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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

PHOTO: Nevada wearing pink jerseys to honor Coaches vs. Cancer this week

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Nevada announced that they’ll be wearing special pink uniforms for the next two games to promote cancer awareness.

The Wolf Pack will wear the jerseys on Wednesday (Jan. 25) on the road against Boise State and at home on Saturday (Jan. 28) against New Mexico.

“We are extremely excited and honored to release our new Pink “Cancer-Awareness” Jerseys. It was apparent very early in our time here, that many members of our Nevada Wolf Pack Basketball Program and in our Pack community have been affected or are currently being affected by cancer,” Nevada head coach Eric Musselman said in the release. “We could not be more proud to help support the cause and unite to fight this horrible and devastating disease.”

 

UCLA is no longer a Final Four contender if their defense doesn’t improve

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 03: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after making a three-point basket against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half of the game at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA defeated Kentucky 97-92. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s win over No. 8 UCLA was massive for No. 7 Arizona for a number of reasons.

They got Allonzo Trier back into the fold. They remained undefeated atop the Pac-12 standings, keeping pace with an Oregon team that’s dealing with another Dillon Brooks foot injury and getting ready to make the nightmarish trip to the Mountain schools, Utah and Colorado, this weekend. They took a two game lead over the Bruins in the Pac-12 standings.

Perhaps more importantly, the Wildcats certified themselves as a legitimate threat to get to the Final Four. Their 17-2 record entering Saturday was pretty. A win at Pauley finally gave that résumé some substance.

So good for Arizona.

But that wasn’t the biggest story line coming out of Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon.

UCLA’s defense, or lack thereof, was.

Ever since the Bruins went into Rupp Arena and knocked off then-No. 1 Kentucky, UCLA has been considered one of the very best teams in the country. Villanova’s up there, too. So is Kansas, and Gonzaga, and those Kentucky Wildcats. North Carolina probably should be in that conversation as well. Maybe Baylor, maaaybe Florida State.

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You get my point. The Bruins, for better or worse, were one of the handful of teams that everyone thought would enter the NCAA tournament as a favorite to win the national title, but it’s time for us to question whether or not that is actually the case. That’s how bad the UCLA defense has been this season, particularly of late.

Against Arizona, the Bruins were a train-wreck. They gave up 96 points on 1.315 points-per-possession, which, for those of you who aren’t into advanced stats, is atrocious. That game was the culmination of a four-game stretch where UCLA’s defense had gone from concerning-but-good-enough to a major red flag. In those four games – road trips to Colorado and Utah and home games against Arizona and Arizona State – the Bruins allowed an abysmal 1.153 PPP. For comparison’s sake, the 2015 Kentucky team that went 38-1, the best defense we’ve seen in the KenPom era, gave up 0.847 PPP. UCLA averages 75 possessions a game, which is a difference of 23 points over 40 minutes.

That’s a big deal.

And on the season, UCLA has fallen the way to 125th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric.

That’s a bigger deal.

For those that don’t know, KenPom.com is a website that ranks teams based on how many points they score and allow per possession, adjusted for schedule strength. It’s widely considered the best way to determine who the best offensive, the best defensive and the best overall teams are.

It’s been around since 2002.

And since 2002, given where UCLA’s defense is today, they would be the second-worst defensive team to ever get to a Final Four.

In 2011, VCU ranked 138th in defensive efficiency as of Selection Sunday*, and they are the only team to ever rank outside the top 80 in defensive efficiency and make it all the way to the Final Four. Only three other teams have ranked outside the top 50 and made it to the final weekend of the season: Marquette in 2003 (76th), Butler in 2011 (72nd) and Michigan in 2013 (66th). Two others ranked outside the top 40 and won at least four games in the Big Dance: Texas in 2003 (46th) and Wisconsin in 2014 (50th):

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*(All of this info is via KenPom.com and as of Selection Sunday in those given seasons. That’s important to note, because winning games against good teams in the tournament changes those stats.)

The precedent is there.

UCLA, unquestionably, has to get better defensively if they want to win a national title.

But all hope is not lost.

The two teams with the lowest defensive efficiency entering the NCAA tournament to win the national title – North Carolina in 2009 and Duke in 2015 – both had top three offenses nationally.

UCLA leads the nation in offensive efficiency.

