Status quo: Xavier, Temple remain on top.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
Defending Conference Champion: Richmond
Top Player: Tu Holloway, Xavier
Top Freshman: Dezmine Wells, Xavier
Most Underrated Player: Tony Taylor, George Washington
Projected Tournament Teams: Xavier, Temple, Saint Louis
1. With an expected down year from Richmond, can this still be a three-bid league?
It doesn’t have to be. This much is clear: Xavier and Temple are head and shoulders above everyone else in the conference. In terms of talent-level, coaching, experience and expectations those two programs are effectively high-majors playing in a lower-level league.
And remember all that chatter a couple seasons ago about how the A-10 was practically a BCS caliber conference and was on the verge of eclipsing the Pac-10 (then) in status? That’s a thing of the past. Richmond needed a conference tournament run to ensure the league received three bids to the Tournament last season, and it will probably be even more challenging for the league to find a school worthy of Tournament selection in ’11-12. History tells us that three bids is a reasonable expectation from this conference, so Saint Louis seems like a choice by default. On paper the Bilikens have the talent to put together a nice season. But that final team could just as easily be Duquesne or St. Bonaventure.
2. Is a guy from St. Bonaventure really the Atlantic-10’s best NBA prospect?
Yep. Not too long ago he was the best-kept secret in college basketball, but once NBA scouts began to gather at St. Bonaventure basketball games, the cat got out of the bag pretty quickly that Andrew Nicholson has first-round NBA potential.
Nicholson is an intriguing prospect because of his rare combination of high skill level and size (6-9, 220). His footwork and touch in the post are smooth, and the experience of having double and triple teams tossed at him year after year with the Bonnies will surely impress NBA decision makers. After averaging 20.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game as a junior, the Ontario, Canada native will probably have to at least repeat those numbers if he wants to boost his stock.
3. Can anything or anyone slow down Xavier?
As phenomenal as Tu Holloway is, and as essential as the guard is to Xavier’s attack, he has the potential to shoot the Musketeers away from their strength in numbers, and Holloway is an underrated talent as a distributor. Coach Chris Mack has to love having Holloway to bail his team out at the end of the shot clock or to create something out of nothing offensively. But Xavier is conference’s top dog because of the quality depth on its roster.
When Holloway is stuffing a box score with assists, for instance, Xavier is nearly impossible to beat. Tu recorded seven or more assists nine times last season, all Xavier wins. On the other hand, the Musketeers only won four of the nine games in which Holloway attempted 15 or more shots. In other words, the scoring machine’s assist totals might be a better predictor of Xavier’s success than his points.
Predicted Finish + Bottom Line:
The conference juggernaut remains in control. The top three scorers from last season’s conference champion, including potential All-American guard Tu Holloway, are back to give Chris Mack the league’s most talented roster.
3. Saint Louis
Even though Rick Majerus’ team has the most potential to displace Xavier and Temple from the top of the conference, it doesn’t mean it will. The return of formerly disgraced guard Kwamain Mitchell could get the Bilikens into the Tournament, though.
You just get the feeling that last season was the Dukes’ best chance to make noise. Now that forwards Damian Saunders and Bill Clark are gone, sharpshooting guards T.J. McConnell and B.J. Monteiro will be keys to the season.
By now, Andrew Nicholson is no secret. If he can somehow repeat or, even better, eclipse his ’10-11 performance with defenses throwing the kitchen sink at him, the Bonnies will sneak into the top third of the league.
Chris Mooney officially has a winning program now, but even the best in the nation would have a hard time replacing guys like Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper. Expect a drop from the Spiders.
49ers basketball will be much improved, but the team was so far down last season (2-14 in conference), that 7th sounds about right for 11-12. Diminutive Jamar Briscoe is a fun watch.
Nearly pulling off a miracle run in the Atlantic-10 Tournament last March seemed to give this season some spark … Juwan Staten’s untimely transfer and Brian Gregory’s departure did not.
Former Vermont head coach Mike Lonergan was brought in to get the Colonials back to the top of the conference. Senior guard Tony Taylor is one of the league’s toughest matchups.
10. Saint Joseph’s
If the Minutemen are going to make progress this year, some of Derek Kellogg’s once-hyped recruits will need to finally reach their potential. Former McDonald’s All-American Terrell Vinson, in particular, needs to rebound from a forgettable sophomore season.
12. Rhode Island
The Rams lost a quality senior class but bring in BCS-level transfers Billy Barron from Virginia and Andre Malone from Auburn. Neither of those two will be available until mid-December, so this will most likely be a rebuilding year in Providence.
13. La Salle
After a few renaissance years of good basketball and solid teams, the Explorers’ talent level has dropped considerably. Versatile big man Aaric Murray’s decision to transfer doesn’t help any.
Hate to pick on the Rams because this is potentially the year Fordham gets out of the A-10 basement – a very exciting freshman class arrives to finally give double-double machine Chris Gaston some help. But the season will be another struggle for coach Tom Pecora.