Nationally Ranked Rhode Island Rolls At Fordham

The Rhode Island Rams found themselves in the national top 25 this week following a 15-3 start. Checking in at #24 in the Associated Press poll and #23 in the USA Today Coaches poll, Rhode Island continued its stellar start with a 78-58 victory at Fordham Wednesday night to improve to 8-0 in Atlantic 10 play. Continue reading “Nationally Ranked Rhode Island Rolls At Fordham”

Rhode Island 79, Iona 74 (OT): Gaels Nearly Pull Off Remarkable Win

KINGSTON, R.I. – As far as walk-ons go, Iona freshman Benjamin Nwokeabia has a pretty good resume, the Swiss native played AAU ball and at Impact Academy in Sarasota, Fla.

But he doesn’t appear among the 12 names on the front of the Iona media notes in “At a Glance”, and he had so little chance of getting meaningful minutes Saturday night at the Ryan Center against Rhode Island that his bio wasn’t included either. So the confluence of events that saw him on the floor late in overtime of a tight game Saturday night, well, that’s quite a long story.

Alas, if you’ve been following you know much of it. Kelvin Amayo is out indefinitely with a knee injury and Schadrac Casimir the same with a stubborn groin injury that is not healing as fast as anyone involved with Iona would like. MAAC Preseason Player of the Year A.J. English will hopefully be back for MAAC play from a broken bone in his hand.

Continue reading “Rhode Island 79, Iona 74 (OT): Gaels Nearly Pull Off Remarkable Win”

Nine Takeaways from the Atlantic 10’s Media Day

The Atlantic 10 held its annual media day on Tuesday, and for the second straight year, beat and national reporters met the conference’s thirteen head coaches at the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets, Jay Z (though he sold his stake in the team, the arena will forever be associated with the rapper from 560 State Street), and the A10’s postseason tournament.

Despite the loss of Xavier and Temple (to the Big East and the American Athletic Conference, respectively), the A10 is still one of the nation’s top conferences, a league that boasts potential NCAA tournament participants like VCU, Saint Louis, and La Salle (and it’s foolish to discount the possibility that Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or George Mason also crack the field).

After speaking with nearly all of the coaches, below are several media day takeaways, and analysis of certain gameplan changes, personnel alterations, and expectations for the 2013-14 season.

Has George Mason been overlooked?
Paul Hewitt’s squad returns nearly 90 percent of the previous team’s minutes played, yet the Patriots were picked to finish eighth in the conference’s preseason poll. Fresh off an appearance in the College Basketball Invitational final, the Patriots have the potential to break into the league’s upper echelon. The squad’s top four scorers are back, and that doesn’t include Patrick Holloway, a then-freshman guard who showed a soft touch from deep (34%, and one of only two Patriots to attempt more than 100 threes), or Erik Copes, a once highly-regarded recruit who became more of an offensive presence on the block (while also dealing with lingering health issues) in ’13 . “There are some people [in the Atlantic 10] that don’t know them well,” says George Washington coach Mike Lonergan, “but I know their roster. They are a good team with a lot of seniors who are built for this year and can step right in. Their talent level is very high.” A key for Mason will be the continued pressure Sherrod Wright puts on opposing defenses. The guard, who was named to the preseason all-second team, drastically altered his game last season; while he was still a three-point threat (35%), nearly 15% of his possessions were isolation plays. This allowed Wright to frequently get into the lane and either convert in traffic or get to the free throw line — he drew more than six fouls per 40 minutes, attempting 233 free throws, which was more than his first two seasons combined.

Is there a leadership vacuum at Saint Louis?
While losing Kwamain Mitchell deprives Saint Louis of a seasoned ball-handler, the more significant departure may be Cody Ellis. The Australian big was known for his three-point shooting, but he was a phenomenal help defender; he limited his own fouls (roughly three per 40 minutes) while frequently drawing charges that would sap an opponent’s momentum. He was also a leader on the bench and court, and despite returning a senior-laden squad, coach Jim Crews isn’t sure who will rise to the occasion during that first practice after a frustrating loss. “It’s an enigma,” Crews says. “While we want everyone to lead as a team, we do put a demand on certain guys but we haven’t seen it yet and can’t explain it.” Rick Majerus recruited and taught the core — Dwayne Evans, Mike McCall, Rob Loe, and Jordair Jett — so while this may not be a pressing issue this season, it will be an interest when Crews faces his first rebuilding season in 2014-15.

