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A-10 Conference Preview

November 4, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments




Atlantic-10 Conference Preview

by Stephen Dahl and Jonathan Scherner

Atlantic 10 basketball is back ladies and gentleman. After a not so stellar season nationally during the 2001-2002 season, the A-10 re-introduced itself to the nation during the 2002-2003 season. With three teams in last year’s NCAA tournament and all three teams being ranked in both the coaches and AP poll, it’s setting itself up to be a pretty nice season.

With every good comes a bad. The bad is in the form of St. Bonaventure University. A great year in Atlantic-10 basketball was overshadowed at the end of the season by a scandal involving welding, their head coach, president and athletic director. The Bonnies were not allowed to participate in the conference tournament and did not complete their season.

With the scandals behind the A-10, there’s plenty to watch for this season. The conference hosts two preseason All-American candidates in St. Joseph’s Jameer Nelson and Xavier Romain Sato. The conference also features a new logo, which could it be foreshadowing to the future. Both Xavier and Dayton have been talked as replacements for the Big East as well as new teams entering the conference and old teams being booted. So you see the logo may be saying that the future looks bright, as the A-10 re-introduces itself as a major conference and potentially a national player.

All-Conference Awards:

All-Conference Team:
Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph’s
Romain Sato, Xavier
Marques Green, St. Bonaventure
Delonte West, St. Joseph’s
Gary Neal, LaSalle

Player of The Year:
Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph’s

Freshman of the Year:
Ricky Lucas, George Washington

Coach of the Year:
Billy Hahn, LaSalle

Most Underrated:
Keith Waleskowski, Dayton

Coach on the Hot Seat:
Steve Lappas, Massachusetts

Atlantic 10 East

St. Joseph’s Hawks (23-7, 12-4, A-10 East: 1st place)

Projected Starters:
Jameer Nelson G (Sr. 6-0, 190)
Tyrone Barley G (Sr. 6-1, 185)
Delonte West G (Jr. 6-4, 180)
Pat Carroll F (Jr. 6-5, 190)
Robert Ferguson F (Fr. 6-8, 210)

Key Losses:
The Hawks will miss center Alexandre Sazonov dearly. Despite the fact that Sazonov only averaged 3.4 points per game, he provided the Hawks with a good match up for the taller and bulkier forwards in the Atlantic 10. See below for who will step up.

Newcomers:
St. Joe’s will look towards incoming freshman Robert Ferguson to produce early. Head Coach Phil Martelli describes the Florida 5A Player of the Year, as “the kind of forward we’ve never had.” Martelli means it in the best way, we swear. Ferguson can shoot, defend and grab boards well. The Hawks will need him to spark a rather weak scoring frontcourt. Forward Arvydas Lidzius and Center Artur Surov, barring a catastrophe, will probably not see much if any time at all this year.

Key Injuries:
Delonte West continues to bloom as the leader for next year’s team when Nelson departs. What could hinder West’s ascent to team leader is a stress fracture in his right fibula that he experienced last season and gave him trouble throughout. What West will need is a healthy junior year to get him mentioned amongst the league’s elite.

Schedule:
Their schedule a year ago is one of the reasons the Hawks were an easy selection for the tournament. This year, it’s all downhill after their opener against Gonzaga in the Coaches vs. Cancer classic. Besides the traditional Big 5 opponents, the Hawks will face the likes of California, Boston College and (gasp) Fairfield.

Summary:
St Joe’s is a preseason top twenty team for good reason. With a Preseason All-American in Jameer Nelson and a Robin to his Batman in Delonte West, there’s no reason why this team shouldn’t play into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Throw in Pat Carroll who, when left open can hit it from anywhere on the court, and they should be looking at a 20-win season and 1st place in the A-10 East. Now only if we could get rid of that stupid mascot that flaps its wings all game.

