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2018-19 Atlantic 10 Preview: Turnover at the top creates wide-open league race

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Atlantic 10 Conference.


Since sending a combined 11 teams to the NCAA tournament in 2013 and 2014, the Atlantic 10 has put just 12 combined teams into the tournament in the four years since.

In those four years, the league has been the target of more powerful conferences.

First, in realignment and expansion. More recently in pilfering head coaches like Shaka Smart, Archie Miller and, this offseason, Dan Hurley.

The conference was fortunate to get three teams into the Dance last year after a fluky A-10 tournament title run.

That mark may be difficult to repeat this year unless the top of the league exceed expectations.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Turnover at the top

Predicting the contenders of the A10 in recent years hasn’t been much of a chore with the likes of Rhode Island, VCU, St. Bonaventure and Dayton fixtures at the top. This year doesn’t promise the same continuity. Rhode Island is down four starters and a head coach, VCU is still finding footing in the wake of Shaka Smart and Will Wade’s departure, the Bonnies lost their backcourt and Dayton is rebuilding since the loss of Archie Miller. The top crop this year features some familiar names that look to be back on an upswing like St. Louis and George Mason along with traditional contenders St. Joseph’s and Davidson, but the league doesn’t have any heavyweights and may be without much depth either.

Travis Ford (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

2. Built Ford tough?

St. Louis has gone 29-37 overall and 15-21 in the two years since Travis Ford took the helm after eight years leading Oklahoma State, but this would seem to be the season when things could take a major leap forward. The Billikens are adding transfers Traimaine Isabell, Jr. (Missouri and Drexel) and Dion Wiley (Maryland) along with four-star recruit Carte’Are Gordon to a core that already included Javon Bess (all-A-10 defense), Hasahn French (all-A-10 rookie) and Jordan Goodwin (11.5 points and 7.5 rebounds).

Ford’s teams have always played defense, and he got the Billikens to buckle down on that end last year after struggling to do so in his debut season, but if St. Louis is going to win the A-10 and make some noise nationally, it’ll have to improve on offense. They went from being one of the worst offenses in the country in 2017 to merely poor last year based largely on hitting the offensive glass — a good idea when you’re one of the weakest shooting teams in the country. If the Billikens can hold the line defensively and make big a leap on the other end, they’ve got the talent to be quite good.

3. Davidson’s next star(s)

Every sweet-shooting guard Davidson ever has, from now until eternity, will likely have the unfortunate fate of being compared, or at least mentioned in relation to, Steph Curry. Such is life when an under-the-radar recruit evolves into a transformational, generational player under your watch. Fair or not, expect to hear plenty of Curry talk when it comes to sophomore Kellan Grady. The 6-foot-5 guard shot 37.2 percent from 3-point range and had a true-shooting percentage of 61.1 percent while scoring 18 points per game.

Grady, obviously, isn’t Curry, but he’s a damn good player with a potential NBA future. Before that, though, he’ll be tasked with helping get Davidson back to a second-straight NCAA tournament and compete for its first league title since 2015. He won’t be doing it alone, though, as Jon Axel Gudmundsson is back after a sophomore campaign in which he shot 40.6 percent from beyond the arc. They’ll both need to be at their best to replace Peyton Aldridge and the 21 points he scored every night.

4. Rhode Island rebuild

Dan Hurley took Rhode Island from eight wins in his first season of 2012-13 to a combined 51 wins and two NCAA tournaments the last two years. Now, though, he’s gone, off to Connecticut to try to return the Huskies to prominence, and so, too, are four starters off last year’s squad. Rhode Island bet on itself when finding Hurley’s replacement, promoting David Cox, who spent four years on Hurley’s staff (including two as associate head coach), to the first chair.

