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

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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

St. John’s to lose center to transfer

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 13: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats has his shot blocked by Yankuba Sima #35 of the St. John's Red Storm at the Wells Fargo Center on February 13, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Villanova won 73-63. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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Yankuba Sima will transfer out of the St. John’s program, the school announced on Friday.

“I want to thank the coaching staff and the administration for all of their support since I arrived at St. John’s,” said Sima. “I enjoyed my experience at St. John’s, but right now I feel it is best for me to explore options that will be a better fit for me as I work toward my goals.”

“We wish Yankuba the best of luck,” said head coach Chris Mullin. “I know this wasn’t an easy decision for him, but we respect and understand it. He’s a good basketball player and a good person with a bright future ahead.”

Sima started 26 of the 34 games he played with the Johnnies, including eight starts this season. He was averaging 6.0 points and 3.5 boards this year.

Kansas forward arrested on suspicion of battery

DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 19:  Carlton Bragg Jr. #15 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after scoring in the first half against the Connecticut Huskies during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 19, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. was arrested on suspicion of domestic battery, according to a report from the Kansas City Star.

Bragg, who was still in custody as of Friday morning, is being held without bond. No charges have yet been filed.

“We are still trying to gather information,” head coach Bill Self told The Star. “But it is a charge which we take very seriously.”

Bragg is a 6-foot-8 sophomore that lost his spot in the starting lineup earlier this year. He is averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 boards in 16 minutes. No. 3 Kansas hosts Nebraska on Saturday.

Frank Martin comments on Sindarius Thornwell suspension

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Sindarius Thornwell #0 of the South Carolina Gamecocks drives to the basket defended by Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange in the second half during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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South Carolina head coach Frank Martin commented on Sindarius Thornwell’s suspension during his call-in show on Thursday.

Thornwell, who was the leading scorer for the 8-0 No. 19 Gamecocks, was suspended indefinitely last Sunday. Martin has yet to provide a reason for the suspension.

“He’s been with us at practice, he’ll travel with us, he’s excited about our team, his role on the team,” he said, according to South Carolina’s 247 site. “Sindarius is one of my favorite guys I’ve ever come across. He messed up and it is what it is. He’s like a son to me. He messed up and he’s owned up to his mess up.”

“Outside of that, I’m not going to get into anything else. He has my full support. Our job is to prepare our team to play, we don’t prepare individual players to play. It’s no different to someone rolling an ankle. We’re down because of a bad decision. We’ll be fine.”

Thornwell is averaging 18.7 points, 6.0 boards and 4.1 assists. The Gamecocks play Seton Hall in New York City on Monday night.

UCF star point guard out indefinitely with thumb injury

STORRS, CT - JANUARY 22: B.J. Taylor #1 of the Central Florida Knights carries the ball up the court in front of Ryan Boatright #11 of the Connecticut Huskies in the first half during the game at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion on January 22, 2015 in Storrs, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Sophomore guard B.J. Taylor is out indefinitely after suffering a hand injury, UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins confirmed at a press conference earlier today.

According to a report from 247 Sports’ UCF site, the injury is a broken thumb, which was suffered in Saturday’s win over UMass.

Taylor is not expected to miss the rest of the season but will be out for an extended amount of time. He missed all of 2015-16 season dealing with a foot injury.

On the season, Taylor, a 6-foot-2 point guard, was having an all-AAC caliber season, averaging 17.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 boards.

Weekend Preview: Villanova tested by Notre Dame, bounce-backs for Xavier, Butler

Notre Dame's Steve Vasturia (32), Bonzie Colson (35) and V.J. Beachem (3) talk during the second half of a first-round men's college basketball game against Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 18, 2016, in New York. Notre Dame won 70-63. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 23 Notre Dame, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This is a fascinating matchup for a couple of reasons. For starters, this is the first real test that undefeated Notre Dame is going to be getting this season. We honestly have no idea how good the Irish actually are, and you wouldn’t be alone in needing to see a team starting Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson prove it before buying in.

But we also haven’t see Villanova tested in a while, either. They won at Purdue earlier this season and, since then, have more-or-less coasted to their undefeated mark. This will not only be a nice gauge game for Villanova, but it will also be a chance for them to pad an NCAA tournament résumé that will need to be strong for them to get a No. 1 seed this year.

The other part of this that’s fascinating? Both of these teams play small ball. There are going to be times on Saturday where 6-foot-5 Bonzie Colson is playing center and being guarded by 6-foot-5 Kris Jenkins, who will be at center for the Wildcats.