Temple Owls (18-16, 10-6, A-10 East: T-2nd)

Projected Starters:
David Hawkins G (Sr. 6-4, 215)
Maurice Collins G (So. 6-5, 205)
Nehemiah Ingram F (Jr. 6-8, 250)
Antywane Robinson F (So. 6-8, 210)
Keith Butler C (So. 7-0, 250)

Key Losses:
The Owls took a hit losing a starter and a formidable backup. Alex Wesby, who’s been at Temple for what seems like the past decade, has finally moved on. Wesby gave Temple a wider presence inside, making his opponents really have to fight him for position. Also gone is Brian Polk. Polk, who almost single-handedly put Temple in the dance last year, left school for “the NBA Draft.” We use quotes here because to be completely honest, Polk would have been ineligible to play due to academic reasons.

Newcomers:
John Chaney has brought in five new faces to the Temple program. Four of them will likely not get very much playing time. On the other hand, freshman guard Mario Taybron will see some time. As the heir apparent to Hawkins, Taybron created as well as dished to teammates in high school and Chaney would like to start grooming him for an easy transition next year.

Schedule:
C’mon it’s Temple, they’re known for their brutal non-conference schedules. This doesn’t change too much, except for the fact that Temple is plays more at home than in the past. The Owls will lead the season off with a 12:01 a.m. (not a misprint) game against Villanova at home. They’ll also get a tough Illinois team to come to Philadelphia. Temple will travel to Arizona State and Indiana to round out their schedule.

Summary:
Many people think that the Owls have enough talent to get back to the tournament. Those are many people. The Owls are one year away from getting back to the field of 65. They should have a solid conference season and give St. Joe’s enough of a scare in the A-10 East. Once again, their non-conference schedule will get the best of them. Maybe if Drexel appeared more than once on their schedule, oh say 7 times, than the Owls could have enough wins to make the tourney.

Rhode Island Rams (19-12, 10-6, A-10 East: T-2nd)

Projected Starters:
Brian Woodward G (Sr. 6-3, 180)
Dawan Robinson G (Jr. 6-2, 185)
Dustin Hellenga F (Jr. 6-4, 210)
Jamaal Wise F (Jr. 6-5, 190)
Jon Clark C (So. 6-9, 220)

Key Losses:
The Rams lost two starters from last year including second leading scorer in Lazare Adingono. His presence inside will be missed, but may not be missed for very long (see newcomers). Howard Smith is also gone from the guard position. He was important in getting his fellow teammates the ball.

Newcomers:
The one newcomer that all of Kingston is salivating over is junior forward transfer Scott Hazelton. Hazelton, who will likely take over Wise’s spot in the rotation when he becomes eligible mid-season, is a former UConn product and McDonald’s All-American. Despite his credentials out of high school, he never quite fit in with the Huskies. When he is eligible, he could become the frontcourt scoring force the Rhode Island is looking for. Head Coach Jim Baron also added another transfer and freshman guard to round out the bench.

Schedule:
Rhode Island does not feature one of the best non-conference schedules in the league. The marquee game is at Syracuse in late November. Besides that, they’ll play state-rival Providence at home for the first time in nearly 30 years. One more game to look towards is against Charlotte before Christmas. If the Rams aren’t careful, Charlotte could steal one at the Ryan Center.

Summary:
Making it to the NIT’s 2nd round was a large step for Jim Baron and company. This team is improved, but NIT is likely on the horizon again. The Rams just missed the NCAA’s last year and will probably do the same again, but who knows, if the Rams win a couple of the key games in their non-conference schedule before Hazelton is eligible, maybe, just maybe the A-10 will have a fourth team in the dance.