Archie Miller’s two-pronged offensive approach
Dayton coach Archie Miller believes in the importance of offensive rebounds. The Flyers grabbed more than 35 percent of their missed shots during Miller’s first two seasons (a mark bested by only one other A10 team), but the coach stresses the 2014 squad will be his best rebounding team. “From a physical standpoint, we have a lot of different guys who can get inside and crash the offensive glass,” notes Miller. “We have a lot of guys who play big.” One of those is Dyshawn Pierre, who can slide between the small and power forward slots (when Miller uses a three-guard lineup) this season. The other three bigs whose focus will seldom stray from the offensive glass are Devin Oliver (who gained 30 pounds during the offseason), Matt Kavanaugh (who missed last year following a suspension for violating the school’s code of conduct), and Jalen Robinson, a 6-foot-9 sophomore who could be UD’s breakout player (in very limited minutes, his offensive rebounding percentage led the team). The interior work will, in turn, boost Dayton’s free throw attempts, the squad’s bugbear a year ago. Since departed Kevin Dillard was the only Flyer to take more than 100 free throws, Miller insists UD needs to get to the stripe: “How we play is really going to be about getting to the foul line, which, if we are doing our job, we should be there a lot.”

Chris Mooney’s height infusion
Chris Mooney’s Richmond squads are Dayton’s polar opposite. The Spiders eternally struggle to both secure and prevent additional possessions, and while Mooney isn’t going to alter his gameplan because his previous teams’ rebounding woes, he will benefit from the additional size Richmond’s frontcourt possesses in 2014. “We won’t sacrifice our ability to shoot and handle the ball,” claims Mooney, “but our big guys are so versatile, we can play more big lineups which will help our rebounding.” Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, a 6’9″ sophomore, will haul in a greater percentage of opponents’ misses with additional playing time, and also lessen the defensive burden of Derrick Williams — Nelson-Ododa was named to the A10’s preseason all-defensive team and excels using his athleticism and keen sense of timing to swat countless shots. The standout member of Richmond’s retooled frontcourt is Terry Allen, who Mooney effusively praised throughout media day. “For a guy his size [6’8″], Terry is an incredible ballhandler. He is going to be great player.” Allen used less than one-third of Richmond’s minutes, but grabbed an impressive 23% of opponents’ misses, and transformed himself this summer. “Terry combines versatility and strength, and he can score in many different ways,” says Mooney. If these sophomore bigs (along with Deion Taylor) can make UR competitive on the boards, the offensive balance may begin to tilt to the interior.

George Washington is primed for a leap
Want an Atlantic 10 dark horse contender other than Rhode Island? George Washington, a team picked to finish at the league’s bottom, has the potential for a breakthrough season. GW’s frosh quartet — Kevin Larsen, Patricio Garino, Kethan Savage, and Joe McDonald — used 45% of the team’s minutes, and combined with Isaiah Armwood and Indiana transfer Maurice Creek (a senior and grad student, respectively), coach Mike Lonergan has a weathered returning core that lost five A10 games by single digits a year ago. So how do the Colonials exceed expectations? One key is Larsen and Creek avoiding prolonged stays in the trainer’s room. “We can’t shoot much worse than last year,” Lonergan says, “and if Mo can stay healthy, it gives us another veteran who can shoot.” Larsen had a standout freshman year, but he was easily winded, the result of a preseason injury that caused him to put on weight last fall. “Kevin is in much better shape this year — he lost 18 pounds,” notes Lonergan. “His conditioning will make him a better rebounder, and I tell our guys that Kevin needs to get a touch every time because he has a good touch and is our best passer.” Lonergan admits GW will shy away from three-point attempts because their offensive strength is in the paint, but he does envision pairing Larsen and Creek on the same side of the court together: “Mo will draw defensive attention and teams will finally have to go over the top of our high motion offense.”

