The Atlantic 10 Conference is firmly entrenched as one of the top mid-majors in college basketball. Last season, the teams that were expected to contend for the league title did just that, with Xavier and Temple leading the way. Both of those squads finished with a 14-2 conference mark, tying for the A-10 regular season crown.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - OUTLOOK: The Atlantic 10 Conference is firmly entrenched as one of the top mid-majors in collegebasketball. Last season, the teams that were expected to contend for the league title did just that, with Xavier and Temple leading the way. Both of those squads finished with a 14-2 conference mark, tying for the A-10 regular season crown.
Temple advanced to the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive season, but the program has not won a game in the Big Dance in a decade, so the goal is clearly defined entering this 2010-11 campaign. As for Xavier, it was extremely successful in Chris Mack's first season as head coach, as the squad captured at least a share of its fourth straight A-10 regular season title and even reached the Sweet 16 of the "Big Dance" for the third consecutive year. There is enough talent present for Temple and Xavier to believe that both will make another run at the title.
Expect the Richmond Spiders to be in the mix as well, as they finished 13-3 a year ago and welcome back the A-10 Player of the Year, Kevin Anderson. Dayton is an interesting team to watch, as the squad underachieved against league competition a year ago, splitting its 16 conference games despite winning 25 games overall. A pair of double-digit scorers are back in the fold for Brian Gregory, leading the fans of the Flyers to feel cautiously optimistic.
Rhode Island and Saint Louis appear to be a step down from the elite of the A-10, but don't tell that to head coaches Jim Baron (URI) and Rick Majerus (SLU). The Rams will attempt to push the tempo in all likelihood, while the Billikens will rely on their defense as usual.
If there is a darkhorse team to watch, it very well could be Duquesne. An experience core returns, and after falling short of expectations a year ago, the Dukes may be able to take advantage of teams underestimating them in 2010-11.
The bottom half of the conference features teams such as La Salle, Charlotte and George Washington, clubs with enough talent to beat the big boys on any given night, but not enough to string together the necessary amount of wins to challenge for the A-10 title. Saint Joseph's will be well coached as usual by Phil Martelli, but he simply lacks the horses necessary to stay in the race for very long. Rounding out the A-10 are UMass, St. Bonaventure and Fordham, all three of which figure to endure double-digit conference losses.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: TEMPLE
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Temple, 2. Xavier, 3. Richmond, 4. Dayton, 5. Rhode Island, 6. Saint Louis, 7. Duquesne, 8. La Salle, 9. Charlotte, 10. George Washington, 11. Saint Joseph's, 12. Massachusetts, 13. St. Bonaventure, 14. Fordham
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
TEMPLE: The Owls have a standout performer in both the frontcourt and the backcourt, and with the stingy defense that coach Fran Dunphy demands, Temple is in strong position to win the A-10 title in 2010-11. The man to watch up front is Lavoy Allen, a power forward who posted 11.5 ppg and 10.7 rpg a year ago while shooting 53.6 percent from the field. In the backcourt, Juan Fernandez is sharpshooter from Argentina who knocked down 45.3 percent of his three-point attempts a year ago. The hope is that Ramone Moore, who scored 7.6 ppg a year ago a sophomore, is ready to take the next step. If he can become a consistent scoring threat, Fernandez will have no trouble getting open looks from the perimeter, and it will become increasingly more costly to double Allen on the low block. Temple led the A-10 in scoring defense last season (56.8 ppg) but finished last in scoring offense (64.9 ppg). Still, the scoring differential of over eight points per game was obviously impressive, and coach Dunphy wouldn't mind a repeat performance.
XAVIER: Just one double-digit scorer returns for the Musketeers, as 6-0 guard Terrell Holloway is back for what is expected to be a highly productive junior season. Holloway scored 12.1 ppg a year ago while dishing out 3.9 apg, and the point guard will need a few teammates to step up and prove to be consistent scoring threats. Seniors Jamel McLean and Dante' Jackson, who scored 8.5 ppg and 6.5 ppg last season, are two likely candidates. McClean ripped down 7.5 rpg last season and is the top returning rebounder for the club. There is no doubt that Xavier will miss Jordan Crawford, a star guard who took his 20.5 ppg to the NBA. Still, coach Mack has brought in one of the top recruiting classes in the A-10, and if 7-0 returnee Kenny Frease finally becomes comfortable in his frame, there will be another title run for the Musketeers.
