Thursday, November 3, 2005

Atlantic-10 Conference Preview


After years of multiple quality teams coming out of the Atlantic 10, last season was somewhat of a down one in the conference. Only two teams, St. Joseph's and George Washington, were in contention for NCAA Tournament berths, but both were on the bubble. GW won the conference tournament, while St. Joe's got left out. GW lost to Georgia Tech in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, while St. Joseph's ended up making a run to the NIT Championship Game before falling to South Carolina. New member Charlotte is coming over from Conference USA, where they made it to the NCAA Tournament only to lose to NC State in the first round. The two NCAA teams from last season will be at the top of the league this season.

Favorites: George Washington is far and away the best team in this league, top to bottom. Several potential all-leaguers reside in the starting lineup. The frontcourt is loaded. Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Mike Hall both put their names into the early-entry pool but pulled out before the deadline. The Colonials are happy they are back. Mensah-Bonsu is extremely athletic and is a good shot blocker. If he develops some more post moves, he could be dominant. Mike Hall is very underrated throughout the nation. He is a tough player who is one of the best rebounders in the conference. Rounding out the frontline is Omar Williams. He is a good defender and is a very viable option on offense. In the backcourt, JR Pinnock should have a huge season. After being the team's sixth man the past two seasons, he is ready to take on a bigger role. He should become the best scorer in the conference due to his ridiculous athleticism. Point guard Carl Elliot is a strong guard that is a very tough on the ball defender. Off the bench, Maureece Rice is a very good scorer that will replace Pinnock in his role as sixth man. LSU transfer Regis Koundija is going to be a tough player to stop off the bench for the Colonials. Charlotte is the obvious next-best team in conference. They have possibly the best player in the league in forward Curtis Withers. He is the most unstoppable player in the league. He could improve to a double-double guy every night out. Combining with him for an excellent inside-outside combo is Oklahoma transfer De'Angelo Alexander. He is going to be a very good scorer for the 49ers. In the backcourt with Alexander is point guard Mitchell Baldwin. He is lightning-fast with the ball, but isn't much of a scorer. Backup Leemire Goldwire is a very good scorer that sees plenty of minutes on the perimeter. Up front, E.J. Drayton is a former sixth man that will start this season. He is going to be one of the best forwards in the league. Chris Nance will round out the starting lineup, but JC transfers Courtney Williams and Antwon Coleman will compete for minutes.

NCAA Hopefuls: With five returning starters as well as four double-figure scorers, Xavier should take the next step into the NCAA Tournament. The deepest frontcourt in the league is lead by forwards Justin Doelmann, Justin Cage, and Brian Thornton. Cage is an excellent defender and a versatile player on offense. Doelmann is a good shooter that is a very heady player. Thornton is one of the best low-post scorers in the league. Coming off the bench is Josh Duncan and Will Caudle. Duncan can do a variety of things in the frontcourt, while Caudle is a low-post option. In the backcourt, Stanley Burrell and Dedrick Finn return. Burrell is one of the best scorers in the conference, while Finn is experienced but inconsistent. Temple returns one of the best all-around players in the nation in point guard Mardy Collins. He is a tough player to stop on offense because of his size and skill. He is also one of the best defenders in the league. Mark Tyndale returns beside Collins. He is an excellent option on offense, and is a good scorer. His shooting could use some work, though. Dustin Salisbery is another double-figure scorer that could have a big year. Down low, Wayne Marshall will man the post, while Antwayne Robinson is the best three-point shooter on the team, and is very athletic.

