BtB 2009-10 Atlantic 10 Preview


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Xavier was the team of the 00s in the A-10, reaching the NCAAs under the late Skip Prosser, current Ohio State boss Thad Matta, and new Arizona head coach Sean Miller.  Matta guided the Musketeers to the Elite Eight in 2004, and Miller did the same in 2008, then guided them to the Sweet Sixteen last season.  Now, it's Chris Mack's turn to keep things going, albeit with a retooled roster.

But if you're looking for an A-10 favorite this season, you need to travel 49 miles up I-75.  Brian Gregory's Dayton Flyers, led by Chris Wright and Marcus Johnson, is loaded and ready to take the A-10 crown away from their Southwestern Ohio rival, and maybe even plant the seeds to being the conference's team of the 10s.

However, there are a few other teams in the Atlantic 10 who are ready to make some noise this season. Chris Mooney's Princeton-style offense will be humming more efficiently at Richmond now that center Dan Geriot is back from a knee injury.  Ron Everhart's Duquesne and John Giannini's La Salle both have squads that could end long tournament droughts. And you can't sleep on traditional tournament fixtures Temple, St. Joe's, and Charlotte, even if each has challenges to figure out this season.  

It should be another interesting season in the league of 14, but the big question is whether the A-10 will match the three bids earned each of the last two seasons.  More on each team after the jump.

Let's first take a look at the 2008-09 Atlantic 10 standings.


Atlantic 10 Conference Standings

(updated 3.26.2009 at 10:49 PM EDT)

Conf Overall
W L W L
Xavier Musketeers 12 4 27 8
Dayton Flyers 11 5 27 8
Rhode Island Rams 11 5 23 11
Temple Owls 11 5 22 12
Duquesne Dukes 9 7 21 13
Richmond Spiders 9 7 20 16
La Salle Explorers 9 7 18 13
St. Joseph's Hawks 9 7 17 15
Saint Louis Billikens 8 8 18 14
UMass Minutemen 7 9 12 18
St. Bonaventure Bonnies 6 10 15 15
Charlotte 49ers 5 11 11 20
George Washington Colonials 4 12 10 18
Fordham Rams 1 15 3 25

Now, here are my picks for 2009-10, presented in reverse order.

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Fordham (last NCAA: 1992) Derek Whittenburg hasn't exactly gotten the Rams back to national prominence, as Fordham has only claimed 68 wins in his 6 seasons at Rose Hill.  However, they completely bottomed out with last year's 3 win campaign.  Adding insult to injury, Whittenburg lost two key players over the offseason, both of whom transferred.  6-5 swingman Mike Moore went over to Hofstra, and G Trey Blue left for Illinois State.  The good news for the Rams is sophomore PG Jio Fontan (15.3 ppg, 4.7 apg), the team's leading scorer didn't leave, and 6-2 soph Brenton Butler (9.6 ppg) will join him in the backcourt after missing much of last season with an ankle injury, They'll be joined by 6-3 Alberto Estwick (7.1 ppg) and 5-11 Ryan Hage, who returns from a shoulder injury of his own.  In the frontcourt, 6-9 junior Jacob Green (6.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg) is the anchor, and he'll be joined by athletic 6-7 freshman Chris Gaston, a high school teammate of Fontan and Estwick, and 6-10 Bosnian Fahro Alihodzic, another of Whittenburg's five newcomers.  The Rams should struggle with all of their youth, despite a manageable schedule that includes a game at St. John's and a matchup with Villanova at the Meadowlands. 

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George Washington (last NCAA: 2007) Karl Hobbs' already warm seat could be completely on fire with another miserable season at the Foggy Bottom.  Unfortunately, with leading scorer Rob Diggs gone and six freshmen on the roster, it looks to be another long season for the Colonials.  6-8 senior Damian Hollis (13.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is back, as are two capable, if inconsistent point guards--6-2 junior Travis King (6.2 ppg, 2.4 apg) and 6-1 sophomore Tony Taylor (6.6 ppg, 2.8 apg).  Otherwise, there are a whole lot of new faces and returnees, like the frontcourt trio of 6-11 Joseph Katuka, 6-10 Jabari Edwards, and 609 Hermann Opoku, who have a lot to prove.  GW welcomes Oregon State, Providence, and George Mason to the Smith Center, while they'll play Navy in the BB&T Classic.

