College Basketball Nation: UMass Minutemen

Tournament preview: Atlantic 10

March, 11, 2014
Armageddon did not arrive. The end, as it turns out, is nowhere near.

Conference realignment has come, team pillaging has gone, and the Atlantic 10 is still here and still fine, thank you very much.

Just a year ago, teams gathered in Brooklyn for what seemed like a swan song to real excellence, with Xavier, Temple, Butler and Charlotte on their way out the door.

Instead, the reorganized and recharged Atlantic 10 expects to get six of its 13 teams into the NCAA tournament field, a rather nice little percentage. How? Because exactly what needed to happen for the A-10 to remain relevant, did. Teams that had been stuck in the middle of the pack for years emerged this season as viable threats, replacing the ones that left for greener pastures.

[+] EnlargeJim Crews
Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY SportsCoach Jim Crews and Saint Louis have won back-to-back regular-season titles in the Atlantic 10.
George Washington, Saint Joseph’s and Dayton all have reconvened on the scene after too many years on the shoulder of the road, while UMass finally has formally delivered on years of promise. Mix in regulars Saint Louis and VCU and you have a core of teams that are, by ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s estimation, solidly in the field before the tourney even tips off in Brooklyn.

Credit the schools for making good hires (Archie Miller at Dayton, Mike Lonergan at GW) and making a commitment to be basketball-centric, and credit the coaches for pushing the right buttons.

But mostly credit the conference for keeping its vision clear amid the chaos.

What’s at stake?

A shot at history for five teams -- VCU, St. Joe, GW, UMass and Dayton.

The last time one of those won the Atlantic 10 Tournament -- how about 2007?

VCU gets a pass. The Rams are in only their second season in the conference.

The rest, though, were once part of the conference backbone, league stalwarts that could be counted on for big results. Hard times and coaching changes have conspired to send all of them into reshuffling, if not flat-out rebuilding mode.

George Washington won the tourney in 2007 and again in 2005. Dayton’s drought stretches back to 2003. Saint Joseph’s, despite that magical 2004 season run, hasn’t won a postseason title since 1997, and UMass has to go all the way back to 1996 when a certain young coach by the name of Calipari led the Minutemen.

This isn’t about securing a bid, though no doubt the certainty of a relaxing Selection Sunday would be welcome.

With Saint Louis already claiming its second consecutive regular-season title, this is about lofting a trophy and legitimizing success.

Team with the most to gain

Dayton. If there is a team even slightly on the bubble, it’s the Flyers. More than likely the strong finish -- with wins against both UMass and Saint Louis -- solidified things for Dayton, but a few wins here wouldn’t hurt.

The Flyers have a solid RPI (40) and schedule (41), but no one wants to be sweating out upsets elsewhere. A longer stay in Brooklyn wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Of course, the ironic twist for Dayton is that being one of the last teams in could almost work in the Flyers’ favor. The First Four games again will be played on Dayton’s home court, and with no way to pick a new site on the fly, the selection committee has agreed to allow the Flyers to play there if they are in one of those early games.

3-point shot: Preseason scrimmage lessons

October, 28, 2013

Andy Katz discusses some lessons learned from three preseason scrimmages across the nation.

The best thing about the college basketball offseason is that it ends. The second best thing about the college basketball offseason is that when it ends, it ends so quickly and so exhaustively that within a few days you have to remind yourself that there was ever an offseason in the first place. By mid-November, it's impossible to imagine life without basketball.

We have the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon to thank for that. Hey, it might still be warm outside and the campus dorms are mostly empty here in the dog days of August. But exactly three months from now, college hoops will be back in full force with the Marathon, which will include more than a dozen games in more than 24 consecutive hours of basketball in what has become a great annual excuse to call into work sick.

