All of a sudden the Atlantic-10 Conference looks like a power conference. The arrivals of Virginia Commonwealth and Butler will bring a new sense of life into the conference for the 2012-13 season.
1. St. Louis:
A surprise team last year, most of last year’s Billikens will return, except of course head coach Rick Majerus, who is taking the season off for health reasons. Kwamain Mitchell should be one of the top scorers in the league, averaging 12.4 points a game in his junior season. Dwayne Evans, who averaged over seven points and seven rebounds a game last year, helping lead a defense that only gave up 57.6 points per game — eighth in the nation. Jared Drew, a talented freshman out of Indianapolis, will likely man that frontcourt with Evans. Expectations will be high with this St. Louis team, and they have the talent to be a top-15 team in the nation.
After back-to-back trips to the NCAA Championship game, Butler didn’t get an NCAA Tournament nod OR an NIT invite in 2011-12, forcing the Bulldogs to settle for the CBI. Butler should be improved this year, only losing point guard Ronald Nored off of last year’s team. Andrew Smith, who apparently is never going to graduate, is back for his senior year, and will anchor the inside after his 2011-12 year with 10.7 ppg and 5.7 rebounds per game. But the best player on this team could be Rotnei Clarke, an Arkansas transfer who was second-team All-SEC his junior year. He will be eligible this year, so look for him to lead the Bulldogs in scoring. Khyle Marshall and Roosevelt Jones will also be key players for Butler.
And here is the other newcomer, rounding out the top-three in their first year in the A-10. This is a very deep team, with no one star. They lost Bradford Burgess from last year’s team (13.5 ppg., 5.1 rpg.) but they will have his younger brother Jordan Burgess likely stepping up and making big contributions for his freshman season. A backcourt led by Darius Theus and Briante Weber will likely be the strength of this team, as thy helped force 17.9 turnovers a game last season — good for third in the nation. Their leading returning scorer is Juvonte Reddic (10.4 ppg.)
If the Owls do anything for the 2012-13 season, it will be because of Khalif Wyatt, who returns for his senior season after averaging 17 points a game last year. He appears to be a lock for First-Team A-10, as well as a potential All-American candidate. But Temple lost three of their starters from last year’s team that won the A-10, meaning this season they may be closer to the bubble, if not off the bubble. Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Anthony Lee will be two players the Owls will count on with the graduations of three of their key players, including Ramone Moore.
Even with losing Tu Hollowy, Kenny Frease and Mark Lyons, it’s hard to keep the Musketeers out of the top-five. The Musketeers will also have to cope with the expulsion of leading returning scorer Dezmine Wells. Helping to ease the graduations of Holloway and Frease will be freshman Semaj Christian and Towson transfer Isaiah Philmore. Xavier has made the NCAA Tournament every year since 2005, and this year will likely be the toughest year they have had to return.
6. St. Josephs
9. St. Bonaventure
10. La Salle
13. George Washington
14. Rhode Island
Khalif Wyatt: One of the best scorers in the conference, this two-guard averaged 17 points a game last year. He scored 22 points and had 5 steals when Temple was able to upset No. 3 Duke this year. The Owls simply need to give Wyatt the ball and let him do the rest. He had 12 games last year with less than 10 shot attempts, and that won’t be acceptable this year.
Rotnei Clarke: The Arkansas transfer could be the go-to-guy in the Butler offense his first year for the Bulldogs. He could already be the best shooter in the conference, averaging over 42 percent from behind the 3-point line and making nearly three 3-pointers a game in his three years at Arkansas. He averaged 15 points a game his last two years as a Razorback, and it would be a surprise to see him not duplicate that in a weaker conference this year.
Kwamain Mitchell: With leading scorer Brian Conklin graduated from St. Louis, Mitchell will need to step up his scoring from last year (12.4 ppg.). He’s the best player on the best team in the conference, so you’d think he belongs on this list. Not only is he a solid scorer, but his 126 assists led the team last year.
Chaz Williams: If UMass contends for an NCAA or NIT berth, it will be because of Williams. Probably the best point guard in the conference last year, Williams averaged 16 points and six assists. The Minutemen haven’t made the Big Dance since 2997, and Williams will need to up those numbers for them to have a chance.
Chris Gaston: He may play for one of the worst teams in the conference in Fordham, but you can’t ignore this double-double machine. Last year he averaged 17 points and 9.9 rebounds, but he may need to get his team some more wins to get on this list at the end of the season.
Coach of the Year: Jim Crews
Crews, who takes over for Rick Majerus this year, is no stranger to head coaching responsibilities. He is the former head coach of Evansville and Air Force, and has NCAA Tournament appearances under his belt. This year he has the task of replacing a coaching icon, who brought St Louis to the top of the conference. They should stay at the top of the A-10 this year, and if they do it should be Crews who takes home the hardware.
Player of the Year: Khalif Wyatt
There isn’t a standout, runaway favorite to win this award, so I’m going with Wyatt. Temple has the makes of a bubble team, and Wyatt will do everything he can to push the Owls to the Big Dance. He may have to take over games at times, but he is certainly capable.
Some random and some not so random thoughts while working on videos, and the NIT and CBI on in the background.
Rare news came out, Shaka Smart is going to stay with VCU and not go after the bigger dollar amounts that were probably being thrown toward him, and rumor is over $2 million per season. It’s easy to sit in the arm-chair say what you would do if you were in the situation, but until you really are it is hard to say what you would do. With Smart staying it provides a little light of commitment in a sport that is full of jumping ship when dollar signs arrive at your door.
Coaches are not the only ones that are moving on, Athletic Directors are doing so as well. Western Kentucky AD Ross Bjork, in his 2nd year in Bowling Green, left for the greener and deeper pockets of the SEC and Ole Miss. The athletic program seems to be a feeder for the SEC, Dennis Felton to Georgia and was fired in the middle of the 2008-09 season. Darrin Horn took the Sweet 16 run from the Hilltoppers to South Carolina and was fired after this season.
