Marcus Camby

Atlantic 10 Preview: New additions + returning talent = Luh-Oh-Ded

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a conference race that will be more entertaining to follow than the Atlantic 10.

For starters, there are now 16 teams in this conference, which, with a 16 game league schedule, means that each team will only be playing one conference opponent in a home-and-home. You need to make up a game or two in the standings? Don’t count on winning head-to-head. You’ll have to hope someone slips up on the road. That, in all likelihood, will happen quite often, however, because of the 16 A-10 teams, six — six!!! — received a first-place vote in the preseason poll. Those six teams didn’t include Xavier, Dayton or Richmond, who are three of the best programs in the league.

I hope they already have clearly defined end-of-the-year tie-breakers.

Perhaps the most interesting story line involving the conference during the 2012-2013 season will be just how many teams they can get into the NCAA tournament, and that’s going to depend heavily on how well the teams in the league perform in non-conference play. If the top of the league can land some upsets over high-major (read: high-RPI) opponents and the bottom-feeders can avoid getting picked off by some low-major (read: low-RPI) foes …

I’ll put it like this: given some of the question marks in the middle of the bigger conferences, there are (at least) six teams in the A-10 that are, on paper, of NCAA tournament quality.

Five Things to Know

1. Rick Majerus won’t be coaching the Billikens this season: And he may never coach again due to a serious, potentially life-threatening health issue. As a team, this shouldn’t have a huge impact on the competitiveness of this group. (At least not as much as the broken foot suffered by Kwamain Mitchell.) This is a veteran group that spent a couple of years playing together. But, as the saying goes, games that are won by five points or less are won by coaching, and there are few in-game tacticians as well-regarded as Majerus. In a league as balanced as the A-10, a couple of possessions could end up being the difference between a first-place and a fourth-place finish.

2. UMass is back: The Minutemen’s entire history as a basketball program can, more or less, be tied to John Calipari and Marcus Camby. Beyond that, well, there isn’t much to talk about. This season, however, there will be. Chaz Williams, one of the nation’s most underrated point guards, returns to lead the way along with all but one member of last year’s rotation. Throw in Sampson Carter and Cady Lalanne, who were injured last year, and Derek Kellogg should have enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid.

3. What happened to Xavier?: The 2011-2012 season was saved when Xavier was able to make a run to the Sweet 16, thanks in part to Lehigh’s upset of Duke. The following offseason wasn’t. Tu Holloway and Kenny Frease graduated. Mark Lyons transferred to Arizona. Two recruits in this class were ruled ineligible. Talented 2013 recruit Chris Thomas decommited. Incoming transfer Isaiah Philmore was suspended for three games. Dez Wells was (wrongfully?) expelled. Not only will this be a tough year for the Muskies, but with the bad press of the brawl getting followed up with this kind of roster turnover, how long will the downswing last?

4. Temple and Charlotte will play their final season of A-10 ball: Next year, the Owls will be headed for the Big East, where their football program already began competing this season. Charlotte will be making the move to Conference USA, which, again, is a move driven by football.

5. Khalif Wyatt will be playing in Temple’s A-10 swan song: It was in doubt for a while for Temple’s leading returning scorer after the senior got busted for solicitation in Atlantic City, on his 21st birthday, no less. But the charges were reduced and head coach Fran Dunphy doled out what he felt was a proper punishment, so Wyatt and his 17.1 ppg will be on the floor for the Owls this year.

Impact Newcomers

1. Butler and VCU: We knew the conference was going to be tough after the 2011-2012 season ended, but when the departures of Temple and Charlotte created a need for the league, they courted two of the country’s most charming mid-majors. That courtship was not only successful, it happened quickly, as the Rams and the Bulldogs, both borderline top 25 teams this season, accepted the offer for immediate entry.

2. Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham, Butler: Butler was a tough defensive team last season in the way that Butler always seems to be a tough defensive team. They’ll be next season as well, because, despite losing Ronald Nored to graduation, the Bulldogs return the majority of their young talent. Clarke, a senior transfer from Arkansas, and Dunham, a top 100 freshman, both address Butler’s biggest weakness from a year ago: perimeter shooting. Their role — particularly Clarke, who is making a transition to the point — became all the more important when Chrishawn Hopkins was dismissed from school.

3. Semaj Christon, Xavier: As much as Xavier lost, there are still some pieces on the roster — Justin Martin, Travis Taylor, Brad Redford, Jeff Robinson. Someone is going to have to get them the ball, and Christon — a four-star prospect that spent last season at a prep school — will have to be that guy. If the Musketeers are going to be competitive, he needs to live up to the hype.

