Conference Catchup: A-10 brings in longtime small-league ruler

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Derrick Gordon coming out is certainly the biggest A-10 headline in the past two months. (USATSI)

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We're now into June, and so aside from NBA prospects prepping for the draft, the soul-sucking darkness of a long college basketball offseason is really starting to take hold. And we've got a long way to go before the games begin (grab my hand; it's going to be OK).

But that doesn't mean we can't keep you abreast of the doings across the sport. Though it has been slow to a point, in the nearly two months since the season ended, plenty has happened in college basketball. Some headlines have been huge; others not so much, but still worth addressing. But with most coaching changes complete and a majority of transfer decisions by players now decided, we're approaching a settled/quieter time for the sport.

What has happened, who has gone where and which teams are in better position now than at the end of March? We want to keep you updated on what you need to know with the teams and leagues that matter.

That's the idea behind the CBSSports.com Conference Catchups.

We'll post one every other day over a four-week span. We began last week with the ACC and American Athletic Conference. Today, we look at the underrated Atlantic 10.

Four offseason headlines

1. Derrick Gordon becomes first active men's D-I player to announce his homosexuality: It's one of the three or four biggest headlines of the offseason, and how often can we say the A-10 contributes that? Big news. Positive news. And you can't help but wonder how this story plays out once the games begin in November (hopefully in the best way).

This headline of course reverberated beyond college hoops. And maybe it speaks to the news cycle, how long this offseason can feel, or how accepting -- generally speaking -- society has grown with the subject, but doesn't Gordon's story feel four of five months old? In fact the news broke less than two months ago.

Gordon, who averaged 9.4 points and 3.5 rebounds last season, followed in the footsteps of Michael Sam. And his decision to announce he's gay will likely encourage others in the sport to eventually do the same. Gordon will be a junior next season. He'll also likely start and be a key factor in getting UMass back to the NCAA Tournament.

2. No coaching changes -- again: Here, our 2014 offseason hirings and firings post. You'll notice no Atlantic 10 coaches occupy the space. Here, our 2013 offseason hirings and firings post. You'll notice no Atlantic 10 coaches occupy the space (Jim Crews was already in place at Saint Louis). Can the league go three straight years without a firing? That might be tough to pull off, but we'll see. Stability in the coaching ranks is good for a league, but also tough to achieve three years in a row. Usually someone has done a good enough job to warrant getting hired away somewhere else, or a program in the basement finally opts for a change.

But I'll say, if one major conference is capable of keeping its generals in the union, it's the A-10. The league is just different from all others.

3. Dayton profits big-time off Elite Eight run: The school reportedly was a beneficiary to the tune of more than $72 million in exposure off three victories in the NCAAs. The Flyers took a big step forward. Maintaining expectations and setting the bar for reaching the tournament going forward will be the challenge. But it's no doubt a great time to be a Flyers fan. Archie Miller -- who was given a contract extension -- is now a household coaching name for casual college hoops fans. Keeping him could be tough if UD continues to rise.

4. In comes Davidson: The longtime bully of the SoCon heads into the A-10 officially on July 1. It's going to be interesting, because Davidson has been so solid for so long. Led by coach Bob McKillop, can the Wildcats duplicate what VCU has done? Remember, VCU hasn't won the A-10 league title yet but has definitely been a player near the top of the standings. Davidson does not have the resources of VCU, but it's certainly one of the proudest hoops institutions in the league.

How long will it take for the Wildcats to play their way into the NCAAs? They've been in five of the past nine years -- in a one-bid league.

Big question that remains

Will the A-10 be able to keep sending four or more teams to the NCAA Tournament?

The A-10's coming off a season in which it sent a record six teams to the big bracket. Huge year, and one that proved for sure that this conference can sit at the table with anyone. Saint Louis, VCU, UMass, George Washington, Saint Joe's and Dayton all made it through on Selection Sunday. Only Dayton broke into the second weekend but at least the league had another team do it, like La Salle in 2013. I wrote extensively earlier this year on the interesting reputation the A-10 has. It's a really good league. It's filled with veteran players and talented young(er) coaches.

But the conference hasn't been able to produce a Final Four team since UMass' vacated 1996 run, and when you combine that with the relative lack of Elite Eight appearances and NBA Draft picks, there's a noted lack of respect that comes with it. Fair? Debatable. But beyond anything else, the A-10 needs to keep scheduling well out of conference (and it has again for next season) and putting itself in position for at least four bids. In the big picture, it sets the league up for more TV exposure, coaching buzz and better recruits. For as solid as the conference is now, I think it can be markedly better by 2016.

NBA Draft report

  • Could've gone and did: No one.
  • Could've gone but stayed: No one.