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St. Louis (last NCAA: 2000) Rick Majerus is facing the very definition of a rebuilding year, as his roster features eight freshmen, one junior, and no seniors.  While 5-10 sophomore G Kwamain Mitchell--the Billikens' leading scorer (11 ppg)--is back, and soph F Brian Conklin (6.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and C Willie Reed (7.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg) give SLU some punch inside, expect the newcomers to see a lot of action.  Two Aussies, 6-4 shooter Christian Salecich and 6-8 F Cody Ellis, lead the freshmen.  The highlight of the Billikens' schedule is the Chicago Invitational Challenge, where they open with Iowa State before facing either Notre Dame or Northwestern.

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St. Bonaventure (last NCAA: 2000) Mark Schmidt's Bonnies actually finished with a .500 mark last season, but will have a hard time matching or surpassing that feat with the departure of starting F Maurice Thomas and G Ray Blackburn.  However, there's enough returning talent in place, led by team's three leading scorers, to complete another stage in a long rebuilding process.  6-4 senior three-point specialist Chris Matthews averaged more than 12 points per contest in his first season after transferring from Washington State.  6-foot junior Ogo Adegbonye arrives will take over at the point, freeing up junior Malcolm Eleby (7 ppg)  to spend more time at off guard.  6-5 senior Jonathan Hall (12.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg) is a swingman who can really drive to the hoop, while 6-9 Andrew Nicholson (12.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 2.7 bpg) is a force inside.  If 6-8 freshman Marquise Simmons or 6-9 reserve Da'Quan Cook can come close to replacing Thomas' production, the Bonnies could continue their rise up the standings.  The schedule will include some challenges as SBU visits Syracuse, Mississippi State, Niagara, and Illinois State for a tournament. 

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St. Joseph's (last NCAA: 2008) The Hawks return to the newly-christened Hagan Arena after spending the bulk of last season at the Palestra.  The problem is, two of the best recent Hawks--Ahmad Nivins and Tasheed Carr--have moved on.  6-1 senior G Darren Govens (12.5 ppg, 2.6 apg) is back to provide more scoring, while defensive stalwart Garrett Williamson, a tall 6-5 PG who averaged 6.1 points and 4.5 assists a contest, will create a lot of problems for opponents, especially if he decides to be more offensively-minded.  In the frontcourt, 6-7 Idris Hilliard could have a breakout junior season after averaging more than 9 points and 5.5 boards a game as a soph.  6-8 freshman Carl Baptiste could see a lot of minutes right off the bat, as could guards Justin Crosgile and Carl Jones.   The Hawks travel to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam, where they'll open with Boston College before facing Purdue or South Dakota State on day 2.  SJU reopens their arena with visits from Drexel and Holy Cross, and naturally has a full Big Five slate to contend with.

 

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Massachusetts (last NCAA: 1998) Derek Kellogg's Minutemen lost three key players off a team that only managed to win 12 games, guard Chris Lowe and centers Tony Gaffney and Luke Bonner.  UMass' strength will be its backcourt, led by 6-2 senior Ricky Harris (18.2 ppg) and 6-3 junior Anthony Gurley (11.2 ppg).  6-5 freshman sharpshooter Freddie Riley comes aboard to provide them with needed support.  There will be a lot of new blood in the frontcourt, as 6-9 Oregon State transfer Sean Carter and 6-10 Memphis transfer Hashim Bailey will push 6-9 soph Tyrell Lynch (3.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg) for minutes.  The Minutemen face former conference-mate Rutgers at the Legends Classic in Atlantic City, with a game against either Florida or Michigan State to follow.  They'll also visit Seton Hall, Davidson, and Boston College, and host Memphis.

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Rhode Island (last NCAA: 1999) One of the biggest issues confronting Jim Baron this season is finding someone who can shoot the 3 as well as his son, Jimmy.  He also has to find someone to replace Kahiem Seawright, who also graduated after last season.  Point guard is also an issue, as both 6-1 junior (6.1 ppg, 4 apg) and 5-9 sophomore Stevie Mejia (2.5 ppg, 2.1 apg) battled inconsistency last season.  Those are big issues to resolve, and they may keep the Rams from being too competitive this year.  However, some things are certain, such as the performance of 6-4 senior SG Keith Cothran (13.2 ppg) and the fact that URI has a solid frontcourt, featuring 7-0 C Will Martell (5.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg), the athletic 6-6 F Lamonte Ulmer (7.7 ppg, 5 rpg), and 6-8 senior Delroy James (9.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg).  The Rams visit Davidson, VCU, Boston College, and Akron; host Northeastern and Providence; and face Oklahoma State at the Mohegan Sun Casino.