Cox also helped preside over a recruiting class that will be carrying a heavy load, but is well-regarded. It’s highlighted by top-100 forward Jermaine Harris and three-stars Dana Tate and Tyrese Martin. Returning guard Jeff Dowtin should help lead the way after averaging just under 10 points per game as a role player and lone returning starter, but the Rams have quite a bit of work ahead of them replacing the likes of Jared Terrell and E.C. Matthews.

Phil Martelli (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

5. How high can healthy Hawks fly?

St. Joseph’s finished the year on a tear, winning seven of its last nine games and nearly upending Rhode Island in the A10 tournament. That, along with a fourth-place finish in the regular season standings, is an admirable season, but one in which the Hawks couldn’t have helped but wonder what might had been if Lamarr Kimble and Charlie Brown, who combined to play one game last season, had been healthy.

Both are now back to a team that sustained minimal losses from a season ago. Kimble, who broke his foot one game into the season, averaged 15.5 points per game as sophomore wile Brown put up 12.8 as a freshman before a broken wrist robbed him of 2017-18. Their return along with four starters, including Taylor Funk (11.8 ppg), means St. Joe’s has championship aspirations and eyes on its third NCAA tournament in six years.

PRESEASON ATLANTIC 10 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: KELLAN GRADY, Davidson

So now that we’ve previously established that Kellan Grady is not, in fact, Stephen Curry, let’s talk about what exactly he is.

Grady was a fringe top-100 recruit in the 2017 class, and picked Davidson over other A10 programs and more than a handful Power 5 offers. The decision to follow in his idol’s footsteps – the Boston native picked up NBA league pass as an 11-year-old to follow Curry’s rookie season – paid off in a major way during his own rookie campaign. He went for more than 20 in his first two games (hitting seven 3s in his debut), erupted for 30 on Christmas Day against Akron and then 39 in a three-OT thriller against St. Bonaventure. He did all that while playing aside A10 player of the year Peyton Aldridge, who, while being an excellent player, took 30 percent of Davidson’s shots while on the floor. His departure means more looks for Grady. That could mean that Grady’s stay at Davidson is one year shorter than Curry himself.

THE REST OF THE ATLANTIC 10 FIRST TEAM

  • JOSH CUNNINGHAM, Dayton: A former top-150 recruit who began his career at Bradley, blossomed in his junior year, averaging 15.6 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 64.6 percent from the floor.
  • OTIS LIVINGSTON, George Mason: The 5-foot-11 point guard from New Jersey put up 17.3 points per game last year for the Patriots.
  • LUWANE PIPKINS, UMass: The Minuteman went from 10.2 ppg as a freshman to 21.2 ppg as a sophomore thanks in large part to shooting 42.6 percent from 3-point range.
  • JAVON BESS, St. Louis: The Michigan State transfer emerged as a major contributor last year and could be even better with an improved team around him.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • JEFF DOWTIN, Rhode Island
  • CHARLIE BROWN, St. Joseph’s
  • CARTE’ARE GORDON, St. Louis
  • JON AXEL GUDMUNDSSON, Davidson
  • GRANT GOLDEN, Richmond
Josh Cunningham (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

BREAKOUT STAR

Carte’Are Gordon is the rare top-75 recruit to call the A-10 home, which makes him interesting enough, but Gordon’s ability to do stuff like render a backboard to mere smithereens means there’s a decent chance your Twitter feed features a healthy helping of Gordon highlights, especially if St. Louis is the class of the conference.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE

Fordham isn’t exactly a traditional power or a program with exactingly high hoops standards, but the Rams have gone in the wrong direction the last two years under Jeff Neubauer. He posted a 17-win season after taking over for Tom Pecora, who had five-straight losing seasons, in 2016, but the Rams regressed to 13 wins in 2017 and down to nine last year. The recipe for improvement – unless you’re at Duke or Kentucky, which is decidedly not the case here – does not include eight freshmen on the roster, as Neubauer has this season.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

The Atlantic 10’s trouble continued without strength beyond the top, limiting it to three NCAA tournament teams if all goes well.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

