On March 13, Duquesne parted ways with Jim Ferry after five seasons. The school finally found his replacement in Akron’s Keith Dambrot on March 27, and there was plenty of action over those 14 days. King Rice was a candidate, and then he wasn’t. Same for Dane Fife. Mark Titus even campaigned for the job, and is currently building a national powerhouse in our alternate universe.
Why all that drama over those two weeks? The A-10 did, after all, have the best aggregate KenPom rating of any mid-major league this past season.
Sure, taking the job means tussling with a better-funded rival down the street that owns a vastly more successful history. And it also means staring up at 36 years without a conference championship and 40 years without an NCAA appearance.
Those are challenges, but look at the opportunity!
The A-10 will look very different next season. Exhausted eligibility and coaching changes at the top will sap the league of much of its 2016-17 star power. Dare we use the “wide open” cliche?
Here’s a rundown of the high profile departures, starting at the top of the regular season standings.
Six seasons, 139 wins and two A-10 regular season titles later, Archie Miller has finally flown the coup. It was always inevitable, but the Flyers need to replace more than just their coach. The winningest class in program is out of eligibility, headlined by all-league first teamer Scoochie Smith and all-league second teamer Charles Cooke. It’ll be a total rebuild at UD Arena.
The Rams are facing a similar situation. Will Wade bolted for LSU, while all-league first team guard JeQuan Lewis will graduate. Mo Alie-Cox, Doug Brooks and Jordan Burgess, a group that never missed an NCAA Tournament, are gone too. New coach Mike Rhoades led a resurgence at Rice, is familiar with the program and has a blossoming stars in Justin Tillman and Samir Doughty. There’s reason for optimism, but it’s not a plug-and-play situation.
The Rams starting front court is graduating, and that includes A-10 defensive player of the year Hassan Martin. E.C. Matthews will likely flirt with the NBA, but should be back in Kingston. URI’s roster will have plenty of experience in the back court and Jeff Dowtin could be ready to break out. It looks like Danny Hurley won’t be poached this offseason, so the Rams are in better shape than the teams that finished above them.
The Spiders NIT run came to an end in the quarterfinals and so did the careers of seniors T.J. Cline and ShawDre’ Jones. Both players finished as top-10 scorers in program history, and Cline was the league player of the year. Chris Mooney has a promising back court trio in Khawn Fore, De’Monte Buckingham and Nick Sherod, but improving on a surprising season will be a challenge.
Further down the standings, Davidson loses Jack Gibbs (an all-league first teamer), George Mason loses Marquise Moore (an all-league second teamer) and George Washington loses Tyler Cavanaugh (an all-league second teamer). In all, eight of the ten first- or second-team players are gone.
This removes the key piece from teams that caused the league problems throughout the season. Gibbs, who averaged 22.8 points per game over his final two seasons, and Davidson had wins over VCU and Dayton. The Cavanaugh-led Colonials went on a five-game winning streak to end the regular season. And George Mason and Moore, who led the league in rebounding, finished a surprising 9-9 in league play.
These changes don’t mean that Dambrot will have Duquesne challenging for a title next season, especially amid his own roster turnover he’ll need to address. But they do make a changing of the guard more likely, and could mean that the A-10 is more up for grabs than it has been in recent seasons.