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Atlantic 10 Reset: Dayton, George Washington lead the way

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College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Atlantic 10.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jack Gibbs, Davidson

After averaging 16.2 points per game as a sophomore Gibbs has been even better this season, scoring 24.6 points per game to go along with 4.0 assists. He’s shooting better from the field than he did a season ago, upping that percentage to 52.8 percent from last season’s mark of 47.9, and shooting 38.9 percent from three is nothing to scoff at either. He’s the focal point in Davidson’s offense, and Gibbs has still managed to put up points despite opponents targeting him defensively.

ALL-ATLANTIC 10 FIRST TEAM

  • Jack Gibbs, Davidson
  • Melvin Johnson, VCU
  • DeAndre Bembry, Saint Joseph’s
  • Terry Allen, Richmond
  • Hassan Martin, Rhode Island

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. Injuries have done some damage to a formidable Rhode Island squad: With two of the conference’s top players in guard E.C. Matthews and forward Hassan Martin leading the way and the addition of multiple talents including Kuran Iverson and Four McGlynn, this was seen as the season in which URI would not only contend in the Atlantic 10 but also return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. Both objectives remain on the table for Dan Hurley’s team, but the injury bug has made the task far more difficult with Matthews out for the year and both Martin and Iverson dealing with ankle issues. That being said, it would be unwise to count out URI heading into conference play.
  2. With added depth, Dayton’s even more dangerous than they were a season ago: Dayton’s trip to the NCAA tournament last season was an impressive one, as they reached the field despite playing a seven-man rotation with no player taller than 6-foot-6. This season the Flyers are off to a 9-2 start despite the fall semester suspension of forward Dyshawn Pierre, and improved depth is one reason why. Steve McElvene has given them much-needed size in the post after sitting out last season as a partial qualifier, James Madison transfer Charles Cooke is the team’s leading scorer, and veterans such as Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard and Kyle Davis have picked up where they left off. The question at this point is how Pierre will fit into the rotation, with the Flyers looking to make a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
  3. Transfers have also been key at George Washington, which reached the polls for the first time since 2006: URI and Dayton aren’t the only teams in the conference who have benefitted from transfers, as George Washington added a high-impact newcomer in Tyler Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh (15.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg), who began his career at Wake Forest, leads Mike Lonergan’s team in scoring and is second in rebounding while shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. Dartmouth transfer Alex Mitola is also in the rotation, and the newcomers have fit in well with a veteran group led by forwards Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen and guard Joe McDonald.

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. Davidson’s ability to defend will dictate its title hopes: Bob McKillop’s Wildcats surprised those who pegged them to finish in the bottom half of the A-10 in their inaugural season, using one of the country’s best offenses to win the regular season title. With Jack Gibbs leading the way Davidson is once again difficult to guard, but there aren’t as many secrets this time around. What they’ll need is to make improvements defensively, especially considering how tight the race is expected to be. Off to an 8-3 start, Davidson’s won games despite having issues defending the three and keeping opponents off the offensive glass. They’ll win games for sure, but getting stops could mean the difference between simply contending and repeating as regular season champions.
  2. How Dyshawn Pierre fits into the rotation at Dayton: Pierre was one of the Atlantic 10’s best players as a junior, earning second team all-conference honors after averaging 12.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. But with that being said, Archie Miller isn’t going to risk upsetting his team’s chemistry just to get Pierre minutes. What kind of shape will he be in, both physically and mentally? What will his role be, and more importantly how will he adjust to/accept it? Pierre performed well Wednesday night in his season debut, and if that continues to be the case the Flyers will be the favorite to win the A-10.
  3. Does the progress made by Isaiah Miles make Saint Joseph’s a dark horse?: DeAndre Bembry is the first name out of most peoples’ mouths when discussing the Hawks, and rightfully so given his skill set and accomplishments to date. But he’s had more consistent help this season, with senior forward Isaiah Miles being the most noteworthy of those players. After averaging 10.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game as a junior, Miles is up to 17.3 and 8.0 this season while also blocking nearly two shots per game. His emergence means that opponents have to account for another consistent scorer, and the Hawks have been much better offensively as a result. A-10 dark horse? Maybe.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: VCU has lost five games on the season, but none of those defeats would be considered particularly bad. There was the 0-2 trip to New York to play Duke and Wisconsin, and three losses in December to Florida State, Georgia Tech and Cincinnati. VCU’s played a challenging slate, made even tougher by the fact that they’re getting used to a new head coach and life without two highly influential players in Briante Weber and Treveon Graham.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: At 9-2 there’s no denying that Jeff Neubauer’s Fordham Rams are off to a good start in his first season at the helm. However the Rams’ two defeats came against the toughest opponents on the schedule (UT-Arlington and Boston College), with their best win coming at the expense of St. John’s. Fordham has some talent and they’ve performed well in games that prior teams would have lost, which bodes well for the future. But don’t expect them to make a major leap up the standings in year one under Neubauer.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: After tallying 55 wins, two A-10 regular season titles and two NCAA tournament appearances in his first two seasons at the helm, Jim Crews’ Saint Louis program has hit a rough patch of late. After winning 11 games in 2014-15, the Billikens are currently 5-7 and will begin A-10 play on a four-game losing streak. The Billikens have struggled mightily offensively, ranking 318th in adjusted offensive efficiency thanks to a combination of poor turnover percentage (22.0) and poor perimeter shooting (30.8 percent 3PT).

