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October 26, 2011

League preview: Atlantic 10

We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we'll work backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.

The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.

7. ATLANTIC 10

Go ahead, try to project the Atlantic 10.

We'll give you Xavier and Temple at the top and Fordham at No. 14. From there, good luck.

In each of the past four seasons, Temple and Xavier have represented the A-10 in the NCAA tournament. The third tournament-bound A-10 team in the past four seasons has been a revolving door: Richmond in each of the past two seasons, Dayton in 2009 and Saint Joseph's in 2008. Expect the revolving door to spin again this season.

Xavier returns the top three scorers off last season's team, which finished 15-1 in the Atlantic 10. The only conference loss was, shockingly, to 13th-place Charlotte. The Musketeers will have one of the best backcourts in the country, led by Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons. The lingering issue is if returning starter Kenny Frease and a handful of newcomers, such as Monmouth transfer Travis Taylor and freshmen Justin Martin and Dezmine Wells, can produce in the frontcourt.

As with Xavier, Temple has plenty of backcourt experience with Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore returning along with Khalif Wyatt, the reigning A-10 sixth man of the year. Mainstay Lavoy Allen is gone in the frontcourt, but the Owls will be fine if guys Scootie Randall and Michael Eric can stay healthy.

That's where the certainty in the A-10 ends.

Saint Louis was a team to watch going into last season, but the Billikens suspended F Willie Reed and G Kwamain Mitchell for the season. Mitchell, who averaged 15.9 points per game in 2009-10, is eligible this season, and he returns to a team with all five starters back. Then again, that team went 12-19.

George Washington also gets back a key player, but from injury, not a suspension. Lasan Kromah, who had a standout freshman season, returns from a season-long foot injury and will team with prolific G Tony Taylor. The Colonials went 10-6 in the A-10 last season, but still replaced coach Karl Hobbs with Vermont's Mike Lonergan.

Another coaching change occurred at Dayton, where Arizona assistant Archie Miller, the brother of former Xavier coach Sean Miller, takes over for Brian Gregory, who left for Georgia Tech. Miller will deal with roster turnover, but that might not be a bad thing - the group that's leaving was one of the most confounding rosters in the league. He'll rebuild around veteran F Chris Johnson and Kevin Dillard, who was a standout point guard at Southern Illinois in 2009-10.

Saint Bonaventure F Andrew Nicholson will be one of the top players in the A-10 after averaging 20.8 points and 7.3 rebounds. He has drawn the attention of NBA scouts, but it remains to be seen if he has enough talent around him for the Bonnies to finish in the top half of the league.

The big question for the middle portion of the league is how Richmond and Duquesne handle major losses. No team loses more than the Spiders, who must replace four starters from the team that won the A-10 tournament and reached the Sweet 16. Duquesne loses standouts Damian Saunders and Bill Clark, but the Dukes are prepared to build around G T.J. McConnell, who was one of the league's best point men as a freshman.

Saint Joseph's and Charlotte struggled last season, but they have enough returning players to make some noise. G Carl Jones averaged 17 points per game for St. Joe's, and fellow guard Langston Galloway is one of the A-10's rising stars. At Charlotte, F Chris Braswell and G Derrio Green form a solid inside-outside duo. Somehow, this team found a way to beat Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Xavier, but still went 2-14 in the league.

ALL-ATLANTIC 10 FIRST TEAM
F Chris Gaston, Fordham (6-7/220, Jr.)
F Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure (6-9/250, Sr.)
G Juan Fernandez, Temple (6-4/195, Sr.)
G Ramone Moore, Temple (6-4/190, Sr.)
G Tu Holloway, Xavier (6-0/190, Sr.)
ALL-ATLANTIC 10 SECOND TEAM
C Kenny Frease, Xavier (7-0/275, Sr.)
F Chris Johnson, Dayton (6-6/201, Sr.)
G Mark Lyons, Xavier (6-1/188, Jr.)
G Kwamain Mitchell, Saint Louis (5-10/175, Jr.)
G Tony Taylor, George Washington (6-1/192, Sr.)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Xavier G Tu Holloway
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR:
Rhode Island G Andre Malone (6-6/210, Jr.; transfer from Auburn)

