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2016-17 Atlantic 10 Post-Mortem

July 5, 2017 Columns, Conference Notes No Comments

The Atlantic 10 has been solid and steady in recent years, with a good deal of stability once the conference realignment game seemed to slow down. As currently configured, the conference was clearly in a good place, and it still is.

Now, the conference is going to look a little different. There is reason to think it will be just fine, but what that looks like is in question. Since this season ended, there has already been a good deal of change.

The coaching ranks are the most obvious place to look, and on that end, we saw four programs change head coaches, with a fifth removing the interim label for their coach. The teams who finished atop the conference this season, Dayton and VCU, both saw their head coach move on to another job as Archie Miller left for Indiana and Will Wade left for LSU. Anthony Grant, a former VCU and Alabama head coach, replaces Miller, and Mike Rhoades returns to Richmond to lead VCU after three years at Rice.

UMass fired Derek Kellogg and Duquesne fired Jim Ferry. Matt McCall, who had been the head coach at Chattanooga, takes over in Amherst, while former Akron head coach Keith Dambrot takes over at Duquesne. UMass has had some success, though they fell on hard times recently, while Duquesne has for a long time struggled to be relevant.

George Washington, meanwhile, gave Maurice Joseph a long-term contract after he led them to the CBI as the interim head coach this season.

In all, the benches will look a little different next season. And it’s entirely possible that the standings could as well, as Dayton, VCU and Rhode Island all lose multiple significant pieces, though one of those three looks better equipped to reload immediately than the others. Richmond also loses the Player of the Year and another All-Atlantic 10 member, so they take a hit, and George Washington has significant turnover as well. St. Bonaventure might return more than anyone else in the conference.

It’s certainly possible the teams at the top look quite similar next year. We can also expect the conference to be strong as a whole. What all of that looks like, however, is likely to be a little different given the changes that have already taken place since the end of the season.

Final Standings

Atlantic 10
Rhode Island
St. Bonaventure
George Washington
George Mason
La Salle
Saint Louis
Saint Joseph’s

Conference Tournament

There were NCAA Tournament implications all over some of the Atlantic 10 Tournament games this year. It started with no big surprises for the first couple of days.

In the first round, No. 12 UMass beat No. 13 Saint Joseph’s 70-63, then No. 11 Saint Louis edged No. 14 Duquesne 72-71 in what would be Jim Ferry’s last game as the Dukes’ head coach.

The second round began with a mild upset as No. 9 Duquesne took out No. 8 La Salle 82-73. It was all chalk after that, with No. 5 St. Bonaventure ending UMass’ season with a 73-60 win. No. 7 George Mason needed overtime to beat No. 10 Fordham 82-71, then No. 6 George Washington closed out the day by holding off No. 11 Saint Louis in what was by far the lowest scoring game of the tournament, 53-46.

The quarterfinals began with Davidson not being done yet. They beat top seed Dayton 73-67 to advance, followed by No. 4 Rhode Island knocking off St. Bonaventure 74-63. No. 2 VCU beat George Mason 71-60 in a battle of old CAA foes, then No. 3 Richmond closed out the day by holding off George Washington 70-67.

The semifinals were a contrast of games. Rhode Island blew out Davidson 84-60 in the first game, then arch rivals VCU and Richmond needed overtime, where it was all VCU as they won 87-77.

That set up the championship game, with Rhode Island appearing to still need the game for their NCAA Tournament hopes. They got off to a good start and led 40-27 at the half. VCU would make a couple of runs to get within six, then five, but Rhode Island answered every time. VCU would get within three a couple of times late, but Rhode Island answered every time and never had to face a potential game-tying possession, holding on for a 70-63 win and the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Postseason Awards
Player of the Year: T.J. Cline, Richmond
Rookie of the Year: De’Monte Buckingham, Richmond
Coach of the Year: Archie Miller, Dayton
Most Improved Player: Marquise Moore, George Mason
Sixth Man of the Year: Kyle Davis, Dayton
Defensive Player of the Year: Hassan Martin, Rhode Island

All-Atlantic 10 Team
Jaylen Adams, Jr. G, St. Bonaventure
T.J. Cline, Sr. F, Richmond
Jack Gibbs, Sr. G, Davidson
JeQuan Lewis, Sr. G, VCU
Scoochie Smith, Sr. G, Dayton

Season Highlights

  • Fordham was third in the nation in turnovers forced.
  • George Mason’s Marquise Moore, a 6’2″ guard, was the only player in the conference to average a double-double.
  • The top two players in assists, Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure) and T.J. Cline (Richmond), were also in the top five in the conference in scoring.
  • Richmond’s T.J. Cline posted two triple-doubles on the season.

What we expected, and it happened: Dayton led the way, as they have done quite often lately. They won the regular season title outright by a game over VCU.

What we expected, and it didn’t happen: UMass was near the bottom. While no one expected the Minutemen to contend, it was also a surprise to see them near the bottom of the standings the entire way. This was especially the case after they closed out non-conference play with four straight wins for a 10-3 mark, though their best win was either Harvard or Georgia State. They never won consecutive games in Atlantic 10 play.

What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Richmond finished third in the conference. The Spiders were thought to be a little down, and they didn’t have a stellar non-conference run as they entered Atlantic 10 play with a 6-6 record. But they won their first five conference games and finished the regular season with four in a row, which ultimately landed them in the NIT.

Team(s) on the rise: St. Bonaventure. Mark Schmidt continues to do a great job making this a steady program, and they should contend next year with Matt Mobley, Jaylen Adams and Idris Taqqee leading the holdovers.

Team(s) on the decline: UMass. The Minutemen have been on the decline for a few years, leading to Derek Kellogg’s firing, and new head coach Matt McCall will probably need a year or two to get them going in the right direction.


2017-18 Atlantic 10 Outlook

As noted earlier, several of this year’s top teams will look quite different next year, between players graduating and/or leaving as well as coaching changes at a couple of schools.

We’ll start with Rhode Island, who loses a great player in Hassan Martin and another key in Kuran Iverson but still has the best perimeter unit in the conference with E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett returning. Jeff Dowtin also made an impact as a freshman, so if they can make up for the aforementioned losses to at least some degree, the Rams may well be the team to beat.

Dayton and VCU will be navigating coaching changes in addition to significant personnel losses. The Flyers lose their top three players, while VCU loses JeQuan Lewis, Mo Alie-Cox and Doug Brooks. Both will still have talent, but seem primed to take a step back, especially since as noted earlier St. Bonaventure returns a nice core of Adams, Mobley and Taqqee.

George Mason has to replace a couple of key players, including Marquise Moore, and while La Salle loses their second-leading scorer, they have a lot coming back and appear primed to make a move up in the standings. Davidson will miss Jack Gibbs and rely even more on Peyton Aldridge. The remaining teams have a longer road ahead at the moment, though we have seen Saint Louis, Saint Joseph’s and UMass reach the NCAA Tournament not all that long ago, and Fordham has shown signs of growth during Jeff Neubauer’s first two seasons in the Bronx.

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