New writer Nick Fasulo previews
the upper tier of what should be an extremely competitive Atlantic 10
season. Teams are listed in order of projected finish, followed by
a projection of the All-Conference team.
Three years removed from
their astonishing run to the Elite 8, Xavier looks as though they may be
ready to make another deep run come March. They have one of the most
balanced rotations in the country that will feature eight to nine
players. Xavier returns three starters (seniors Justin Cage and Justin
Doellman; and junior Stanley Burrell). Most importantly however for
Xavier will be point guard transfer Drew Lavender. A former McDonalds
All-American, Lavender is ready for a fresh start back in his home state
of Ohio. Lavender’s amazing quickness and vision will undoubtedly
increase Xavier’s team scoring numbers and lead to many open shots.
Junior Josh Duncan is
probably the most gifted player on the team. He is a natural forward and
has always played behind Cage and Doellman. It’s hard not to start him
though and Coach Sean Miller will probably find himself using him at the
five when opponents are undersized, allowing Xavier to play a more
transition style of basketball. Xavier’s best true post player is
senior Brandon Cole. He lacks a great offensive game but is solid on
the defensive end.
Also look for incoming
freshman Adrion Graves to contribute off the bench. He really came into
his own as a senior in High School scoring 24 points a game.
The pieces are certainly
in place for the Musketeers to grab their fourth Atlantic 10 title in
seven seasons. They also have the non-conference schedule that will
allow them to get those “quality wins” that are so important come March.
Prediction: NCAA Tournament
2) Saint Louis
In their first year as
members of the Atlantic 10, Saint Louis was a pleasant surprise
finishing the regular season with 10 wins and 6 losses. The Billikens
will look to improve on that mark as their three leading scorers from
last year return including A-10 Player of the Year candidate Ian
Vouyoukas, and last years Newcomer of the
Year Tommie Liddell. Vouyoukas, like George Washington’s Carl Elliott,
withdrew himself from the NBA Draft after realizing he wasn’t quite
ready for the next level. Billikens fans defiantly rejoiced. At 6’
10” his game reflects the European style of play; extending beyond the
paint as he can face up and shoot the mid-range jumper.
Liddell, while not
really on the national radar coming out of high school, is a very
aggressive player who was second on the team in rebounding despite being
a guard. His shooting must improve however, as we was only a 40%
shooter from the field, and 63% at the
free-throw line. Saint Louis also returns guard Kevin Lisch, the team's
leading free throw and three-point shooter.
Coming into this season, it was clear to all A-10
teams to schedule tough if they want the committee to consider them for
the NCAA Tournament. Saint Louis does not shy away from facing tough
opponents this season. Their non-conference schedule includes a visit
from national championship contender North Carolina, always competitive
mid-major Southern Illinois, and Texas A&M, who is expected to hover
around the Top 25 this year.
While it’s certainly a
stretch, I’ll go out on a limb here and predict the Billikens make the
NCAA Tournament (their first since 2000) as Vouyoukas wins conference
player of the year honors.
Prediction: NCAA Tournament
3) George Washington
Last year, the Colonials
were clearly the most talented and athletic team in the Atlantic 10.
They were a well-oiled machine on the offensive side averaging 78 points
a game going a perfect 16-0 in the conference. Unfortunately their soft
schedule gave them an eight seed in the NCAA Tournament and an early
exit at the hands of Duke in the second round. This year, while 60% of
their offense has departed Coach, Karl Hobbs still has the weapons to
produce a nice season.
Returning is Sixth Man
of the Year junior Maureece Rice, and the versatile senior Carl
Elliott. Rice, who may naturally be more of a wing player, will be
counted on to run the offense. In only 25 minutes a game last year,
Rice averaged just fewer than three assists, a number that is sure to
increase as he will now be placed in a starting role. Elliott who
tested the NBA waters this spring without an agent is a do-everything
type of player. He averaged 11 points a game last year, and was also in
the top ten in steals and assists. He will be looked on this year to
continue his efforts on the defensive end, and become the teams go to
player on offense.
After Rice and Elliott
however, experience and depth become major issues. No player besides
the two saw more than 20 minutes a game. The frontcourt has many
question marks. Look for senior Regis Koundjia to be most ready to step
into a starting role and produce.
George Washington will
probably take a step back this year, but who can blame them? They
will be competitive all year in the A-10 with Elliott and Rice. But
their lack of depth will defiantly hurt them, leaving them short of
the big dance.
This year’s Minutemen
squad is probably the most intriguing in the A-10. After several
dismal seasons in Amherst, UMASS may finally be ready to make the next
step with second year coach Travis Ford and become a perennial
contender in the conference. UMASS did show signs of significant
improvement last year, as they had the highest rebounding margin in
the conference, and forced their opponent’s to shoot only 39% from the
Their most important
player is senior Rashaun Freeman. He led the team last year in points
and rebounding and has been a first team All-Conference performer the
past two seasons. Expect him to contend for Player of the Year in the
A-10. Complimenting Freeman in the frontcourt will be reining
Defensive Player of the Year Stephane Lasme. The other returning
starter the Minutemen will count on is point guard Chris Lowe.
While three starters
return, the Minutemen will still need contributions from many of its
incoming players. 2005 McDonalds All-American Tiki Mayben was all set
to attend Syracuse last season, but was ruled academically
ineligible. Syracuse decided not to honor the scholarship and he
landed at UMASS. Ford is defiantly taking a risk on Mayben, but it’s
a risk that could pay huge dividends this season. They also got
Virginia transfer Gary Forbes who could land a starting role if he can
become a consistent scorer.
It has been awhile
since there was talk of UMASS contending in the Atlantic 10, but
Travis Ford is an up and coming coach who has a lot of talent to work
with this season. Having experience in Freeman and Lasme will be
important, but finding a second or third option on offense will be
what decides how successful this team will be.
After finishing second
in the Atlantic 10 last year, Charlotte will once again be a
contender. Returning is smooth shooting De’Angelo Alexander, who is
the league's leading returning scorer at 17 points a game. Along with
Saint Louis’ Ian Vouyoukas he is the conference's top NBA prospect.
He is a great three-point shooter, as he was 16th in the
nation in three-point percentage last season.
The biggest problem
Charlotte faces this year is replacing the shoes of Curtis Withers, a
four-year starter who had a huge presence down low on both ends of the
floor. Charlotte does however boast the conference's best recruiting
class this year, with Junior College transfer Carlos Williams and
local product swingman Charles Dewhurst.
But Alexander is the
most important player to the 49ers success. He is a tremendous
shooter, but must become more adept at creating his own shot, as teams
will be keying on him all season.
Charlotte will be
good, but not good enough to get an at-large bid in the tournament.
They will be young and Coach Bobby Lutz will have some major teaching
to do for his young crop of players.
All Conference 1st
G: Drew Lavender
F: Bryant Dunston
F: Rashaun Freeman
C: Ian Vouyoukas
All Conference 2nd
G: Maureece Rice
G: Stanley Burrell
G: Carl Elliott
G: Brian Roberts
F: Josh Duncan