The past few years, the Atlantic 10 has been a conference of mixed results. Some have offered that it is the closest thing to a 7th major conference, while others refer to it as "The Big East minus good teams". Last season's runs of Xavier (Elite Eight of the NCAAs) and UMass (NIT finals) have this conference looking solid coming into this year. The Atlantic 10 also has it's share of solid coaches; Bobby Lutz, Brian Gregory, Phil Martelli, Rick Majerus, Fran Dunphy, and Sean Miller highlight the list.
The league has seen some of it's stars leave. Charlotte's Leemire Goldwire, Duquesne's Kojo Mensah, Fordham's Bryant Dunston and Marcus Stout, GW's Maureece Rice, LaSalle's Darnell Harris, RIU's Will Daniels and Parfait Bitee, and Temple's Mark Tyndale. But the bigger loses include Dayton's Brian Roberts, Duquesne's Shawn James, UMass's Gary Forbes, and Xavier's trio of Josh Duncan, Drew Lavender, and Stanley Burrell. But as I will highlight in the upcoming capsules, the conference's cupboards are far from bare.
2008-09 Atlantic 10 predictions:
1. Xavier Musketeers
- Xavier is coming off an incredible run in the NCAA tournament last season, including a great come from behind victory against West Virginia in the Regional semis. Although losing it's solid 3 starting seniors, the Muskies are anything but rebuilding. They return 6 key members of their squad, and bring in a highly regarded class led by 7-foot Kenny Frease. The lone question coming into the season will be who will fill in at Point Guard. More than likely, they will start a freshman, Terrell Holloway. He originally committed to Indiana, but due to the instability of their program at the time, he switched his verbal commitment to Xavier. He will be joined in the starting lineup by a group of talented wing players. Senior CJ Anderson, Sophomore Donte Jackson, and Senior BJ Raymond will all get plenty of minutes, and should continue Xavier's success. Anderson and Raymond could land on some conference second all-conference teams. In the post, Junior Derrick Brown, Junior Jason Love, and Frease should more than make up for Duncan's loss. Although his leadership will take a while to replace. Other players that should contribute are Junior Adrion Graves and freshman Mark Lyons. Both are backcourt players.
2. Rhode Island Rams
- This is my surprise team within the A-10. Most will have them lower, but I see good things for this squad. Head Coach Jim Baron returns 2 potential all-conference players in Senior Kahiem Seawright and his son, Senior Jimmy Baron. Joining them will be UConn transfer Ben Eaves. Junior Keith Cothran and Marquis Jones will join Baron in the backcourt. Watch for the improvement of both Junior forward Lamonte Ulmer and Sophomore post player Will Martell. They will help Seawright and Senior Jason Francis down low. The Rams had preseason hopes prior to last season, but failed all season to achieve that level. This year should be a different story.
3. UMass Minutemen
- In Derek Kellogg's first season in Amherst, he inherits a team that was one game away from beating Ohio State for the NIT title. His loses are tough, including Forbes, Brower, and Milligan. That is a total of over 700 rebounds from last season gone. Beacuse of that, look for this team to focus more to a perimeter game. And they have the players to do just that. Chris Lowe and Ricky Harris form the best starting backcourt in the league. Junior Ricky Harris could challenge for the A-10 player of the year. UMass brings in Wake Forest transfer Anthony Gurley to solidify their bench. In the paint, they will try and piece together holdovers Luke Bonner, Tony Gaffney, and newcomers Tyrell Lynch and Travon Wilcher. Unfortunately, if Bonner and Gaffney don't live up to expectations, look for opposing defenses to play zone all game long.
4. St. Joseph's Hawks
- This will be Phil Martelli's 14th season at the helm. If UMass has the best backcourt in the A-10, St. Joe's may have the second best. They should start a 3-guard lineup. Junior PG Darrin Govens, along with wings Garrett Williamson and Senior Tasheed Carr will bring some fun to Philly this year. Possible first team all-conference player Ahmad Nivins will try and bounce back from a less than stellar season last year. Although, despite his step backwards, he still landed on the All A-10 3rd team. Although those players will bring a great deal of skill to their matchups this year, their bench is very unproven. Senior shooting guard Edwin Lashley and Sophomore small forward Idris Hilliard are the only other players that have been tested in college basketball. Martelli brings in 5 freshmen, none of them are considered to be top quality players quite yet.
5. LaSalle Explorers
- This may be another team to watch this year. Most will have them lower in the standings, but Coach Giannini brings a solid team in for this season. Highlighting the returnees is Junior wing Rodney Green. He is one of the best all-around players in the A-10. He is in the top 10 of all returning players in points, rebounds, and assists. He will be joined in the back court with returnees Kyle Griffin, Ruben Guillandeaux, and Darryl Partin. All of which played decent minutes last season. The biggest news may be of the 6-9 transfer from Mississippi State, Vernon Goodridge. Coming out of high school, he was thought of as a 2 year and then NBA type of player. He didn't fit in down in Starksville, so he brings his enormous potential to Philly. He will be joined by last year's starters Paul Johnson, Yves Mbala, and Jerrell Williams (who was on the all-rookie team last year).