At 7 p.m. ET on Nov. 11, the Marathon begins with an ESPN2 women's doubleheader (Stanford-UConn; then Tennessee-North Carolina) and an ESPNU men's doubleheader (Kent State-Temple; then Colorado State-Gonzaga). At 7:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 12, the Marathon ends with a Champions Classic doubleheader that very well might match up four of the nation's top five teams (Kentucky-Michigan State; Kansas-Duke).

In between, starting at 11 p.m. ET on the 11th, there's a run of men's games that will keep the hardcore fans up all night and morning and begging for caffeine by lunchtime. Who will be participating in those games? Well, stick with us here in the Nation blog. We'll be revealing each of the Marathon matchups at the corresponding time they'll be taking place three months from now. Keep this page open and refresh every two hours and you'll get a new game, along with an early analysis of the matchup. Starting with ...

BYU at Stanford, 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Cougars and Cardinal will not only get the Marathon party started late on Nov. 11, they also provide a handy reminder that the earliest parts of the season mean just as much as what happens in February and March. In recent years, the NCAA tournament selection committee has de-emphasized recent results in its selection, instead emphasizing performance in the nonconference as much (or more) than any other single selection criterion. What happens on Nov. 11 matters, in other words, and that's especially true for both BYU and Stanford. The Cougars have quality players in Matt Carlino and Tyler Haws; Stanford is a quality defensive team with solid guard play from Chasson Randle. Neither team looks like a top-25 group, but they do look like they could be in the mix on Selection Sunday. So both will need as many quality nonconference wins as they can get to avoid languishing on the tournament bubble for months at a time. That process will begin immediately.

[+] EnlargeGregg Marshall
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsComing off a Final Four appearance in April, coach Gregg Marshall and the Wichita State Shockers are riding high entering this season.
Western Kentucky at Wichita State, 1 a.m. ET, ESPN2: Just two years ago, Western Kentucky, a proud, historically successful program, appeared to be in deep decline. In January 2012, a 5-10 team lost to six players (true, and long, story), then fired its coach. Since then, Ray Harper has managed to get WKU into the tournament twice, which is as much a testament to his coaching as it is to the wacky power of automatic bids and mid-major conference tournaments. But really, this fixture is about the Wichita State Shockers and their fans, who, in the wake of a surprise Final Four visit, are no doubt eager to showcase the strength of their program and their fan base to a national audience. Charles Koch Arena is always bumping. Imagine what they'll have cooking for a midnight local tip. Oh my.

Akron at Saint Mary’s, 3 a.m. ET, ESPN2: This midnight local tip -- you know, were it not for time zones, this whole Marathon thing would be a lot harder to pull off -- features two of the best mid-major programs of the past decade. You're likely already familiar with Saint Mary's, which has crept up on (and even briefly unseated) Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference in recent years. But Akron coach Keith Dambrot has taken the Zips to the tournament in three of the past five seasons, including as a 12-seed in 2012-13. Recovering from the loss of super-efficient center Zeke Marshall won't be easy (to say nothing of the Alex Abreu ordeal), but Akron has almost everyone else back and is ready to push toward another postseason berth, and then some.

New Mexico State at Hawaii, 5 a.m. ET, ESPN2: There are many, many benefits to being in Hawaii and its time zone is typically not high on that list. But the Warriors' unique geography also makes them a yearly inclusion in the Marathon. At this point, 5 a.m. ET might as well be called the "Hawaii Slot." This year's edition of the Hawaii Slot features one of the more consistently successful and frequently slept-on mid-majors in New Mexico State, where Marvin Menzies has won 50 games over the past two seasons (and has been to back-to-back NCAA tournaments). Expect to hear a lot about Sim Bhullar, who is not your average NMSU player: He's a 7-foot-5 Canadian-born son of Indian parents whose unique background (and sheer size) won him cross-cultural hype from the New York Times before he played a minute of college ball. The good news? Bhullar was good as a freshman, when he shot 62.1 percent from the field and grabbed 12.8 percent of available offensive rebounds. The dude can play, and you can see him do so live -- as long as you can get up early (or stay up that late).

