Atlantic 10 Basketball: Conference Offseason Checkup Part 2
Last week, we began our offseason checkup of the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball conference. We profiled the four teams St. Louis University will share home-and-home matchups with this season—Dayton, VCU, Duquesne and George Mason.
Now, let’s take a look at the other four A-10 squads coming to Chaifetz Arena as part of SLU’s home conference schedule.
The Rams are in full-rebuilding mode. In fact, it seems they have been for a very long time. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.
Over the last five seasons, the Rams have won exactly eight conference games. That’s not a per-season average. That’s eight total victories within the A-10.
Only two of those wins have been on the road (coincidentally, both at St. Bonaventure). On the road, the Rams haven’t defeated a conference team outside New York since 2008.
The team is also entering next season without their best player, having graduated forward Chris Gaston and his team-leading averages of 14.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, in an injury-shortened season.
One step forward, one step back.
Head coach Tom Pecora took over a Rams team in 2010 coming off a 2-26 season (0-16 in conference). He’s slowly been building the team back to respectability.
This is where the good news starts.
The Rams return their starting rotation (minus Gaston), including the team’s top scorers, rebounders and assist men (again, minus Gaston).
Senior guard Branden Frazier (6’3”, 170 pounds) will assume Gaston’s role as the team’s top threat. The Rams’ team MVP last season, Frazier was third in the A-10 in assists and ranked in the top 10 for free-throw percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Having averaged 14 points and five assists last year, Frazier shouldn’t have a problem handling such a heavy load.
Any SLU fan who watched last season’s game in the Bronx was undoubtedly impressed with the Rams’ big man, Travion Leonard. As a freshman last year, Leonard (6’8”, 275 pounds) was masterful down low against the Billikens, scoring 12 points in 26 minutes.
If Leonard keeps working on his low-post game, his strong legs and soft touch around the basket will always keep the Rams’ offense efficient.
We are certainly a couple seasons away from seeing it come to fruition, but the next wave of Fordham talent is coming.
The Rams’ incoming class for this season is led by guard Jon Severe. Last year’s Mr. Basketball in New York, Severe (6’3”, 180 pounds) brings a 21-point scoring average and 40 percent shooting from three-point range.
The only A-10 recruit named to the Parade All-American list in 2013, Severe has the hardware and the skills to make an impact on the court sooner rather than later.
It was another mediocre year for the Colonials last season, finishing with a 13-17 overall record, including 7-9 record within the A-10. For the last three seasons, George Washington has averaged 13 wins per season (seven in conference).
It appears the program’s time spent stuck in the mud is coming to a close. The program graduated four seniors last year. However, only one of the four (Lasan Kromah) was a productive player.
How will the Billikens fair at home against Fordham, GW, Richmond & St. Bonaventure?
Isaiah Armwood (6’9”, 210 pounds) returns for his senior season. Armwood led the Colonials last year in minutes, points, rebounds and blocks. He’ll be expected to contribute more on the offensive end this coming season, after averaging less than nine shots per game last year.
The job of getting Armwood the ball will fall to sophomore point guard Joe McDonald. As a freshman last year, McDonald (6’1”, 181 pounds) impressed by leading the team in assists (3.2 per game), while playing the second-most minutes.
If McDonald’s game improves and Armwood becomes more aggressive with the ball down low, the Colonials have a chance to shock a few A-10 opponents.
Six new faces will be joining GW’s program this season, including three transfers. Colonial fans are most excited about senior guard Maurice Creek. Working on a fifth year of eligibility after graduating from Indiana, Creek (6’5”, 195 pounds) has the ability to score, as long as he can stay healthy.
Sophomore guard Domonique Bull will join the Colonials’ active roster after sitting out last year due to his transfer from Missouri. Bull (6’4”, 220 pounds) was a highly decorated high school athlete in Massachusetts. Bull can fill a stat sheet and should be able to find enough minutes on GW’s roster to make an impact.
The Colonials are a big team with a good mix of upper and lower-classmen. The team appears close to making a move up the A-10 standings.
It's difficult to not pay close attention to the comings and goings of the Spiders. Maybe it’s the style of their play. Like a bad car crash, you can’t take your eyes off the slow, methodical motion offense head coach Chris Mooney has mastered over the years.
However, those celebrations after Sweet 16 NCAA tournament runs and 25-plus win seasons are distant memories.
The last two Spiders’ teams have finished a mediocre 16-16 and 19-15, respectively. Their place in the A-10 is of a similar nature, having gone 15-17 in the conference over the same period.
Team leader Darien Brothers is gone, having graduated. It’s now time for senior forward Derrick Williams and junior guard Kendall Anthony to finally perform up to their potential.
Anthony (5’8”, 140 pounds) has the ability to put the ball in the basket. He scored in double figures 23 times last season, topping 15 points eight times.
The only question left for Anthony is if he will ever improve his shot (42 percent last season). It has to be incredibly frustrating for Spiders fans to see Anthony shoot better from three-point range then he does from two-point range.
Williams (6’6”, 285 pounds) returns as the team’s leading rebounder. Despite an injury-plagued junior year last season, Williams managed to average a respectable 11 points and five rebounds per game. Williams’ health is probably one of the most important keys to Richmond’s success in 2013-14.
We would also be remiss not to mention the accomplishments of senior guard Cedrick Lindsay. The team leader last year in minutes and assists, while finishing second to Brothers in points, Lindsay (6’0”, 190 pounds) is the on-court captain who leads by example.
It’s always difficult to predict how an incoming freshman will fit into a Division I squad. My guess, however, is that Coach Mooney will find minutes for 6’4” guard Josh Jones. As a McDonald’s All-American last year, Jones averaged 22 points and six rebounds as a high school senior.
Jones’ frame has plenty of room for him to grow into over the next four years. A-10 teams would be perfectly happy to see Jones take as much time as he needs to enter the Spiders’ rotation.
Can Andrew Nicholson find a hidden extra year of eligibility? Simply put, that’s the reality of the Bonnies’ program. The cupboard, you can say, is pretty bare.
The Bonnies first year “A.N.” (After Nicholson) was a respectable 14-15, with a 7-9 record in the A-10. It was probably unfair to expect much better.
Look for things to take an ever steeper nose dive this coming season. The Bonnies lost their top three players to graduation: Demitrius Conger, Eric Mosley and Chris Johnson.
Conger was the team’s leader in minutes, points, rebounds and assists. Mosley and Johnson were the Bonnies’ next leading scorers and defenders.
Where do the Bonnies go next season?
Senior guard Matthew Wright (6’4”, 190 pounds) assumes the helm as the team’s returning leader in minutes, points, assists and steals.
Big things will also be expected of junior center Youssou Ndoye. A true seven-footer, Ndoye must become more aggressive on the glass (4.9 rebounds per game last year) and on defense (1.4 blocks per game last year). That’s because there simply is no one else who can.
As you can imagine, it was a busy offseason of signings for St. Bonaventure. Five new faces will be joining the Bonnies this upcoming season.
The crème of the class appears to be 6’7” Denzel Gregg. A versatile, athletic forward, Gregg has superb length and can guard multiple positions.
Gregg will be joined by sophomore post-man Matthias Runs (7’0”, 220 pounds). Runs was forced to sit out last season due to an eligibility issue with the NCAA. His height makes him the obvious candidate to fill the shoes left by Nicholson and should give Gregg time to work his way into the Bonnies’ rotation.
St. Bonaventure will most likely have some hard times this season in the A-10, but come 2015, the Bonnies will have one of the most imposing front lines in the conference.
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