Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Atlantic 10 Notebook: Hurley Expecting Big Things From Rhody, Fordham’s Neubauer Looking to Change Culture, Otis Livingston to Start for George Mason
Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
NEW YORK — The Rhode Island Rams haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since the Lamar Odom Era.
That was back in 1999 when Dan Hurley was still an assistant coach at Rutgers.
Now Hurley is in his fourth year as head man for the Rams, who were picked to finish second behind Dayton in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll.
Big things are expected from Rhody, which returns 71 percent of its starter’s minutes from last season’s 23-win team and features two players selected to the Preseason All-Conference First Team in junior guard E.C. Matthews and junior forward Hassan Martin.
“Our program’s oblivious to preseason polls, preseason prognistications,” Hurley told SNY.tv at A-10 Media Day on Tuesday at Barclays Center. “We’re focused on the details of our work, our practice, our preparation.”
But isn’t this year especially important for you coach, considering you’re still seeking your first NCAA Tournament bid?
“Every year’s really important as a college basketball coach,” Hurley said. “It’s a super-competitive industry. We feel like we’ve got a very, very high level of talent in our program, both veteran and young players. We feel like for the foreseeable future we’re going to be in position to have great years.”
Hurley said the team is focusing in improving its defense to be compatible with its ramped up offense.
“We’ve improved a lot offensively as a program, to go from last year it was a weakness, our shooting and our passing was a weakness,” he said. “Now it’s a potential strength for us. What we’ve gotta do in the next couple weeks is to get some grittiness and that tough defensive mindset back.”
Meantime, Hurley is expecting a breakout year from Matthews, a 6-foot-5 guard who averaged 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds a year ago and is projected as a second-round NBA Draft pick. The Rams just began letting NBA scouts back into practice on Monday.
“[NBA scouts] want to see a complete player this year, just not a scorer, but a guy who’s a complete guard,” Hurley said.
He added: “He had an amazing freshman year, he carried it into the summer at adidas Nations, where he established himself as one of the elite freshman in the country. His sophomore year he had some great moments but there were things that we focused on for him to become a great all-around championship level player and he’s had a great first eight practices and he looks like he’s primed for his best year yet.”
The same could be said of the Rams, who are looking to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 17 years.
NEUBAUER LOOKING TO CHANGE CULTURE AT FORDHAMFordham hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1992.
The program has posted only one winning record since then.
Jeff Neubauer, the Rams’ first-year coach, took Eastern Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament in 2014 when his team won 24 games.
Now Neubauer is coaching at famed Rose Hill Gym and hopes to change the culture at Fordham, which was picked dead last in the 14-team league.
“We don’t talk about culture a lot but the things we talk about on a daily basis, maybe we are installing something different,” he told SNY.tv. “The focus right now is for us to become a defensive team. You look around the Atlantic 10, even the good teams, the middle-of-the-pack teams in the Atlantic 10 are amazing defensive teams. So that’s the first thing we have to do; we have no chance in this whole conversation until we guard somebody. So that’s where our focus is.”
After losing talented freshman guard Eric Paschall in a transfer to Villanova, one huge piece for the Rams is junior guard Jon Severe.
Due to off-court issues, the 6-2 Severe played in only 22 of Fordham’s 31 games last season and averaged just 6.7 points and 2.6 rebounds after averaging 17.3 and 2.8 as a freshman.
“When you’re very new, I don’t know what to expect from anyone,” Neubauer said. “With that being said, I think Jon Severe and I are very good for each other. I think we have a terrific relationship and I’ve really enjoyed coaching him so far, so I’m very helpful that Jon can help us win, and I know that he is as well.”
Neubauer hired former St. John’s assistant Tony Chiles and hopes to keep the area’s top players at home. Fordham recently landed a pledge from 6-6 shooting guard Will Tavares of Monroe (N.Y) College.
“My focus is to bring really talented players into Fordham’s program and our first priority is to recruit New York City,” he said. “That being said, it’s not our only plan. We’re going to have good players, period. And if we have to get those young men from Mississippi and Tennessee and the Czech Republic, then fine, that’s where we’re going to recruit.
“I’m certain we will have good players when it’s all said and done.”
FORMER LINDEN STAR LIVINGSTON TO START AT GEORGE MASON
First-year George Mason coach Dave Paulsen takes over a program that now features six freshmen he recruited in the spring, including former Linden (N.J.) High star Otis Livingston, who led his team to the Union County championship last season over a Roselle Catholic team that featured current Kentucky freshman Isaiah Briscoe.
“If we started the season today, he would start for us at the point,” Paulsen, who went 134-94 in seven seasons at Bucknell, said. “Either way we expect him to play a ton.”
Livingston is listed at 5-11, 162 pounds but that might be optimistic.
“I don’t know if he weighs over 160 pounds so we have to artificially restrict his minutes really in the year so he doesn’t wear down,” Paulsen said. “He comes from a winning program, he’s got a charisma about him, and he’s got a great work ethic. He’s really tough. He doesn’t weigh anything but he’s a tough kid. He’s been a really, really pleasant surprise.”
A-10 PRESEASON POLL
2. Rhode Island
4. George Washington
7. Saint Joseph’s
8. St. Bonaventure
9. La Salle
12. Saint Louis
13. George Mason
PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE FIRST TEAM
Jack Gibbs, Davidson
Jordan Price, La Salle
Hassan Martin, Rhode Island
E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
DeAndre’ Bembry, Saint Joseph’s
PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE SECOND TEAM
Brian Sullivan, Davidson
Shevon Thompson, George Mason
Patricio Garino, George Washington
Kevin Larsen, GW
Marcus Posley, St. Bonaventure
PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE THIRD TEAM
Kendall Pollard, Dayton
Terry Allen, Richmond
ShawnDre’ Jones, Richmond
Melvin Johnson, VCU
Mo Alie-Cox, VCU
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.