2014-2015 Season Preview: Treveon Graham, VCU enter as favorites in the Atlantic 10

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be breaking down the Atlantic 10.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The Atlantic 10, the Rodney Dangerfield of college basketball, is out to gain the respect yet again in 2014-15. The A-10’s 2013-14 season ended on a positive note, as Dayton, a team that began conference play with a 1-5 record, reached the Elite 8. This year, the league will look to build on that run, although outside of VCU, a top 20 team, there is not much clarity when it comes to the conference’s power structure.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Davidson
Out: None

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Archie Miller stayed: After guiding Dayton an Elite 8 run in March, Miller had a couple of options for leaving the Flyers for a high-major job. He decided to sign an extension at Dayton through 2019. It speaks to the strength of the league when hot coaching commodities like Miller and Shaka Smart continue to spurn Power 5 schools.

2. Rhode Island on the rise: Danny Hurley is in his third season at Rhode Island, and his rebuilding effort has been a major storyline in the A-10. Is this team, led by all-conference guard E.C. Matthews, ready to make the jump this season, or are the Rams still “one year away”?

3. George Washington: In 2013, the A-10 preseason poll predicted a 10th-place finish for Mike Lonergan’s Colonials. After a surprise season, Lonergan has a quartet of juniors — Patricio Garino, Kethan Savage, Joe McDonald and Kevin Larsen — ready to handle preseason hype, as George Washington looks for a second straight NCAA tournament appearance.

4. RPI and non-conference: Last season, eight teams were listed in the RPI top 100, the same number of teams in kenpom.com’s 2014 ratings (with two more just on the outside). The league also boasted non-conference wins over the Virginia, Gonzaga and Creighton last season.

5. Games on NBC Sports Network: There will be 25 Atlantic 10 games broadcasted on the NBC Sports Network. Full schedule is here.

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AP

PRESEASON ATLANTIC 10 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Treveon Graham, VCU

The 6-foot-6 Graham should end up going from an under-recruited forward to a conference player of the year with four NCAA tournament appearances. Graham, who averaged 15.8 points 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game as a junior, is a tough matchup for opposing defenses with his physical brand of basketball. Graham wasted little time preparing for his final season in Richmond as he spent the summer at the LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul elite camps.

THE REST OF THE ATLANTIC 10 FIRST TEAM:

  • Kendall Anthony, Richmond: The diminutive lead guard averaged 15.9 points per game, shooting better than 35 percent from beyond the arc.
  • DeAndre Bembry, Saint Joseph’s: The co-Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year will be the key for the Hawks this season after they lost three of their top four scorers.
  • E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: The 6-foot-5 guard has generated a lot of buzz for himself this summer after a freshman season that ended with sharing A-10 rookie honors with Bembry. Matthews scored 20 or more nine times after January.
  • Briante Weber, VCU: The defensive catalyst for Havoc recorded 3.5 steals a night for VCU, and could potentially break the Division I record for steals this season.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Patricio Garino, George Washington
  • Cady Lalanne, UMass
  • Kethan Savage, George Washington
  • Jordan Sibert, Dayton
  • Jerrell Wright, La Salle

BREAKOUT STAR: Jordan Price, La Salle

Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland both exhausted their eligibility, and they combined to averaged almost 28 points. Dr. John Giannini will look to yet another transfer to anchor the Explorers’ perimeter. Jordan Price, an Auburn transfer, was ranked No. 79 overall recruit by Rivals in 2012. In his lone season with the Tigers, he averaged 5.4 points per game, shooting 39 percent from three.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Tom Pecora, Fordham

Tom Pecora holds a 34-85 record as he enters his fifth season at Fordham. Since the 2010-2011 season, the Rams have followed this pattern: seven wins, 10 wins, seven wins, 10 wins, and have finished last three of four years. Fordham will be a young team with nine freshmen and sophomores, compared to six upperclassmen.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : “How many bids will the Atlantic 10 get?”

It’s becoming the annual theme for the Atlantic 10 on Selection Sunday. Five in 2012, six in 2013, but how many this upcoming season? I’d set the line at -4.5, and I would probably take the over. Look at a team like UMass. The Minutemen will play a handful of tournament-caliber teams in the non-conference (LSU, Providence, BYU, Harvard all on the road), so even if they do stumble in the conference play again this season, they have the chance to pick of several quality out of conference wins.