AP Poll: Villanova, Kansas neck-and-neck for No. 1

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Head coach Jay Wright and Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats congratulate Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats in the second half against the Temple Owls at The Pavilion on December 13, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Temple Owls 78-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Villanova maintained a slim lead over Kansas for the No. 1 spot in this week’s AP poll, with Gonzaga being the only other program to receive any first place votes.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBCSports Top 25

After losing to Arizona at home, UCLA dropped to eighth as the Wildcats vaulted them into No. 7 in the poll.

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1. Villanova (35 first-place votes)
2. Kansas (28)
3. Gonzaga (2)
4. Kentucky
5. Baylor
6. Florida State
7. Arizona
8. UCLA
9. North Carolina
10. Oregon
11. Butler
12. Virginia
13. Louisville
14. Notre Dame
15. Wisconsin
16. Creighton
17. Duke
18. West Virginia
19. Cincinnati
20. Purdue
21. Saint Mary’s
22. Maryland
23. South Carolina
24. Xavier
25. Florida

Coaches Poll: Kansas remains No. 1, Villanova No. 2

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 21: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives to the goal against Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns in the first half at Allen Field House on January 21, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Kansas remained No. 1 in the Coaches Poll this week, getting 18 of the 32 first-place votes.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBCSports Top 25

Villanova sits at No. 2 in the poll, with Gonzaha in third, the only other team to receive a first-place vote.

After beating UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, Arizona jumped up to No. 9 but still sits two spots behind UCLA at No. 7.

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1. Kansas (18 first-place votes)
2. Villanova (11)
3. Gonzaga (3)
4. Kentucky
5. Baylor
6. North Carolina
7. UCLA
8. Florida State
9. Arizona
10. Oregon
11. Butler
12. Notre Dame
13. Virginia
14. Louisville
15. Wisconsin
16. Creighton
17. Duke
18. West Virginia
19. Cincinnati
20. Purdue
21. Sainy Mary’s
22. Xavier
23. Maryland
24. South Carolina
25. Florida

College Basketball Talk Top 25: It gets muddy after a clear-cut top four

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 03: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in front of Lamarr Kimble #0 of the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the first half at The Pavilion on December 3, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Saint Joseph's Hawks 88-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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This week’s rankings were probably more difficult to put together than any week so far this season.

The top four, frankly, seem pretty obvious. I have Villanova No. 1, but I would have no qualms with ranking any of Kentucky, Kansas or Gonzaga in that No. 1 spot. I expect those to be the four teams that get votes for No. 1 in the AP and Coaches Polls this week.

After that, however, is when it gets difficult. Are you going to rank North Carolina above Florida State? UNC beat the Seminoles when they squared off this season but that was the Seminoles lone loss in a six game run against ranked teams. I went with Carolina over them because, simply, I think UNC is a better team.

Then there’s the question of what to do with the top three teams in the Pac-12. Arizona just won at UCLA and they got Allonzo Trier back. Oregon also owns a win over the Bruins, but there’s came at home on a buzzer-beater from Dillon Brooks, who is dealing with a foot injury again. And while UCLA has consistently proven to be one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the country, they are a nightmare defensively right now.

Where does West Virginia slot in after a pair of losses? What about Creighton without Mo Watson Jr.? Butler’s profile looks great but their performance on the floor has been less than stellar since their win over Villanova. Is Duke actually back?

You can find the rankings below. What did I get wrong?

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1. Villanova (19-1, Last Week No. 1)
2. Kentucky (17-2, 2)
3. Kansas (18-1, 4)
4. Gonzaga (19-0, 5)
5. North Carolina (18-3, 5)
6. Baylor (18-1, 7)
7. Florida State (18-2, 8)
8. Arizona (18-2, 16)
9. UCLA (19-2, 3)
10. Oregon (18-2, 10)
11. Louisville (16-4, 11)
12. Wisconsin (16-3, 13)
13. Purdue (16-4, 15)
14. Notre Dame (17-3, 17)
15. Cincinnati (17-2, 18)
16. Duke (15-4, 19)
17. West Virginia (15-4, 10)
18. Butler (17-3, 14)
19. Creighton (18-2, 12)
20. Saint Mary’s (17-2, 20)
21. Virginia (16-3, 22)
22. South Carolina (15-4, 24)
23. Maryland (17-2, 25)
24. Kansas State (15-4, NR)
25. Iowa State (12-6, NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 21 Xavier, No. 23 Florida
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 24 Kansas State, No. 25 Iowa State