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Temple (last NCAA: 2009) Christmas has come and gone for the Owls, now Fran Dunphy has to figure out how to replace Dionte's 19.5 points a game.  He also has a big hole in the middle after 7-footer Sergio Olmos' departure.  Temple does have two good building blocks back--6-9 junior F LaVoy Allen (10.9 ppg, 9 rpg) and 6-4 G Ryan Brooks (10.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg), a shooter who must have ice water in his veins--and a whole bunch of guys who could be good if they get a little more time, including 6-9 junior Craig Williams (5.3 ppg, 3 rpg), 6-11 senior Micheal Eric (2.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg), and 6-4 soph Juan Fernandez, who could see some time at the point because of his passing skills and court vision.  Dunphy's squad faces a typically tough schedule that includes the Big Five; a home game with Siena in the Philly Hoop Group Classic; games with St. John's and Virginia Tech in the same event; a trip to Seton Hall; and home tilts with Penn State and Kansas.

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Charlotte (last NCAA: 2005) The 49ers lost two key frontcourt players, Charley Coley III and leading scorer Lamont Mack, but get 6-3 freshman guard Shamarr Bowden back from a broken kneecap.  His return and the presence of solid 5-9 senior PG DaJuan Harris (9 ppg, 7.2 apg) , 6-5 senior RaShad Coleman (8 ppg), and 6-4 senior 3-point ace Ian Anderson (9.7 ppg) means the strength of Charlotte's squad shifts to the backcourt.  But there's still talent upfront, as 6-10 senior Phil Jones (7.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and 6-6 junior An'Juan Williams (7.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg) are capable of stepping up in Coley and Mack' absence, and 6-6 BC transfer Shamani Spears and 6-7 frosh K.J. Sherrill will provide an immediate interior boost.  Bobby Lutz's team will face Elon in the NIT Season Tip-Off, with a matchup with Duke likely to follow.  They'll also host Georgia Tech, and visit Louisville, Old Dominion, and Tennessee.

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La Salle (last NCAA: 1992) John Giannini has a team that could make some noise after an 18-win campaign.  If 6-9 F Vernon Goodridge, a solid defensive performer, wouldn't have left last in the offseason, all five senior Explorer starters from a season ago would have been back.  Giannini could slide in 6-8 junior Jarrell Williams (6.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg as a part-time starter) into Goodridge's slot in the lineup.  The backcourt will be led 6-5 Rodney Green (17.8 ppg, 3.4 apg), who needs to work on taking care of the ball after turning it over an average of 3.2 times per contest, and 6-6 3-point ace Ruben Guillandeaux (10.1 ppg, 3 apg).  In the frontcourt, 6-6 Kimmani Barrett (11.8 ppg, 5 rpg) and 6-7 Yves Mekongo (10.4 ppg, 6 rpg) will be joined by highly-touted 6-10 center prospect Aaric Murray and 6-8 redshirt frosh Devon White.  Naturally, La Salle will be tested by Big Five games, but they'll also take part in the Charleston Classic where they'll face South Carolina in their opener.  They will also face two Big 12 schools in semi-away games, Kansas in Kansas City and Oklahoma State in the All-College Classic in Oklahoma City.

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Richmond (last NCAA: 2004) While the Spiders, who made the CBI last season, lost 6-9 Jarhon Giddings graduation, they get back junior C Dan Geriot, who missed last season with an ACL tear.  Giddings averaged more than 14 points and 5.5 boards a game in 2007-08 and his return adds another dimension to Chris Mooney's Princeton offense.  Add in the fact that UR already features two guards who can score from anywhere on the floor, 6-4 senior David Gonzalvez (16 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and 6-0 junior Kevin Anderson (16.6 ppg, 2.8 apg), and another solid interior presence in 6-10 F Justin Harper (9.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg), and it's no wonder people are expecting big things out of the Spiders this year.  Richmond will play Mississippi State at the Padre Island Invitational, then either Missouri or Old Dominion.  They'll face the Monarchs at home right after the Texas trip, then VCU.  Richmond also travels to South Carolina, face Florida in the Orange Bowl Classic, and visit Wake Forest on New Year's Eve.