RICHMOND: Any talk of the Richmond team begins with Kevin Anderson, the reigning A-10 Player of the Year. Although rather small at 6-0 and 175 pounds, the senior is smart, quick and extremely talented. He averaged 17.8 ppg last season, but the fact that his rebounding output (3.4 rpg) was greater than his assist numbers (2.7 apg) shows that there is still some room for the standout guard to improve. Anderson shot just 33.9 percent from three-point range a year ago, a figure that simply must improve if the Spiders are to win a title. Justin Harper will be counted on to take some pressure off Anderson after scoring 10.6 ppg for the team a year ago. The wild card for the Spiders is center Dan Geriot, a 6-9 senior who led Richmond in scoring with 14.3 ppg back in 2007-08. He missed the 2008-09 season with a knee injury and struggled to get back in the groove last season. If he is healthy, and all accounts state that he is, Geriot is a difference-maker.
DAYTON: Two years ago, the Flyers won 27 games and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Expectations were sky high heading into last season, and Dayton simply didn't play well enough to compete with the better teams in the A-10. Chris Wright and Chris Johnson are determined to make amends for the lackluster finish in 2009-10, and they certainly possess the talent to do just that. Wright, a 6-8 senior, scored 13.7 ppg and ripped down 7.3 rpg a season ago, while Johnson posted 11.9 ppg and 6.9 rpg. No other returnee averaged 5.6 ppg last year, so Johnson and Wright may very well have to carry the load early on until other legitimate options emerge. Dayton won the NIT title last season, an obvious source of confidence, and coach Brian Gregory has enough talent in place, including the new recruits, to make a serious run at the A-10 crown.
RHODE ISLAND: There is only one returning double-digit scorer in place for the Rams, and that is Delroy James. Now a senior, the 6-8 forward posted 13.2 ppg and 5.3 rpg a year ago, and he faces the challenge of improving that already solid output. In the NIT last season, James averaged 19.3 ppg against strong competition over a four-game stretch, including a 34-point showing against Nevada. The hope is that senior center Will Martell, a seven-footer, is finally ready to become a dominant force instead of just a role player. Akeem Richmond scored 8.7 ppg as a freshman last season despite only playing 18 minutes per contest. With increased playing time, the three-point specialist figures to be a consistent double-digit contributor. Coach Jim Baron led his Rams to 26 victories last season, but duplicating that accomplishment seems a bit unlikely.
SAINT LOUIS: Last season, the Billikens participated in the CBI postseason tournament and reached the championship round. Although Saint Louis did fall short against VCU, it is certainly comforting to know that every key contributor from that team is back in place. Of the three returning double- digit scorers on the roster for Rick Majerus, the man to watch is Kwamain Mitchell. One of the most gifted offensive performers in the A-10, Mitchell racked up 15.9 ppg and 3.0 apg last season, playing much larger than his 5-10 frame would suggest. Willie Reed, a 6-9 forward, brings back 12.4 ppg and 7.9 rpg, while Cody Ellis hopes to build on a freshman season that saw him net 10.5 ppg. Kyle Cassity led the team in assists last season, and if he can play with maximum effort at all times, something he didn't do last season, Saint Louis could easily emerge as one of the top teams in the conference.
DUQUESNE: Based on talent alone, Duquesne can stand toe to toe with any team in the A-10. The reason that the Dukes are being picked to finish higher is that they simply do not know how to win consistently. Damian Saunders may very well be the most gifted player in the A-10 because of his rare versatility. Last season, Saunders scored 15.0 ppg and ripped down 11.3 rpg. He also led the A-10 in blocks (94) and set a school record with 89 steals. Saunders doesn't have to carry the load alone, as fellow senior Bill Clark is a solid scorer who can stretch the defense with his three-point shooting ability. B.J. Monteiro posted 11.1 ppg last season, and he figures to at least maintain that average. T.J. McConnell is one of the new recruits to watch, as he has been committed to the Dukes and coach Ron Everhart since he was 14 years old.
LA SALLE: Injuries crippled the season of the La Salle Explorers in 2009-10, turning what was expected to be an exciting season of basketball into a dreadful 4-12 A-10 finish. Head coach John Giannini is happy to have a healthy roster to work with, but significant talent is now gone, including Rodney Green. Fortunately, the team possesses an elite big man in Aaric Murray, a big-time NBA prospect who scored 12.2 ppg while grabbing 6.6 rpg as a freshman. Now a sophomore, Murray will be counted on to be dominant, as he will need to net at least 15.0 ppg to keep this team competitive. Ruben Guillandeaux played in only four games a year ago because of a foot injury but did receive a medical redshirt. His return certainly helps, as does that of Jerrell Williams (10.2 ppg), a senior.