4. Jake O’Brien, Temple: Temple has a couple of impact newcomers this year — Dalton Pepper, Daniel Dingle — but O’Brien may be the most important. A 1,000 point scorer at BU, O’Brien is a 6-foot-9 graduate transfer that may end up being the biggest player in Dunphy’s rotation.

5. Jordan Hare, Rhode Island: We knew that the Hurleys would make this program relevant. This season will be a bit of a holdover year, as the Rams are starting over with the new regime, but Hare, who was a top 100 recruit at one point in his career, headlines a solid recruiting class this season. With reinforcements coming next year — transfers getting eligible, more top 100 recruits coming in — the Rams are on the way up.

Breakout Players

1. Treveon Graham, So., VCU: Graham was very productive in limited minutes as a freshman, but what makes him such a trendy pick is that he plays the same role — big guard, can rebound at the four spot, hits threes — that made Brad Burgess so effective last season for the Rams.

2. CJ Aiken, Jr., St. Joseph’s: The Hawks bring back everyone from last season, which is part of the reason they were picked to win the conference, so there may not be an enormous increase in the numbers that Aiken produces. But I think Aiken will end up becoming a first round prospect, ‘breaking out’ in the sense that he becomes a more recognizable name nationally. He’s long and athletic, a terrific shot blocker and a 6-foot-9 combo-forward with three-point range.

3. Jerrell Wright, So., La Salle: The Explorers are the sleeper in the A-10, and Wright is a big reason why. After averaging 9.8 points and 5.6 boards in less than 20 minutes as a freshman, the 6-foot-8, 240 pounder returns as one of the only big men ready to play major minutes.

4. Cody Ellis, Sr., St. Louis: Usually, seniors aren’t the kind of players that will breakout. But with minutes opening up at the four thanks to the graduation of Brian Conklin and Kwamain Mitchell laid up with a broken foot, Ellis will be taking over the load as the Billiken’s primary scorer.

5. Khyle Marshall, Jr., Butler: I predicted Marshall would breakout last year, and I’m sticking with it. He’s talented, he’s athletic, and he’ll have more space inside with the floor spread by Clarke and Dunham.

Player of the Year: Chaz Williams, Jr., UMass

Williams averaged 16.9 points, 6.2 assists, 4.4 boards and 2.2 steals while shooting 41.9% from three a season ago. Only a junior, he clearly has learned how to thrive in Derek Kellogg’s system. UMass returns enough pieces this season that they could finish in the top four in the conference and have a shot at earning a trip to the NCAA tournament. If UMass does that and Williams repeats his performance from last season, he’ll deserve the Player of the Year award.

All-Conference Team

G: Chaz Williams, Jr., UMass*
G: Kevin Dillard, Sr., Dayton
F: Khalif Wyatt, Sr., Temple
F: Chris Gaston, Sr., Fordham
C: CJ Aiken, Jr., St. Joseph’s

Coach under pressure: Chris Mack, Xavier

This has less to do with basketball than it does everything else that’s gone on in his program. Between the brawl, the recruits that couldn’t get eligible, the expulsion of Dez Wells (again, unwarranted expulsion?), and the transfer of Mark Lyons, there aren’t a lot of bright spots in the Xavier program. This season has the potential to be one where Mack can showcase his coaching acumen, working with the bad hand he’s been dealt and getting this group to play above their talent level. But it also has the potential to turn into a dumpster fire, and if disaster strikes, I can’t imagine many folks in and around Xavier will be happy with a bottom-four finish in the league.

