1. Xavier Musketeers. Take note, Dayton dorks, because this is what you call a dynasty. I remember last year, I think I picked the Musketeers fourth in the A-10 because of who was graduating, and they went ahead and won the conference, again, and made a nice run in the tournament, again. This year, they once again look like they might be down with Jordan Crawford off to the NBA, but Terrell Holloway is back and I love that little guy. His development from out of control spaz as a freshman (think Kevin Clark, any year) to stone cold killer has been fun to see, and now in his junior year this is clearly his team and I can't wait to see if he'll be better than Jake Pullen, or merely as good. With two other starters back, Mark Lyons and a slimmed down Kenny Frease ready to step in and start, and top25-type recruiting class coming in it wouldn't be a shock at all to see them in the sweet 16 for the fourth straight year.
2. Temple Owls. On paper this team is probably better than Xavier, but I learned my lesson last year about doubting the Musketeers. That said, Temple should easily hit their fourth straight NCAA Tournament, and they are certainly back to a perenially good program now under Fran Dunphy. The Owls lose leading scorer Ryan Brooks, but have enough pieces in place that it shouldn't hurt them. Juan Fernandez is an oustanding point guard who I really want to compare to Pepe Sanchez, but that's lazy since they're both hispanic so instead I'll say he reminds me a lot of Greivis Vasquez. With Lavoy Allen also back to dominate the inside, and last year's A-10 sixth man of the year Ramone Moore ready to slide in for Brooks, they're in great shape.
3. Richmond Spiders. Of all the graduating players in the conference, nobody is going to miss their guy more than the Spiders will miss David Gonzalvez. They still have point guard and A-10 player of the year Kevin Anderson back, but he and Gonzalvez formed a nearly unstoppable backcourt duo, averaging 32.4 points between the two of them - 46% of the team's scoring - and were the top two assist and steal guys to boot. Beyond finding someone to fill in for Gonzalvez, the big key for the season is the continued improvement of PF Justin Harper, who is suddenly getting "potential NBA pick" buzz, as well as if Dan Geriot can get back to close to what he was before he hurt his knee. He was a double-digit scorer and a beast inside before the injury, but averaged less the 7 points per game last year. If he is recoverd in year 2 post-surgery, this team goes from a good team to a great team.
4. St. Louis Billikens. Majerus's team was one of the youngest in the country last year, but came together and closed strong, finishing 11-5 in the A-10 and denied an NCAA berth due to a very weak non-conference schedule. This year the schedule has been upgraded along with the expectations, because with their top six scorers back - all of whom were unerclassmen last year - they are in position to get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000. Kwamain Mitchell (16 points, 3 rebs, 3 assists per game), Willie Reed (12 pts, 8 rebs, 2 blks), and Cody Ellis (11 pts, 5 rebs) are a dynamic trio, and the Billikens were one of the toughest defensive teams in the country last year. Pay attention to their game November 20th vs. Georgia - the result of that one will help give a gauge on how "for real" this team is. [NOTE: I have since been informed that Mitchell and Reed have been suspended due to some chick framing them for some kind of sex allegation. This obviously means that they're screwed.]
5. Dayton Flyers. I've talked about this on here before, but is there a more overrated program than the Flyers? They continually get praised as if they've accomplished something, but they've only made one NCAA Tournament in the last six years, and they continually underachieve. Once again this year they'll be built around an overrated power forward who can't stay healthy and a bunch of guards with gigantic question marks surrounded them . Either way I still have a special place in my heart for Dayton fans, who are almost identical to Packer fans. They have the same mix of delusion, overconfidence, and entitlement, mixed with a dash of overconfidence and a sprinkle of questionable personal hygiene and mental problems.
6. Charlotte 49ers. Interesting team here. They were cruising towards an NCAA berth last year at 18-5 and 8-1 in conference play before a 1-7 close to the season, including losses to G. Washington and UMass, left them out of postseason play altogether. Last year's point guard (Dijuan Harris) is gone and there's some concern about if anybody on the roster can replac ehim, but they return most of last year's team, including the dynamic inside duo of Shamari Spears (16 ppg/6 rpg last year) and Chris Braswell (10 and 9). New coach Alan Major has a reputation for getting the most out of post players, so this sounds like a good combo to me. Not like those pizzeria pretzel combos. Seriously, who thought that one up? Gross.