Is there space in Rhode Island’s crowded frontcourt?
Dan Hurley’s squad is arguably the Atlantic 10’s most physically imposing team. Four Rams stand 6’8″ or taller, and that is not including freshman Hassan Martin, who might spend much of his first Rhody season tethered to the bench. “We have several forwards who we feel can play the 4 or the 5 and be very productive,” claims Hurley. “We couldn’t say that last year.” A familiarity with Hurley’s system helps these bigs; Jordan Hare and Mike Aaman earned immediate minutes last season, Ifeanyi Onyekaba sat out but practiced with the squad, and Gilvydas Biruta, who also sat out and practiced, played under Hurley at St. Benedict’s. Even Hurley commented on the ease with which drills began in late September, joking, “Dealing with me every day now in practice isn’t a cold shower.” It remains to be seen which of the four will earn the majority of minutes — Hurley mentioned that while Onyekaba has been the best forward in practice the last several days, the other three have evolved offensive tools and offer URI’s backcourt a target in the post. Aaman could be the first to emerge because of his rebounding prowess; Aaman was the only Rhody to grab more than 10% of the squad’s misses and proved difficult to move once he camped in the lane. Hurley’s forceful inflection when discussing Aaman indicates the soph’s worth to the team: “Mike could only score over his right shoulder last year, but now he has a counter and can score over either. He’s also added 20 pounds while lowering his body fat so he is a valuable guy who should be ready to contribute in a very competitive position.”

Ronald Roberts’ new role
Ronald Roberts has appeared on too many highlight reels to be a breakout candidate, but the forward is going to have to tweak his game entering his senior season to account for the losses of C.J. Aiken and Carl Jones. Roberts only used 19% of Saint Joseph’s attempts in 2013, and teammate Langston Galloway needs help shouldering the scoring burden. Coach Phil Martelli has described Galloway’s game as beating the opponent softly, but Roberts’ skill set is anything but Downy. “During one of our games last year,” recalls VCU coach Shaka Smart, “Ron threw Juvonte [Reddic] out of the way and took the rebound from him.” Roberts’ aggressiveness is a byproduct of his length and core muscles, wrestling away rebounds from opponents for put backs, and while his appears hefty — Roberts’ body looks like muscles begat muscles — he can glide through the air, hanging longer than other players for dunks. Roberts won’t become a perimeter force, but as Chris Wilson told Josh Verlin of City of Basketball Love, the team expects to play at a faster pace this season, which will yield further transition opportunities for Roberts, not to mention sets that feature Roberts catching the ball while taking a dribble or two towards the rim (such as pick and roll or cut plays).

The continued maturation of Ryan Canty
One of the league’s biggest surprises was Ryan Canty. The 6’9″ Canty struggled to stay on the floor — seven fouls per 40 minutes — but when he was in the game, he was an extremely efficient rebounder, possessing a top 25 Ken Pomeroy ranking for both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. But coach Tom Pecora still doesn’t know if he can depend on Canty as a regular contributor and not a player who, as Pecora explains, “…has the mindset of a defensive end.” When discussing the junior’s game, Pecora is very explicit in what he wants Canty to accomplish this season: “He has to be a guy who can make free throws, defend the post, set screens, and continue to come flying in from the high post to blow up plays and grab an offensive rebound.” Canty spent the summer refining his footwork but Pecora doesn’t think he will subsume Chris Gaston’s post possessions because he is still prone to turnovers and, as Pecora notes, “He gets so revved up and he has to realize early in game, you may have to give up a layup or take a charge instead of take every big time play, but that is a maturation thing.”