ORDER OF FINISH
1. Xavier
2. Temple
3. Saint Louis
4. Saint Bonaventure
5. George Washington
6. Duquesne
7. Dayton
8. Richmond
9. Saint Joseph's
10. Charlotte
11. Rhode Island
12. Massachusetts
13. La Salle
14. Fordham

FACTS AND FIGURES
New coaches: Archie Miller at Dayton (had been an assistant at Arizona), Mike Lonergan at George Washington (had been coach at Vermont)
Regular-season winner last season: Xavier
Tournament winner last season: Richmond
League RPI in each of past 3 seasons: 9th in 2010-11, 5th in 2009-10, 9th in 2008-09
NCAA bids the past five seasons: 14
2012 conference tournament: March 6, 9-11, campus sites, then Atlantic City, N.J.


MAKING A LIST
Best frontcourt: Saint Bonaventure. A major reason for the Bonnies in this slot is Andrew Nicholson, the best non-guard in the A-10. Nicholson averaged 20.8 points and 7.3 rebounds last season and will continue to make the Bonnies a factor in the league race. Wing Demetrius Conger, who averaged 10 points and 5.5 rebounds, also returns. Da'Quan Cook is a returning starter (6.7 points, 4.2 rebounds), and Marquise Simmons provides rebounds off the bench.
Best backcourt: Xavier. The Musketeers and Temple have two the best backcourts in the country, but Tu Holloway, a bona-fide superstar, gives Xavier the edge. Holloway was second in the A-10 in scoring (19.7 points) and led the league in assists. He also averaged 5.0 rebounds per game. Mark Lyons also is productive across the board. Xavier wasn't a great 3-point shooting team last season, but that will improve when Brad Redford is healthy. The Musketeers also add three-star freshman Dee Davis, who is expected to contribute as a backup point man.
Program on the rise: Saint Bonaventure. The Bonnies' window to make serious noise in the Atlantic 10 may be narrowing. Nicholson is a senior, and he's surrounded by three other returning starters. Saint Bonaventure has proven it can win the games it should, but the Bonnies have yet to take the next step. The Bonnies went 0-3 against Xavier, Temple and Richmond, losing every game by double figures. With so many other teams in the A-10 in transition, now's the time for them to make a push in the league.
Program on the decline: Richmond. Chris Mooney built the Spiders into an NCA tournament team, including a trip to the Sweet 16 last season. This season, expect Richmond to take a step back. Four senior starters are gone, including Justin Harper, Kevin Anderson and Dan Geriot.
Coach on the rise: Duquesne's Ron Everhart. Everhart took over a program that won three games the season before he arrived. The Dukes haven't reached the NCAA tournament since 1977, but they have made three consecutive postseason appearances (one NIT, two College Basketball Invitationals). Everhart has done a great job of stocking talent and has been able to withstand roster turnover.
Coach on the hot seat: La Salle's John Giannini. Hopes were high when La Salle signed F Aaric Murray, the No. 35 player in the class of 2009. The signing never panned out as La Salle went a combined 10-22 in the A-10 in the past two seasons. La Salle has had one winning record in conference play in the past five seasons.
Most overrated player: Xavier C Kenny Frease. Frease is the best frontcourt player on one of the best teams in the league. He's clearly one of the better big men in the Atlantic 10 - but the A-10 is not a great league for big men. Although he improved dramatically from his sophomore to junior season, Frease should be even more dominant.
Most underrated: Saint Joseph's G Langston Galloway. The A-10 is a guard-dominated league, so it's easy for a guard to fly under the radar. Galloway averaged 12.8 points last season to go with 5.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists as a freshman. If he can improve his efficiency numbers (he shot below 40 percent from the field), he could contend for all-conference honors as a sophomore.

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David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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