Just look at other teams last season. Dayton defeated Gonzaga in Maui and George Washington knocked off Creighton in December.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Conference play

Atlantic 10 conference play always seems to be unpredictable. For example, GW was picked to finish 10th in 2013-2014 befor earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. This season should be no different. Some of the better teams still have their questions while other programs appear to be on the rise. No better way to cap of league play than with a four-day stay in Brooklyn.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 24, VCU vs. Villanova (at the Barclays Center, Brooklyn)
  • Nov. 26, Richmond at N.C. State
  • Dec. 6, VCU vs. Virginia
  • Dec. 7, UMass vs. Florida Gulf Coast
  • Dec. 10, Rhode Island at Providence

*Dayton could end up playing UConn on Nov. 21

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @CDiSano44

PREDICTED FINISH

1. VCU: A top-15 team heading into the preseason, and with Treveon Graham and Briante Weber, Shaka Smart should be poised to win his first regular season conference title.
2. George Washington: The core of juniors George Washington returns will have to offset the lost production from Mo Creek and Isaiah Armwood. The Coloinals should be able to weather the storm with a healthy Kethan Savage, and a tough defense that forced the third most steals per game last season in the Atlantic 10.
3. Dayton: The Flyers have plenty of returnees from a deep Elite 8 team, but the loss of Devin Oliver and Vee Sanford will hurt.
4. Rhode Island: This is the team to watch this season, because sooner or later the Rams will be near the top of the conference standings.
5. UMass: The Minutemen return our key players and adds West Virginia transfer Jabarie Hinds. Depth will be a concern.
6. Richmond: Chris Mooney dealt with personnel issues late last season, but Richmond has the pieces to be on the right side of the bubble come March.
7. La Salle: The Explorers will have good size on the frontline with 6-foot-11 Steve Zack and the league’s top rebounder Jerrell Wright.
8. Saint Joseph’s: The reigning A-10 Tournament champion lost Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic, though, DeAndre Bembry is worth watching.
9. Duquesne: A junior-heavy roster, led by sharpshooter Micah Mason and guard Derrick Colter. Dukes should
10. Saint Louis: It’ll be a rebuilding year for Jim Crews after losing Dwayne Evans and Jordair Jett. Billikens shouldn’t be here long.
11. St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies will likely take a step back after an A-10 Tournament run. Youssou Ndoye, a 7-foot senior, is worth keeping an eye on.
12. Fordham: A young team that will rely on better shot selection from sophomore Jon Severe (17.3 ppg). Eric Paschall could be A-10 Rookie of the Year.
13. Davidson: The Cougars will had their growing pains in their first season in the new conference. Bob McKillop will change that quickly.
14. George Mason: First year as A-10 members didn’t go so well for the Patriots, who need to be better on the road in 2014-2015.

Oklahoma lands commitment from four-star prospect Jalen Hill

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Lon Kruger continues to assemble a monster 2019 recruiting class.

The Sooners received a commitment Thursday from Jalen Hill, a four-star wing from Las Vegas, to bolster a group that already is among the best in the country.

Hill chose the Sooners after visiting earlier this month. He had also visited TCU and had trips scheduled to DePaul and St. John’s. He also sported offers from Oregon, Arizona and Illinois. The 6-foot-7 small forward announced his decision at his school Thursday.

“I thought that it was just the best fit for me,” Hill told Rivals. “The the players over there are great and I just loved the coaching staff, really. They let you rock over there and let you be you.”In terms of everything else, they didn’t have a lot of wings coming back at that position. They compared me to Buddy Hield a little and said they might use me as a shooting guard and as a small forward.”

Hill averaged 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists in the EYBL with the Las Vegas Prospects. He’s the latest edition to Oklahoma’s 2019 class that already includes two top-100 prospects. De’Vion Harmon, a top-50 point guard from Texas, committed to Kruger and Co. last November while Victor Iwuaker, a top-100 forward also from Texas, pledged earlier this month. It’s a consensus top-10 class.

It’s hard to call Kruger underrated given the success he’s had in the college ranks and his stint in the NBA, but even with that recent Final Four run and the Trae Young Experience last year, the Oklahoma coach rarely seems to get his due as one of the top coaches in the country. He keeps winning – both on the floor and the recruiting trail.

Gonzaga lands commitment from top Lithuanian prospect

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Gonzaga has landed their third commitment in the Class of 2019, as Martynas Arlauskas, a 6-foot-6 Lithuanian wing, announced that he will be heading to Spokane for college instead of signing a professional contract.

