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Early A-10 rankings (why not?)

Written by Brian Batko on .

I would like it to be college basketball season (at all times), but it is not.

Hopefully everyone checked out last week's blog post on a number of things. There should be a little more to look at/discuss on the Dukes in the near future, with the return of the PBC Pro-Am scheduled to start July 6, but until then...

Is it too early to rank the Atlantic 10 for next season? Probably. But are all the rosters essentially set now? Yes. Is it a very slow time of the year? Yep. Are other people doing it? Yup.

So why not? Here’s how I see the A-10 landscape for next year, which you should of course take with a grain of salt considering I didn’t cover Duquesne or the conference last season. But I’ve long kept track of the college basketball landscape and have tried to do some homework lately on A-10 teams in particular. Jon Rothstein of CBS also tweeted his A-10 rankings today, so I’ll post those below, too, for comparison’s sake.

The accompanying photos with each team will hopefully make you feel as if you’re flipping through an Athlon Sports magazine or something from back in the day:

1. Dayton

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Charles Cooke (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

Flyers may not be most people’s choice to win the league (see No. 2) but Archie Miller obviously has a great thing going, and I don’t think that stops next season. Everyone of consequence is back from last year other than Dyshawn Pierre, who was suspended for the early part of the season when the Flyers went 9-2 and were still pretty darn good. A transfer, Charles Cooke, was Dayton’s leading scorer last season at 15.6 points per game, and they get another transfer eligible this fall after a sit-out year in 6-foot-7 forward Josh Cunningham from Bradley. They also got a late-June pick-up with lots of potential in Kostas Antetokounmpo, the 6-9 younger brother of budding NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Note -- It’s jaw-droppingly tragic that the Flyers lost their big man in the middle, 6-11, 268-pound Steve McElvene, when he collapsed at his family’s home and died May 12. Just really, really sad all around.

2. Rhode Island

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Hassan Martin (Associated Press)

Rams might actually be the trendiest pick to win the conference next year, with the return of star guard E.C. Matthews from an injury that cost him the 2015-16 campaign. He averaged 16.9 points as a sophomore and he might form the top one-two, inside-outside combo in the league with 6-7 senior forward Hassan Martin (12.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.5 blocks per game last year). Rhody also brings in one of the top-rated recruiting classes in the A-10, plus gets Indiana transfer Stanford Robinson eligible in the backcourt.

3. VCU

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JeQuan Lewis (Associated Press)

In their first year without Shaka Smart, the Rams passed with pressing colors. New coach Will Wade kept the havoc going at VCU to the tune of yet another NCAA tournament berth, and JeQuan Lewis showed he can be a solid point guard over the course of an entire season by averaging 11.3 points and 5.1 assists. Leading scorer Melvin Johnson and fellow guard Korey Billbury are big losses, but Mo Alie-Cox is one of the better big men in the A-10 and Samir Doughty of Philadelphia will be eligible to help in the backcourt after redshirting last season as a partial qualifier.

4. Massachusetts

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Donte Clark (Gary Landers/Associated Press)

This is where it starts to get tricky to sort out the order, but what puts the Minutemen here for me is mostly a strong recruiting class and the backcourt additions of Zach Lewis (Canisius transfer who sat out a year) and Luwane Pipkins (plucky Chicago point guard who sat out as a partial qualifier). Those two combined with second-leading scorer Donte Clark and electric freshmen De’Jon Jarreau and Unique McLean should help make up for the loss of guards Trey Davis and Jabarie Hinds. Not to mention, much of the frontcourt is back and should be improved. Warning: This ranking could be way off.

5. George Washington

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Tyler Cavanaugh (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

Mike Lonergan is a good coach and he’s getting some benefit of the doubt here with a Colonials team that graduated three four-year starters at three different positions (center Kevin Larsen, wing Patricio Garino, point guard Joe McDonald). But GW’s personnel also isn’t chopped liver after winning the NIT championship; leading scorer Tyler Cavanaugh, a Wake Forest transfer, returns and another high-major transfer in Jaren Sina (Northwestern) will be eligible to run point. And Darnell Rogers might be the most intriguing freshman to monitor in the COUNTRY this season because, get this, he’s 5-foot-3! Sign me up.

6. Davidson

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Jack Gibbs (Gerry Broome/Associated Press)

If Martin and Matthews aren’t the best one-two punch in the league, it might be Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge. Gibbs, in particular, is absurd, especially when you consider his 25-point game at Palumbo Center last year was only tied for his 14th-best scoring output of the season. He averaged 23.5 for the year, PLUS 4.9 assists, PLUS 4.1 rebounds, PLUS 1.8 steals. Davidson’s pace makes for gaudy numbers, but still, he’s ridiculous. Aldridge scored 15.5 and snagged 6.5 boards a game, but they’ll need a supporting cast to take shape.

