ATLANTIC TEN CONFERENCE PREVIEW
-1. XAVIER. The Musketeers were 8-8 in league play last year, but so were four other teams and when all the tiebreakers were said and done they wound up finishing 10th in the conference. Thats not what Xavier fans remember though. They remember how they won four games in four days to win the Atlantic Ten Tournament, and then went on to take Gonzaga to the wall in the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers return the core of last years team. Guard Stanley Burrell
and forwards Justin Doellman
and Justin Cage
are all big time players who averaged in double figures a season ago. Drew Lavender
, a transfer from Oklahoma, will also be a major asset to the backcourt. Forward Derrick Brown
and guard Adrion Graves (both freshman) will be big contributors off the bench as well. This is a very solid team, but if they have a weakness it is in the post. The only thing that really separates them from being a solid first/second round NCAA Tournament team from being a potential top 15 team is the lack of an effective big man. Brandon Cole
, who has suffered from injuries since, but is now healthy, will really need to step up if this team wants to do something in March. They have another big man in JUCO transfer Charles Bronson, but neither of those guys are really proven yet. If one or both could prove themselves, the Musketeers will probably dominate the Atlantic Ten and then make some real noise in March. Then again, there are dozens of teams that are just one player away from being able to say that as well.
-2. MASSACHUSETTS. The Minutemen really struggled down the stretch last season, but they return four starters to the lineup this year, including center Rashaun Freeman
, who averaged 13.6ppg and 9.3rpg last year. Forward Stephane Lasme
was also big in the paint and rounds out one of the best frontcourts in the league. Guard James Life also averaged in double figures and was a terrific outside shooter a season ago. In addition to returning four starters, they also have three transfer players that are eligible for action this season. Etienne Brower, Luke Bonner and Gary Forbes
are all big men who will add to the Minutemens already impressive front court. Even though they were just 8-8 in the league a season ago and really struggled down the stretch, this team is loaded this year and has the potential to make a run at an NCAA Tournament spot.
-3. CHARLOTTE. A lot was expected out of the 49ers last year, and although they finished second, they lost five conference games and failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, which was a huge underachievement for a team that many expected to be in the top 25 for most of the season. They do have one of the strongest backcourts in the country with DeAngelo Alexander
(17ppg, 6rpg) and Leemire Goldwire (13.4ppg). JUCO transfer Sean Phaler will also be a big contributor to the guard position. They are unproven in the front court though, especially with the loss of Curtis Withers
. Freshman forward David Booker was one of the best high school players in Mississippi a year ago and he could see significant minutes this year despite being a freshman. If he can step up then Charlotte could be a very dangerous team. Afterall, Charlotte is a team that has underachieved when they had high expectations, but yet overachieved when expectations were low. With that in mind, the fact that they are not on anyones radar could be in their favor.
-4. SAINT LOUIS. The Billikens were a modest 16-13 overall last year and 10-6 in league play. They should be better this year with four starters returning. They were one of the best defensive teams in the country last year and that will once again be a major asset for them this year. They have an excellent perimeter game with the three guard tandem of Ian Vouyoukas
, Kevin Lisch and Tommie Liddell
, all of which averaged in double figures last season and can shoot well from the outside. Inconsistency was a problem last year, and has been ever since head coach Brad Soderberg arrived, but they did show some signs of being a very good team a year ago. Hopefully now that theyre more experienced they can play at a higher level on a more consistent basis. If they have a weakness, its the lack of experience in the post.
-5. SAINT JOSEPHS. The Hawks lost four starters from last years team and are extremely young this year with five freshmen joining the squad. This may be higher than where most people are projecting them, but the Hawks have had a way of overachieving lately. After looking impressive against a brutal schedule out of conference last year, the Hawks got off to a very poor start in conference play, but finished strong by winning eight straight before losing in the Atlantic Ten Championship game in the final seconds. It wont be easy for them to repeat that success, but of the five freshmen, three (Garret Williamson, Darrin Govens and D.J. Rivera were on the Pennsylvania All State team, Jawan Carter was player of the year in Delaware, and Rockwell Moody was an all state player in Virginia. The talent is there for this to one day be a very successful class. It may be somewhat of a rocky start this year, but dont be surprised if the Hawks are better than expected. Forward Rob Ferguson averaged in double figures last year and is the only returning starter.
-6. LA SALLE. This may be hard for Atlantic Ten fans to believe, but La Salle isnt terrible anymore. The loss of Steven Smith
will definitely hurt them, but Coach John Giannini has five newcomers which bring more promise with them than any Explorer recruiting class has in a long time. They finished third in the standings last year, which was the highest since the conference was formed and thats what helped them with their recruiting. Dont be surprised to see some of the new guys in the starting lineup. The Explorers also have three starters coming back from last years team, including guard Darnell Harris, who averaged 12.6ppg last season. All and all the Explorers are young and inexperienced, but they surpassed all expectations last year and could easily do the same this year, even without Steven Smith
-7. FORDHAM. The Rams havent had a winning season since 1992, and won just three games during the 2002-03 season, but they have improved each and every year under Dereck Wittenberg and that is likely to continue this year. Four starters are back from last years team and they should benefit from that experience. Forward Bryant Dunston
is a huge asset underneath and averaged 16.1ppg and 7.6rpg last year. Guard Marcus Stout is also a big time player who averaged 13ppg last year. They did lose guard Jermaine Anderson, who was one of their leading scorers last year, but they still appear to be a better all around team. One of the things they didnt do well as a team last year was rebound. If they can step up their front court they will be a much more dangerous team.