Arlauskas ranks 42nd in the Class of 2019, according to 247 Sports, although he does not show up in their composite rankings; not even recruiting outlet ranks foreign prospects in their top 100. He spent last season played with the second division team from BC Zalgiris, one of the biggest clubs in Lithuania. He averaged 5.2 points as an 18-year old.

The last player Gonzaga recruited from Lithuania was Domantas Sabonis.

A skilled perimeter that is at his best playing on the wing, Arlauskas is the third member of Gonzaga’s 2019 recruiting class, joining Anton Watson, a top 50 prospect from Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, and three-star guard Brock Ravet.

Oklahoma lands four-star 2019 forward Victor Iwuakor

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Oklahoma landed its second four-star prospect in the Class of 2019 on Wednesday as forward Victor Iwuakor pledged to the Sooners.

The 6-foot-7 Iwuakor is a long-armed, undersized forward who has the strength and motor to still compete against other players on the interior. Rivals rates Iwuakor as the No. 116 overall prospect in the Class of 2019, as he joins top-40 point guard De’Vion Harmon in Oklahoma’s group.

Iwuakor is a great start to rebuilding Oklahoma’s frontcourt as they have a lot of scholarships to work with in this class. Now with two four-star prospects in the fold, head coach Lon Kruger is continuing to recruit at a high level — which is also a good sign that they’re capitalizing on Trae Young’s successful season becoming a top-five pick. Oklahoma was in a recruiting battle with Baylor and Texas Tech for Iwuakor, as all three schools received official visits, but the Sooners were able to pull the promising forward out of Texas.

Report: Oklahoma State’s Michael Weathers, arrested and suspended

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Oklahoma State has suspended potential go-to player Michael Weathers indefinitely after he was arrested and charged with felony grand larceny and knowingly concealing stolen property.

According to a police report obtained by CBSSports.com, Weathers is accused of stealing a wallet with a debit card and credit card, among other things, from a local bar called J.R. Murphy’s on Sept. 9. The estimated stolen value is $85, according to the incident report. Weathers was released on recognizance bond on Sept. 10 and arraigned Sept. 11 as a preliminary hearing for the case set for Oct. 1.

A transfer guard from Miami of Ohio, the 6-foot-2 Weathers was the MAC Freshman of the Year following his season with the RedHawks in 2016-17. He put up 16.7 points, 4.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.4 blocks per game as the stat-sheet stuffing guard was expected to be a major contributor for the Cowboys this season. Weathers often had his practice performances praised by Oklahoma State coaches last season while he sat out a transfer year.

If Weathers misses any sort of significant time from this, then it will undoubtedly hurt the Cowboys’ perimeter rotation as he could be facing a suspension. We’ll have to see how everything with this plays out in court, but Weathers being suspended indefinitely so close to the start of the season doesn’t help Oklahoma State.

Tennessee beats Duke to commitment for five-star prospect

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Tennessee’s Rick Barnes is up to his old recruiting tricks.

The man that brought the likes of Kevin Durant and T.J. Ford to Texas, the coach that is currently the reigning SEC regular season championship, has gotten things going in the Class of 2019 as five-star guard Josiah James committed to Tennessee on Wednesday.

James picked the Vols over Clemson and Duke. He visited Tennessee the first weekend of September and took a trip to Clemson last weekend before cancelling his visit to Duke and announcing his commitment.

A top 15 prospect in the Class of 2019, James is a 6-foot-6 left-handed combo-guard. He’s more of a smooth athlete than he is super-explosive, but he has a strong frame that can absorb contact, the vision to create for teammates and the tools to be a switchable and versatile defensive piece. He needs to get more skilled — he’s not a great shooter, and while he is a good passer and creator, his handle could stand to get better if he truly wants to be a lead guard — but the potential is there for James to blossom into a first round pick one day.

James is the third commitment for Tennessee in the Class of 2019, joining a pair of three-star forwards in Drew Pember and Davonte Gaines.

This has been an incredible 12-month stretch for Barnes.

In his third season as the head coach of Tennessee, he took the Vols to a share of the SEC regular season title with a team that didn’t have a single player on the roster that was a top 100 prospect in high school. Everyone of significance from that team returned to the program, meaning that Barnes now has a preseason top 10 team heading into the 2018-19 season.

And now he’s beating out the likes of Duke and Michigan State for a five-star, potential one-and-done player?

Impressive.