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.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.