Transfers

  • Coming: Julian Royal (Georgia Tech to George Mason); Ryan McCoy (Manhattan to George Washington); Jordan Price (Auburn to La Salle); Clean Roberts (Georgia Southern to La Salle); Jabari Hinds (West Virginia to UMass); Aaron Brown (West Virginia to Saint Joseph's); Achraf Yacoubou (Villanova to Saint Louis).
  • Going: Alex Gavrilovic (Dayton to Towson); Isaiah Watkins (Duquesne to TBD); Tra'Vaughn White (Duquesne to TBD); Jake Fay (Fordham to Hartford); Jared Fay (Fordham to TBD); Jermaine Myers (Fordham to TBD); Chris Whitehead (Fordham to TBD); Jonathan Arledge (George Mason to Old Dominion); Anali Okoloji (George Mason to Eastern Michigan); Miguel Cartagena (George Washington to TBD); Paris Maragkos (George Washington to American); Mike Powell (Rhode Island to TBD); Jairus Lyles (VCU to Robert Morris).

Team commentary in 140 characters or less

Davidson: Tough time to transfer in, as the team will be at its youngest in some years. Bob McKillop is one of the game's best X-and-O coaches, though.

Dayton: Miller was courted by bigger schools, and it was nice to see yet another talented young coach show patience and loyalty instead of bolting.

Duquesne: The Dukes will be a bubble team in 2016, but expect Jim Ferry's frenetic style to get 'em above .500 next year. Micah Mason: 3-point assassin.

Fordham: Tom Pecora is the only coach in the league entering next season with a warm cushion under his tush. The Rams need sophomore Jon Severe to be all-league.

George Mason: Was a mind-boggling 11-20 last season. Fans are frustrated with Paul Hewitt already. Will losing three senior starters be a good thing?

George Washington: Don't forget how good this team was last year. Expecting GW to slip back into generic mediocrity would be a mistake.

La Salle: Had a big fall (15-16) last year after the surprise 2012-13 run. And now losing three seniors. Due to resources, it's very tough to stay really good at La Salle.

UMass: Gone is the team's best player, Chaz Williams. Minutemen fans got a taste of real success. Next season's team has questions galore but burgeoning talent.

Rhode Island: Most everyone agrees it's not a question of if but when Danny Hurley starts to plant his flag in this league. E.C. Matthews could be a first-teamer.

Richmond: Chris Mooney was being considered for another major job over the past two months. But he stays on with the Spiders, and I think they reach the NCAAs.

Saint Joseph's: One of the oldest teams in the league gets a reset. DeAndre' Bembry -- know the name. This was the team that should've beaten UConn in the Round of 64.

Saint Louis: Hard to see how the Billikens don't take a big step back, but then again, how they've been so good under Jim Crews should make anyone pause on that thought.

St. Bonaventure: Mark Schmidt was in the running for the Boston College job. I was a tad surprised he didn't get it, but the Bonnies are better for it.

VCU: Converted point guard Briante Weber will be the NCAA's all-time leader in career steals by February. Rams the certain No. 1 heading into November.

Early guess at the top five in the league

  • 1. VCU
  • 2. Dayton
  • 3. Richmond
  • 4. Saint Joseph's
  • 5. George Washington

Early guess at the all-conference team

  • F: DeAndre' Bembry, Saint Joseph's
  • F: Treveon Graham, VCU
  • G: Jordan Sibert, Dayton
  • G: Kethan Savage, George Washington
  • G: Briante Weber, VCU

Final Thought: It's a wonder to me how the league is still so solid, legitimate, arguably top-six in the country ... yet isn't producing NBA talent. Not one early entry this year, and just one player is currently projected to be drafted in 2015.

It's strange. The league is on pace to have nine players drafted in 10 years, none of those in the lottery, and only three in the first round.

Yet it's not a bad league whatsoever. It's fascinating how the A-10 has become retro in this sense. Truly operating under a 1980s ideal, recruiting for fit over talent, giving juniors and seniors the most playing time and winning through that sense of stability. The coaching remains solid, too, of course, but I'm wondering if this model -- which is not intentional, by the way; if any of these coaches could get a surefire NBA guy, you best believe they would recruit by all means needed to get him on campus -- will sustain itself long-term.

As usual, the A-10 should be compelling but not flashy next season. Dayton and VCU will be known as Top 25-caliber, but who will know the players? Before reading this, did you? It's not easy to achieve four, five, six bids to the NCAAs without serious size, athleticism and talent. Yet the A-10 has found a way, in part because of really shrewd scheduling. Talent can make things easier, but it has never prevented teams from finding success. In the modern era of college hoops/hoops recruiting (read: basically since the mid-'90s), no conference has proved to be so good while still playing under a glass ceiling.

 
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