7. La Salle

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Jordan Price (Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press)

Could this actually be a conservative ranking of last year’s last-place Explorers? Could they climb higher if their new-look roster meshes well? Losing bulldog Philly forward Savon Goodman, who was supposed to help after transferring from Arizona State but is now on the move again, leaves them a little light inside, but three other highly regarded transfers could grace the starting lineup: Demetrius Henry (6-9, South Carolina), B.J. Johnson (6-7, Syracuse) and Pookie Powell (6-1, Memphis). After averaging 19.2 points a game last year, swingman Jordan Price has more help.

8. St. Bonaventure

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Jaylen Adams (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

How underrated is Mark Schmidt? Former Robert Morris coach enters his 10th year at Bonnie’s with just one NCAA appearance but some momentum after a 22-9 season last year that resulted in a tourney snub. Replacing Marcus Posley (19.6 ppg) and Dion Wright (16.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg) is impossible, but Jaylen Adams (17.9 ppg) is one of the league’s top point guards. Guard Matt Mobley, who was a big scorer at Central Connecticut State, is eligible now but it remains to be seen if Syracuse grad transfer Chinonso Obokoh can be at all useful in the post.

9. Duquesne

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Darius Lewis (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

Hey, you probably know a little bit about this team. The negative, of course, is that the top three scorers from last season (four if you count Jeremiah Jones) graduated and are gone, but the positive is plenty of other teams in the A-10 have major questions, too. If Tarin Smith lives up to the hype, the grad transfers make a big impact and a few others — maybe a freshman or two? — step forward, No. 9 might be too low for the Dukes. Darius Lewis could be an X-factor inside, too, as a rare true center in this era of college basketball.

10. Saint Joseph’s

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James Demery (Chris Szagola/Associated Press)

This would be quite the drop for a team that nearly shared the league title, but when you lose your top three scorers — including two players as good as first-round pick DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles — well, there’s the rub. There are still a few solid pieces here in junior wing James Demery and the backcourt of Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble, but it’s rebuilding time now for Phil Martelli. Maybe he should’ve grabbed a transfer or four.

11. Richmond

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T.J. Cline (Jason DeCrow/Associated Press)

Spiders still have stretch big man T.J. Cline (18.3 ppg) and guard ShawnDre’ Jones (14.7 ppg) but not much else. A transfer could help in the 6-6 Malcolm Bernard, who averaged 14.4 points at Florida A&M. Nick Sherod, a 6-4 wing, could be one of the better freshmen in the league and who knows, maybe Richmond pulled a fast one with a June commitment from 21-year-old Solly Stansbury, a 6-7 wing who’s been playing in France and son of ex-NBA player Terence Stansbury.

12. Fordham

I was surprised to look back at last year’s standings and see that Fordham actually finished eighth. Good for the Rams. But their top two scorers/ top rebounder (Ryan Rhoomes, who nearly averaged a double-double at 14.6 ppg, 9.7 rpg) are gone. The good news, though, is they were a pretty balanced bunch and the rest of those contributors mostly return. Best player might actually be wingman JaVontae Hawkins, who averaged 17 a game last year at Eastern Kentucky.

13. George Mason

Dave Paulsen could very well be an excellent coach, but this is more than a one-year turnaround after coming to the A-10 from Bucknell. Point guard Otis Livingston was an All-Rookie pick and backcourt mate Marquise Moore joined him as a double-figure scorer, but what else can you hang your hat on here? Gone is Shevon Thompson, who averaged 9.9 ppg and a league-leading 10.6 rpg. Maybe some freshmen impress as Paulsen continues to build.

14. Saint Louis

It’s actually amazing how much new coach Travis Ford is punting on this season. He’ll use scholarships on not one, not two, but three sit-out transfers — two from the Big Ten, one from the AAC. The Billikens, who also lost their top scorer, will be hard-pressed to improve on their five A-10 wins from last season, but they were good as recently as two years ago and could be a sleeping giant in this league. It might be wise to get those licks in now.


 So, in summation, here's my list (for now):

1. Dayton

2. Rhode Island

3. VCU

4. UMass

5. George Washington

6. Davidson

7. La Salle

8. St. Bonaventure

9. Duquesne

10. Saint Joseph's

11. Richmond

12. Fordham

13. George Mason

14. Saint Louis

And here's Jon Rothstein's rankings from this morning: 

 

 

Rothstein also gave his picks for first-team all-conference, player of the year, top freshmen, top transfers, top newcomers, etc., but I'm not going to get into all that ... yet.