NIT Candidates: St. Joseph's loses two of their key veterans in Dwayne Jones and Pat Carroll, but return enough to contend for a postseason berth. Guard Dwayne Lee is a good point guard that can pass well and play tough defense. Wing Chet Stachitas is a very good shooter that will get more opportunities to score with gunner Carroll gone. Athletic Abdulai Jalloh should step into the starting lineup. In the frontcourt, Rob Ferguson looks like he could have a breakout season at forward, while Dave Mallon leads a host of players looking to replace Jones down low. Dayton returns a extensive group of players that all played important roles a year ago, led by Monty Scott. Scott is a very good scorer and a solid rebounder that could have a huge year in the A-10. Norman Plummer joins Scott at forward. He should improve his production this season. In the low post, Chris Alvarez will start, but Nick Stafford and James Cripe will see minutes. In the backcourt, Norman Plummer is a good scorer than can put up points in a variety of ways. Point guard Warren Williams is a solid distributor and returns as a starter. Marques Bennett and Jimmy Binnie provide depth. Massachusetts has one of the better low-post scorers in the country in Rashaun Freeman. He is a very good scorer and rebounder and can dominate the conference. Athletic Stephane Lasme joins him in the frontcourt. He is very underrated. The perimeter has a glut of wings that will all play major minutes. Maurice Maxwell is a big-time scorer that likes to get out into the open floor. Art Bowers might have to play the point so the five best players can get on the floor at once. JC transfer Brandon Thomas is going to have an immediate impact. Fordham returns A-10 Rookie of the Year Bryant Dunston, who could be a first-team all-conference player this season. He is a very good scorer, rebounder, and shot blocker. Wings Marcus Stout and Jermaine Anderson are a very good duo. Both are solid scorers and good shooters. Point guard Kevin Anderson needs to improve his scoring. The lone available starting job is going to fought over by returnees Sebastian Greene and Michael Binns. Domenic Osei and Corey McRae will provide depth.

Rounding Out the Pack: Rhode Island returns three starts plus two guys that missed last season due to injury. Point guard Dawan Robinson was out the entire year due to a stress fracture in his foot. He is an excellent player that can take any defender to the basket. He is also a very good defender and one of the best distributors in the conference. Jamaal Wise was also injured last season, but he is back and should give solid production at forward. Parfait Bitee is a solid guard that is a good athlete and should start. Will Daniels and Terrence Mack are productive forwards, while Jon Lucky and Tyrese Sullivan are two more options on the perimeter. LaSalle has one of the more nationally underrated players in forward Steven Smith. He is the best pure scoring forward in the conference. Guards Jermaine Thomas and Darnell Harris provide scoring balance while point guard Tabby Cunningham is a very good passer at the point. Forward Mike St. John joins Smith in the frontcourt. Richmond does not have several players that they had expected to have this season due to a variety of reasons. Forwards Kevin Steenberge and Jermaine Bucknor are a formidable duo. Both can score and rebound with efficiency. Gaston Moliva provides depth up front. On the perimeter, Valparaiso transfer Oumar Sylla and T.J. Paterick will lead the way. Saint Louis is led by its deep perimeter corps. Dwayne Polk is solid point guard. Wings Danny Brown, an athletic scorer, and Luke Meyer, an excellent scorer, return, although Anthony Drejaj and freshman Kevin Lisch are the favorites to start at the guard spots. Forwards Vas'Shun Newborne and Justin Johnson need to improve their numbers, while Ian Vouyoukas should have a big role down. Duquense has a very good inside-outside duo in guard Bryant McAllister, a very good perimeter scorer that can put up points in different ways, and Kieron Achara, a vastly underrated, much improved big man. Forwards DeVario Hudson and Chauncey Duke are solid role players, while Jack Higgins is a good shooter and scorer, but is not up to par defensively. Western Kentucky transfer Ryan Lambert should have a decent impact up front. St. Bonaventure has a long list of players that can play a role. West Virginia transfer Tyler Relph and all-conference player Ahmad Smith will form a good backcourt, while double-figure scorer Wade Dunston and part-time starter Isiah Carson also return on the perimeter. Up front, Patrick Lottin should be healthy and recovered from two surgeries and could have a big year at forward. Michael Lee is another solid option in the frontcourt. Siena transfer Paul Williams could also see minutes on the baseline.

Prediction: After a disappointing season a year ago, when the Atlantic-10 only received one bid to the NCAA Tournament, it should bounce back and have a big year. George Washington is a legit Sweet Sixteen team, while Charlotte also can make a nice run in the NCAA Tournament. Xavier should get an NCAA bid, while Temple will be on the bubble the entire season. Dayton, UMass, and St. Joseph's will also be on the outside looking in come March. In the end, the Atlantic-10 will more than likely receive three bids to the NCAA Tournament: GW, Charlotte, and Xavier. It should be a very exciting and balanced season in the conference, though.

Player of the Year: Mardy Collins, G, Temple

All-Conference Team:
G- Mardy Collins, Temple
F- Bryant Dunston, Fordham
F- RaShaun Freeman, Massachusetts
F- Steven Smith, LaSalle
F- Curtis Withers, Charlotte

Second Team:
G- JR Pinnock, George Washington
G- Stanley Burrell, Xavier
G- Dwayne Lee, St. Joseph's
F- Mike Hall, George Washington
F- Pops Mensah-Bonsu, George Washington

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