Hartford at Florida Gulf Coast, 7 a.m. ET, ESPN2: There's something immensely fun about the early-morning Marathon entries. The schools involved are typically small enough that the very idea of being included in the event (and on ESPN) is enough to draw a raucous A.M. crowd, especially in the student section. Expect things to go up a notch or two in 2013. The folks at Florida Gulf Coast are riding as high as the sport allows these days. March's "Dunk City"-defined run to the Sweet 16 put the tiny 22-year-old school and its pristine beach dorms in front of every sports fan in the country. Merchandise flew off the shelves; enrollment (almost certainly, given precedent) spiked. It's safe to assume the party will be still be raging come November.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Garland
John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty ImagesThe Explorers lost only one contributor from a team that won three NCAA tourney games in March.
Quinnipiac at La Salle, 9 a.m. ET, ESPN2: Are you sensing a theme? La Salle, like Florida Gulf Coast and Wichita State above, are likewise coming off one of the best seasons in program history. The 1954 NCAA champs saw the last vestiges of ongoing relevance dry up by the mid-1990s, but their return to the tournament in 2013 -- which required a stopover at the "first round" in Dayton -- took them all the way to the Sweet 16 before they fell to Wichita State. The Explorers lose senior leader Ramon Galloway, but everyone else is back, including a great group of guards led by Tyrone "Southwest Philly Floater" Garland, who is entertaining and frustrating in equally perfect measure.

LSU at Massachusetts, 11 a.m. ET, ESPN2: Typically, LSU fans devote more time to the mechanics of Les Miles' grass-chew habit than they do basketball, and in recent seasons it's been hard to argue with that order of priorities. The Tigers simply have not been very good. That may be changing. Johnny Jones' team returns four starters from a better-than-you-remember 19-12, 2012-13 group. But the biggest piece of news is the arrival of Jarrell Martin, the No. 11-ranked overall player in a stacked incoming recruiting class. The Baton Rouge native took to basketball later than most, but he's already developed into an imposing (if somewhat raw) presence. If his development curve continues to do its best hockey stick impression throughout the rest of the summer, look out for the Tigers. Oh, and don't sleep on UMass -- one of the most stylistically entertaining teams in the country, with a solid returning core -- either. This could be one of those games that looks huge once bubble talk ramps up.

West Virginia at Virginia Tech, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN: Virginia Tech got off to a great start last season, its first under new coach James Johnson. But by the end of the year, about the only thing the Hokies had going for them was senior guard Erick Green, who managed to post a 120.0 offensive rating on 31.7 percent usage, which ranked him behind only Nate Wolters, Kelly Olynyk, Doug McDermott and Trey Burke on the list of players who managed to be efficient despite using so many of their team's possessions. Green was great, but now he's gone, which leaves Johnson facing a classic, long-haul rebuilding scenario. West Virginia isn't quite there, but Bob Huggins' team had a decidedly un-Huggins season in 2012-13, when they played some of the ugliest, most disjointed offense the college game had to offer (which, last season, was saying something). After essentially sending talented, but troubled, forward Aaric Murray away, Huggins will have to cull some semblance of a rotation from a smattering of pieces that never congealed last year. Incoming four-star power forwards Devin Williams and Elijah Mason should help.

South Carolina at Baylor, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN: Despite taking a massive L.J. Peak-induced recruiting gut-punch this summer, Frank Martin's Gamecocks have already made more progress in his one year at the school than in the 10 before it. Martin has a six-player class arriving this fall, led by No. 7-ranked shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell. A few years down the road, the talent level in Columbia is going to be unrecognizably high. Baylor fans could lend some experience on this front. Now entering his 11th season, Scott Drew has taken the Bears from the untouchable site of shocking scandal into one of the most consistently talented programs in the country. This season, the Bears are adding two top-100 talents (Ishmail Wainright, Allerik Freeman) to a group that already includes 7-footer Isaiah Austin and a score of rising youngsters and/or reliable veterans, including forwards Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers and guards Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin -- the list goes on and on. After an NIT title in March, Baylor should be after much more this season.