Massachusetts Minutemen (11-18, 6-10, A-10 East: 4th)

Projected Starters:
Anthony Anderson G (Sr. 5-11, 170)
Art Bowers G (Fr. 6-4, 190)
Rashaun Freeman F (So. 6-9, 255)
Jeff Viggiano F (So. 6-6, 215)
Gabe Lee C (Jr. 6-9, 210)

Key Losses:
Amherst will miss Jackie Rogers dearly. Not because he was a fantastic player, but he was the only one who was able to score consistently last year. Micah Brand also is gone from last year’s team. Brand who has finally graduated after what seemed like just short of a decade was one of the more effective interior players for Massachusetts.

Newcomers:
The Minutemen have a boat load of new faces on this year’s roster. Freshman Art Bowers will be in the lineup right off the bat. Bowers, who is the crown jewel of Head Coach Steve Lappas’ class, will need to help out right away. Rashaun Freeman maybe a sophomore, but plays his first year after sitting out as a non-qualifier his freshman year. Freeman will bring some size and muscle to a thin frontcourt. Also worth mentioning for UMass are, juco transfer Chris Chadwick and freshman Maurice Maxwell. Chadwick, who is Lappas’ first ever juco recruit will need to make up for scoring that was lost from last year’s graduating class. Maxwell is much the same as Chadwick except he can dish the ball a little bit better. Maxwell averaged 12 assists per game last year in high school.

Schedule:
There isn’t much to talk about here as far as a non-conference schedule. UMass will travel to UConn at the end of December..and that’s about it for notables. They will participate in the Preseason NIT, but will not face a formidable opponent unless they reach the semifinals where they’ll play Bobby Knight and Texas Tech.

Summary:
For a coach like Steve Lappas to be on the hot seat, he’s banking on his newcomers to save his job. With a schedule set up pretty nicely, UMass will be hard pressed not to have a winning season. If the Minutemen don’t have a winning season, Steve Lappas will need to find himself a new job.

Fordham Rams (2-26, 3-13, A-10 East: 5th)

Projected Starters:
John Blackgrove G (So. 6-2, 180)
Derrick Breland G (Jr. 5-10, 170)
Mark Jarrell-Wright G (Sr. 6-5, 190)
Michael Haynes F (Sr. 6-8, 215)
Mushon Ya-akosi F (So. 6-8, 230)

Coaching Changes:
Dereck Whittenburg takes over for Bob Hill for the Rams. Yes, the same Dereck Whittenburg who “passed” to Lorenzo Charles for N.C. State’s 1983 National Championship. Fordham couldn’t take a pass at this rising prospect from Wagner. Whittenburg guided Wagner to an NEC Championship and a tournament last year.

Key Losses:
Fordham loses two starters from last year’s two win team. They will miss Glenn Batemon, who was a tank inside for them. He literally was a tank, bruising, knock and stepping over guys for rebounds (you’d get out of the way if a 360-pound man came at you).

Newcomers:
With only limited time to recruit guys for this year, the Rams pick up a junior-college transfer and a freshman. Derrick Breland will come straight from Juco ball and will start at the point in the beginning of the season for Fordham. Also seeing significant time will be freshman Dominic Osei. Osei will get plenty of minutes in a weak frontcourt.

Schedule:
With not too many tough opponents on the non-conference docket, it sets up nice for a first-year coach that’s just getting his feet wet. They’ll open up at Memphis and a week later will play at Manhattan for New York City borough supremacy. If they can get through sleeper All-American candidate Luis Flores, than the Rams could be in good shape heading into Atlantic 10 play.

Summary:
Bob Hill did everything wrong with this program, including not blowing up the high-school gym they play in. Fordham is on the right track to bring their basketball program back up to a respectable state with the hiring of Whittenburg. Although there are rumors Fordham may be kicked out of the Atlantic 10 within the next few years, if Whittenburg can turn it around, they may become an A-10 staple at the top of the standings.