While the league may not have its historical depth, there’s plenty interesting with St. Louis, George Mason, St. Joe’s and others, but the excitement the A10 generates this year is going to come from Kellan Grady. He’s a potential superstar.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • Dec. 22, St. Louis vs. Florida State
  • Dec. 29, George Mason vs. Kansas State
  • Dec. 8, St. Joseph’s vs. Villanova
  • Dec. 29, Davidson vs. North Carolina
  • Dec. 8, Dayton vs. Auburn
Otis Livingston II (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. ST. LOUIS: Year 3 under Travis Ford should bring the level of success the Billikens were hoping for when they became Ford’s post-Oklahoma State landing spot. With a solid group of returners meshing with talented newcomers, St. Louis should be the class of the Atlantic 10.

2. ST. JOSEPH’S: Phil Martelli’s group was competitive last year despite losing two of its top players for essentially the entire season. WIth Lamarr Kimble and Charlie Brown back and healthy, however, the Hawks should be in position to be more than a fly in the ointment – they should be among the A10’s best.

3. DAVIDSON: Replacing A10 player of the year Peyton Aldridge is no easy task, but coach Bob McKillop has a potential first-round draft pick in Kellan Grady, but also dynamic backcourt mates Jon Axel Gudmundsson and KiShawn Pritchett. There are frontcourt questions, but none loud enough to doubt the Wildcats much.

4. GEORGE MASON: Otis Livingston and Jaire Grayer (son of former NBA player Jeff) give the Patriotsa significant one-two scoring punch and Virginia transfer Jarred Reuter could help solidify a defense that struggled.

5. UMASS: It was a struggle for Matt McCall’s team in his first season in Amherst, but things are looking up in Year 2. Luwane Pipkins can get buckets with the best of them, but the Minutemen will need to clean up the defense to really make an A10 run.

6. ST. BONAVENTURE: The Bonnies won 13-straight to end the regular season and get an at-large bid before knocking off UCLA in the First Four last year, but the losses of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley means they’re due for a step back this season.

7. RICHMOND: The Spiders limped to the finish line last year, dismissed second-leading scorer De’Monte Buckingham and lost Khwan Fore to Louisville, but Grant Golden should be one of the best in the conference and keep the Spiders competitive.

Mike Rhoades (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

8. VCU: Star guard Marcus Evans suffered a second Achilles tear this summer, but is still hopeful to play this season. With his health in doubt, however, the Rams could be in for bumpy ride in Mike Rhoades’ second season.

9. DAYTON: Josh Cunningham leads a group of four returning starters that should make things better for Anthony Grant in his second season with the Flyers, though frontcourt issues could hold them back.

10. RHODE ISLAND: The Rams welcome a solid recruiting class and David Cox represents stability on the coaching staff, but Rhode Island’s losses are simply too much to suffer without ensuing struggles.

11. DUQUESNE: Keith Dambrot is counting on five Division I transfers to get things off the ground in his second season in Pittsburgh after a 13-year run at his alma mater Akron.

12. GEORGE WASHINGTON: Yuta Watanabe exhausting his eligibility would have been a tough blow by itself, but Jair Bolden transferring to South Carolina makes this an especially tough hill to climb for coach Maurice Joseph in Year 3.

13. LA SALLE: Ashley Howard had heaps of success across town on Jay Wright’s national championship staff, but he’s got a significant rebuild job ahead of him with the Explorers.

14. FORDHAM: Joseph Chartouny transferring to Marquette was a huge loss that will loom large for a Rams team that struggled mightily last year.

Wednesday’s Things to Know: No. 24 Houston stays unbeaten, Louisville escapes, DePaul and Chicago State get testy

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Wednesday night in college basketball saw a slow one thanks to finals weeks and winter breaks. Only two ranked teams played and a lot of teams had buy games. But there were still some things to learn on the night — including perhaps the American’s best team early this season. 