No. 22 Cincinnati at No. 16 Butler, Sat. 4:30 p.m.: Butler could really use this win. Coming off of a road loss to Indiana State during the week, the Bulldogs will be playing back in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday. But here’s the thing: Cincinnati could really use this win as well, and that Bearcat program already owns a road win over Iowa State.

The matchup here will be intriguing as well. Butler plays a more open, run-and-gun style than they did under Brad Stevens. Tyler Lewis is a show-man in transition, as is Kamar Baldwin, and getting Kelan Martin spotting up or attacking a close out is always a good coaching maneuver. Cincinnati is tough and big and physical. They try to wear you down. They pound the glass. They really, really defend. How does Butler handle it?

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FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • No. 17 Wisconsin at Marquette, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: In one of the more under-appreciated rivalries in college basketball, Marquette will be looking to land a marquee win to bolster the non-conference portion of their NCAA tournament résumé. Will
    Nigel Hayes continue to play like an all-american?
  • Utah at No. 13 Xavier, Sat. 5:30 p.m.: The Musketeers have lost back-to-back games and are really struggling to shoot the ball from the perimeter. Utah has struggled this season as they have a young roster waiting on a pair of transfers to get eligible.
  • Michigan at No. 2 UCLA, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: UCLA is now a week removed from their win over then-No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena. This will be the first time they see the floor since then. Michigan had the look of a tournament team earlier in the season, but they’ve lost a pair of winnable games in recent weeks.
  • Hofstra vs. No. 6 Kentucky, Sun. 3:00 p.m.: The Wildcats will square off with Hofstra on Sunday, a game that is only really notable because it will be played in the Barclays Center.
  • No. 21 Florida at Florida State, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: The Gators looked the part of an NCAA tournament team when they lost to Duke in New York City on Tuesday. Florida State is more talented, however, but it’s difficult to trust them. This will be a big win for whoever gets it.

FIVE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

1. Kentucky’s perimeter shooting is officially a concern: The Wildcats are currently shooting 32.2 percent from beyond the arc, which is 254th nationally. The only real threat they have from three in their starting lineup is Malik Monk, and he’s streaky. They can play Derek Willis at the four, but Willis is such a step-down on the defensive end of the floor from Wenyen Gabriel that it may not end up being a net-positive to play him, not when the Wildcats rely so heavily on their defense to create offense in transition.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m not even sure there is an answer. This is just what Coach Cal has to work with this season. Can they improve? Probably. The great thing about being a bad shooting team is that shooting is the easiest thing to develop. Teams without size can’t get bigger. Teams without athleticism can’t get more athletic. The only problem? There are just four months left of the season. How much better can Kentucky really get?

One thing worth noting here: The 2010 Kentucky team, the one with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, the one that lost in the Elite 8 because of their shooting issues, finished the season making 33.1 percent of their threes.

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 07:  De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at Rupp Arena on December 7, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
De’Aaron Fox (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

2. Let’s see if Notre Dame is for real: The Fighting Irish are one of nine undefeated teams left in college basketball, but as good as they have been this season, Mike Brey’s club still hasn’t really beaten anyone. The Colorado win looks better after the Buffaloes beat Xavier. Beating Fort Wayne, the team that upset Indiana, is good. Northwestern and Iowa are Big Ten teams.

But none of those four wins – none of Notre Dame’s nine wins – have come against a team we know will be in the NCAA tournament. We know Villanova will be, and the interesting thing about this matchup is how well the two teams matchup, particularly up front. Neither the Irish nor the Wildcats have much size inside. If Notre Dame can pull off the upset, it will be time to start talking about them much more.

3. UCLA’s first action since the win at Kentucky: The last time that we saw the Bruins take the court they put up 97 points on Kentucky in Rupp Arena. That’s pretty good. It’s also an easy way to get a big head, especially for a team that has so many freshmen on the roster. UCLA will face off with Michigan at home on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how they come out early on in this one.

4. Bounce-back chances for Big East programs: No. 13 Xavier has lost two games in a row now, both of them coming on the road. They were felled at No. 4 Baylor before getting dropped at Colorado on Wednesday. The Musketeers will host Utah, a winnable game that could help them find a rhythm shooting the ball.

No. 16 Butler is coming off of a loss of their home, having been upset at Indiana State by the Sycamores. The Bulldogs will have a bigger test than the Musketeers, as they host a top 25 team in No. 22 Cincinnati.

5. Jonathan Isaac’s health, Florida State’s tournament hopes?: Isaac is the forgotten top ten pick. He’s been terrific this season and has a chance to play his way into the top ten if he continues doing what he’s been doing, but he’s missed the last two games with a hip injury. This is an important game for the Seminoles, as they host Florida this weekend. Will Isaac be available?