Predicted Finish

1. VCU: I believe in ‘Havoc’. VCU is really good at running their system, forcing turnovers and getting their opponents to play out of control. And the talent on the roster is good enough to succeed at this level.
2. St. Josephs’s: This is their year. They’ve had the talent, now they have the experience. Carl Jones, Langston Galloway and Halil Kanicevic deserved more of a mention in this preview.
3. Butler: With Hopkins on the roster, I think Butler would be up there with VCU as the best team in the league. But I’m not sold on Clarke being able to run the point. Losing Nored will hurt more than people believe as well.
4. St. Louis: They’d be No. 1 if Majerus was healthy. They’d be second if Kwamain Mitchell was. Tough breaks.
5. UMass: Williams is one of the most entertaining guards in the country, and this year he’ll have more help.
6. Temple: Temple as a lot of good wings and combo-forwards on their roster. I’m worried about the point guard spot as well as the post.
7. Dayton: Kevin Dillard is one of the most talented players in the league, but is there enough around him to push into the top six?
8. La Salle: The sleepers! The Atlantic 10 is so deep at the point guard spot that Tyreek Duren is criminally slept on.
9. Richmond: Chris Mooney is still in the rebuilding phase after losing Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper. He’ll get them there, but it won’t be this year.
10. Xavier: A talented freshman point guard leading unproven veterans? I’ll believe it when I see it.
11. Charlotte: Alan Major actually has a sneakily good roster at his disposal, headlined by an all-league caliber big man in Chris Braswell.
12. Rhode Island: Maybe my faith in the Hurleys is too strong, but I just don’t see a way they field a team that isn’t competitive.
13. George Washington: I think that Mike Lonergan will eventually turn GW into a competitive program in this league. But right now, he just doesn’t have the horses to stay in the race.
14. St. Bonaventure: Andrew Nicholson ain’t walkin’ through that door!
15. Fordham: Chris Gaston is a special player. It’s a shame that he’ll never have a chance to play on a relevant team in college.
16. Duquesne: With everything they lost — their star in TJ McConnell, their coaching staff — I can’t see how a school with no basketball history does anything different.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

John Calipari says Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis are ‘totally different’

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No. 1 overall pick, Team USA member, and former Kentucky Wildcat Anthony Davis might, on the surface, appear to have some similarities to incoming UK freshman Nerlens Noel, but don’t tell that John Calipari.

“He shouldn’t be compared,” Calipari told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “They’re totally different. They’re not even the same. Nerlens is going to give us a different type of game. Anthony understood how to compete on possessions. Nerlens is still learning. Like, he’ll take possessions off. Well, you can’t do that. What he is, is a normal freshman.”

It’s interesting that Calipari would call Noel “normal,” being that he is 6-10, averaged close to four blocks per game last season, and is expected by some to challenge Davis’ blocks record, set last season.

Last year around this time, Calipari said of Davis that he was “a little ahead” of Marcus Camby, the former UMass star.

Davis even weighed in, himself, when he returned to campus last month.

“I asked Anthony, ‘How was Nerlens?’ because that’s who he matched up against mostly,” Calipari recalled, as quoted by the paper. “He said, ‘He’s good, Coach. He’ll block some shots.’ I said, ‘How was he offensively?’ He said, ‘I kind of pushed him off the post.’ I said, ‘You pushed him off the post?’ Which is kind of like, OK, we’ve got to teach the kid how to sit down and hold your position until he gets stronger. But what he is, he’s not ever going to be Shaq.”

So what is to expect from Nerlens Noel this season? We’ll get our first glimpse at him later this month at Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness. Until then, we might just have to take Calipari’s word for it.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

College Hoops Preview: 10 programs on the rise heading into ’12-’13

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of The Lists we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

NC State: There are three schools located in what’s known as “the Triangle” in North Carolina: UNC, Duke and NC State. Two of those programs — UNC and Duke — have long been considered the most dominant programs in the ACC, while NC State has played the role of the little brother that can’t hang. Herb Sendek got the Wolfpack to five straight NCAA tournaments during his last five seasons at the school, but if you factor out his time there, NC State’s trip to the Sweet 16 in 2012 was their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1991 and only their second trip past the first weekend since 1989. That all changes this season, as Mark Gottfried has done in 18 months what Sidney Lowe, Leo Robinson and, frankly, Sendek were all unable to: he’s turned NC State back into a national power.

Lorenzo Brown and CJ Leslie both return for their junior seasons. Scott Wood, Richard Howell and Jordan Vandenburg all are back as well. But, more importantly, Gottfried brings in one of the strongest recruiting classes in the country as he adds guards Tyler Lewis and Rodney Purvis and wing forward TJ Warren. Gottfried also has a commitment from top ten recruit Cat Barber in the Class of 2013. NC State has one of the most passionate and die-hard fan-bases in the country. They finally have something to get excited about heading into the season. And if all goes to plan, they’ll have some bragging rights around The Triangle come March.

