2001-02 Atlantic 10 Conference Preview
by Lon Samuelson
Many may mistake the Atlantic-10 (once the A-11, and now the A-12 w/former Colonial power Richmond) for a revolving door in coaching ranks. More then half of the league has someone new at the helm (LaSalle, GWU, URI, Saint Bonaventure, Duquesne, Xavier, and Massachusetts). With all the infusion of new blood, it’s the mainstays (St. Joe’s Phil Martelli and Temple’s John Chaney) that will continue their dominance.
1. St. Joseph’s: Despite being upset versus Eastern Washington in the opening game of the 2001 tournament, Phil Martelli’s Hawks are led by one of the best backcourts in the nation. Marvin O’Connor and Jameer Nelson and are primed to win the A-10. Projected to be a Final Four sleeper.
2.Temple: Coach Chaney’s teams continue to play the hardest schedule in the nation as shown by their two losses in the IKON Classic to Top 10 teams Florida and Maryland. The senior leadership of center Kevin Lyde and Lynn Greer will keep them in the hunt for the A-10 crown and make them a tough opponent in the Big Dance.
3. Massachusetts: The Minutemen look to be revitalized by former Villanova coach Steve Lapas after posting a 15-15 campaign last year. The frontcourt duo of 6-10 Kitwana Rhymer and 6-11 Micah Brand could propel them back to at least an NIT bid.
4. Fordham: Da boys from da Bronx will have a new backcourt in Providence transfer Mark Jarrel-Wright and JuCo transfer “Smoosh” Parker. Coupled with a solid front line tandem of senior center Duke Freeman-McKinney and sophomore PF Jeff McMillian, Bob Hills’ guys are a dark horse to win the A-10 title.
5. St. Bonaventure: Coach Jan Van Breda Kolff leaves Pepperdine (located in lovely Malibu, California) for snowy Olean, New York. Senior guard JR Bremer leads the Bonnies as they hope to get back to post-season play after a first-round lost in last year’s NIT.
6. Rhode Island: Meet the new coach; he’s the same as the old coach – from St. Bonaventure, that is. Coach Jim Barron takes over a Ram program that lost 2 key players to poor grades (Zach Marbury and Tavoris Bell) and has not been the same since Lamar Odom entered the NBA draft. A big overhaul is expected over the next few seasons as senior guard Dinno Daniels looks to keep the team competitive.
1. Xavier: The Musketeers new head coach Thad Matta comes into a good situation in Cincy with one of the top power forwards in the nation, junior David West. Combined with the solid guard play of Romain Sato, look for the X-men to battle for the A-10 title and avenge last year’s first-round tourney loss.
2. Dayton: Coach Oliver Parnell loses only one starter, Tony Stanley, from a squad that fell short of the NIT Final Four. Sophomore center Keith Waleskowski will be looked upon to help the Flyers return to a post-season tournament.
3. LaSalle: The Explorers bid adieu to long-time head coach Speedy Morris and say hello to former Maryland assistant Billy Hahn. Sr. Rasul Butler will contend for the national scoring title and A-10 Conference player-of-the-year award. A .500 record could be within reach.
4. Richmond: The Spiders, A-10 newcomers formerly of the Colonial Conference, could have a tough go at it in their inaugural season. Coach John Beilein’s squad is lead by senior. forward Scott Ungere and junior guard Reggie Brown.
5. Duquesne: Former Nebraska and Robert Morris head coach Danny Nee will try to get the Dukes out of the A-10 basement. 6-10 Freshman Simplice Njoya could be a very “Njoyable” player and an A-10 rookie-of-the-year candidate.
6. George Washington: The Colonials will start anew without leading scorer Val Brown (applied early for NBA, undrafted) and with former UConn assistant coach Karl Hobbs manning the sidelines. Junior guard Chris Monroe will counted on heavily for scoring and leadership, being the only returnee from last years’ team.
The backcourt of Nelson and O’Connor has what it takes to help the St. Joseph’s Hawks make another strong run in the NCAA Tourney. O’connor is the pick for A-10 player of the year and Xavier’s David West is a close second. Look for Fordham to be on the way up and UMass to struggle under Coach Lappas.