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.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.