Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament Preview

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The Atlantic-10 flew below the radar for much of the season, but they featured a good conference race and one of the most balanced leagues in the country. Six teams finished above .500, two teams finished 8-8, and six teams finished below .500. Xavier and Massachusetts tied for the regular-season title at 13-3, with George Washington finishing two games behind them. The Musketeers won their last eight games, while UMass won nine of their last ten. Look for them to face off in the title game.

Favorites: Xavier came into the year as the favorite to win the Atlantic-10, and they didn’t disappoint. They started only 8-4 overall, and only 3-2 in the conference, but they really played down the stretch, and are in line for an at-large bid. The Musketeers are very efficient offensively, and they take care of the ball. XU is led by an experienced quartet of players. Drew Lavender is a quick point guard, while Stanley Burrell can really stroke it from deep. Justin Doellmann is a versatile forward up front, while Justin Cage can create match-up problems. Josh Duncan may have the most potential of anyone on the team, but he didn’t perform well late in the year. Massachusetts was sort of a mystery team heading into the year. They had four returning starters, but four big-time newcomers and transfers. They meshed well though, and the Minutemen could be in the mix for a bid. UMass is outstanding on the defensive end, and they dominate the glass. That is as a result of their inside tandem of Rashaun Freeman and Stephane Lasme. Freeman is a load to handle offensively, and Lasme might be the best shot-blocker in the country. Gary Forbes is a very good scorer on the wing. James Life can shoot the ball, and Chris Lowe and Tiki Mayben are a terrific two-headed point guard.

Contenders: George Washington won their final five games of the season after losing four in a row to drop out of the conference race. They are led by one of the best backcourts in the conference, Carl Elliot and Maureece Rice. Elliot is an outstanding defender who can shoot the ball and distribute, while Rice is a very explosive scorer. Rob Diggs is the prototypical GW forward—athletic and long. Regis Koundija also fits that mold. Another hot team is Fordham, who has won four in a row heading into the conference tournament. They are led by their terrific inside-outside duo in guard Marcus Stout and forward Bryant Dunston. Stout is a very good scorer, while Dunston can rebound and block shots better than most in the A-10. Sebastian Greene is lanky but athletic. Rhode Island dropped their last three to end the season, but they are a threat. Will Daniels is one of the best frontcourt players in the conference, and Jimmy Baron is one of the best long-range shooters in America. Kahiem Seawright is a banger in the frontcourt.

Sleepers: Temple only went 6-10 in league play, and they are awful defensively and on the glass, but they have the firepower offensively to pull an upset or two. Dionte Christmas and Mark Tyndale combine for almost 40 points per game. Christmas can really fill it up, and has the ability to score in a variety of ways. Tyndale came on very strong towards the end of the season. Guard Dustin Salisbery is another very good player—he can do several things at both ends. Saint Louis was expected to compete for a league title, but they were up and down all year, and finished 8-8. Tommie Liddell is an outstanding shooter and a very good rebounder for his size. Kevin Lisch can do a little of everything; he is also a very good shooter and scorer. Ian Vouyoukas is one of the best post players in the conference.

Prediction: Despite the balance in the league, the Atlantic-10 is going to come down to two teams—Massachusetts and Xavier. Xavier won the lone regular-season meeting, but that was in Ohio. Both teams are very hot, and are peaking at the right time. Massachusetts has the edge down low, with Stephane Lasme and Rashaun Freeman, but Xavier has better and more experienced guard play. Overall, though, I think that XU is just playing too well lately, and will get the W.

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