St. Bonaventure Bonnies (13-14, 1-15, A-10 East: 6th)

Projected Starters:
Marques Green G (Sr. 5-7, 160)
Ahmad Smith G (So. 6-4, 190)
Maurice Young F (Jr. 6-5, 200)
Patrick Methot-Lottin F (So. 6-6, 215)
Cortez Sutton F (Jr. 6-7, 210)

Coaching Changes:
Anthony Solomon takes over a program that everyone ditched out on like 8-year-olds breaking a window. Solomon, who comes from Mike Brey’s staff at Notre Dame will have the difficult task of saving face for a university that is no longer recognized for a deep basketball history, but a scandal that put Olean, NY on the map.

Newcomers:
Well with the Bonnies having to fill out their roster with walk-ons, there will be plenty of new faces. Those of note are junior college transfer Yankuba Camara and freshman Kern Carter. Camara will give the Bonnies a better presence in the front court with much-needed height. Carter, who sat out his senior season in high-school due to a groin injury, could contribute if he can come back healthy.

Schedule:
The Bonnies play a “home” game against defending national champion Syracuse. The home game is really in Rochester, where it will likely be a very pro-Syracuse crowd. Other than that, Solomon will get a Creighton team looking to cope with the post Kyle Korver era.

Summary:
Let’s be honest, it will take a festivus miracle for the Bonnies to do well this season. It also doesn’t help that first-year coach Anthony Solomon will have some sanctions to deal with when they are handed down by the NCAA later this year. On the bright side, Marques Green is simply electric and will try and turn this team around and raise his draft stock. See, we could go all the way through the preview without a welding joke.

Atlantic-10 West

Xavier Musketeers (26-6, 15-1, A-10 West: 1st place)

Projected Starters:
Lionel Chalmers G (Sr. 6-0, 180)
Dedrick Finn G (So. 6-1, 180)
Romain Sato F (Sr. 6-5, 205)
Anthony Myles F (Sr. 6-9, 245)
Will Caudle C (So. 6-9, 240)

Key Losses:
David West has finally graduated. He graduated after having one of the greatest careers in Xavier’s history. Despite returning four starters, the Musketeers must find a way to replace the rock in the middle. Trying to step into that role senior will be Anthony Myles. Myles averaged 10 points and seven boards a game last season as a complimentary player to West.

Newcomers:
Head coach Thad Matta brought in a very talented five player recruiting class led by Indiana’s Mr. Basketball Justin Cage. Cage is a 6’6″ swingman who led his high school to two state titles in three years. Cage will be counted to contribute right away to help the Musketeers with depth issues.

Schedule:
Xavier’s non-conference schedule is highlighted by games against Indiana, Alabama and at Texas. All three of those teams made the NCAA Tournament last season and are expected to make some noise again this year. Xavier will also host the BCA Classic to begin the season.

Summary:
The Musketeers have a huge challenge in replacing West, but they may have the athletes to do it. Sato needs to step up this year and assume West’s role as their clutch performer. Helping Sato in the backcourt is senior Lionel Chalmers who was given another season of eligibility If Sato reaches his potential, and Myles and Caudle are able to do an adequate job replacing West, the Musketeers should contend for the A-10 West once again and make lots of noise come March.

Dayton Flyers (24-6, 14-2, A-10 West: 2nd place)

Projected Starters:
Ramod Marshall G (Sr. 6-2, 180)
Mark Jones G (Jr. 6-1, 180)
Monty Scott F (So. 6-6, 226)
Keith Waleskowski F (Sr. 6-8, 231)
Sean Finn C (Sr. 7-0, 240)

Coaching Changes:
The Brian Gregory era is beginning in Dayton. After Oliver Purnell left Dayton for Clemson last season, the Flyers acted quickly and hired Gregory, Tom Izzo’s protégé from Michigan State. Purnell left Gregory with a lot of talent as Dayton returns four starters from last year’s team.

Key Losses:
The only starter the Flyers need to replace is Brooks Hall. Hall was last season’s leading scorer as well as the floor leader. Dayton also lost some great depth in D.J. Stelly and Nate Green. Both were counted on to fulfill significant time. They will look to sophomores Logan White and Warren Williams along with freshman center James Cripe to step it up and provide the team with some depth.