CHARLOTTE: Bobby Lutz was fired as the head coach of the 49ers after last season despite the fact that they improved by eight wins over the previous campaign. Taking over the program is Alan Major, a former Ohio State assistant, and he has some significant talent to work with. One of the top frontcourt players in the A-10 is Shamari Spears, who netted 16.0 ppg a year ago. As for Chris Braswell, he managed 9.5 ppg and 8.6 rpg as a freshman and is expected to take a significant step forward as a sophomore. Derrio Green is a junior college transfer who is expected to provide immediate scoring in the 49er backcourt. A transfer student, Jamar Briscoe, may very well run the show from the point guard position. Expectations are certainly tempered for Major's team, as Charlotte hasn't been an A-10 power in recent years, but don't expect the new coach to exhibit great patience, as he is used to winning.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: It is hard for many fans to believe that a 6-10 finish in league play represents a significant step forward, but that is indeed the case for George Washington. The Colonials have emerged from the A-10 cellar and are ready to make some noise under the guidance of Karl Hobbs, who uses many players and favors a run-and-gun style. Lasan Kromah, at 6-5 is a stellar athlete who flies up and down the court and gets the job done both on offense and defense. Tony Taylor, who dished out 4.2 apg a year ago, is back as well. Joseph Katuka is a 6-11 player who seemed to get better with every game a year ago. He runs the floor extremely well for a man his size and figures to be a consistent contributor in 2010-11. Last season, 12 players averaged 10 minutes per game or more for Hobbs, and more of the same is expected this season.
SAINT JOSEPH'S: It is hard to believe that Saint Joseph's lost 20 games last season, including a 5-11 finish in A-10 play. It was obvious that the Hawks simply lacked talent, and while Phil Martelli did bring in some promising freshmen, including guard Langston Galloway, don't expect a major turnaround this season. In the backcourt, Justin Crosgile and Carl Jones did enough as freshmen to convince fans that they can be significant performers this year. Idris Hilliard is a forward who averaged 10.2 ppg and 5.4 rpg last season, but many believe that production was all that can be expected of him. Todd O'Brien is a solid rebounder, but he hasn't done much scoring and needs to prove that he can contribute a bit offensively. Martelli will get all that he can from this group, but it won't be enough to avoid a losing season in A-10 play.
MASSACHUSETTS: The bad news for UMass is that it finished 5-11 in A-10 play a year ago and lost leading scorer Ricky Harris, who poured in just a shade under 20 points per contest. The good news is that the four other starters are back, including Anthony Gurley. A beast in the front court, Gurley averaged 13.6 ppg a year ago and may be dominant with Harris gone. The offense figures to go through Gurley, who considered making the leap to the NBA after last season. Keep an eye on Terrell Vinson, who was impressive as a freshman and will be tough to contain if he improves his shooting range. Sean Carter is a force in the paint, as he ripped down 7.1 rpg last season and led the team in blocks. UMass may improve on its A-10 mark of a year ago, but the best that can be expected is an 8-8 league finish.
ST. BONAVENTURE: The Bonnies actually exceeded expectations in 2009-10, posting a 7-9 record against conference opponents and finishing just a game below .500 overall. The losses of Chris Simmons and Jonathan Hall will certainly hurt, but the best player from last season's squad remains in place. Andrew Nicholson enters his junior season as one of the top performers in the A-10. Despite constant attention from defenders last season, Nicholson used his 6-9 frame to score 16.4 ppg on 56.4 percent shooting from the field. He also ripped down 7.1 rpg and may challenge for A-10 Player of the Year honors if his team can win enough games. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem likely. Ogo Adegboye and Michael Davenport are solid contributors, but certainly not difference-makers.
FORDHAM: The great news for Fordham is that there is absolutely nowhere to go but up after a dismal 2009-10 campaign that saw the team finish 2-26 overall and 0-16 in league play. The Rams have a new coach in Tom Pecora, who led Hofstra's program for nearly a decade, and he certainly has some work to do to return Fordham to respectability. Forward Chris Gaston is back after earning A-10 Rookie of the Year honors. He scored 18.0 ppg and ripped down 11.4 rpg last season, finishing as the leading rebounder in the league. Those numbers are all the more impressive when considering the fact that there was no other legitimate threat on the roster to draw defensive attention away from Gaston. Jacob Green, Fahro Alihodzic, Lance Brown and Alberto Estwick are all returnees expected to pitch in this season, and while Pecora is known as an accomplished recruiter of standout guards, it may be tough to convince blue- chip prospects to come to Fordham.The Sports Network