1. DAYTON. It looks like it's time for a change at the top, with Xavier taking a step back and the Flyers moving on up. They have everybody back from the team that beat West Virginia in the first round of the NCAAs last year, which I remember vividly because I had to sit and watch that game in a Dayton bar in Chicago that was packed to the rafters with hippy Dayton fans who were worse than Gopher fans when it comes to the constant ref cheating conspiracy theories and are basically complete hipster doofus morons. Anyway, they're fortunate because Chris Wright is back and is probably the best player in the A-10 as well as being an absolute beast inside, along with something like 95% of the team's scoring from last year. If they improve their outside shooting (11th in 3 pt. FG % in the A-10, which has 14 teams) they could make some national noise.
2. LASALLE. If Chris Wright isn't the best player in the A-10, it might be LaSalle slasher Rodney Green, who is the second highest returning scorer in the conference at 17.8 ppg last season. Green isn't a great outside shooter, but he's been remarkably consistent, improving both his three-point shooting as well as his scoring average all three seasons in his career. He's also not one to disapper in games, as he scored in double-digits in the Explorer's last 26 games in 2008-2009. He'll be helped by not only three other returning starters, but also by the top ranked incoming recruit in the conference in 6-10 center Aaric Murray, who is #35 on the Rivals Top 150 and the top ranked recruit to play for a non-BCS school this season. That signing, and a good chance at an NCAA bid this year, mean LaSalle might be relevant for the first time since Lionel Simmons.
3. RICHMOND. It seems like Richmond has been the pesky A-10 team for the last couple of years, but not the good kind of pesky because they have nothing but two invitations to the CBI to show for it. This year things are set up for a run at an NCAA bid. Their top three scorers are back, including the entire starting backcourt, but more importantly center Dan Geriot returns from a knee injury that caused him to miss all last season. Geriot led the spiders in both scoring and rebounding two years ago when he was all Atlantic 10. If he's fully recovered, and with a very tough non-conference schedule, Richmond is set up well for a postseason berth.
5. UMASS. The Minutemen are hurt by departing talent, including A-10 defensive player of the year Tony Gaffney and starting point guard and last year's A-10 second leading assist man Chris Lowe, but the combination of talent returning and new talent should keep them competitive. The returning talent includes bring back shooting guard Ricky Harris, the leading returning scorer in the conference at 18.2 ppg, as well as fellow double-digit scorer Anthony Gurley, who was originally the #79 recruit on Rivals 150 for 2006 when he comitted to Wake Forest before transferring back. Joining them is a class universally praised as the best of the Atlantic 10 this season, highlighted by combo forward Terrell Vinson, the #90 prospect this year, as well as four other three-star players.
6. DUQUENSE. It's tough to know what to make of the Dukes this season. On the one hand, they made a run to the A-10 title game last year, finished with a winning conference record for the first time since 1991, made the postseason (NIT) for the first time since 1993, and have everyone coming back with the exception of one guy. On the other hand, that one guy was guard Aaron Jackson, who led the team in scoring and assists and was second in rebounding and steals. They were a very efficient offensive team last year (tops in the A-10), and have four guys returning who averaged 9.8 points per game or better, but must get better on defense (13th in the A-10) if they want to gain their first NCAA bid in 33 years.
7. CHARLOTTE. The 49ers are another team hit hard by graduation, losing top player Lamont Mack among others, but have a very nice influx of talent joining up this year. Start with dead-eye shooter Shamarr Bowden, an original commit of Virgina Tech who led Charlotte in scoring last offseason during through Canada before getting injured and being forced to redshirt last season. He'll be back and looking to play off little 5-9 point guard DiJuan Harris who led the conference in assists last season. Also incoming are #83 prospect PF Chris Braswell and transfer from B.C. Shamari Spears. Adding these guys to a solid group of returnees means the 49ers could make a little noise this season.
8. RHODE ISLAND. Yet another team hit by graduation, the Rams lose their top two scorers from last season, and while they don't have the incoming talent of Charlotte, they do have a good group coming back. Keith Cothran can't shoot like the departing Jimmy Baron, but he can score in bunches, and Delroy James has similar size, similar numbers, and a similar game to Kahiem Seawright. Point guard should be fine in the hands of either returning starter Marquis Jones or incoming frosh Akeem Richmond, and if somebody can step up and become the third scorer the Rams will be in good shape.
9. TEMPLE. I've seen some previews that have Temple as a league champion contender, but I'm just not seeing it. They are losing three players, including superstar Dionte Christmas, who led the A-10 in scoring three consecutive seasons and was probably the A-10 player of the year but for the love of god I can't find this information anywhere to confirm or deny. With no major freshmen influx of talent, they will need somebody to become the go to guy with Christmas gone. Forward Lavoy Allen seems most likely. He's their leading returning scorer and was a top 150 talent when he comitted to the Owls.
10. ST BONNIE'S. The Bonnies were in a complete shambles not all that long ago but are starting to get near respectability, going 15-15 last season, their first time with double-digit victories since 2002-2003. This year could be even more of an improvement, with three double-figure scorers back including last year's A-10 Rookie of the Year in 6-9 Andrew Nicholson. The Bonnies were one of the fastest teams last season (#22 Tempo), but played scattershot, ending up as one of the least efficient offensive teams (#238) due to poor shooting (#285 in 3pt pct) and horrendous ball control (#305 in turnovers). If they are going to keep improving, that needs to be addressed.
11. ST LOUIS. This Rick Majerus turn-around is taking longer than expected, and might not get started quite yet again this year with the Billikens losing their starting backcourt, Tommie Liddell and Kevin Lisch, who both averaged double-figures in scoring for four straight years and have been the top-2 Billiken scorers for the last three. Majerus has been stockpiling some talent, at least, including two players from Australia this season which I think is a good sign - foreign players were a hallmark of his excellent teams at Utah, who will join last year's class of four 4-star players. Notable from that class are PG Kwamain Mitchell, the team's only returning double-figure scorer and leading assist man,
12. SAINT JOE'S. Free fall. The Hawks lose their top two players, Ahmad Nivens and Tasheed Carr, who accounted for nearly half of the teams points and rebounds a third of their assists, and there ain't much in the hopper. Shooting guard Darrin Govens is the leading returning scorer and he's a chucker extraordinaire, flinging up 208 three-point attempts (6th in the A-10, first on the team by nearly 100) despite hitting under 35%. With no other scorers on the team, we could reach Robert Vaden levels of chuckitude. Help is on the way, however, with the Hawks having already gained comittments from two top 120 recruits for 2010.
13. GEORGE WASHINGTON. It was just four seasons ago the Colonials were loaded and finished the season 27-3, but they have fallen hard and it might be tough to duplicate even last season's 4-12 conference record. GW loses three of it's top four scorers, and is going to be leaning heavily on it's six newcomers, none of whom are real standouts. Senior forward Damian Hollis will be the main man and did score 20-plus in two of the team's last four games, but he's no Pops Mensah-Bonsu, that's for sure.
14. FORDHAM. There isn't an OOF big enough to describe what is going on at Fordham. For starters, they were just 3-25 last year (NOTE: not a typo), and last in the conference in essentially every statistical category. Secondly, three of their top four players either transferred or graduated. Finally, and most bizarre, their best player and former Rivals 150 guy Jio Fontan attempted to transfer, but in something that I can't recall every hearing happen, the school refused to give him his release so now he's stuck. I have no idea how that is even possible or legal, but apparently it is, so Jio is stuck with an even worse team than last year. I'm sure he will give his top effort all season long and not become a locker room problem at all.