Here's what you're going to want to do - watch "New Girl" from Fox. It debuted on Tuesday night and I think me and the missus laughed more than we've ever laughed at the first episode of anything, and that includes Parks and Rec. It stars one of my big crushes, Zooey Deschanel, and although she's always been quirky funny she really, truly can carry a show as the funny lead and she knocks it out of the park here. Then there's three dumb guys who she moves in with who I've never heard of but actually do an adequate job.
So watch it. It's on every Tuesday at 8pm, and they're replaying the pilot on Saturday October 1st so do it. If you've ever trusted my judgement about anything, watch this show. But also know that I have dibs on Zooey. I've been into her since her Almost Famous and The Good Girl, so back off. I have dibs on her sister too.
I have a lot of dibs. Anyways, here comes the A-10!!!!!
1. XAVIER MUSKETEERS. Tu Holloway (who sounded cooler when he was going by Terrell) is back after nearly jumping to the NBA so that pretty much automatically makes Xavier the favorite because he's so retardedly good, but he's got plenty of help. Mark Lyons joins him in the backcourt and nearly doubled his scoring average last year all the way up to 13.6, and Kenny Frease is back to man the middle. All of which means X has their top three scorers back. They're also adding three top 140 recruits including Dezmine Wells, a SF who ranked #76 on Rivals list and is all but guaranteed to be the next Musketeer superstar. They also imported Travis Taylor who is not a crappy receiver from Florida but is in fact a power forward who transferred from Monmouth where he lit it up for nearly 18 points per game. I'm comfortable at this point saying Xavier doesn't rebuild, they just reload.
2. TEMPLE OWLS. If the back court is what really makes good teams good then Temple is off to a good start despite losing power forward Lavoy Allen who averaged 12 and 9 last year. Back is SG Ramone Moore, last year's leading scorer at over 15 per game, as well as Juan Fernandez. You remember Fernandez as the hipster pot head looking guy who killed Talor Battle with his off-balance miracle shot in the NCAA Tournament. He's super annoying to look at, really irritating to watch, and really his numbers aren't even that great and he can't really shoot, but somehow he has that annoying knack for making the plays when they're needed.
3. ST LOUIS BILLIKENS. I suppose it didn't make sense to think Rick Majerus would turn St. Louis around super fastly but I did because I love that fat-ass. But after a good year two seasons ago (11-5 A-10) they regressed hard last year, finishing at 6-10 last year, not in small part because their two best players - Willie Reed and Kwamain Mitchell - missed all of last season because of sexual assault charges. Both were cleared - Reed bolted for the NBA (undrafted, nice job genius), but getting Mitchell back is huge for a Billiken team that returns all five starters and their 8 top scorers from last season. If this isn't the year St. Louis makes the NCAA Tournament it's probably time to just end the program all together. Maybe all the other A-10 coaches could have fun little luau where they roast Majerus for food and invite A.C. Slater and it would be fun for all. Except Majerus.
4. GEORGE WASHINGTON COLONIALS. GW went an impressive 10-6 in the A-10 last season. Unfortunately that didn't remotely get them in the conversation for an NCAA bid because they didn't even come close to playing anybody in the non-conference slate and didn't beat any of the league's good teams during conference play. Still it's a good jumping off point for this season, and with only one starter gone from last year's team and getting back Lasan Kromah, who was second on the team in scoring two years ago as a freshman before missing last year with a foot injury, GW might be in contention to reach the NCAA Tournament. Tony Taylor is a player of the year candidate, and with a tougher schedule that includes games against Cal, Syracuse, and VCU, they have a shot.
5. CHARLOTTE 49ERS. The 49ers return four starters from last year's squad, but I'm not sure that's a good thing. Last year they couldn't shoot, turned the ball over like crazy, never registered assists, and couldn't play defense. All that led to a 10-20 record with just 2 conference wins. There is, however, reason to have some hope because three of those 10 wins came over Xavier, Tennessee, and Georgia Tech, so when things do come together for Charlotte they can play well, it just didn't happen with any regularity last year. Of those returners, three scored in double figures last year, including their top two assist and steal guys. If they can shoot a little better, take care of the ball a little better, and play better defense they could be dangerous. Yes, that's a lot of ifs and I don't know why I believe they'll be better. Maybe I just like green uniforms.
