Atlantic-10 Conference Preview
The Atlantic-10 Conference finished out of the Top 10 in the Conference RPI for the second straight season, but still received a decent amount of press last year. That is due to the fact that George Washington was the only one-loss team left in the country heading into the conference tournament and ran the table in the conference. They finished five games ahead of the second place team, Charlotte. Outside of those two, four other teams were above .500 in the conference and another four teams finished at .500. Only four teams were below the .500 mark. The conference tournament was a totally different story. GW did not even make it out of the quarterfinals, getting blown out by Temple. The same went for 2nd place Charlotte. The championship game featured #5 seed St. Joseph's against #10 seed Xavier. The Hawks were up by 10 with 7 minutes left, but the Musketeers came back and won on two free throws by Justin Doellmann with 5.1 seconds left. In the NCAA Tournament, #14 Xavier gave Gonzaga all they could handle before falling, while #8 George Washington came back from down by 17 against UNC-Wilmington to win before losing in the second round to #1 Duke. This season, don't expect any teams to run the table, with one favorite and five teams capable of finishing second. It should be a wide-open A-10 this year.
Favorite: Xavier did not have a very impressive regular season last year. They came into the season with decently high expectations, but struggled throughout the year and finished 8-8 in A-10 play. However, they righted the ship right after the season and made a run in the A-10 tournament to win the automatic bid and then nearly upset Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament. If they can carry some of that momentum over to this season, the Musketeers could be very good. Oklahoma transfer Drew Lavender is one of the main reasons for the optimism. The 5-7 point guard is extremely quick and can get to the basket on nearly any defender. He is also a solid three-point shooter who is a good distributor. Joining him in the backcourt will be all-conference guard Stanley Burrell. He is an outstanding shooter who is also a good passer and is a candidate for A-10 Player of the Year. Off the bench, returnees Johnny Wolf, a part-time starter, and B.J. Raymond, a match-up problem, as well as freshman Adrion Graves will provide depth on the perimeter. Up front, the forward trio of Justin Cage, Justin Doellmann, and Josh Duncan is as good as any in the conference. Cage is a good all-around player who is capable of increasing his scoring average by several points this season. Doellmann is an inside-outside player who is one of the more versatile players in the conference. His offensive and defensive abilities are very solid. Duncan could be on the verge of a breakout season. He is athletic and skilled. Senior Brandon Cole and explosive freshman Derrick Brown provide quality minutes off the bench.
Contenders: Massachusetts was not very good last season, going 8-8 in the conference and only 13-15 overall. However, with the influx of three transfers and a couple of impact freshmen, the Minutemen have the potential to be the best team in the conference. Oh, yeah, UMass also returns four starters from last season. One of those starters, Rashaun Freeman, is a favorite for Player of the Year. The 6-9 center is a double-double threat every night out and could improve his numbers even more this season. Down low with him is Stephane Lasme. The A-10 Defensive Player of the Year improved his offensive game over the summer, and could become an all-conference performer this season. Also returning up front are part-time starter Brandon Thomas and rotation players Dante Milligan and Lawrence Carrier. Their roles could be diminished, however, due to the addition of transfers Gary Forbes (from Virginia), Etienne Brower (Boston University), and Luke Bonner (West Virginia). Forbes is being mentioned as a potential Conference Player of the Year candidate due to his scoring ability. Brower is a versatile forward who can play a variety of roles due to his athleticism, while Bonner is a nice inside-outside option up front. In the backcourt, Chris Lowe returns at the point. He led the A-10 in assists but needs to improve his offensive game. He is not guaranteed to keep his starting job however. Freshman Tiki Mayben, a former Syracuse signee, is expected to make an immediate impact due to his passing abilities. Three-point gunner James Life, a double-figure scorer, and freshman Ricky Harris, will battle for minutes at the two-guard spot. George Washington had the season of a decade last year, going 27-3 and running through the A-10 unbeaten. The Colonials lose four starters from that team, though, and could struggle to return to the NCAA Tournament. Even with the losses, Karl Hobbs returns one of the best backcourt duos in the conference. Carl Elliot is an excellent point guard who does all the little things. He is a lockdown defender who is also a proficient three-point shooter. Moreover, he is a good passer but needs to become more of a go-to-guy. Maureece Rice is a big-time scorer who will increase his production even more this season now that he has moved into the starting lineup. Joining him on the wing will be Clemson transfer Cheyenne Moore. He is extremely athletic who is excellent on the fast break and is also a good defender. Travis King will provide depth on the perimeter. The frontcourt has plenty of question marks. Regis Koundija has the most experience of