Newcomers:
Sophomore Monty Scott is an athletic swingman who is expected to fill in for Hall after not qualifying academically last season. Scott is quickly being considered on Dayton’s better recruits in year’s past. Redshirt freshman James Cripe will also have to sub in for both Waleskowski and Finn in the frontcourt.

Schedule:
The Flyers start the season on the road at Pepperdine before playing in the Maui Invitational from Nov. 24-26. In Maui, the Flyers could face a preseason top 25 team in Ohio State as well as Villanova, a team they beat last year at home. The other big game will be at interstate rival Cincinnati on Dec. 23.

Summary:
With four starters returning, there are high expectations in Dayton for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. Gregory has a lot of talent to work with and has come into a great situation for his first head coaching position. He’ll have to win over Dayton fans that are used to winning 20 games as they have each of the past 5 years.

LaSalle Explorers (12-17, 6-10, A-10 West: 4th place)

Projected Starters:
Mike Cleaves G (Jr. 5-10, 175)
Jermaine Thomas G (So. 6-2, 175)
Gary Neal G (So. 6-4, 175)
Steven Smith F (So. 6-8, 225)
Mbainai Narmbaye C (Fr. 6-10, 225)

Key Losses:
The good thing about a young team is that there aren’t many key losses. In the case of the Explorers, there weren’t any that affected the makeup of this team.

Newcomers:
Mbainai Narmbaye will come into the starting lineup as a center. LaSalle needs a guy like him to get some points in the key. Along with Narmbaye, Hahn brought in another young presence down low in Mike St. John. St. John is the opposite of Narmbaye, in that he is a physical forward who should help provide the Explorers with depth in the frontcourt.

Schedule:
LaSalle’s schedule features a number of winnable games early and is highlighted by home games with Villanova and Seton Hall. Keep an eye on their opener against Wichita St. The Shockers, a preseason pick to win the Missouri Valley Conference could do exactly what their nickname says, shock LaSalle

Summary:
With a relatively easy non-conference schedule, the young talent that Hahn has collected should have time to continue to mature. If the young players can put it all together this year and avoid any huge letdowns and with A-10 Freshman of the Year Gary Neal who is expected to lead the team this year, LaSalle should be a team to contend with in the A-10. They may be able to scare a couple of their foes in their conference, but an NCAA appearance is out of the question. An NIT bid for the Explorers would be fantastic.

Richmond Spiders (15-14, 10-6, A-10 West: 3rd place)

Projected Starters:
Tony Dobbins G (Sr. 6-4, 190)
Reggie Brown G (Sr. 6-4, 190)
Mike Skrocki F (Sr. 6-6, 190)
Jamaal Scott F (Jr. 6-5, 215)
Eric Zwayer C (Sr. 6-9, 250)

Key Losses:
The Spiders lost their leading assist man in Jeff Myers. Myers, who also averaged over 11 points a game, served as the 2nd or 3rd option for Richmond.

Newcomers:
Head coach Jerry Wainwright brought in a talented recruiting class led by top 100 point guard Daon Merritt. Merritt will have to step in right away to try and add some depth to the Spider backcourt. Also trying to help out the backcourt will be freshman Andres Sandoval, who like Skrocki, is a good shooter.

Schedule:
Richmond’s non-conference schedule is highlighted by a trip to Wake Forest in early December. The Spiders also take on a dangerous Manhattan team in New York, as well as playing Providence, last year’s NIT opponent, at home, just before starting the conference season.

Summary:
The key for Richmond has always been their defense and that certainly looks to be the case again this year. Richmond is an experienced team that will need that experience to step up this season if they want to reach the postseason for the fourth straight season.
When we speak of preseason, it likely won’t be their first trip to the NCAA since ’98. It will be in the NIT. However if, and only if, Skrocki can regain his shooting touch, the Spiders should be a dangerous team once the A-10 season gets under way.