[+] EnlargeMick Cronin
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesSean Kilpatrick and Mick Cronin are looking to for a fourth straight NCAA tournament bid.
NC State at Cincinnati, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN: When everything was clicking, there were few sights in the college game as thrilling as NC State's offense last season -- Lorenzo Brown leading the break, T.J. Warren running to the block, Scott Wood spotting up on the wing. The problem, of course, was defense, or more precisely a lack of defense. Some of that had to do with personnel, but much of it was related to attitude. With Wood, Brown, guard Rodney Purvis (transfer to UConn) and forwards C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell all gone, coach Mark Gottfried won't have as much tantalizing talent on the court this time around. But he will have a pared-down group that actually wants to be in Raleigh, and he can build the additions of top-100 recruits Anthony Barber, BeeJay Anya and Kyle Washington around Warren, the Pack's most dynamic and promising player a season ago. A trip to Cincinnati will be a crucial early test of Gottfried's mini-rebuild, as a Sean Kilpatrick-led Bearcats group hopes the addition of power forward Jermaine Lawrence will push the program past the "solid NCAA tournament inclusion" hump into ever more rarefied air.

"College GameDay" from Chicago, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: I don't need to preview College Gameday for you, do I? You already know how awesome College Gameday is. Let's move on.

VCU at Virginia, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: It's almost unfair to pit the ESPN2 primetime games against the Champions Classic. They're bound to look pale by comparison. But on any other night of the season, VCU-Virginia (and its 9 p.m. ET follow-up, about which more below) would be must-see stuff. The basketball is good in and of itself. Under Shaka Smart, Virginia Commonwealth has morphed 2011's shock Final Four run into a burgeoning outfit that plays one of the most recognizable systems -- a constantly turnover-hawking pressing style -- in the country. UVa, meanwhile, has steadily improved under fifth-year coach Tony Bennett, who has adopted many of the pack-line defensive principles that his father Dick Bennett developed long ago at Wisconsin-Green Bay. The contrast of speed and style couldn't be more pronounced here, and if a hearty quasi-cultural, in-state rivalry doesn't exist between these two very different schools already, it shouldn't take long.

Michigan State vs. Kentucky in Chicago, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: And so we arrive at the jewel of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon: The Champions Classic. In its first two years, the Champions Classic has done exactly what it set out to do -- provide mutually beneficial marquee college hoops scheduling at the start of the season -- and then some. It even offered an early national title preview (Kentucky vs. Kansas) in 2011-12.

This year's edition might be the best yet, and that starts with Michigan State-Kentucky. The Spartans are the prohibitive Big Ten favorite (or co-favorite with Michigan, your mileage may vary), and bring back about as solid and imposing a core -- senior guard Keith Appling, still-improving senior forward Adreian Payne, Big Ten freshman of the year Gary Harris -- and will begin the season in the top 5 because of it.

After the 2012 national title, Kentucky coach John Calipari probably didn't expect to be on the losing side of a first-round NIT game a year later (and in his hometown, no less), but even as Robert Morris fans stormed the court in March, Calipari could take solace knowing he assembled what is by all accounts the best recruiting class since the Fab Five, and maybe ever. With Julius Randle, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson, James Young and Marcus Lee, Calipari landed five of the top nine players in the class and six of the top 25. Oh, and he'll have Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein -- clearly talented players who struggled as freshmen, but should be more effective with more experience and more minimized roles -- back, too. The whole prospect is terrifying: For as good as UK was in 2011-12, this team might be better. What better early test than a veteran, Tom Izzo-coached Michigan State?

