A-10 basketball: Two coaching changes headline busy offseason

Saint Louis could be preseason favorite after eventful offseason for conference

The release of the Atlantic 10 schedule pairings Wednesday generated an offseason debate about who will be the top contenders in the conference next season.

The short answer: No one knows. The race will be as wide open as it has ever been.

Saint Louis will get some votes. George Mason returns enough talent to contend for the first time since it joined the conference. Davidson lost its top player, Peyton Aldridge, but has another star in the making in Kellan Grady.

St. Joseph’s should be a challenger. Massachusetts will be improved in the season season of the Matt McCall era. The Dayton Flyers have a candidate for player of the year in Josh Cunningham and return three other starters.

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Most bracket experts had the A-10 as a one-bid league most of last season. In the end, the A-10 ended up with its typical number of NCAA tournament teams: three (Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure and Davidson). In Joe Lunardi's most recent bracket prediction for ESPN, Davidson is the only A-10 team he predicts will play in the big dance.

While the calendar shows A-10 teams are still closer to the final game of the A-10 tournament in March than the start of A-10 play in late December or early January, it has already been an eventful offseason. Here’s a roundup of offseason news you might have missed:

Staff changes: La Salle fired one of the league's longest-tenured coaches, John Giannini (212-226 in 14 seasons), in March and replaced him with Ashley Howard. After winning two national championships in the last three seasons as an assistant under Jay Wright at Villanova, Howard takes over a program that reached the NCAA tournament once in the last 26 seasons.

"The thing right now is to get the bonding process in place," Howard told Philly.com this week. "We're trying to change the culture here and bring back the proud tradition of a storied program. Some guys are buying into that right away, and in all honesty, a couple of guys are determining if La Salle is still the right place for them."

• At Rhode Island, the new head coach is David Cox, who has a different challenge in that he takes over a program that peaked last season under Dan Hurley. The defending A-10 regular-season champion Rams lost four senior starters, and Hurley left to coach Connecticut. He spent the last four seasons at Rhode Island as an assistant coach.

• Dayton is looking for an assistant men’s basketball coach with an expected start date of June 22. That job was posted Wednesday. UD has not announced the departure of a coach, though James Kane was reported to be in the mix for an open position at Iowa State.

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Iowa State coach Steve Prohm told the Des Moines Register earlier this month Kane was a coach he would consider, though “There’s a process we have to go through, first.”

Before joining Dayton coach Anthony Grant’s staff in 2017, Kane spent six seasons at Murray State. He coached on Prohm’s staff for the first four of those seasons. Prohm took the Iowa State job in 2015.

Injury news: Marcus Evans, who averaged 20.1 points as a sophomore at Rice and sat out last season after transferring to Virginia Commonwealth, could be a candidate for A-10 Player of the Year. First he has to deal with a torn Achilles tendon. Evans had surgery June 4 to repair the injury. He's expected to miss four to six months.

“We’ll get him back this year,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said on the College Hoops Watch podcast. “We’ve just got to make sure he’s 100 percent.”

New players: The three Dayton newcomers who can play in the 2018-19 season arrived on campus in the last week. Freshman guard Dwayne Cohill and junior guard Jhery Matos moved to Dayton on June 9. Freshman forward Frankie Policelli arrived Thursday. Dayton's second summer session begins June 22.

• Saint Louis signed 6-7 forward Ingvi Gudmundsson, of Iceland, in April. He’s the brother of Jon Axel Gudmundsson, a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.4 points as a sophomore last season at Davidson.

The Billikens added four other new players, including Drexel transfer Tramaine Isabell, a 6-0 guard who averaged 21.0 points last season and can play immediately as a grad transfer.

• Duquesne held its first team workouts June 11. It has a seven-man recruiting class, and four players are 6-9 or taller. The group includes three 6-11 players: Gavin Bizeau, of Plainfield, Ind.; Dylan Swingle, of Chillicothe; and James Ellis of Pittsburgh.

• One of the most interesting newcomers in the conference isn’t really a newcomer at all. VCU added grad transfer Michael Gimore in May.

Gilmore played his freshman and sophomore years at VCU, transferred to the University of Miami in 2016, was dismissed from the team in January 2017 and then enrolled at Florida Gulf Coast. He averaged 6.6 points last season. He graduated, but Florida Gulf Coast didn't have the graduate program he was interested in, he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, so he returned to VCU for his final season of eligibility.

Transferring players: Dayton was as hard hit as anyone in the league with five players leaving the team to transfer or go pro. Here's a list of other players leaving the conference: St. Bonaventure sophomore forward Josh Ayeni (5.8 points per game); Duquesne junior guard Tarin Smith (12.4 points per game; transferred to Connecticut); Fordham guard Joseph Chartouny (12.2; Marquette); Richmond sophomore guard De'Monte Buckingham (12.2; Cal State Bakersfield); Richmond junior guard Khwan Fore (11.0; Louisville); Saint Louis sophomore forward Jalen Johnson (9.1); George Washington sophomore point guard Jair Bolden (11.2; South Carolina); and Massachusetts junior forward Malik Hines (9.0; McNeese State).

Scheduling news: Rhode Island released its non-conference schedule June 8, and there was a surprise in that Nevada wasn't on it. Rhode Island played at Nevada last year and was scheduled to host Nevada this year, but Nevada exercised a buyout clause in the contract.

“We are disappointed in Nevada’s decision to exercise its option within the contract to pay the buyout rather than return the game this year,” said Rhode Island Athletic Director Thorr Bjorn in a press release. “We played a great game in Reno last year and planned to provide a similarly great event at the Ryan Center. We acknowledge it is Nevada’s right to pay the buyout rather than return the game to URI this year. That said, it certainly wasn’t in the spirit of the agreement we signed, but with that we will move on.”

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