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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.

Chris Silva returning to South Carolina for senior season

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South Carolina is getting an first-team all-SEC performer back.

Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding last season, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, the school announced Monday.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to workout for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The 6-foot-9 Silva, who did not get an NBA draft combine invite, averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior.  He shot 46.7 percent from the floor.

“Going through the evaluation process was an unbelievable experience for Chris and us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in a statement. “He comes back to a place he loves with some knowledge on some of the things that we have to help him improve on in his efforts to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s leading scorer, he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season after averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His return to Columbia gives the Gamecocks a potential contender for SEC player of the year in 2018-19.

Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

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Kansas has fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger, effective immediately, citing a lack of progress in key areas within the athletic department.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership,” Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod wrote in an email to KU faculty and staff. “But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

Zenger had been in the role of AD since 2011.

The issue, of course, is not the play of the Kansas basketball program. The Jayhawks have won every Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and head coach Bill Self has taken the program to two Final Fours since Zenger was hired.

The football team is still a disaster, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not the real issue at hand here is Kansas’ getting tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

The Jayhawks were not mentioned in the initial indictments that were handed down, but Kansas was a central figure in the superseding indictments that were dropped after the national title game. The mother of Billy Preston, who did not play for the Jayhawks this season, was alleged to have been funneled $90,000 by Adidas, while Silvio De Sousa’s status is currently in question after the FBI alleged his guardian was paid at least $20,000 to help offset money that the family had already accepted from a rival shoe company.

All of that came in the aftermath of dealing with Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, both of whom had their one season in Lawrence reduced due to off the court issues.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our broader mission as a flagship research university.”

Louisville, ex-AD Tom Jurich reach $4.5M settlement

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has reached a $4.5 million settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich, who was fired in the wake of a national federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

Jurich disputed his Oct. 18 firing for cause after nearly 20 years as AD and had considered suing the school. The University of Louisville Athletic Association and Board of Trustees on Friday approved the settlement. Jurich’s employment ended “without cause” as a result of his resignation, also described in the settlement as “retirement.”

He’ll also receive another $2.6 million in accrued employment benefits, along with home game tickets and parking for Louisville football and basketball for 20 years.

An audit of the University of Louisville Foundation released last June showed that Jurich averaged annual compensation of more than $2.76 million from 2010-16, including more than $5.35 million in 2016.

Then-interim president Greg Postel had placed Jurich on paid administrative leave in September after the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the investigation. Trustees voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, two days after the ULAA unanimously fired Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The former AD said in a joint statement that he “spent the better part of my career” working with dedicated athletes, coaches and staff to elevate Louisville. He added, “I am proud of what we accomplished, which is well documented.”

Jurich’s legal team had stressed that the ex-AD did nothing illegal and hadn’t violated NCAA rules.

Trustee chairman J. David Grissom said in the statement that “Everyone is pleased that this matter has been successfully resolved. All parties can move forward to begin the next chapter.”

Jurich played a major role in Louisville’s success on the field and how the school handled issues off it. He led the school’s 2014 entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference and oversaw numerous program and facility upgrades, including a $63 million expansion of the football stadium due for completion by fall.

He also hired several successful coaches including Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville ultimately vacated that title in February as part of NCAA penalties for a sex scandal after an escort’s book allegations that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino has filed a $38.7 million federal lawsuit against Louisville, alleging breach of contract.

Georgia Tech’s Okogie to sign with agent

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Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie, one of the big winners from this past weekend’s NBA combine, announced on Monday that he will be signing with an agent and remaining in the NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-4 Okogie finished his sophomore season averaged 18.5 points and shooting 38.4 percent from three. The numbers he posted during the athletic testing at the combine, as well as his 7-foot wingspan, makes Okogie an ideal 3-and-D wing at the NBA level.