Florida at Wisconsin, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: See? This is another really good college basketball game that most people probably won't watch live, because you're not going to miss the beginning of what I have already imagined will be a Bird-Magic-esque Wiggins-Parker rivalry in Duke-Kansas. But the doubleheader on ESPN2 isn't too far behind. No coach in the country is as consistent as Bo Ryan, and this year very little should change. The only exception is the star power offered by sophomore forward Sam Dekker, a rare top-20 recruit for the Badgers who shined in an introductory role as a freshman, and will be asked to do loads more as a sophomore. Speaking of consistency, Florida has participated in the last three Elite Eights, and the Gators appear to be as capable of that feat as ever in 2013-14. No. 2-ranked freshman point guard Kasey Hill should start and star immediately alongside forward Patric Young, and if the Gators can get equally touted freshman power forward Chris Walker academically eligible, they'll have plenty of firepower to bring to the Kohl Center.

Kansas vs. Duke, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN: Yes, UK-MSU is awfully good, and the teams are probably better overall. But for sheer intrigue, it's hard to top Duke versus Kansas. On one side is the No. 1 player in the class, Andrew Wiggins, who is not merely your average top-ranked recruit but considered by pretty much every scout you talk to as the best prospect since Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, if not LeBron James. Which is funny, considering that's the same thing Sports Illustrated once plastered on its cover next to a photo of four-time Illinois state champion, No. 2-ranked Jabari Parker. There is already a bit of a LeBron James-Carmelo Anthony thing going on here. Wiggins is the world-destroying athletic freak with the intuitive all-court game; Parker is the smooth, natural scorer. In 2003, Anthony and James entered their rookie seasons having only ever met on the AAU circuit. In 2013, Parker and Wiggins will meet each other on one of the first nights of the season, following Kentucky's Julius Randle, who is good enough to steal the eventual No. 1 overall pick out from under both.

In other words, the three reasons why you'll hear so much about NBA teams tanking in the next 12 months are all playing on the same United Center night in mid-November, and two of them are playing each other. Man, the Champions Classic is awesome. Did I mention that already? We covered that part, right?

So get your remote control handy; get your DVR game tight. That's good advice for the primetime doubleheader, but it works for the whole Marathon, too. By the time it's over, you won't even remember the offseason existed. I can't wait.
1. Here is an unofficial list of teams going on foreign trips in August from league officials as well as Basketball Travelers (there could be many more to come): 1. Alabama -- Belgium, Netherlands; 2. Auburn -- Bahamas; 3. Clemson -- Italy; 4. Florida State -- Greece; 5. Syracuse -- Canada; 6. Nevada -- Italy; 7. New Mexico -- Australia; 8. Temple -- France/Italy; 9. Oklahoma -- Belgium, France; 10. Arkansas State -- Calgary; 11. Maryland -- Bahamas; 12. Penn State -- France, Belgium, UK; 13. UNCG -- Spain; 14. Butler -- Australia; 15. Rhode Island -- Italy; 16. Hampton -- The Bahamas; 17. South Carolina State -- Bahamas; 18. Mercer -- Germany, Lithuania, Estonia; 19. Saint Joseph's -- Italy; 20. FIU -- Spain; 21. Cleveland State -- Netherlands, Belgium, France; 22.. Kent State -- Bahamas; 23. NJIT -- Netherlands, Belgium, France; 24. Wisconsin -- Canada; 25. IUPUI -- Italy; 26. Towson -- Canada.

2. On this list above, the teams that can use these foreign trips the most are: Alabama -- after an turbulent offseason with the roster; Syracuse -- introducing a new leading point guard; New Mexico -- a veteran team playing for a first-time head coach in Craig Neal; Temple -- adjusting to life without Khalif Wyatt; Maryland -- discovering a new post presence sans Alex Len; Rhode Island -- a supposedly break through year for Danny Hurley; Wisconsin -- figuring out a way for Josh Gasser to play with Traevon Jackson on the perimeter. The foreign trips are a tremendous bonding experience for the team and staff and allow them to practice for 10 days prior to departing. The collegial experience in a low-stress environment is hard to duplicate during the regular season.