Massachusetts increases the pace
When coaches mention they want to play fast in the upcoming season, it typically doesn’t happen. Those magic words — “we are going to get up and down the court” — excite the fan base and help in recruiting, but by the time conference play begins, those teams are grinding out possessions. However, when the coach of a team like Massachusetts says he wants to increase the pace, it is noteworthy because Derek Kellogg has built his UMass squad into a transition-happy group. During the past five seasons, the 2013 team tied for the least possessions used per conference game, and Kellogg wants to force opponents on their heels again. “I wasn’t able to get the game going as fast as I wanted to last year,” explains Kellogg. “The league had a lot better guard play, but we are going to try to get our press going quicker and faster so we get as many possessions as I like to play with.” For Kellogg, that means urging his players to crash the defensive glass, something that didn’t often happen in 2013. “My big guys are in better shape this year, and I am going to make Sampson [Carter], Maxie [Esho], and Raphiael [Putney] actually go to the glass this year,” he says. Kellogg also insists his guards, including sub-6′ Chaz Williams and Western Kentucky transfer Derrick Gordon, who Kellogg claims is the team’s second best rebounder in practice, will sky for boards, which should help jumpstart the Minutemen’s break.

Matt Giles is a reporter for New York Magazine and has contributed to College Basketball Prospectus 2012-13, ESPN the Magazine, ESPN Insider, the New York Times, BuzzFeed, and Salon. You can follow Matt on Twitter @HudsonGiles.

Jim Ferry possibly headed to Duquesne

It looks like LIU Brooklyn might need to look for a new head coach soon. Last season Jim Ferry flirted with Manhattan before deciding to stay with the Blackbirds. This time Duquesne of the Atlantic 10 has come calling on Ferry, who has led LIU to back-to-back NEC Championships. The reason this could actually happen is because it looks like the Dukes are making a solid commitment and the A-10 is a big step up from the NEC.

Continue reading “Jim Ferry possibly headed to Duquesne”

Getting to know Bashir Mason

Five years ago Bashir Mason was playing with Drexel in the NIT. Now the 28-year-old is going to become the youngest current head coach in Division I, as he’ll take over for Dan Hurley on Grymes Hill. The new Wagner head coach has spent time playing and coaching under players like Bruiser Flint and Hurley and was recommended by his former coach and boss to succeed him with the Seahawks.

Continue reading “Getting to know Bashir Mason”

It’s official: Hurley to URI

There are now multiple sources reporting that Dan Hurley is headed to Rhode Island to replace Jim Barron. What Jeff Goodman’s story reveals though is that this might be an even more difficult situation for Wagner. The Seahawks could possibly lose both Dan Hurley and Bobby Hurley to URI. That would mean essentially starting from scratch and having to go find a new head coach.

Continue reading “It’s official: Hurley to URI”

Rumors abound about Hurley to URI

Current Wagner head coach Dan Hurley and officials from the University of Rhode Island reportedly met on Wednesday and the rumors are starting to circulate that Hurley’s move to URI is a given now. Moving from the Atlantic 10 to the NEC would certainly be a step up. Hurley would be heading from a perennial one-bid league to one that has firmly established itself as a multiple-bid league. It makes things a lot easier when you don’t have to worry about winning the conference tournament just to get a bid.

Continue reading “Rumors abound about Hurley to URI”

Providence Journal reports URI talking to Dan Hurley

This is the first of what I’m sure will be many rumors and events related to Dan Hurley this offseason. Wagner fans are just going to have to strap in for the ride and hope that:

  1. Hurley doesn’t find what he’s looking for.
  2. He decides he can do better after an even stronger 2012-13 season.

It’s not a false hope, but it’s certainly not 100% either. The Providence Journal has confirmation from a Wagner spokesperson that the school granted URI permission to speak with Hurley about the opening.

Why all the NEC’s top coaches could be staying

The NEC championship game hasn’t even been played, but the coaching carousel doesn’t wait for anything. When the Rhode Island Rams decided to part ways with head coach Jim Barron three NEC coaches found themselves thrown into the rumors. Two of those coaches are coaching on Wednesday and all three will hear their names mentioned many more times. It’s possible though that all could stay at their respective institutions.