No. 24 Houston earns impressive comeback win over LSU

Houston stayed unbeaten while extending its home win streak to 22 games as they came back from double digits to knock off LSU for an 82-76 win.

The Cougars moved to 9-0 on the season thanks to a balanced effort as they won despite Corey Davis Jr. (eight points) battling foul trouble. Galen Robinson Jr. paced Houston with 18 points while Armoni Brooks and Cedrick Alley Jr. finished with 13 points each. Houston’s defense also did a great job of limiting LSU star guard Tremont Waters to 10 points on 3-for-13 shooting as he couldn’t get it going.

At this point in the season, you could argue that the Cougars are the best team in the American. Fresh off of last season’s NCAA tournament appearance, Houston is unbeaten with wins over Oregon, on the road at Oklahoma State, and now a comeback win over LSU. None of those three wins are against elite opponents, but they’re the type of wins Houston needed to give itself a more likely chance at an at-large bid.

Now, as long as Houston doesn’t bottom-out in the American, they should be in contention for another NCAA appearance after an impressive start.

Louisville holds off Lipscomb

Although Wednesday didn’t have a lot of ranked teams playing, Louisville received a serious test when they hosted Atlantic Sun favorite Lipscomb. The Cardinals didn’t play their best game, but still managed to pull together a 72-68 win.

Jordan Nwora paced the Cardinals with a game-high 22 points while Dwayne Sutton (14 points, nine rebounds) and Malik Williams (10 points, 12 rebounds) were also productive in the win. While Louisville still needs more quality wins to make the NCAA tournament, this is the type of victory that could come in handy. Lipscomb could be a potentially dangerous mid-major team with solid computer numbers, so this is a decent win for the Cardinals.

Things get heated in Chicago

The end of a DePaul blowout win over Chicago State got interesting on Wednesday night. With the Blue Demons ahead by 40ish points, head coach Dave Leitao exchanged words with Delshon Strickland.

Benches somewhat cleared, both coaches were ejected, and the game ended in somewhat surreal fashion with both teams refusing a postgame handshake.

No. 11 Texas Tech goes up big at half, beats NW State 79-44

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Jarrett Culver scored 15 points, Tariq Owens had 14 points and eight rebounds and No. 11 Texas Tech ran out to a 43-point halftime lead in a 79-44 victory over Northwestern State on Wednesday night.

The Red Raiders (9-0) matched their best start since 2008-09. All of the wins have been by double digits, and they had a 10-point lead less than five minutes into this rout.

Coming off a six-day break for final exams, Texas Tech relied on a defense that ranks among the best in the country against the offensively challenged Demons (2-8).

C.J. Jones scored 11 points for Northwestern State, which shot 15 percent (4 of 27) in the first half and trailed 53-10 at halftime. The Demons warmed up a bit after halftime, outscoring the Red Raiders 34-26 while shooting 35 percent.

Matt Mooney made all three of his 3-pointers within the first six minutes and scored 11 points along with Deshawn Corprew. Mooney was 3 of 4 from long range as the Red Raiders matched a season high with 10 3s on 23 attempts.

Culver had six rebounds and five assists, and Davide Moretti led the Red Raiders with seven assists while scoring seven points.

Northwestern State had 14 of its 19 turnovers before halftime, and Texas Tech scored 17 points off turnovers in the first half.

BIG PICTURE

Northwestern State: The Demons had two scoring droughts of six-plus minutes in the first half. One of the bright spots in the second half was freshman Dalin Williams, who grew up not too far north of Lubbock in the Texas Panhandle. He scored nine points.

Texas Tech: The first half was as well as the Red Raiders have played. But they sputtered some in the second half, a trend they will have to stop with a schedule that includes Duke in New York City as a tuneup for the rugged Big 12 season.