3. Lost among the alignment moves that didn't happen on July 1 are schools that stayed put like UMass. The Minutemen will have to make some decisions with their football program wanting to be relevant. UMass was a finalist for a spot in the American before the league went with Tulsa for its latest spot. The Minutemen should eventually lobby to be included. UConn actually has only one school left (after Rutgers leaves) in the Northeast in Temple. The Huskies have always fancied themselves above their northern neighbors, but adding the Minutemen for all sports makes too much sense. If UConn can check its pride then pushing for inclusion of UMass would be another way to bolster the American -- adding a rising basketball program and a school that would at the very least get the American brand name in the Boston area when UMass comes to the capital city (usually at least once a year).

Video: UMass 67, Harvard 64

November, 13, 2012

Sampson Carter hit a 3-point shot in the final seconds to push UMass past Harvard.
1. The Colonial Athletic Association will meet June 1-2 in Hilton Head, S.C., and the site of the 2013 tournament is expected to be a hot topic. Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said he could see the tournament moving to Baltimore, out of Virginia Commonwealth's home base in Richmond. The problem is that a school like Towson would have to support the event. The CAA is going to have an odd year in 2013 now that VCU is gone to the Atlantic 10, Georgia State is ineligible to play in the tourney since it’s leaving for the Sun Belt and Towson and UNC-Wilmington aren’t eligible due to poor APR scores. That leaves eight schools available for the tourney. The elite of Drexel, Old Dominion and George Mason (as well as possibly Northeastern) should all be near the top of the league.

2. The A-10 will find out that a school like VCU has the size and strength to bump the league up a perceived level immediately. The Rams will be an instant competitor for the A-10 title in year one. Don’t be surprised to see VCU and Butler in the thick of the race for the championship in 2014, too. One of the big winners is the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The A-10 made the prudent move to Brooklyn instead of Atlantic City. Having a tournament with Xavier, VCU and Butler as the headline teams will be a draw. If Saint Joseph’s, UMass, Dayton and others in the area can be factors, the buzz for the event will only increase.

3. Murray State coach Steve Prohm is deciding about which tournament the coveted Racers will play in next season. He’s going back and forth on whether to be in the NIT Season Tip-Off pod at Kansas State (the other three hosts are Virginia, Pitt and Michigan) or become the eighth team at the Charleston (S.C.) Classic. The seven teams signed up for the Nov. 15-18 event are: Baylor, Boston College, Charleston, Colorado, Dayton, St. John’s and Southern Illinois. It’s a tough call for Prohm. He could gamble and go to Manhattan, Kan., to try to get to New York or go to Charleston, where he’s likely to get at least two games against possible NCAA teams.

Best case/Worst case: Atlantic 10

August, 18, 2010
The summer previewing tour continues with Summer Shootaround, our exhaustive August look at key college hoops conferences. We start today with the Atlantic 10, which you can read here, and we'll continue each Monday, Wednesday and Friday until we're good and finished.

In addition to helping out with the Shootarounds, yours truly will be adding some related commentary on this here blog. Today: a best case/worst case look at the A-10. (For more summer previews, check out Insider's Summer Buzz series here, and our blog stuff here.)


Best case: New coach Alan Major incorporates the talent leftover from ousted Bobby Lutz's 19-12 team -- especially sophomore forward Chris Braswell, the country's No. 13-ranked player in defensive rebounding rate in 2009-10 -- and the 49ers improve enough to contend for the A-10 and a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Worst case: Major needs a year to install his system and cohere the Lutz talent and Charlotte misses the NCAA tournament for the sixth consecutive year.


Best case: A 2010-11 NCAA tournament appearance shouldn't be the best case for Dayton. It should be the only case. The Flyers dropped a host of close games on their way to an NIT berth (and eventual title) in 2009-10; all told, they were a bit unlucky to miss out. With forward Chris Wright back for another season, it'd be a shock to see the 2010-11 Flyers suffer the same fate.

