Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, college basketball is back! And so is my second article in this series of conference projections. This one comes a day after the previous one, as a research paper looms that will keep me busy until possibly Friday. So I figured I'd get my readers a fresh, new article to read while they wait. Second in line (although it probably should have been first alphabetically) is the A10. Keep reading for more on this conference, as this week there was nothing about the ACC to address. Well, yet anyways.
Along the way, I encourage questions, comments and criticism, which I will address in the following article. Think of it as a less cool, less interesting, mailbag. Suggestions and requests for other conferences will also be accepted.
Up second is the A10.
How many NCAA tournament teams will the A10 have?
Last season, the A10 sent just three teams to the tournament: Temple, Richmond and Xavier. For most of the season, the top teams in the A10 looked as strong as the top teams from any other conference. However, the league was filled with disappointments. Dayton, the preseason conference favorite, stumbled early and often before a bittersweet NIT championship. Rhode Island fell from its 19-3 start to the season to end up in the NIT. Charlotte looked strong early but stumbled as well, and ended up not making a postseason appearance. However, the league looks deep again this season, with the conference having a shot at anywhere from three to even six teams. The question is, who will stumble early (or late), and who will step up and earn their bid?
Who will prove to be the best returning all-conference player?
In the A10, three of the top contenders return a player who was a member of last season's all conference team: Temple (Lavoy Allen), Dayton (Chris Wright) and Richmond (Kevin Anderson). Those three teams were picked to finish first, third and fourth respectively, with one reason almost surely being the returning stars they have. With each of their teams having big expectations for the upcoming season, which one will excel as the best? Will it be the preseason PoY favorite Allen, will Anderson win the award for the second straight season, or could Wright steal it from both?
Will Duquesne finally return to the NCAA tournament?
The Dukes haven't made a trip to the NCAA tournament since 1977. However, the Dukes have a chance of changing that this season. They have been picked to finish seventh in the conference, which may not be reason for hope, but there are some positives for Duquesne. The Dukes, coming off of a disappointing 16-16 season that ended in the first round of the CBI tournament, return one of the best players in the conference. Damian Saunders, the Defensive PoY last year in the A10, is an all conference selection entering the season, and could possibly help carry the Dukes. While the NIT is a more likely destination for the Dukes, the A10 will surely provide plenty of opportunities for Duquesne to add to their tournament resume and maybe steal a bid.
My Projected Rankings:
1) Temple. Temple, the defending A-10 tournament champions, returns three starters, two of those being key players. Lavoy Allen is the previously mentioned all-A10 selection, but the true leader of this team is Juan Fernandez. Last season as a sophomore point guard, Fernandez dished out 3.6 assists per game compared to only 1.9 turnovers per game, and hit a conference-leading 45.3 percent of his three point attempts. Fernandez is a year older and a year wiser, so I expect him to do big things at point guard this season. The rest of Temple is talented as well, which is why I like them to repeat as A10 champions.
2) Richmond. The Spiders heading into the season seem to be an interesting team. They're fairly small, but still project to be one of the better defensive teams in the country. Kevin Smith may not be the best of shooters, but last season he did well in shutting down just about every opposing player he matched up against, while Darrius Garrett has begun to emerge as a shot blocking threat. The play of Richmond's team defense as a whole, combined with returning A10 PoY Kevin Anderson, should make the Spiders a fairly balanced team. I think they'll be able to defend and shoot well enough to overcome their lack of size, and Anderson will lead this team to a second place finish in the deep A10.
3) Xavier. Gone is Jordan Crawford, but Xavier returns one player who emerged as a star in the making last season: Tu (formerly Terrell) Holloway. Holloway, as a sophomore point guard last season, averaged 12.1 points and 3.9 assists per game. With Crawford gone, Holloway needs to step up to not only fill the scoring void created, but to also find other teammates to get the ball to. It's a big task, but Holloway certainly seems up to the task of filling Crawford's shoes; he was selected to the all-conference first team entering this season. If Holloway plays like expected, this Xavier team (whose only other major loss was of their starting center) looks prime to make another tournament run. Finishing third in the A10 would by no means be a bad thing for Xavier.
4) Dayton. Let's start by getting the negatives out of the way: gone are seven players who graduated, including almost all of their frontcourt; the most experienced returning player at guard started only ten games last season. However, the list of the downside to Dayton is short compared to the upside. The Flyers return a combo up front that could be one of the best in the conference. Joining expected A10 PoY candidate Chris Wright is small forward Chris Johnson. As a sophomore last season, Johnson shot 34.9 percent from behind the arc while averaging 11.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Joining those two will be an excellent recruiting class and some young players who were on the roster last season who could provide some excitement for the Flyers. The strength Wright and Johnson can only carry this team so far though. A fourth place finish and a tournament bid are what I see in the future for the Flyers.
5) Charlotte. The 49ers (not those underachievers from California, the underachievers from North Carolina) return four starters from a team that started last season off well. However, the team faded fast, and a change was made at head coach. This season, I expect Charlotte to play strong all year round. This team is lead by possible the best front court in the conference. Former transfer Shamari Spears averaged 16.0 and 5.9 rebounds per game in his first A10 season, while Chris Braswell proved to be one of the best freshmen in the conference and is expected to average a double-double this season, and center Phil Jones emerged as a defensive force and has already stepped up the scoring this season with 25 ppg thru two games. Although the 49ers sit at 1-1 right now, I believe that behind their talented front court, they can step it up and make a push to fifth in the conference, with a NIT bid waiting for them.