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. Dayton: Unlike last season the Flyers have both depth and size, with 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman Steve McElvene joining an experienced rotation anchored by point guard Scoochie Smith and forward Kendall Pollard. The question for Archie Miller’s team moving forward is the role Dyshawn Pierre will play, and how that will impact the team’s flow.
  • 2. George Washington: Much-improved from a season ago offensively, the Colonials are off to an 11-2 start and were ranked before their surprising loss at DePaul last week. Tyler Cavanaugh and Alex Mitola have been key additions for George Washington, and the defensive prowess of Patricio Garino can cause fits regardless of which defense the Colonials use.
  • 3. Richmond: The Spiders didn’t look all that good in a loss at Texas Tech Tuesday, but that defeat shouldn’t remove UR from the list of A-10 contenders. The forward tandem of Terry Allen and T.J. Cline is a handful for opponents, and they’ve got experienced guards as well. But the defense, with teams shooting 45.8 percent from the field with an effective field goal percentage of 50.4, has to improve.

NIT teams

  • 4. Rhode Island: The Rams haven’t used injuries as an excuse, but there’s no denying the impact that the loss of E.C. Matthews has had on them. Four McGlynn has been a positive addition as has Christion Thompson, and they’ve got one of the nation’s best defenders in Hassan Martin. If URI is to make a run at the A-10 crown, Kuran Iverson and Jared Terrell will be key offensively.
  • 5. VCU: Despite the head coaching change the Rams are still turning opponents over, and in Melvin Johnson they’ve got one of the league’s best sharpshooters. But if VCU is to push for the top spot and a return trip to the NCAA tournament, they have to get better inside of the arc. The Rams are shooting just 44.6 percent from two this season.
  • 6. Saint Joseph’s: Phil Martelli has one of the nation’s best wings in junior DeAndre Bembry, and unlike last year there’s been consistent help for the A-10 POY candidate. Isaiah Miles has been excellent at forward, and the Hawks also have a good freshman class that can help both now and in the future.
  • 7. Davidson: Bob McKillop’s team are going to put points on the board, thanks to the combination of individual talents capable of knocking down shots (most notably Jack Gibbs) and their system. But can the Wildcats get the stops needed to repeat as A-10 regular season champions? That’s the question for Davidson entering conference play.

Autobid or bust

  • 8. Massachusetts: The triumvirate of Trey Davis, Donte Clark and Jabarie Hinds can put points on the board for Derek Kellogg’s Minutemen, and as a team UMass takes care of the basketball. The issue is rebounding, but the return of Antwan Space (9.0 rpg in three games) alongside Zach Coleman will help.
  • 9. St. Bonaventure: Mark Schmidt’s Bonnies aren’t the best shooting team but they do hit the offensive boards hard, tied with VCU for the top offensive rebounding percentage in the conference (34.6). But only three teams in the conference (UMass, Davidson and La Salle) have been worse on the defensive glass than SBU, something that has to change in league play.
  • 10. Duquesne: The perimeter tandem of seniors Derrick Colter and Micah Mason is one of the best in the A-10, as they combine to average 33.9 points and 8.7 assists per game. But the Dukes will need to do a better job of defending the three in conference play as opponents are shooting 41.5 percent from distance.
  • 11. Fordham: Jeff Neubauer’s Rams haven’t played a “murderer’s row,” but they are winning games that prior Fordham teams would have found a way to lose. Ryan Rhoomes leads the A-10 in field goal percentage, and Joseph Chartouny has been one of the league’s best freshmen as he leads the conference in assists.
  • 12. George Mason: Dave Paulsen’s Patriots have made some strides in his first year at the helm, most notably reaching the Charleston Classic title game. Shevon Thompson is one of the A-10’s best big men, but the offensive issues (last in the A-10 in field goal and three-point percentage) will be tough to overcome.
  • 13. Saint Louis: With their offensive issues being what they are, SLU has to work even harder defensively to make up for the lack of scoring punch. Mike Crawford leads four players in double figures at 11.1 ppg, but not having a standout who can get them buckets in a pinch hurts.
  • 14. La Salle: The Explorers have one of the nation’s best scorers in Jordan Lewis, but they’ll struggle to get wins. They don’t have much in the way of depth, which has impacted Dr. John Giannini’s team adversely on both ends of the floor.

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.