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Atlantic 10 Notebook

February 25, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Ten Notebook

by David Francis

The Atlantic 10 Conference this year is reminiscent of that old Clint Eastwood movie, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Not the greatest movie ever made, but still pretty darn entertaining.

After sending only one team to the NCAA tournament last year for the first time since 1989-1990, it looks like the Atlantic 10 will send three this year. No. 11 Xavier (9-1 in the conference) and almost-ranked Dayton (10-1 in the conference) are both 18-4, and are battling for the top spot in the conference’s West Division. Dayton has defeated Cincinnati, and Xavier has wins over Purdue and Creighton. Both of these teams will be in the field of 64 come March barring a catastrophic collapse late in the season.

Senior David West continues to be a dominant force for Xavier, developing into a bona fide superstar and team leader over the course of the season. He, along with Junior Romain Sato, leads Xavier in virtually every statistical category.

Dayton is not without a few big names of its own. Brooks Hall, Ramod Marshall, and Keith Waleskowski have emerged as forces on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. They average a combined 36 points/game and have 53 steals between them.

St. Joseph’s has been in and out of the rankings this season, and currently find themselves just out of the top 25. St. Joe’s is 18-4 (8-3 in the conference) and is first in the Atlantic 10’s Eastern Division. Delonte West and Pat Carroll have established themselves as offensive threats, and Dewayne Jones has become a dominant force in the paint. A strong finish might get them into the tournament.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season is Rhode Island. The worst team in the conference for the last three seasons, the Rams now find themselves 7-4 in the Atlantic 10’s Eastern Division (just one game behind St. Joe’s) and 15-7 overall.

While a long shot, it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility that the Rams might make the NCAA tournament. Even if they don’t get invited to the Big Dance, it’s almost assured that they’ll be playing in the NIT. Jim Baron, in his second season at Rhode Island, has proved that his success at St. Francis and St. Bonaventure was not a fluke. Making Baron’s accomplishments with the Rams even more impressive is the fact that he’s winning with the previous coach’s players. Three of his five starters are seniors who were recruited by the previous coach, Jerry DeGregorio. Once Baron gets in his own recruits, no one should be surprised when Rhode Island is ranked in the top 25 consistently. You heard it here first.

Now for the bad.

St. Bonaventure, Richmond, LaSalle, and George Washington are simply middle of the road teams. None of them have any shot at making the NCAA tournament. Even the NIT is a long shot. They’ve managed to win a few conference games and scare the boys at the top every once in a while, but all in all they just aren’t good teams. Probably most surprising of all is George Washington’s continued struggles. Ever since Mike Jarvis left a few years back fro St. John’s, GW has lacked team chemistry and has had trouble landing the big recruits. They are dangerously close to becoming one of the ugly.

Speaking of the ugly, what has happened to Temple? They’re 8-13 overall and 5-5 in the conference, better than a few of the teams in the bad category, but Temple is Temple and I expect more. They have what I consider to be one of the better coaches in Division I basketball, John Chaney. However, their season has been a total disappointment with the exception of a win over Indiana, their one bright spot.

I don’t understand why Temple can’t seem to get it together. It seems like every few years Temple has a team that is supposed to go places in the tournament, but they always fall short of expectations. They’ve got a great coach, an OK campus in an OK city, and Chaney, but year after year they end up at home early. This year the NIT is an impossibility. Here’s hoping that next year Temple gets its act together, if for no other reason that Chaney’s time is limited and he’s running out of chances to win it all.

Oh, and then there’s UMass, Duquesne, and Fordham, who are horrible. They have nowhere to go but up. UMass is another team I can’t seem to get my mind around, but that’s a story for another column.

So that’s the state of the Atlantic 10 conference a mere two weeks from this season’s close. It’s not the ACC, but it is entertaining. And who knows, no one expected The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly to be as successful as it was. Maybe Dayton or Xavier or St. Joe’s will surprise everyone and ride off into the sunset like my man Clint Eastwood.


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