the returnees, and he will become a go-to-player down low. Dokun Akingbade and Rob Diggs will also see plenty of minutes up front due to their athleticism and length. Freshman wing Damian Hollis could become a good inside-outside option. Saint Louis had a quietly impressive season a year ago. The Billikens finished tied for third in the conference, going 10-6 in A-10 play and 16-13 overall. With four returning starters, SLU could push for an at-large bid this season. It starts with all-conference center Ian Vouyoukas, who is a potentially dominant player on offense. He is very efficient in the low post but needs to expand his offensive game in order to reach his full potential. Who will join Vouyoukas down low remains a question. Part-time starter Luke Meyer is a possibility, but he is better suited for the perimeter. Freshman Horace Dixon and returnees Justin Johnson and Obi Ikeakor are also candidates. The perimeter is in good hands with the duo of Tommie Liddell and Kevin Lisch leading the way. Liddell was the A-10 Rookie of the Year last season and could become even better this year. He is a good scorer and an excellent rebounder who can also distribute the ball fairly well. Lisch is a nice complement to Liddell. He is the team's best perimeter defender and is a very good three-point shooter. Dwayne Polk is the best bet to start at the point, although wing Danny Brown will fight for minutes in the starting lineup. Charlotte went 11-5 in conference play last season and won 19 games, but the 49ers lose three-time first-team all-conference forward Curtis Withers. If they can replace him, though, Charlotte could be a tough team. Leading the way is the wing combo of Leemire Goldwire and De'Angelo Alexander. Alexander is one of the best wing guards in the country. He is an excellent scorer that can stroke it from long-range and take it to the basket. Goldwire is a good three-point shooter who is a very solid complement to Alexander. Joining them on the perimeter is likely going to be JC transfer Carlos Williams. He is a very good passer who will create ample opportunities for his teammates. 6-9 wing Sean Phaler is also a potential starter. The JC transfer is a former UCLA signee who is a prolific scorer. Up front, E.J. Drayton, who redshirted last season, could be a go-to-guy. He is an inside-outside threat. Antwon Coleman and Courtney Williams also return in the frontcourt.
Sleepers: Fordham could have their best season in years. Four starters return from last year's 16-16 team that made a run to the A-10 Tournament semifinals. The main reason for optimism, though, is the return of forward Bryant Dunston. One of the nation's most underrated post players, Dunston is a dominant player on both sides of the ball.He is an excellent low-block scorer and is also one of the best shot-blockers in the conference. Providing outside production to complement Dunston inside is guard Marcus Stout. He is a very good three-point shooter who needs to become more of a go-to-scorer on the perimeter. Three more juniors will likely join the aforementioned duo in the starting lineup. Guard Kevin Anderson is a solid role player, while forwards Michael Binns and Sebastian Greene will combine with Dunston to give the Rams an excellent frontcourt trio. Freshmen David Boykin and Herb Tanner will fight for minutes at the point guard spot. After a string of successful seasons, Dayton struggled throughout last year, finishing 14-17 overall and tied for eleventh in the conference. Four starters return from that team, though, making the Flyers a potential sleeper team. Brian Roberts leads the way. The 6-2 wing is an outstanding scorer who can stroke it efficiently from outside as well as take it to the basket for points. With the influx of two newcomers to take over the point guard spot, Roberts could have an even bigger season. Those two newcomers are JC transfer Andres Sandoval and freshman London Warren. They will battle for the starting lead guard spot. Forward Monty Scott is a good second option to Roberts. He had an injury-prone year last season but still was a double-figure scorer and could increase his production this season. Another double-figure scorer, Norman Plummer, also returns in the frontcourt. He is a good all-around role player who is a very solid rebounder and a productive scorer. Returnees Jimmy Binnie, Charles Little, and Desmond Adedeji provide depth up front. St. Joseph's could see a significant drop after the loss of four starters from a 19-win team that was one victory from winning the A-10 tournament and going to the NCAA Tournament. Phil Martelli returns no one with extensive experience on the perimeter, but several newcomers will be counted on to make an immediate impact. The point guard competition will be between Jawan Carter and Darrin Govens. Carter was Delaware's all-time leading scorer and is a very good long-range shooter, while Govens is another combo guard that is a good distibutor and scorer. Shooting guard D.J. Rivera will likely start at the two. He is extremely quick and athletic and could be the go-to-guy on the perimeter. Garrett Williamson will see minutes. Up front, the team's lone returning double-figure scorer, Rob Ferguson, leads the way. He is a good inside-outside threat on the offensive end and could become an all-conference forward this season. Pat Calathes and Ahmad Nivins also return inside. Calathes finished strong last year and is difficult to guard on the offensive end. Nivins is a very good rebounder and shot-blocker. They form a solid frontcourt trio.