6) Rhode Island. Gone is leading scorer from last season Keith Cochran, but the talent is still there for the Rams. Expected to fill the void left by Cochran are Delroy James, who averaged 13.2 points per game last season and scored 20 against Pitt to open the season, and Akeem Richmond, who led the team in three-point percentage (38.8 percent) last season and added 16 points against Pitt. Defense was a weakness last season for the Rams, despite the fact that they led the conference in blocked shots per game. Their three returning shot blockers return, and if the extra year of experience can help, expect the shot blocking to finally be pair with some passable defense. If it is, the Rams should finish around sixth, and could be sitting on the bubble for a tournament bid again. If not, they could fall a couple spots and wind up sitting on even the NIT bubble. I believe the Rams are too talented to make the same mistake twice, so I think they'll patch up that defense and finish sixth, possibly better.
7) Duquesne. The Dukes were picked seventh in the A10 media rankings, and I'm taking them to finish seventh in mine. If there weren't so many questions surrounding St. Louis (keep reading for more on that), I'd probably knock them down a spot, but the Dukes are a talented team. Damian Saunders is without a doubt one of the best players in the conference, and the leader of this team. If his supporting cast can step up (mainly guard Bill Clark, who led the team in three pointers made but only shot 27.9 percent from behind the arc), this team could very well make some noise in the conference. If not, Saunders' efforts could go to waste as the Dukes slip to a second straight CBI tournament or worse.
8) George Washington. The Colonials return four of their five starters from last season, including second team all-A10 selection Lasan Kromah. Tony Taylor also returns as a junior point guard and leader of this team. The only returning player to average over 30 minutes per game, Taylor averaged 9.4 points, 4.2 assists, 3 rebounds and just 1.6 turnovers per game last season as a sophomore. This season, Taylor, along with Kromah, is expected to step up as true leaders of a team that adds plenty of incoming young talent. George Washington probably won't make the tournament, but a trip to the NIT and an eighth place finish will be the marks of a good season for a rebuilding program.
9) La Salle. Last season went down the drain for the Explorers as three of their starting seniors missed large chunks of time with injuries. Guard Ruben Guillandeux is returning for a fifth season, and will join sophomore center Aaric Murray (who is already drawing NBA interest) as the leaders of this team. Gone is their true leader, point guard Rodney Green, who lead the team in both points and assists per game. However, La Salle has two incoming freshmen point guards that were ranked in the top 35 at their position, Tyreek Duren and Sam Mills. Murray, a possible first round pick next season, will likely shoulder the load for this Explorers team, who should leap up a couple of spots from the basement of the A10 to ninth. The talent of Murray, combined with the youth and leadership this team has as well as St Louis' problems (again, keep reading) are why I'm picking them ninth.
10) St. Louis. The two star players of this team, Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed, have been suspended indefinitely amid sexual assault allegations. Now one might suggest that two players don't make a team, but most of the Billikins offense ran through these two. Coupled to make the suspension worse is the loss of three players by St. Louis who were great role players and contributed well to this team. Now, St. Louis is without its two stars and three players who helped this team win in ways the stat sheet didn't show. And all of you doubters looking for further justification, look no further than the Billikins' opening game: a 64-62 loss at the hands of...Austin Peay? For a program that is supposed to be competing for a tournament bid, things look bad. So for now, given the current status of Mitchell and Reed, and considering how the season started, I'm putting St. Louis at tenth.
11) Massachusetts. UMass is a rebuilding program that is doing all of the right things. This team has experienced players returning who can help mentor the incoming young players. Although UMass loses the third leading scorer in school history in Ricky Harris, the Minutemen showed real signs of improvement last season with wins against Rhode Island and Charlotte and a moral victory against Richmond. The team has started off this season 1-0, and looks to be on the right track. However, progress is usually slow coming, and in a talented A10, the Minutemen won't climb much higher than around eleventh this season. They should focus on grooming the young talent, and looking for things to build on in the upcoming seasons.
12) Saint Joseph's. A young team that realistically won't do much, if anything, during the upcoming season. In the talented A10, a team that is young, inexperienced and lacks talent like Saint Joseph's shouldn't expect much. The factor that I think keeps the Hawk's out of the basement of the A10 is that they are a deeper team than the two teams behind them, who are lead by a star without much supporting cast.
13) St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies are lead by Andrew Nicholson, who was selected to both the all-conference and all-defensive A10 teams. Nicholson is a talented player, averaging 24 points and 9 rebounds per game already this season. However, his surrounding talent is extremely lacking, and the Bonnies very likely won't repeat last season's A10 tournament quarterfinal appearance. Instead, they'll be in a battle to avoid not finishing last. With Nicholson, I like their chances in that area.
14. Fordham. Last season, Fordham finished 2-26 without a conference win. This season doesn't bode much better, as the Rams don't return very much talent. The incoming recruits are fairly promising, a few seasons down the line that is. Fordham fans, don't expect this team to do much better than they did last year, as this most likely will be the second straight year the Rams bring up the rear in the A10.
there you have it. My thoughts on the A10. Questions, comments or concerns?
Leave them in the comments.
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