UMass picked 5th in Atlantic 10 preseason basketball poll
Massachusetts' head coach Derek Kellogg speaks to the media at the NCAA college basketball Atlantic 10 media day at the Barclays Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) Purchase photo reprints »
BROOKLYN, NY — For the first time in Derek Kellogg’s tenure, the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team enters the season expected to compete at the top of the Atlantic 10.
The Minutemen were picked fifth and received two of the 30 first-place votes in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll that was released at Thursday’s annual media day at the Barclays Center.
Saint Joseph’s was picked first with 11 first-place votes, narrowly ahead of Saint Louis, which had 10. Newcomer Virginia Commonwealth was third with three first-place votes, just head of No. 4 Temple (two).
No. 6 Butler (two), No. 7 La Salle and No. 8 Dayton rounded out the top half of the league.
Xavier, usually a mainstay near the top of the preseason poll and regular-season standings, was No. 9 after key players graduated, transferred, got expelled or were declared ineligible, leaving coach Chris Mack’s squad thin and green. Richmond was No. 10 followed by defending A-10 tournament champion St. Bonaventure, which lost conference player of the year Andrew Nicholson to the NBA.
No. 12 Charlotte, No. 13 George Washington, No. 14 Fordham, No. 15 Rhode Island and No. 16 Duquesne completed the poll.
UMass junior point guard Chaz Williams was named to the preseason first team.
Like most of his peers, Kellogg downplayed the importance of the poll.
“Obviously people look at them, and players and coaches like to get a feel for where they’re thought of amongst their league members,” Kellogg said. “But with the new teams coming in and the shift in players, I’m not sure you can put much credence in the league poll. It’s nice to look at, but it’s kind of like looking through those magazines, but it’s not like how you see your own team.”
Kellogg sees his team as having a chance to make the NCAA tournament with four starters back from last year’s National Invitation Tournament semifinalist.
“We pray every night — my wife, my son and I — that the guys that are hurt get healthy and that everything works out,” Kellogg said. “Because we have a chance. There’s an opportunity in front of us, but it’s not guaranteed. We need some things to work out for us.”
BANNER YEAR? — In many years, the Atlantic 10 coaches have used the conference’s annual media day to try to convince people that the league is among the nation’s premiere men’s basketball conferences.
This year, people didn’t need much convincing. The league has been getting strong preseason buzz well before the coaches congregated Thursday.
The 2012-13 season will be a unique one for the conference. One era overlaps another as farewell tours for Big East-bound Temple and Conference USA-bound Charlotte coincide with the arrival of newcomers Virginia Commonwealth and Butler.
The intersection of eras gives the A-10 not only the largest roster of teams in its history, but among the greatest number of teams that can legitimately compete for the title.
“When you add VCU and Butler to the mix, you get two teams that were favored to win their leagues and they come in, jump into the top three, four or five in our league,” Kellogg said. “Then you have the traditional teams that have carried the league and then you have other teams trying to creep into that category, like us, La Salle and Dayton.”
Dayton coach Archie Miller said because of the improvement, league losses will be looked at differently.
“This league will most likely beat each other up. In most years from a national perception, if the A-10 beats each other up they aren’t any good,” Miller said. “This will be the very first year in a long time that the Atlantic 10 gets credit for beating each other up.”
Mack agreed with a caveat.
“The only way it can be different is if teams do the job in the nonconference part of their schedule,” Mack said. “If teams in our conference go out and beat teams from the BCS conference schools that brings a lot of ammunition to the fight.”
St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli praised the league’s leadership and commissioner Bernadette McGlade for being proactive adding Butler and VCU, who have three Final Four berths between them in recent years.
“I don’t think enough can be said about the job that Bernadette and the presidents have done. The option was to sit on the sideline. Until the Atlantic 10 made their move, college realignment was driven by football. The Atlantic 10 changed that dynamic,” Martelli said. “The at-large bids are really in a thimble for the non-BCS schools. The Atlantic 10 is going to get a much bigger portion of that thimble because of the addition of those schools and the success that teams in this league had in both postseason tournaments.”
VCU coach Shaka Smart said the league’s ability to land multiple bids annually made the move enticing.
“In this conference there are many more opportunities to help yourself as a program than there were in our former conference,” Smart said. “The reality was last year we were 15-3 in the CAA and Drexel was 16-2. We beat Drexel in the championship game. ... I thought Drexel was an NCAA tournament team. They had won 19 consecutive games. Because of those formulas (RPI and strength of schedule) they didn’t make it. I don’t think you’re going to be having those same conversations in the championship game of the Atlantic 10 tournament.”
NO MAJERUS — Saint Louis is among the league favorites despite the absence of coach Rick Majerus, who’ll miss the season with healthy issues. Former Army coach Jim Crews is leading the Billikens as an interim coach. He said little will be different other than the obvious difference in the two coaches’ personalities.
“Our kids are invested in each other and the system of play. In terms of X’s and O’s and terminology, no change whatsoever. ... The transtitions has been great.” said Crews, who added that nobody can match Majerus’ quirky personality. “Words cannot tell you the difference between Rick and everybody else in this room.”
FULL MEMBERS TIL DEPARTURE — Butler and VCU expedited their move to the Atlantic 10 a year early because the Horizon League and Colonial Athletic Association decided to ban those schools from participating in their 2013 conference tournaments.
McGlade said the Atlantic 10 never considered similar moves with Temple and Charlotte.
“We have a way of doing things in the Atlantic 10. It’s very forthright and very up front. Institutions know if they give their notice for departure, they can remain in the league and stay eligible for championships and win our” automatic bid, McGlade said. “I think that speaks to the fabric of the A-10.”
WALBERG TO DENVER — Former Minuteman assistant coach Vance Walberg was hired as an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.