Rounding Out the Pack: This season, Temple enters a new era of Owls basketball. After 25 years with John Chaney at the helm, former Penn coach Fran Dunphy will step in and try to lead Temple back to the NCAA Tournament. He will have a rough start to his tenure in Philadelphia, as frontcourt starters Mark Tyndale and Wayne Marshall are academically ineligible for the first semester. Tyndale is good at getting to the basket and is also a solid rebounder, while Marshall is a very good big man who has potential. Dustin Salisbery will lead the way while they're out. He is a good three-point shooter who is one of the best defensive players in the conference. He will need to step his offensive game up. Dionte Christmas will also start on the wing with Tyndale out. At the point, freshman Luis Guzman will likely get the keys to the offense from the first day of practice. He is a good distributor who can also score. Up front, role players Dion Dacons and Anthony Ivory will see minutes. La Salle had a very surprinsing season last year, going 18-10 overall and finishing 3rd in the conference. However, they have to replace the school's all-time leading scorer in Steven Smith. He leaves a huge hole for the Explorers, but a nice mix of returnees and newcomers will do their best to fill his shoes. The best returnee is guard Darnell Harris. He is an excellent shooter who will have to become the go-to-guy with Smith gone. Joining him in the backcourt will be either junior Tabby Cunnigham or freshman Ruben Guillandeaux. The 6-5 Guillandeaux will likely start due to his length and athleticism. Forwards Paul Johnson and Mike St. John and wing Marshall Taylor return up front. Johnson is a good scorer who could have a big season, while St. John is a very good rebounder who will anchor the paint. Taylor was injured much of last season, but he provides decent number. Newcomers Yves Mekongo-Mbala, Brian Grimes, and Kimmanni Barrett will fight for starting spots in the frontcourt. Rhode Island finished .500 both in A-10 play and overall for the season. How they do this season will depend a lot on how their young players mature. Junior forward Will Daniels should become their go-to-guy, though. The lone returning double-figure scorer is an inside-outside threat who can score both down low and on the perimeter. He is a match-up problem. Joining him up front will be sophomore Kaheim Seawright who had a strong finish to the season and looks to carry that momentum over to this season. All-rookie selection Jimmy Baron will anchor the backcourt. He is a good three-point shooter who will likely increase his numbers this season. Jon Lucky and Parfait Bitee will also fight for starting jobs on the perimeter. Richmond did not have a very succesful season last year, tying for eleventh in the conference and going only 13-17 overall. However, they welcome in several new players and will look to improve on their record. The Spiders do return three starters from last season, though. Wings Oumar Sylla and Peter Thomas were role players a year ago but will become go-to-guys on the perimeter this season, while forward Gaston Moliva is an excellent defensive player who will also provide some rebounding and scoring. 6-9 Jarhon Giddings was a part-time starter at the point guard position and he is a solid distributor who is a difficult match-up. Drew Crank returns down low for the Spiders. The best of the newcomers is Steven Kendall, who could become a big-time scorer on the wing. St. Bonaventure increased their win total by six games last season, but still finished only 8-19 overall and 2-14 in the conference. It was the third season in a row that the Bonnies have had eight wins or less. They have a chance to break that streak this season. Leading the way is the forward tandem of Paul Williams and Michael Lee. Williams is a potential all-league performer who is a very solid player at both ends of the floor, while Lee could develop into one of the best forwards in the conference. Sophomore forward A.J. Hawkins is another solid player in the frontcourt. In the backcourt, Tyler Relph is the main man. He missed part of the season due to injury, but should bounce back to have a solid season this year. JC transfer Jermaine Calvin could make an immediate impact. Duquesne was one of the worst teams in D-1 last season, going 3-24 overall and only 1-15 in league play, finishing last in the Atlantic-10. However, going into this season, the more important issue at hand is the shooting of five of the Duquesne players at a party in September. The tragic situation could hang over the program's head throughout the year. Returning point guard Aaron Jackson leads the way. He is an excellent distributor who takes good care of the ball and does not turn it over very often. JC transfers Gary Tucker and Reggie Jackson will make an impact on the perimeter right away. Up front, Kieron Achara has a lot of potential but needs to stay healthy to demonstrate that. JC transfer Stuart Baldonado and Memphis transfer Almamy Thiero could fight for a starting job down low.
Prediction: The Atlantic-10 could be a very interesting conference this season. Xavier is one of the best teams outside of the Big Six conferences and could be a sleeper candidate come March. After them, there are several teams with a shot at getting an at-large bid. Massachusetts brings in plenty of talent in addition to four starters, including Rashaun Freeman. Saint Louis has Ian Tommie Liddell and Ian Vouyoukas, George Washington has Carl Elliot and Maureece Rice, while Charlotte and Fordham will also contend. However, none of the teams besides Xavier is a definite NCAA Tournament team. If one team separates themselves from the pack, the A-10 will get two bids. For now, though, I see only one bid for the conference, going to Xaver. The best bet for a second bid would be UMass--if all their talent meshes. That's a big "if", though.
Player of the Year: Rashaun Freeman, Massachusetts
G- De'Angelo Alexander
G- Stanley Burrell, Xavier
F- Bryant Dunston, Fordham
C- Rashaun Freeman, Massachusetts
C- Ian Vouyoukas, Saint Louis
G- Carl Elliot, George Washington
G- Maureece Rice, George Washington
G- Brian Roberts, Dayton
F- Gary Forbes, Massachusetts
F- Justin Doellmann, Xavier