The 2009-10 season came after an off-season of transition for the Atlantic 10, as the conference moved its offices from the long-time home of Philadelphia to Newport News, Virginia. That was forgotten once the action got going on the hardwood, and not just because that’s what fans cared about. It was a big year for the conference, as it topped the previous record for non-conference wins with 135 and placed three teams in the NCAA Tournament. For good measure, two teams made a run to the NIT Final Four, with Dayton taking home the title, and three teams made the CBI, with Saint Louis making it to the final before losing to VCU (which also took out George Washington in the opening round).
For a lot of conference play, there was much buzz about how many teams might make the NCAA Tournament. At one point, many felt the conference could get as many as six teams, especially with the weak Pac-10, disappointing Big Ten and down years in conferences like the ACC and Conference USA. Six teams were certainly in play for a while, but much like two years ago, some of the teams in the bottom half of the conference started playing spoiler late in the season.
The post-season has been a good one thus far for the conference in the coaching ranks. Chris Mooney and Brian Gregory passed on overtures from other schools who had head coaching vacancies to stay with Richmond and Dayton, respectively. Fordham hired Tom Pecora to take over its program, while Charlotte hired Alan Major, regarded by many as an under-the-radar assistant, to take over for Bobby Lutz. Overall, there is some stability, which bodes well for the future.
The first round took place at campus sites, with the home team winning three of the four games by double digits. The only game that did not fit that description was UMass’ 59-56 win at Charlotte in a defensive struggle. The seeds held in the quarterfinals save for Rhode Island’s 63-47 win over Saint Louis, although Xavier had to hold off Dayton and Richmond had to do the same with UMass to move on. Temple shut down Rhode Island for a 57-44 win in one semifinal, while Richmond needed overtime to knock off Xavier in a great game in the other semifinal. The Spiders got a game-tying layup from Kevin Anderson (27 points) to send it to overtime, where David Gonzalvez (26 points) hit a three-pointer to start them on the road to victory in the extra session.
In the championship game, Temple appeared to pull away early in the second half as they were up four at the half and led by 12 with just over 12 minutes left. But Richmond rallied, holding the Owls to just 33 percent from the field in the second half, and made it a ballgame late, where the Owls had to make free throws to seal the 56-52 win.
Player of the Year: Kevin Anderson, Richmond
Rookie of the Year: Chris Gaston, Fordham
Most Improved Player: Chris Johnson, Dayton
Defensive Player of the Year: Damian Saunders, Duquesne
Coach of the Year: Fran Dunphy, Temple
Kevin Anderson, Jr. G, Richmond
Lavoy Allen, Jr. F, Temple
Jordan Crawford, So. G, Xavier
Damian Saunders, Jr. F, Duquesne
Chris Wright, Jr. F, Dayton
- Of the 135 non-conference wins, 19 came against BCS conferences. That ranked fourth this season behind the Big 12 (28 wins), SEC (25) and ACC (25).
- Fran Dunphy continues to be a master on the bench. Temple lost a lot from last season’s team, including Dionte Christmas, but all the Owls did was win 29 games and their third straight conference title.
- The All-Atlantic 10 first team didn’t have a single senior, although one member of it (Jordan Crawford) will not be back next season.
- Rhode Island didn’t finish the regular season well after winning a lot of close games early, but Jim Baron became the first Ram coach to lead the team to three straight 20-win seasons.
- Although they faded in conference play, George Washington had a nice non-conference run that included five road wins. Only two teams in the conference won more road games than the seven the Colonials posted in total on the season.
What we expected, and it happened: Xavier had a new coach and no clear go-to guy, but the Musketeers continued to win. They didn’t miss a beat with Chris Mack taking over for the departed Sean Miller, and Jordan Crawford became the star of the team. Mack posted the most wins of any first-year coach in Division I, and the Musketeers reached the Sweet 16 for the third straight season.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: La Salle was far from the contender many expected them to be, finishing 4-12 in the conference and not making the conference tournament. The Explorers were a senior-laden team, but an early injury to Ruben Guillandeaux set them back and a foot injury to Kimmani Barrett around the start of conference play was a back-breaker. The Explorers didn’t win a game in the month of February after they looked like they might come to life early in Atlantic 10 play. They weren’t deep in the backcourt before the injury to Guillandeaux, who started the season strong, and it showed as no team turned the ball over more than the Explorers did. They didn’t make up for it at the other end as only one team forced fewer turnovers.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Saint Louis finished in fourth place and made a deep postseason run, reaching the championship of the CBI. The Billikens looked to be at least a year away with a roster that featured 11 freshmen and sophomores and no seniors. But they racked up a good record in a manageable non-conference slate, then started February with six straight wins.
Team(s) on the rise: Saint Louis. The Billikens had no seniors on the roster, and after getting to the final of the CBI expectations will certainly be higher next season.
Team(s) on the decline: Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks were expected to be in rebuilding mode this year, but they looked worse than a rebuilding team. The upshot is that they finished with a winning record at home in their first year in the new arena, but there wasn’t much else to write home about this year and next year isn’t certain to be much, if any, better. Three players have transferred, Darren Govens and Garrett Williamson graduate and only two seniors will be on next year’s roster.
2010-11 Atlantic 10 Outlook
As good as this year was, next year could be even better for the conference. Ten all-conference players return next year, including four of five from the first team, as well as a strong crop of players that comprised the All-Rookie team. Stability is ever-present with many teams, especially from a coaching standpoint. Teams that lose key players won’t drop all the way back; Xavier and Temple will be fine, as will Dayton despite graduating several starters. Richmond shouldn’t be a one-year wonder, and Jim Baron appears to have Rhode Island in a good place although they’ve fallen agonizingly short of the NCAA Tournament a couple of times recently. Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure and George Washington appear to be on the way up, although a few teams don’t look to be on the rise right now. The immediate future for some middling programs like Charlotte, Duquesne and UMass is a little tough to figure right now.
A year ago, the conference’s move to Newport News, Virginia seemed like an odd destination given the conference’s geographic footprint. It had to make one wonder what the future of the conference would look like. Right now, the future looks quite positive based on the season just completed and what the season ahead could look like.