UMass: UMass basketball history is limited to, more or less, two people. Julius Erving played for the Minutemen from 1968-1971 before going on to become Dr. J. The other person is John Calipari, who took over a program in 1988 that had 10 straight losing seasons. In his fourth year, he led UMass to the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament titles, advancing to the NCAA tournament. He would accomplish that feat for five consecutive years, which culminated in his run to the 1996 Final Four, riding on the shoulders of Marcus Camby, before leaving the program. Bruiser Flint took over and led the Minutemen to two more NCAA tournaments, but they’ve only won one A-10 title — the 2007 regular season — since then. Outside of those seven consecutive NCAA tournaments, UMass has been to one. Ever. In 1962.

That could change this season, as Derek Kellogg has put together arguably the best team in Amherst since the late 90’s. The Minutemen return all but one member of their rotation from last season, including Chaz Williams, who is one of the most exciting and underrated point guards in the country. They also bring back Sampson Carter and Cady Lalanne, both of whom were injured for much of last season. The Atlantic 10 is going to be a rugged league this season, but UMass has the horses to make a run at a top four finish.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes have only had two NCAA tournament appearances in the last decade, none since 2006. In fact, last year’s trip to the NIT was the first time the Hawkeyes advanced to a postseason tournament of any kind since 2006. But with Aaron White, Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe all returning to a team that only loses two rotation players (yes, one was Matt Gatens, I know), the future for the Hawkeyes looks promising. And that’s before you factor in the addition of a very strong freshmen class, including top 100 recruit Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury.

Colorado State: Tim Miles left the cupboard quite full for new head coach Larry Eustachy. The Rams return their top seven scorers from a season ago (although Thursday brought news of starting guard Jesse Carr’s torn ACL), including the talented back court duo of Dorian Green and Wes Eikmeier. Those two will be joined by a former top 75 recruit and Arizona transfer Daniel Bejarano as well as Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson up front. The MWC is stacked up top this season, but CSU should be heading to their second straight NCAA tournament.

Stanford: The Cardinal were NCAA mainstays from the mid-90’s through 2008, when the Lopez twins and Trent Johnson all left the program. Johnny Dawkins took over, but he had a bit of a rebuilding job on his hands. After winning just 20 conference games in his first three seasons in Palo Alto, Dawkins led Stanford to a 26-11 overall record, a 10-8 finish in the Pac-12 and an NIT title. With Chasson Randle, Aaron Bright and Dwight Powell returning and a talented recruiting class coming in, is this the year that Dawkins finally breaks through?

Colorado: The Buffaloes were one of the nation’s most surprising teams in 2011-2012, parlaying a strong showing in league play to a run through the Pac-12 tournament and a trip to the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. That was just their third trip to the Big Dance since 1969 and only the second since Chauncey Billups left the program in 1997. Colorado may not make a return trip to the dance this season, as they lose four of their top six scorers from a season ago. But they do get Andre Roberson and promising sophomore Askia Booker back. They also bring in a solid recruiting class. Last year was a more successful season that most could have expected from Colorado, and sliding back to their original trajectory this season is not a disappointment.

Tennessee: Would you be surprised if I told you that Tennessee finished tied for second in the SEC last season? Because they did, albeit they finished at 10-6 in league play along with four other teams, but the point remains — the Volunteers made the climb back to relevancy awfully quickly. And they just might be the second best team in the conference again. Trae Golden is underrated at the point while Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes provide more bulk up front than just about anyone they’ll face. Oh, and Stokes? He averaged 9.6 points and 7.4 boards despite joining the team in the middle of the season when he was supposed to be finishing up his senior year of high school. If Cuonzo Martin can find some perimeter shooting to go along with those three, Tennessee will be just fine.

North Texas: Tony Mitchell is the name everyone thinks of when this North Texas team is mentioned, and that’s fair. There aren’t a lot of lottery picks that make their way through Denton, TX. But the fact of the matter is that this program is growing around him as well. Sophomore TJ Taylor was signed by both Oklahoma and Marquette before winding up at UNT. Senior Roger Franklin started his career at Oklahoma State. Jordan Williams (So.), Chris Jones (So.) and Alzee Williams (Jr.) are all talented perimeter players with plenty of eligibility left. This program has a chance to make some noise in Conference USA when leave the Sun Belt.

Delaware: There are three names you need to remember when it comes to the Blue Hens: Devon Saddler, Jamelle Hagins and Jarvis Threat. Saddler is a junior that could end up averaging more than 20 points. Hagins is a senior big man that not only averaged a double-double last season, but chipped in with three blocks as well. Threat is a sophomore that posted double figures as a rookie and has quite a bit of hype heading into the season. This will be the year for Delaware to make a run.