6. Temple Owls
- It's Christmas-time all year in Temple. Dionte Christmas is one of the best scorers in all of college basketball. He can shoot, and shoot, and shoot. He will miss his running mate, Mark Tyndale, more than most viewers think however. Otherwise, this team could move up the standings. Temple has a decent post duo in Senior Sergio Olmos and Sophomore Lavoy Allen. Allen could possibly land on many people's All A-10 teams before his career is through. Senior SG Semaj Inge and Junior SG Ryan Brooks help fill out the backcourt along with starting PG Luis Guzman.
7. Dayton Flyers
- Losing a talent like Brian Roberts is huge. Although they will have a healthy Chris Wright (who could be the best player in the conference), losing a player like Roberts is too much to overcome. His leadership, and all-around play was greatly underrated during his 4 years in Dayton. They do have a decent collection of players to play around Wright. Charles Little and Kurt Huelsman will join Wright down low, while Juniors Marcus Johnson and Mickey Perry will join starting PG London Warren in the backcourt. But this team will go as far as Chris Wright takes them.
8. Richmond Spiders
- The turnaround last season was amazing. 4 seasons ago, this program was at a complete low point. In stepped Chris Mooney, and in 3 years has brought credibilty back to Richmond. I do hear some swirlings of possible new sanctions, but until solid evidence is given, I will give proper credit for the turnaround of the Spiders basketball program. Dan Geriot is a player you should get to know. He may be a 1st team all-conference by the end of the year. His play down low will guide them higher in the standings. Kevin Anderson had a very good freshman season, and will only improve this year. He joins David Gonzalves on the wind for a solid 1-2 scoring punch. Swingmen Ryan Butler and Kevin Hovde, along with bigs Jarhon Giddings and Justin Harper add depth to a strong roster that only features one senior of any significance.
9. Charlotte 49ers
- This is a program that hasn't lived up to their play from the years in Conference USA. Lutz continues to bring in talent, but they disappoint each year of late. This year's squad features some solid players, but no one of note. 4 startes do return in Seniors Charlie Coley and Lamont Mack, along with Junior PG DiJuan Harris and all-rookie selection An'Juan Wilderness. Guards Ian Andersen, Charles Dewhurst, and Michael Gerrity will see plenty of playing time as well, but this team doesn't have a go-to guy. If Mack or Coley step up, this team could make a little noise.
10. George Washington Colonials
- Karl Hobbs is trying to bring GW back up to the level it was a few seasons ago. While they do have a couple of solid forwards (Senior Rob Diggs and Junior Damian Hollis), this team just doesn't have the firepower to finish in the upper division. Former Va Tech player Wynton Witherspoon brings depth, and Junior guard Johnny Lee will run the team. Hobbs is searching for a consistent shooter from the outside. Possible Senior Noel Wilmore could fill that void. Hobbs is also needing either Joseph Katuka or Hermann Opoku to take over the Center position. This could be a squad that with some help, could make thge CBI. But more than likely, will be ending their season following the A-10 tourney.
11. St. Louis Billikens
- Coach Majerus is hoping that one Freshman can make a huge difference. That player being Center Brett Thompson. He will start right away for a team that only returns 4 players from last year's team. Lucky for him, 2 of those players form his starting backcourt. Kevin Lisch and Tommie Liddell. Both Lisch and Liddell came to St. Louis together 3 years ago, and have been starters their whole career. However, the rest of the roster will be brand new. This could take awhie for everyone to gell. But with the talent of Lisch and Thompson, they could finish beter than they start.
12. Duquesne Dukes
- No team in the A-10 was hit harder by departures than the Dukes. They lost their top 5 scorers, as well as their leading rebounder and top 2 assist men. They do bring in former Louisville-verbal Melquan Bolding, and team him up with holdovers Damian Saunders (last season's best rookie) and Aaron Jackson. But losing James and Mensah is far to difficult to overcome. Another hardship is the roster doesn't have anyone taller than 6-7. This should be a long season in Pittsburgh for Duquesne.
13. Fordham Rams
- Derek Whittenburg was brought in to instill a winning tradition to the Ram program. Although he had mild success a couple of season's ago, that has gone south with the graduations of Dunston, Greene, and Stout. This may have been the most disappointing team in the league last season, and if that keeps up, look for a new coach in the Bronx for 09-10. Coach Whittenburg has brought in a solid freshman PG in Jio Fontan. But he joins a weak roster led by Junior SG Brenton Butler. Jacob Green and Trey Blue both transfer in from West Virginia. Green could be a player in a year or two. But for now, don't expect anything from Fordham.
14. St. Bonaventure Bonnies
- Another team that loses a lot. 5 of the top 8 scorers are gone. Only D'Lancy Carter and Tyler Benson received more than 13 minutes a game last season. They have 2 transfers coming in. Maurice Thomas from UTEP (who should start right away) and Chris Matthews from Washington State. It may be a long time before this program gets back on it's feet.
The Atlantic-10 is a soild league that could send 9 of it's teams to post season tournaments. I do feel it is a 3 team NCAA conference, with Xavier being a top 25 team all season.