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Duquesne (last NCAA: 1977) The Dukes were oh, so close last season--first falling to Temple by 6 in the A-10 final, missing out on their first NCAA trip in 32 seasons.  Then, they fell to Virginia Tech in a thrilling double OT first round NIT matchup.  And while leading scorer Aaron Jackson, a point guard who averaged over 19 points and nearly 6 assists a game is gone, the Dukes have their next eight top scorers back for another crack at ending the drought. 6-7 junior F Damian Saunders (13.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and 6-5 soph swingman Bill Clark (12.9 ppg, 5 rpg) will lead the way, but watch out for one of the stars of the Dukes' postseason run, 6-4 sophomore G/F Melquan Bolding (9.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg), to build on those performances.  6-1 senior Jason Duty joins Clark as a three-point threat (7.4 ppg, 41.4% from 3), while 5-11 Eric Evans (9.8 ppg, 2.2 apg) will take over for Jackson at the point.  Ron Everhart also gets a ton of help on the frontline to help Saunders, as 7-0 Kentucky transfer Morakinyo Williams is now eligible and 6-8 Rodrigo Peggau returns from a knee injury.  The Dukes will travel to Iowa, a team that should fancy their chances against, for a game in the CBE Classic.  Unfortunately a win in Iowa City won't advance them to Kansas City, so they will play in a weak "subregional" at West Carolina instead--featuring decimated Binghamton and D2 Arkansas-Monticello.  The Dukes will also look to shock Pitt in their final meeting at Mellon Arena.  Trips to Old Dominion and West Virginia will also be challenging.

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Xavier (last NCAA: 2009) The Musketeers have a new coach, Chris Mack, and a whole bunch of new faces.  But don't expect the X-Men to fall off the face of the earth after the departure of Derrick Brown, B.J. Raymond, and C.J. Anderson.  Xavier's backcourt features 6-5 junior guard Dante Jackson, who averaged 6.5 ppg and 2.7 apg, but is capable of doing a lot more.  So is his backcourt-mate, 6-0 soph Terrell Holloway (5.5 ppg), but he needs to really improve his 2.2/1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio.  But the star among the guards is sure to be Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford, a 6-4 sophomore who averaged almost 10 points and 2.3 assists per contest during his freshman season and, oh, dunked on LeBron James in a now infamous video.  6-foot guard Brad Redford should also sese time thanks to his shooting ability (5.1 ppg, but 45.1% from 3).  In the frontcourt, Mack will need to get a lot out of 6-9 senior Jason Love (6.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg), and two guys who need to work on their foul shooting--6-8 Jamel McLean (4.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 46.5% from the stripe) and 7-0 soph Kenny Frease (5.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 48.4% FTs).  The Musketeers face a typically tough schedule.  They travel to Disney World for the Old Spice Classic where they open with Marquette, then face Creighton or Michigan.  Xavier travels to Kansas State, Butler, and Wake Forest (for the inaugural Skip Prosser Classic), while they host Cincinnati and LSU
.

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Dayton (last NCAA: 2009) Unlike their archrivals, the Flyers have virtually everyone back from their NCAA team, led by electric 6-8 junior F Chris Wright (13.6 ppg), who will challenge for national honors this season.  Brian Gregory will have two guards capable of running his offense as 6-0 senior London Warren (4.1 ppg, 4.4 apg), while earning all-A10 defensive honors) is back and 6-3 senior Rob Lowery (7.5 ppg, 3.4 apg) returns from a knee injury.  6-3 senior SG Marcus Johnson (11.8 ppg) is one of the biggest offensive threats on the team, and that's good as he'll get a lot of looks with team's keying on Wright.  In the frontcourt, 6-10 senior Kurt Huelsman (3.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg) will man the post, but he'll get support from 6-10 junior Devin Searcy and 6-9 frosh Matt Kavanaugh.  6-6 Chris Johnson (6.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and 6-9 soph Luke Fabrizius (4.3 ppg)--a threat both inside outside--are capable of providing support to Wright as well.  The Flyers face a tough schedule, opening with Creighton at home; taking on Georgia Tech at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, visiting potential Puerto Rico opponent George Mason and New Mexico; and hosting another potential opponent in PR, Boston University, and Old Dominion.

I expect the Flyers to make it back to the Tournament this year, this time as A-10 champions.  They'll appear in my final preseason bracket, which I'll release on Monday, November 9.  Several Atlantic 10 teams should be at-large threats this season, so look for more than one team to appear in my projection.

To wrap up this preview, here is my preseason All-A-10 team, featuring the best returning players from last season. 

Preseason All-A-10 Team

Player of the Year: Chris Wright, 6-8 F, Jr. (Dayton)

Remainder of the Team
Kevin Anderson, 6-0 G, Jr. (Richmond)
Rodney Green, 6-5 G, Sr. (La Salle)
Ricky Harris, 6-2 G, Sr. (Massachusetts)
Andrew Nicholson, 6-9 F, So. (St. Bonaventure)


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