Coaches are getting fired with large buyouts. Look at Horn, his buyout was around 2$.5 million (sorry assistant coaches). For a program like South Carolina, they felt that they would rather pay the money and hope to boost revenue to cover their loss. (I would guess ticket prices are probably going to be going up). With commitments constantly being broken is it any surprise that players are doing the same?
Every year you hear the stories of players that have committed to play for a coach who was fired, or left the school ask for a release from their commitment or current players ask for a transfer. The argument always comes up, are the players committing to play for a coach or for the school? I used to say school, but recently turned to the thought process that they are choosing a coach that fits their style of play.
UConn’s big man Alex Oriakhi plans on transferring because of possible sanctions from the NCAA due to the programs low APR scores. His father told media members in Connecticut that the reason for the transfer is “because of the Tournament.” The NCAA has aided the student-athletes in this situation, if a program is banned, the player can transfer and not sit out a year. So if a student-athlete is with a program that is not meeting APR standards a kid can leave with no punishment, even if he was on the roster for the teams with the low grades.
Next you have the “one and done” players, those that enroll for the one year of college that the NBA now requires players to complete. These players in my opinion have ruined the game, yes they are great players and are fun to watch, but are they really good for college sports?
College basketball is a business, I understand that, and for some schools it is the money-maker. The phrase, “money talks” is true, I have no problem with coaches, AD’s or anyone taking the larger offers, I’m sure I would do the same. I’m still undecided how I feel about the ‘one and done players” I really wish the NBA would add a rule like MLB, players can be drafted after their junior season if they don’t go pro out of high school. I am sure of one thing, I am glad to know that there are some people like Coach Smart and Brad Stephens at Buter who are willing to stick with the schools that have given them the opportunities that they have had.
Enjoy the tournament tomorrow!
-Think back to last season. About this time, Virginia Commonwealth was an afterthought.
Really, who saw the run coming? Definitely not Jay Bilas. But it happened. A team with a younger-than-young head coach, a diminutive point guard in Joey Rodriguez somehow snagged an at-large bid that a lot of folks (myself included) thought they were undeserving of and made it through the First Four and into the Final Four. It was more improbable than Butler’s first run.
Then it ended. The Rams lost four of their top five scorers — Rodriguez, Jamie Skeen, Ed Nixon and Brandon Rozzell — the lone hold being now-senior Bradford Burgess. So coach Shaka Smart had to ask himself the most crucial question coming off the most successful season in program history, that included a 28-12 overall record: Where do we go from here?
The answer was ‘get better’. Obvious, but accurate.
VCU just locked up their second-straight NCAA Tournament, and this one probably won’t begin in the First Four, with a 28-6 record and a Colonial Athletic Association tournament title. They’re currently no.46 in the KenPom and no.39 spot in the RPI (according to RealTimeRPI.com). That’s nice, until you consider that they finished last season ranked 52 in the KenPom.
It’s tough to make the run the Rams did last season. It’s tougher to repeat that run when everyone knows you’re coming. It’s nearly impossible to do it when you’ve lost most of everyone that mattered to that run to graduation. Smart has done that so far.
He’s had help. Burgess has actually lightened his scoring load from 14.3 to 13.3 points per game this season and in turn, some of last season’s role players have stepped it up. Darius Theus went from 3.0 points to 8.6 this year. Juvonte Reddic? He’s now pumping out 10.6 points per game in 27.5 minutes per game after averaging 3.5 in 11.2 minutes in 2010-11. Troy Daniels drops in 10 per game after averaging 2.1 points in 4.8 minutes last season.
Granted, all teams get contributions from lesser players as seasons change. But not like this, not at a mid-major that until this past season hasn’t had any buzz outside of a few Metro Conference and Sun Belt Conference tournament titles.
This team does it more with their defense, averaging three less points (68.4 from 71.6) this season and holding opponents to 59.8 points per game, as opposed to the 66.8 teams put in against them in 2010-11.
So here they are waiting for Selection Sunday, not to see if they get a bid, but where they go. CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm has them as a 12-seed in Portland playing Louisville.
You don’t have to expect a deep tournament run, but you should respect what Smart and the Rams have done, despite starting essentially from scratch.
Here is a quick look at a game each day this week that may catch your attention.
Monday: Syracuse @ Louisville (7pm ESPN) – ESPN’s Big Monday crew rolls into town with Louisville off a win at West Virginia, and Syracuse comes into the KFC Yum! Center with a five game winning streak.
Tuesday: Buffalo at Kent St. (7pm ESPN Full Court) – 2nd and 3rd place in the MAC East Division take the court in a Valentine’s Night game. The Bulls won by one point when these teams met January 7th.
Wednesday: Missouri St. at Wichita St. (8pm ESPN Full Court) – 1st place Shockers host 3rd place Missouri St., the Shockers took the previous match-up at the start of the month by seven.
Thursday: Wisconsin at Michigan St. (7pm ESPN) – 2nd and 3rdin the Big Ten, the Spartans won by three in Overtime last month in Madison.
Friday: Northern Iowa at VCU (7pm ESPN2) – The kickoff game of this years BracketBusters event, two teams that have been busting brackets in March make for a great start to the 10th year of the BracketBusters series.
Saturday: St. Mary’s at Murray State (6pm ESPN2) – The match-up that everyone wanted in BracketBusters. This game should still be a great game even without the Racers being undefeated, plus Dick Vitale is calling the game, should be a great atmosphere.
Sunday: Michigan State at Purdue (1pm CBS) – The Boilermakers get a shot to get a quality win over the Spartans under the lights of CBS.