If you'd like to tell me what a great and fair job I did (not at all likely), disagree vehemently (far more likely) or just leave a general comment, you can do that below vvvv or email ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) or tweet @BrianBatko.

 

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With two starters, WPIAL well-represented at College World Series

Written by Mike White on .

The College World Series starts tonight, and no matter who wins, the WPIAL will have a champion.

Arizona takes on Coastal Carolina in the first game of a three-game series. Each team has at least one WPIAL player.

Arizona has sophomore J.J. Matijevic, a starting designated hitter from Norwin High School. Coastal Carolina has senior Anthony Marks, the starting left fielder and a graduate of Montour. Coastal Carolina also has reserve pitcher Austin Kitchen, a freshman from Mt. Lebanon. He hasn't pitched in the College World Series.

Matijevic and Marks have both done well in the CWS. Marks (pictured to the right) is hitting .350 and was 3 for 4 in Coastal Carolina's last game. For the season, Marks is batting .282 with 26 RBIs.

Matijevic is hitting .353 in the CWS and also had a three-hit game. He has played some this season at second base.

Matijevic and Marks are both slated to start again tonight. It is quite unusual for two players from the same league (WPIAL), from the northern part of the country, to start on opposing teams in the CWS. It's a great accomplishment for both Matijevic and Marks. No doubt, if this was basketball and two WPIAL players were in the final, you'd hear a lot more about it. But it makes you wonder if two players from the WPIAL have ever met in the final of the CWS? Well, yes.

Back in 1996, LSU met Miami in the CWS final. Miami featured Clint Weibl, a Connellsville High School graduate who was 15-3 going into the final game. The 15 wins were the most in the country. Miami thought about starting Weibl against LSU, but chose a left-hander because LSU had a number of left-handed hitters. 

Meanwhile, Brad Wilson, a Fox Chapel graduate, started at designated hitter for LSU, and he was part of one of the most memorable moments in CWS history. LSU trailed, 8-7, in the bottom of the ninth. Wilson led off with a double. Wilson, who had better than a .300 average, came into the at-bat 0 for 15 in the CWS. Wilson was then on base when Warren Morris hit a memorable, walk-off two-run homer that ended the game. It was the first walk-off home run in CWS history. Morris went on to play for the Pirates.

 

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Perry on Politics: Another step away from the Land of Hope and Glory

My wife and I had barely arrived in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1985 when we were invited by friends to a party welcoming me as the newest reporter in the Wall Street Journal's London bureau....

Read more http://www.post-gazette.com/early-returns/ernational/2016/06/27/Perry-on-Politics-4/stories/201606270098

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Trump to visit Monessen plant on Tuesday

Just two weeks after his last visit to Western Pennsylvania, Donald Trump is slated to return to the area on Tuesday, giving a speech on "Declaring American Economic Independence" in Washington County....

Read more http://www.post-gazette.com/early-returns/ernational/2016/06/27/Trump-to-visit-Monessen-plant-pittsburgh-pennsylvania-republican-president/stories/201606270096

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Empty Netter Assists - Recchi up for Hall of Fame - 06-27-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Penguins

-Former Penguins right winger Mark Recchi (above) could find out if he's nominated for the Hockey Hall of Fame today.

-Qualifying offers for restricted free agents are due today at 5 p.m. The Penguins' pending restricted free agents:

-Defenseman Justin Schultz
-Right winger Tyler Biggs
-Defenseman Tim Erixon
-Defenseman James Melindy
-Center Daniel O'Donoghue
-Left winger Matthias Plachta
-Defenseman Harrison Ruopp

-Former Penguins left winger Jani Rita has retired.

-Happy 41st birthday to former Penguins defenseman Eric Cairns. Acquired midway through the 2005-06 season from the Panthers in exchange for a draft pick, Cairns spent parts of two seasons with the Penguins. He appeared in a combined 28 games in those two seasons and recorded one goal as well as 92 penalty minutes. After missing all but one game in 2006-07 due to an injury, Cairns retired and took a position in player development with the Islanders. Cairns may be most famous for getting into a fight as an Islander with former Penguins left winger Matthew Barnaby in the bowels of Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum during the 1999-2000 season:

Neapolitan Ice Cream Metropolitan Division

-"I just 'drafted' him again I guess." - Devils general manager Ray Shero on trading for right winger Beau Bennett from the Penguins.

-The Flyers re-signed defenseman Mark Alt, a pending unrestricted free agent, to a one-year, two-way contract.

(Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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