George Washington Colonials (12-17, 5-11, A-10 West: 5th place)

Projected Starters:
T.J. Thompson G (Jr. 5-11, 177)
Ricky Lucas G (Fr. 6-4, 192)
Tamal Forchion F (Jr. 6-6, 240)
Mike Hall F (So. 6-8, 202)
Pops Mensah-Bonsu C (So. 6-9, 220)

Key Losses:
For the Colonials to have success this season they must figure out how to replace all-time leading scorer Chris Monroe. Monroe, who averaged just over 20 points a game, was George Washington’s biggest threat and the Colonials will need to quickly find a replacement or a combination that fills his role.

Newcomers:
Ricky Lucas may be heir apparent to Monroe’s vacancy. Lucas averaged over 20 points a game in high school and must score early and often in his first-year. Along with Lucas, two transfers are expected to have an impact. Junior Rock Battistoni came from D-III St. Lawrence and will be counted on to be the physical presence on the inside. Point guard Lafonte Johnson spent two seasons at UNLV and is expected to push Thompson for minutes.

Schedule:
The Colonials have a deceptively tough schedule which will test the youth early. George Washington could face both Gonzaga and Maryland in the annual BB&T Classic in Washington D.C. They’ll also travel to Texas right before conference play kicks up.

Summary:
Losing Monroe puts the Colonials in quite a hole, but head coach Karl Hobbs has added a lot of talent to try and replace Monroe. If the young players step up and T.J. Thompson keeps a hold of the ball the Colonials should be a dangerous team to play. Expect them to have an upset or two as the season goes on, but as far as postseason goes, perhaps they can root for their friends in College Park.

Duquesne Dukes (9-21, 4-12, A-10 West: 6th)

Projected Starters:
Bryant McAllister G (So. 6-3,185)
Martin Osinami G (Jr. 6-3, 205)
Jimmy Tricco F (Sr. 6-8, 200)
Elijah Palmer F (Sr. 6-7, 215)
Ron Dokes C (Sr. 6-9, 240)

Key Losses:
The Dukes lose a starter and a helluva bench player. Gone is starting center Simplice Njoya. Besides having the best name in the A-10, Njoya was counted on for a majority of the team’s boards. Kevin Forney also departs. He brings with him his 13 points a game, most of them coming from off the bench.

Newcomers:
Nee brought in a couple of transfers to try and add some instant depth. The best of the bunch is Juco transfer Martin Osinami. Osinami is a talented guard who should push sophomore Bryant McAllister for playing time. Others looking to contribute are Kieron Achara and Sean McKeon. Both are carbon copies physically, but one must help out a rather weak frontcourt.

Schedule:
Even though Duquesne has a lot of work to do, their schedule doesn’t have that much flair. The Dukes will have a home game against Pittsburgh. One other game of note maybe their match-up with Akron. The Zips play in the sneaky good MAC and are expected to be in contention for the conference title.

Duquesne showed flashes of brilliance last year but they still have a lot of work to do. Head Coach Danny Nee has them going in the right direction. Nee has helped them become a lot more disciplined on the defensive end, but their offense still has a lot of holes. Don’t expect to see the Dukes making much noise this season and finishing last in the division as well as conference once again.

Conference Summary

The conference should see three, if not four teams make the tournament. St. Joseph’s, Xavier and Dayton are all seemingly locks for the NCAA. A fourth team might come in the face of Temple or Rhode Island. These teams will have to have a great season or somehow win the conference tournament.

The A-10 will also get a bunch of teams in the NIT. Most likely Temple, Rhode Island, LaSalle and Richmond. 7 out of 12 teams in postseason play, not bad for a supposed “mid-major” conference.

Stephen Dahl and Jonathan Scherner are Hoopville Staff writers living in Ohio.

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