Worst case: 2009-10 all over again. This is an NCAA tournament team. Or, at least, it should be.


Best case: Despite the return of five of Duquesne's top scorers, it's hard to envision the Dukes making the NCAA tournament in 2009-10. A top-six finish in what should be another tough A-10 would be accomplishment enough.

Worst case: A slip into under-.500 territory keeps Duquesne out of the NIT for the second straight year.


Best case: Uh, yeah. Fordham finished last in the 2009-10 A-10, losing their final 21 games and finishing 2-26 in the process. A-10 rookie of the year Chris Gaston might get them a couple more wins in 2010-11. That's the most Fordham should hope for, at least in the near term.

Worst case: That rarest of college hoops indignities: the winless season. Let's hope it's not quite that bad.


Best case: GW's group of talented youngsters makes a leap, improves the team's offensive efficiency, helps the Colonials continue their pattern of recent improvement (from 10-18 in 2008-09 to 16-15 last year) and moves them into the top half of the league.

Worst case: The improvement stops once the Colonials hit the A-10, much as it did in 2009-10, when George Washington racked up an early 11-3 record against inferior non-conference competition.


Best case: Intriguingly named sophomore Aaric Murray improves on his already impressive interior defense, anchoring a La Salle team to a .500-ish season.

Worst case: The loss of do-everything senior Rodney Green -- who finished No. 8 in the country in percentage of minutes played -- leaves a gap too big for the Explorers to fill, and another cellar year goes by in Philadelphia.


Best case: The heights of Minutemen past are still a ways off, but if UMass can make up for the loss of senior guard Ricky Harris with a pair of lanky sophomores (Terrell Vinson, Freddie Riley) and a couple of talented incoming recruits (guard Jesse Morgan, forward Maxie Esho), they should improve over last year's ugly 12-20 record.

Worst case: Harris was unquestionably the team's go-to player -- he ranked eighth in the nation in percentage of possessions used and 11th in percentage of his team's shots -- and unless fellow high-usage guard Anthony Gurley becomes much more efficient, the Minutemen are more likely to suffer another sub-standard season.


Best case: Featuring the best returner from a potent offensive lineup -- the Rams finished No. 37 in the country in offensive efficiency last season -- in senior forward Delroy James, the Rams incorporate new 7-foot-3 project Blake Vedder alongside seven-foot center Will Martell to dominate A-10 teams on the interior. If so, the Rams compete for the A-10 title again, and you hear from them in March.

Worst case: Vedder doesn't pan out and guards Marquis Jones, Steve Mejia, and Akeem Richmond can't make up for the backcourt losses of Keith Cochran and Lamonte Ullner, leaving the Rams imbalanced and unable to repeat their 26-win 2009-10 season.


Best case: Kevin Anderson is back. That's great news for a Richmond team that broke out in 2009-10, winning 26 games and making the NCAA tournament for the first time in coach Chris Mooney's tenure. If all goes well, Anderson will star again, and the Spiders will justify their considerable preseason hype with an A-10 title.

Worst case: The loss of senior guard David Gonzalez, Richmond's most efficient offensive player last season, leaves Anderson exposed in the backcourt. Senior forwards Justin Harper and Dan Geriot can't make up for the loss of Gonzalez's ability, and the Spiders, instead of surging into the national scene, take a step back into the middle of the A-10 muck.


Best case: Andrew Nicholson goes from being one of the best all-around players you've never heard of -- he was nationally ranked in nearly every efficiency-based stat in 2009-10 -- to one of the best all-around players, period, and St. Bonaventure breaks the 15-win mark for the first time in coach Mark Schmidt's tenure.

Worst case: Nicholson is great again, but the Bonnies can't find him any scoring help and fail to shore up their already mediocre defense, which allowed 1.014 adjusted points per possession in 2009-10. That would mean another .500-0r-worse season for Schmidt and company.