7. Rhode Island Rams. The Rams might not make the NCAA Tournament all that often, but they are always a tough, tough, tough matchup, and there's no reason for that not to be the case again this year. They lose two double-digit scorers from last year's team, but that doesn't mean they aren't still in good shape. The three returning starters are all good players and give you an excellent balance of a ball-handler (Marquis Jones - 4.1 assists per game, third in A-10), an athletic wing (Delroy James - 13.2ppg, and second on team in 3-pointers despite being 6-8), and a big man in seven-footer Will Martell (8pts, 5 rebs). Martell needs to improve because his rebounds and blocks are low for a seven-footer and he's the man down low this year.
8. Duquesne Dukes. The Dukes return one of the best players you've never heard of in Damian Saunders, a double-double machine who doesn't mind blocking your shot right back in your stupid face if you were dumb enough to bring it to his house. With four other big-time contributors back, including #2 leading scorer in guard Bill Clark and point guard Eric Evans, this will probably be the best Duquesne team in 30 years, not that it's exactly a huge feat, but you gotta start somewhere. The Dukes made the NIT two years ago but dropped back into the CBI last season - their first back-to-back postseasons since 1980-1981. Time to take that next step, boy-os. Do it for Mike James.
10. UMass Minutemen. Leading scorer Ricky Harris is gone and UMass won just twelve games last year, but there is some reason to be optimistic based on what's coming back. Anthony Gurley, Terrell Vinson, and Freddie Riley are all good all-around wing types who averaged over or close to double-digits in scoring last year and all showed at different times that they are capable of taking over a game against a quality opponent - they just all have to bring that A game at the same time. If they can find some consistent point guard play (overall UMass had more turnovers than assists) they could finish higher than this. You could almost call them a sleeper, except they aren't quite good enough.
10. George Washington Colonials. GW has ten of last year's twelve contributors back, but one of the guys who is missing is last seasons leading scorer, Damian Hollis, and they weren't exactly world beaters last year, going just 16-13 (6-10 in A10), and it was an empty 16 wins without a single good victory in there anywhere that I could find. So how do you rate experience coming back, but save a couple of guys, subpar talent? 10th, apparently.
11. LaSalle Explorers. If you ever want proof that I'm an idiot, you can look at my picking this team to be one of the top teams in the A-10 last year - probably my biggest whiff ever. Rodney Green was a superstar and Aaric Murray was a top recruit and I thought they'd surprise. Well, they did. They surprised the hell out of me by being a bunch of worthless sucks who sucked. Now Green is gone, Murray is overrated, and I'll never trust these guys again. At least until Lionel Simmons II comes to town.
12. St. Joseph's Hawks. I don't believe it would be possible to pick a worse time to have a home-and-home with the Hawks, because they were brutal last year and this year ain't fixin' to get much better. Remember these guys last year? The team the Gophers beat 97-74 and won just five conference games? Well, it's basically the same team as last year, except their two best players graduated. Actually, there is reason for optimism and a good reason to look forward to watching them play, and that's freshman center C.J. Aiken, who was ranked by Rivals as the #8 center who should play immediately. They also added a couple other solidly ranked, athletic freshman to give them one of the better classes in the conference, that just won't make much of a difference this year.
13. St. Bonaventure Bonnies. The good news is that stud big man Andrew Nicholson is back, and last year as a sophomore he was good enough to average 16 points and 7 rebounds per game while shooting 56% from the field. Pretty awesome. The bad news is that Jonathan Hall and Chris Matthews (no relation to Eric and Cory) graduated and took over 25% of the team's scoring with them (nearly 50% of the non-Nicholson points) and starting point guard Malcolm Eleby is gone after getting into a fight on-campus. Why that couldn't have happened to Lawrence Westbrook I'll never know.
14. Fordham Rams. This is familiar. Two years ago Fordham was terrible, but Jio Fontan had a huge year and was the only bright spot. Then he transferred. Last year, the Rams were again terrible, but Chris Gaston was a monster, notching 19 double-doubles, and going 30 & 10 three times. No, he hasn't transferred, but Fordham promises to be awful once again, so he'd have every right to in my book. Loyalty is admirable, but who wants to play for at team that's won five games the last two season combined. Yes, combined. And I mean five total wins, not five conference wins. It ain't easy being one of the worst offensive and worst defensive teams in the country, Fordham just makes it look easy.
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