UP NEXT

Northwestern State: After seven road games in their first 10, the Demons play Southern-Shreveport on Saturday in the first of three home games before the start of Southland Conference play.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders play a final game in their old home arena of Lubbock Municipal Coliseum on Saturday against Abilene Christian. It’s the second straight year of a “throwback” game. Texas Tech’s home from 1956-99 will shut down for good next summer.

San Diego State’s Jalen McDaniels sued for allegedly filming, sharing sex videos

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San Diego State sophomore forward Jalen McDaniels has been sued in Washington civil court for allegedly filming a sexual act with a female high school classmate and sharing the video with friends.

The act allegedly occurred in 2016 while the two were seniors at Federal Way High School outside of Tacoma. A different women will also allegedly be filing a similar lawsuit against McDaniels next week using the same attorney.

According to a report from Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Federal Way police investigated the cases twice, once in 2016 and again in fall 2018, but only last month recommended two counts of voyeurism against McDaniels. The King County prosecutor declined to press charges, so the civil lawsuits appear to be the next step.

Filing attorney Joan Mell had her clients hold a news conference on Wednesday afternoon to announce the civil suit — naming McDaniels directly for the first time. Previous allegations in October and November only identified a star basketball player from Federal Way’s 2016 team, but not McDaniels directly.

The suit is asking for damages  for severe emotional distress past and future.” According to Zeigler, it does not list specific monetary amounts.

“Jalen needs to figure out that women matter,” said Mell, the attorney for the two women. “It’s not about the money. If his paycheck to these women is 5 cents and he has to own the fact that it was wrong, good for him. Because that’s what needs to be heard. He needs to acknowledge that you cannot do that, and no other woman should be vulnerable or victimized by Jalen McDaniels.

“If he says he recognizes that’s wrong, he’s going to get the benefit of not dragging everybody through a long, extended process and the damages are going to be a whole lot less.”

San Diego State has released a statement saying that McDaniels will play on Wednesday night, even as McDaniels goes through an ugly case in public. The sophomore is an NBA Draft prospect as he’s putting up 14.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game for the Aztecs.

Report: NCAA rule limits high school event access in new June period

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The NCAA added two live period weekends in June as an opportunity for college coaches to watch elite recruits play with their high school teams. Designed to give colleges more access with scholastic ball instead of grassroots, the events appear to have some serious limitations with which players might be able to be seen.

According to a report from ESPN’s Jeff Borzello, the new June period will only allow for college coaches to support NFHS-sanctioned events — which also includes only one association per state. This limits a lot of states, including private schools in New York, elite national high schools like Oak Hill and La Lumiere, and the elite prep school circuit in the Northeast.

“There is only one member [association] in each state that has NFHS membership,” NFHS director of sports and officials Theresia D. Wynns said to ESPN via email. “Only the schools that are a part of the members of that NFHS member can participate in the June evaluation period.”

This theoretically limits exposure opportunities for a number of prospects. The new rule also allows for a lot of problems to potentially arise. What if recruits jump to a scholastic program to play for the summer, only to transfer to another program before the school year begins?

Also, many states are set up to properly play events together during the month of June? Once the rules were initiated, some states were fine because their calendars align with how the NCAA set things up. Others will be trying to adjust or won’t have good events for their players.

It makes for an intriguing first June period coming up this year, as we’ll have to see if any changes get made before then. There will be a lot of new wrinkles to get used to for these events.

DeSean Murray leaves Western Kentucky to turn pro

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Western Kentucky announced on Wednesday morning that DeSean Murray, a graduate transfer from Auburn, has left the program “to pursue professional opportunities.”

Murray is a 6-foot-4 forward that began his playing career at Presbyterian. He transferred to Auburn after the 2015-16 season and averaged 10.1 points for the Tigers last year. He was averaging 9.5 points in just over 20 minutes for the Hilltoppers this year, although he had a scoreless 11 minutes in their win at Arkansas over the weekend.

This coincided with Marek Nelson moving into the starting lineup, playing 27 minutes and scoring the game-winning bucket with 21 seconds left in the game.