Fresno State: The Bulldogs are probably still a year or two away, but there is no denying the amount of talent entering into this program. Former Kansas signee Braeden Anderson, who was ineligible last year, will be able to play at the school this season, as will Robert Upshaw, a top 75 recruit that originally signed with Kansas State. Those two alone should give Fresno State one of the best front lines in the conference in the near future. Add in Pacific transfer Allen Huddleston, three-star recruits Broderick Newbill and Marvelle Harris, and Cezar Guerrero (an Oklahoma State transfer that will be eligible next season), and the Bulldogs will be more than just competitive in the MWC.

Five more programs heading in the right direction: Minnesota, USC, South Florida, Rhode Island, Oklahoma State

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Calipari shares his thoughts on recruiting

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The basis of this video got me to click on it.

Kentucky coach John Calipari shares his thoughts on recruiting and while it runs on CoachCal.com — Calipari’s personal website, which mean it’s not exactly unbiased — it’s interesting to hear a coach who recruits unlike anyone else (he practically coined the phrase “one-and-done”) tell about his philosophies on the non-stop process that is high-major recruiting.

“One, you have a good idea who they are. What they are,” Calipari said in the video. “…The second way is, we don’t beg anybody. It’s not for everybody.”

Calipari also drops the trump card on everyone saying: “If I offer 25 scholarships, 25 guys are saying ‘yea.'”

It’s not exactly rocket science. He’s the coach that gets players to the NBA. From the one-year wonders of John Wall and Derrick Rose, to the relative unknowns like Patrick Patterson and Josh Harrellson. And he’s at one of the most storied programs in college basketball and just won the national title. But it’s interesting to hear some incite into how a guy who essentially has to mold a new team yearly, does it.

I’ll share my thoughts on Calipari with anyone who will listen. Kentucky and Calipari were made for each other. While he had to build programs with risky players in the past (Shawne Williams, Derrick Rose, Marcus Camby, etc.) at places like UMass and Memphis, he’s got the tradition and the solid base to recruit easier at Kentucky. It’s just easier for him now.

Whatever you think about him, he’s got a method to all his madness. And it’s intriguing to hear about.

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can find him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Is John Calipari truly the villain against Bill Self?

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Over the coming two days, one of the story lines that will be the most intriguing to follow is that of John Calipari and his quest to win his first national title.

Calipari is a polarizing figure in the sense that Kentucky fans worship him while most everyone else, with or without a rooting interest, either hates him or is accused of hating him by those same Kentucky fans. And regardless of what percentage of the college basketball watching nation feels the same as Drew Sharp does about Calipari, the bottom-line is that Calipari is quite clearly the villain in this narrative.

It’s not difficult to see why. Two of his four trips to the Final Four have been vacated by the NCAA. All you have to do is spend an afternoon at a high-level AAU tournament and you’ll hear ten stories about Calipari on the same level as the one involving $200,000 that made its way into Anthony Davis’ pocket.

The irony in all of this?

The villain has a record that is just as clean as the good guy’s, Bill Self. Those two Final Fours that were vacated? One was because Marcus Camby was commiserating with an agent. The other was because Derrick Rose cheated on his SATs. It Calipari blameless? No, but he’s about as guilty as the parents of a teenager that is busted smoking pot.

In fact, I think there is an argument to make that there is just as much smoke around the Kansas program as there is around the Kentucky program. Think about it:

– Darrell Arthur may never have been eligible to play college basketball due to grade changes he may have received in high school. Nothing came out of the investigation, but the school did vacate a state title a year after Arthur left due to grade tampering.

– Arthur’s classmate Mario Chalmers came to Kansas as a package deal, as his father received a spot on the Jayhawk’s staff as the Director of Basketball Operations.

– Josh Selby was suspended for the first nine games of his freshman season due to improper benefits he received while he was in high school.

– Three members of this year’s recruiting class were ruled ineligible for the 2011-2012 season.

None of that has been put on Self, the same way that Calipari is still without a record, according to the NCAA.

More intriguing is the fact that the coach of last season’s national title team, Jim Calhoun, actually has gotten himself into trouble with the NCAA. He was, essentially, caught with knowledge of the fact that an alum and an NBA agent was supplying a recruit (Nate Miles) with illicit benefits. But the vitriol sent his way was more or less limited to this column from Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com.

The point here is not to defend Calipari. I’m not trying to drag Self or Calhoun through the mud, either. These are all facts, and it will be interesting to see how they are portrayed over the next 30 hours.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.