Best case: It all depends on the incoming class. C.J. Aiken, Daryus Quarles and Langston Galloway make up the best class Phil Martelli has had since, well, you know. If all three live up to their hype, St. Joe's could vastly improve on its recent slide into 20-loss territory.

Worst case: The incoming class takes a year to congeal (as so many do), and the talented youngsters aren't good enough to make up for the loss of leading scorers Darrin Govens and Garrett Williamson. Either way, St. Joe's should improve, but if this worst case plays out, that improvement won't have anyone recalling the 2003-04 Elite Eight run anytime soon.


Best case: Were it not for three late losses to three of the league's best teams (Xavier, Temple, and Rhode Island), Rick Majerus' surprising Billikens would have made the NCAA tournament. With most of that talent returning (and, theoretically, maturing), St. Louis's best case features an Atlantic-10 title.

Worst case: The 2009-10 Billikens' defense was never a problem. Their No. 190-ranked adjusted offensive efficiency was. If St. Louis doesn't rebound its own misses or get to the free throw-line more frequently than last year, Majerus could have another good-but-not-great season on his hands.


Best case: Temple wasn't supposed to win the A-10 title in 2009-10; most thought Fran Dunphy's young team needed a year to grow into the role. Not so much: Temple featured one of the nation's best defenses last season, and with all of the key players returning, that shouldn't change. Best case is another title, but this time, with a few NCAA tournament wins to complement it.

Worst case: It's hard to envision Temple taking a step back, but if it does, it will have the loss of Ryan Brooks' efficient point guard play to thank. For as good as its defense was, Temple can't afford to worsen on offense.


Best case: The Musketeers lost a lot this offseason. Star guard Jordan Crawford, one of the country's most exciting scorers, is off to NBA pastures, and anchor forward Jason Love, the team's most efficient offensive player, graduated. If Jamel McLean can make up for Love's absence and Terrell Holloway can assume some of Crawford's scoring load, Xavier should be able to do what it always does: win in the A-10 and make the NCAA tournament.

Worst case: This is easier to envision, though not necessarily more likely. Crawford was incredibly high-usage last season -- he took the 12th-highest percentage of his team's shots in the country -- and if Xavier struggles to plug that hole with Holloway and crew, Xavier could break its impressive streak of NCAA tournament runs.

Final: Richmond 77, UMass 72

March, 12, 2010
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Some final thoughts as No. 3 Richmond beat No. 11 UMass, 77-72, in quarterfinal play in the A-10 tourney here at Boardwalk Hall. Up next for the Spiders is a semifinal matchup on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET against No. 2 Xavier.

  • Despite the closer-than-it-really-was final score this game was never truly in doubt for Richmond so it’s hard to say what it gained from the experience. UMass made a couple of runs in the second half and put up 51 points after halftime, which forced the Spiders to do more than simply go through the motions. So that may have been enough of a tuneup for what should be a great matchup on Saturday against Xavier.
  • Suffice it to say that it’s very unlikely Xavier will let Richmond sit outside the three-point line and take uncontested shots in Saturday’s semifinal. But that’s pretty much was UMass did on Friday night and the Minutemen paid for it. Dearly. Richmond was a lights out 9 of 13 in the first half from beyond the arc before it cooled down to just 2 of 7 in the final 20 minutes. For the game Richmond shot 55 percent outside of 3-point line.
  • The Spiders finished with five players in double figures, led by David Gonzalvez’s 15 points. UMass’ Anthony Gurley led all scorers with 24 points -- including 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
  • UMass finished the season 12-20, which can’t be what coach Derek Kellogg or athletic director John McCutcheon had in mind after last season’s 12-18 campaign. The Minutemen do lose their best player in senior Ricky Harris, but the rest of the young lineup got some valuable experience in beating Rhode Island in the regular-season finale just to qualify for the A-10 tournament. And then UMass went on the road and beat Charlotte to advance to Atlantic City.