head coach and the flow of the game.

The front court includes a mobile 7-footer in sophomore Chance Comanche, who managed to earn more consistent appearances down the stretch thanks to his activity on the defensive end of the floor. Newcomers in Lauri Markkanen and Keanu Pinder who can fill multiple roles in the front court, with Markannen’s ability to step out and hit perimeter shots being especially key, and the same can be said of the talented Smith provided there are no lingering effects from his second ACL tear in as many years.

With the injury and the time away from live action Smith will likely have some rust to shake off, but this is something Arizona can work through given their depth. There’s role versatility and this sets up to be a more mobile group defensively as well, which can only help the Wildcats moving forward.

The bigger area for Arizona from an options standpoint is on the perimeter, as they’re loaded with established returnees and high-caliber newcomers. And with the players available, how everything shakes out with regards to roles and minutes that come with them will be very interesting to watch. Trier’s back after a successful freshman season in which he averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 46.6 percent from the field, and with his ability to attack defenses off the dribble he’ll figure prominently in the Arizona rotation again in 2016-17.

Also returning are Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who shared the point guard duties with Allen getting the starting nod thanks in large part to his ability on the defensive end of the floor. Losing Gabe York, who was second on the team in scoring and Arizona’s best three-point shooter a season ago, can’t be overlooked. But with the additions to the program, Arizona can more than account for the production lost there.

Last year Trier was the Wildcat best capable of attacking defenses off the bounce, but even with the relative “lack” of such options Arizona still managed to average 80 points per game and shoot 48 percent from the field. Things will be a bit different in 2016-17, thanks to factors such as the loss of York and Ryan Anderson and the fact that they’ll have more players capable of breaking down opponents off the dribble. Freshmen Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins and Terrance Ferguson can all create shots via dribble penetration, with Ferguson also being one of the top shooters in the class of 2016.

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 30: Terrance Ferguson #6 of the East  team goes up for a dunk against the West team during the 2016 McDonalds's All American Game on March 30, 2016 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Terrance Ferguson (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

But could this turn out to be a case of having too much of a good thing? While considered a point guard, Simmons proved to be better at getting himself looks than doing so for others, and Alkins was also considered to be a “ball dominant” guard at the high school level. How will that change at the college level, and how will the pieces fit together within Arizona’s rotation?

These are important questions to address, and how Arizona can do that is on the defensive end of the floor.

After two straight seasons of producing defenses that ranked in the top three in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers (first in 2014, third in 2015), Arizona was ranked 41st in that category last season. After two consecutive seasons of limiting teams to less than 40 percent shooting from the field, Arizona allowed teams to shoot 41.3 percent in 2015-16. Also of concern was the turnover department, with teams committing an average of just 11.4 per game against the Wildcats last season.

By comparison, those two Elite Eight teams managed to force an average of 13.8 turnovers per game in 2013-14 and 12.4 per contest in 2014-15. The pack line defense isn’t one that people would necessarily categorize as a “pressure” system, but one of the strengths for Arizona during those two Elite Eight runs was having athletic options on the wings who can make life difficult for passers and the players looking to receive those passes. That wasn’t the case last season, but it may not be a problem in 2016-17 thanks to the roster additions.

Ferguson’s athleticism is noted above, and he’s also a long-armed player who more than holds his own defensively. Alkins also has the physical tools needed to cause trouble on the wing, which will give Arizona a good shot at playing defense at the level we grew accustomed to seeing them reach.

Physical tools aside, there’s always the “carrot” of playing time to dangle in front of the players. When discussing the adjustment process for freshmen many rush to the offensive end, and that’s understandable to a certain extent. But the biggest adjustment comes on the other end of the floor, and being able to prove that you can defend your position and carry out the team’s defensive game plan.

Arizona will certainly have offensive talent across the board next season. But the reason why they can rebound from last season and possibly reach the Final Four is the fact that some of that talent will make a difference defensively as well.