That sounds weird, because the NEC is a single-bid conference near the bottom of Division I by almost any metric, but all three have lots of reasons to be excited about the future of their respective programs and each has more to do. In turn the league should benefit and continue to rise in 2012-13. Will they all stay? Let’s take a look at each’s unique situation.

Dan Hurley: Destined for big things

When Dan Hurley came to Grymes Hill he was already a high school coaching legend, with a career record of 223-21 at Saint Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey. He has a famous father and brother and was expected to succeed from day one, even as he stepped into a program that had won just five games the year before he took over. Two seasons later the Seahawks lost at home in the semifinals of the NEC Tournament after going 15-3 in conference play. They also beat Pittsburgh, Princeton and Penn in non-conference play. Hurley’s name was being thrown around in Twitter rumors for the URI while the semifinal was still in progress.

There will always be jobs out there for Hurley. He’s got the name, the pedigree and the system to shoot for the biggest of jobs when he decides to leave Staten Island. His defensive system will play anywhere and as he moves up the ladder he’ll just be able to get more and more talent.

That ability to acquire talent is one of the reasons that Hurley shouldn’t leave Wagner after this season. Chris Martin and Tyler Murray both graduate, but the cupboard is far from bare. Former Michigan Mr. Basketball Dwaun Anderson may be eligible next season. He’ll complement Latif Rivers, NEC Defensive Player of the Year Kenneth Ortiz and the developing Naofall Folahan and Mario Moody in the paint. Once again Hurley will have the talent to compete for an NEC title.

Jim Ferry: Building a program

If he wanted to LIU Brooklyn head coach Jim Ferry could’ve left after last season. He accomplished pretty much everything an NEC coach can by winning the conference regular season and tournament titles and claiming a 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Manhattan came calling last off season and it seemed like Ferry might go, until he didn’t. Instead he returned and once again won the NEC regular season title.

Now, after back-to-back seasons with NEC titles, Ferry is in charge of one of the premiere programs in the conference. He took eight seasons to build the foundation for this success and it’s going to take the perfect job for him to leave. Like Hurley’s Seahawks the Blackbirds will be loaded against next season. NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd will be back for his senior season with Jamal Olasewere and Jason Brickman is there to run the floor with them. Ferry will need to find some more front court depth, but Brandon Thompson could be starting in the NEC right now and more talent is surely on the way.

Andrew Toole: The youngster

It’s a testament to Mike Rice, the Robert Morris program and Andrew Toole what has happened in Pittsburgh the past few seasons. When Rice got the opportunity to go to Rutgers Toole took the reigns and has never faltered. The Colonials played in the NEC title game last season and are there once again after their upset of Wagner on Sunday. Like their coach, the Colonials are a careful blend of experience and youth. Just one player, Lawrence Bridges, will graduate at the end of this season.

Toole is the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I. He’s been a head coach for just two (albeit very successful) seasons. Is he ready to leap? Will the struggles his mentor Rice has had at Rutgers serve as a cautionary tale? Toole is a shooting star, but it’s obvious that success can be sustained at Robert Morris. There are athletes to be found in that area of the country who can play the switching defensive system that RMU so deftly employs. The majority of the roster comes from the area surrounding the city. There are lots of gems to be found in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which make up more than half the roster.

And there’s this wildcard, Karon Abraham, arguably RMU’s most talented player, will return next season. He was suspended all season due to violating school rules. It was a gutsy move by a young coach, but it’s paid dividends and showed Toole wasn’t afraid to make tough decisions.

More to come

Where does that leave us? Could all three return? Surely. If they did the NEC would probably be prepared for the best season in conference history. These three programs should be joined by others like Central Connecticut, St. Francis (NY) and Monmouth next season. Seven of the league’s top 10 players return. It could be a banner year for the conference, but it’ll only be as strong as possible if Hurley, Ferry and Toole resist the siren’s song of other jobs and come back to finish what they’ve started.