“Josh is a tremendous young man and an excellent student-athlete,” said head coach Josh Pastner. “He has set a tremendous example, making the Dean’s List this past semester, and deserves a lot of credit for making himself a much better player over the course of his two years here. We will miss him in our program in many respects, from his performance on the court to the energy he plays with and brought to our team. We fully support his decision to take this next step, and wish him all the best.”

Testing The Waters: Donte DiVincenzo, Kevin Huerter star at NBA Draft Combine

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The fact of the matter is that for all the pomp and circumstance, the NBA Combine is, essentially, about getting face-to-face interviews with these prospects while also landing definitive results for height, length, athletic testing and medicals.

Those results, when they pop, can help — or hurt — a player’s standing.

That said, there is still plenty that can be taken away from the 5-on-5 games that are played.

For players from smaller schools, it’s a chance to prove themselves against a higher level of competition. Think Larry Nance Jr., who wound up as a first round pick out of Wyoming.

For players that are stuck in a rigid system in college, the combine is a chance to show what they can do when they are no longer reined in. Kyle Kuzma is the perfect example of this.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the players that are still testing the waters and how they performed in Chicago this week.

WINNERS

DONTE DIVINCENZO, So., Villanova: The star of the national title game did not disappoint at the combine, in either the 5-on-5 play or in the athletic testing. Let’s start with the latter, where DiVincenzo registered a 42″ max vertical — tops at this year’s combine — and a 34.5″ standstill vertical to go along with a top five time in the lane agility drill. His size and length (6-foot-4.5 with a 6-foot-6 wingspan) is a bit of a concern, but DiVincenzo’s effort stood out during the games. The competitiveness and toughness is there, as is the shot-making ability. Already trending towards being a late first round pick, DiVincenzo probably solidified his standing at the combine. At this point I would be very surprised if he opted to return to school for his junior year.

KEVIN HUERTER, So., Maryland: We’ve been talking about Huerter as an under-the-radar prospect this spring, and he showcased why at the combine. Posting solid athletic testing numbers (he was top ten is all of the sprint drills and measured out at a 38″ max vert), Huerter proved himself to be a 6-foot-7 shot-making wing with an impressive feel; the 3.4 assists his averaged this season wasn’t a fluke. There’s a real chance that Huerter would be a late-first round pick should be stay in the draft, but there is a growing sentiment in NBA circles that he may want to return to school to try and play his way into the lottery of the weaker 2019 draft. If he adds strengths and proves himself to be an above-average Big Ten defender, that’s not an impossibility.

JOSH OKOGIE, So., Georgia Tech: We didn’t even mention Okogie when discussing which players had the most on the line heading into the combine, and that was clearly a mistake. Okogie may have proven himself worthy of an early-second round pick, if not late-first. The 6-foot-4.5 wing measured out at a 7-foot wingspan and finished with the fastest sprint time and the second-fastest shuttle run. A member of John Calipari’s Team USA U-19 team last summer, Okogie showcased his impressive defensive versatility during the combine games which, when combined with the 38 percent shooting from deep (173 attempts) in his two seasons in Atlanta, makes him an intriguing 3-and-D prospect in a league where defensively versatile wings that can space the floor are in high demand.

It’s probably worth noting here that Huerter won’t turn 20 until August 27th and Okogie won’t turn 20 until September 1st. DiVincenzo is 19 months older than him. Hell, both of them are younger than Mo Bamba, Deandre Ayton and Michael Porter Jr. That’s a massive amount of time on the development curve.

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LOSERS

CODY and CALEB MARTIN, Nevada: For both Martin twins, the combine made it looks like their incredible season with the Wolf Pack had more to do with the Mountain West than their future as NBA players. Caleb — the scorer — could not find a rhythm on that end while Cody — the jack-of-all-trades — didn’t exactly appear to be great at anything. The twins turn 23 in September, just received their degrees and Nevada would have 15 scholarship players if they return. They seem to be out the door, although that does not mean they’re headed for the NBA.

TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse: Physically, Battle tested out well, measuring nearly 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan and solid athletic testing numbers. But that was never the worry with Battle. His issue is that he was an inefficient, high-volume scorer that played predominantly with the ball in his hands at Syracuse. He needed to prove that he could a) play off the ball and b) shoot better than what his numbers were with the Orange. He did neither, and while I’m not sure he necessarily hurt himself, he did not play his way into the first round. If he remains in the draft, he’ll likely end up a second round pick.

BRIAN BOWEN, South Carolina: Bowen did not appear to be a draftable player during the games at the combine, which is more or less what we thought of him prior to sitting out the 2017-18 season after he was caught up in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. This is a nightmare scenario for him. He has until May 30th to decide if he should just get started on a pro career, whatever level that ends up being at, or returning to school and hoping the NCAA will clear him.

JARRED VANDERBILT, Kentucky: Vanderbilt pulled out of the combine prior to the start, which might have more to do with his health and controlling the flow of information over his medical testing than anything else. For a player that has had a myriad of lower left leg injuries over the years — he missed the first 17 games and the final six games of his freshman season, as well as much of the summer prior to his senior season in high school — he’s going to have a difficult decision to make in regards to turning pro. He’s not a first rounder, but just how long is his athletic career going to be given these health issues?

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

THEY ARE WHAT WE THOUGHT THEY WERE

CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: Edwards was a late addition to the combine as other players dropped out. He’s more of a scorer than he is a point guard at this stage, and some of his struggles offensively at the combine showed that. He could use another year where he’ll be asked to do it all for Purdue offensively.

OMARI SPELLMAN, Villanova: We know what Spellman is. He’s a 6-foot-9 center with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a lethal three-point shooting stroke. We also know that he’s lost nearly 50 pounds since he was in high school. At the combine, Spellman checked in at 253 pounds with 13.75 percent body fat, still managing to post a 35.5″ max vertical at that weight. Put another way, there is still improvement that can be made on his body and, in theory, his athleticism. That keeps teams interested, but he certainly didn’t play his way into being a first rounder.

BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland: Fernando proved himself a very large human (6-foot-9.75, 7-foot-4.25) but beyond that, his instincts as a basketball players were not quite there. In an NBA era where paint-locked big men are becoming useless, Fernando seems to fall into that category. If anything, what may keep him in the draft is his guardian’s connection to Kansas big Silvio De Sousa and the FBI investigation into college basketball.

UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas: His 7-foot-7 wingspan is enough to make NBA GMs salivate, but that may be the only NBA-ready skill that the big fella has. He’s a non-shooter — career 40.6 percent from the free throw line — and his inability to defend on the perimeter was exposed by Villanova in the Final Four. He’s a late-second round pick at best.

SAGABA KONATE, West Virginia: The passion and the energy that Konate played with all season long was on full display at the combine as well. He’s a big, burly 6-foot-7.25 shot-blocker with a 7-foot wingspan and a better-than-you-think shooting stroke, but he didn’t do much to prove himself as more than a second round pick.

P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky: Physically, Washington doesn’t profile all that different that Spellman, who is slightly taller with a slightly longer wingspan and 30 extra pounds of weight he can stand to lose. The difference? Spellman is a very good shooter. The was time we saw Washington, who shot 5-for-21 from three as a freshman, he was missing 12 of his 20 free throws in a 61-58 loss to Kansas State in the Sweet 16. He’s already said he wants a first round guarantee to remain in the draft, and if teams didn’t rate him as a first rounder prior to the combine, I’m not sure anything happened that would change their minds.

JAYLEN HANDS and KRIS WILKES, UCLA: The most notable thing that happed with these two at the combine was that Hands, ironically enough, finished with the smallest hands at the event. He did, however, show some point guard instinct and fight defensively. There’s no guarantee he gets drafted, and the same can be same for Wilkes, who at least fits the profile of a versatile wing. Their decision essentially comes down to whether or not they think playing another year for Steve Alford will actually help their chances of getting into the first round in 2019.