-8. GEORGE WASHINGTON. The Colonials were unbeaten in conference play during the regular season, but fell in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. They were still ranked in the top ten and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament though. However, a very weak out of conference schedule resulted in them getting a #8 seed despite only having two losses. Their schedule isnt a whole lot tougher this year and that will once again be a factor as far as seeding goes come March. They will also have to rebuild this year. Four of their starters are gone and they really only have two high contributing players from last year back in guards Carl Elliot and Maureece Rice
, both of whom averaged in double figures last season. They will still look to play an up-tempo type game and rely on their athleticism, but when a team plays that style and lacks experience, they also tend to be inconsistent. Theyll probably lose several games that most would expect them to win.
-9. DAYTON. The Flyers are a hard team to figure out. They did suffer through some injuries last year, but after looking very impressive early in the season they completely melted down right around Christmas time, lost seven straight, and then never really recovered after that. When you look at their lineup, it doesnt make sense. They do have talent in potential, but it was only evident on a few occasions last season. Four starters return, including guard Brian Roberts
who averaged 16ppg a season ago. Forwards Monty Scott and Norman Plummer also return to the lineup after averaging double figures a season ago. With the experience and talent they have I wouldnt be surprised if they finish toward the top of the league, but theyll really have to step up more than they did last year in order for that to happen.
-10. TEMPLE. The Owls will have to find a way to replace their top two players from a season ago. They do have three solid players in guard Dustin Salisbery
, forward Mark Tyndale
and center Wayne Marshall, all of whom were starters last year, but they just dont appear to have the horses to run with the teams at the top of the league. Fran Dunphy takes over as head coach and he will continue to preach defense as a major focal point for this team just as John Chaney
did. They will also be very disciplined on offense. Dunphy is a coach that can build the Owls back up to being one of the best in the league, but I dont see it happening this season.
-11. RICHMOND. Coach Chris Mooney won 13 games in his first season last year and ended up going 6-10 in conference play, which is much better than most expected given the personnel he had. This season, seven freshman join the roster, so we may see a lot of new faces. Four starters are also back from a season ago, but none of them were major scoring threats. The Spiders were about as poor a shooting team as exists in the country, and that is one thing that will have to change if they want more wins this year. They do run the Princeton Style offense and play smothering defense, and that enables them to stay close in a lot of games. They also dont go to their bench much, so it will be interesting to see if any of the freshman end up in the starting lineup this year.
-12. RHODE ISLAND. The Rams seem to be chronically in or below the middle of the pack, and this year looks to be no different. Two starters return to the lineup in forward Will Daniels
and guard Jimmy Baron. Daniels was the most productive offensive player last year at 11ppg and 5.6rpg. Other than that, they arent particularly strong in any other areas, but they arent particularly weak either. They really struggled down the stretch last year, which is discouraging as well. They just dont seem to have what it takes to compete for the title.
-13. SAINT BONAVENTURE. The Bonnies won just two conference games last year. They really havent recovered since the 2002-03 season when they were slapped with probation and became a national embarrassment when they opted to not play their final two games of the season that year. They do have two decent players in forward Michael Lee and center Paul Williams. Both rebounded well and averaged in double figures last season. They do have two JUCO transfers in Jermaine Calvin and Zarryon Fereti who they are hoping will add some experience to the backcourt. It looks as though wins will once again be difficult to come by.
-14. DUQUESNE. The biggest story surrounding the Dukes was a senseless and apparent random shooting that took place in the offseason. Five Duquesne players were shot and injured coming out of a campus dance. None were killed, but Stuard Baldonado was hospitalized for several weeks and Sam Ashaolu was in serious condition for several weeks. As far as I know Baldonado will not play this season and it is questionable whether or not Ashaolu will ever be able to physically play the game again. They won just one game a season ago, and after a coaching change, they practically had an entire lineup change. Ron Everhart takes over as head coach and only two players are back from a season ago. They have five JUCO transfers and five freshman on campus this year. Center Kieron Achara is also back from an injury and he will be a big presence underneath. The most important thing, though, is for all the players who were shooting victims to make a full recovery.
RANDOM ORDER OF FINISH
-For those that missed my first blog entry, each conference preview will also include a random order of finish. It sounds just like what it is. Teams are drawn at random and placed in order. The purpose for this is to demonstrate that at the end of the season, generally every single major and minor media preseason preview (including my own) isnt all that more accurate than simply randomly picking the teams.
2. George Washington
4. Rhode Island
5. Saint Louis
9. Saint Josephs
12. La Salle
13. Saint Bonaventure
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