6. ST JOE'S HAWKS. I've seen St. Joe's referenced as a potential A-10 sleeper, but I'm not sure I really see it. Yes, they only lost one starter and not a very good one at that, but this is also a team that was beaten by the Gophers at home last year so how good can they be? Still, they have a couple of good guards including Carl Jones who is the third leading returning scorer in the conference with 17 per game, along with sophomore center C.J. Aiken who was ranked the #8 incoming freshman center in the country last season. Although Aiken is a bit of a project on offense he's already a killer on defense and averaged 3.5 blocks per game last season which led the conference and was second nationally. So I guess they do have some talent. But still, the Gophers.
7. DAYTON FLYERS. I've spent plenty of time in other A-10 previews talking about how Dayton has terrible fans so I won't rehash that here, especially since this year is going to be a toughie for the Flyers. Not only did they lose their coach, but they also lost leading scorer Chris Wright to graduation and freshman point guard Juwan Staten, who led the A-10 in assists, decided to transfer after realizing how much Dayton sucked. They still have Chris Johnson, a guy I really like who is an all-around kind of guy and superior athlete, and PG Kevin Dillard, a transfer from So Ill, led the MVC in assists his sophomore year so he's not a monster step down from Staten, but the talent level has definitely waned in Dayton. Gregory got out at the right time.
8. ST BONAVENTURE BONNIES. What St. Bonnie's has going for them is maybe the best player in the conference in Andrew Nicholson. What they don't have going for them is everything else. Nicholson is now a senior, and has gone from a 2-star center from Canada whose only D-I Scholarship offer came from St. Bonnie's to a guy who led the conference in scoring at 22 per game last year. All he needs is a little help and there's a couple of other returners who averaged in double-figures, but let's be honest St. Bonnie's has never been on tv so who am I kidding trying to write about them?
9. UMASS MINUTEMEN. They lose their best player and top scorer in Anthony Gurley, but return everybody else. The problem is that nobody besides Gurley averaged more than 8.5 points per game, so what you're left with is nine different players who averaged between 4.3 and 8.5 points per game last year, and I have no idea how that's going to shake itself out. If multiple players step up their game and become double digit scorers and all-conference types they could finish significantly higher than this. On the other hand, if nobody takes a leap and improves from last season they could be bottom dwellers. Obviously, I think neither of those things will happen and they'll just float here at #9. Go me!
10. DUQUESNE DUKES. The Dukes chance to shine was last year, but they came up a bit short. After starting the conference season 8-0, Duquesne limped to the finish at 2-6 and then were dropped in the first round of the A-10 tourney by crappy St. Joe's and ended up in the CBI since their non-conference resume was basically non-existent. Now both Damian Saunders and Bill Clark, two of the best players in Duquesne history, are gone and although there's still some talent here they certainly aren't in the same class they were in (or could have been in) last year. They return three pretty good guards, including A-10 rookie of the year T.J. McConnell, and since they play an extreme uptempo style that's a good start and they should end up ok, but they definitely whiffed on a big opportunity last season.
11. RICHMOND SPIDERS. After reaching the sweet 16 last year and setting a school record for victories, the Spiders have been massacred by graduations, losing four starters who accounted for nearly 70% of the team's scoring last year and over half of their rebounds and assists, including Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper who were both All A-10 first team selections last year. So yeah, they have a lot of uncertainty going on. Richmond has begun to establish itself as one of the elite basketball schools in the conference, but it's going to take some big years from unexpected places to keep them there.
12. FORDHAM RAMS. The sad thing about Fordham, other than the fact that their win totals have been three, two, and seven the past three years (and those are total wins, not conference wins), is that they actually have one of the best players in the conference in power forward Chris Gaston, who was the only A-10 player to average a double-double at 15.9 points and 11.3 rebounds (4th in the nation). The problem is he has zero help, so defenses really do nothing other than throw double and triple teams at him and it works because they are terrible at everything, and there's really no reason to think they're going to be much better. They lose their second leading scorer, but return two other double digit scorers in Branden Frazier (from Dudley Do-Right) and Alberto Estwick. If either of those guys can take some pressure of Gaston, maybe they could get to a CIT bid. Aim high.
13. RHODE ISLAND RAMS. Remember Jimmy Baron? The coaches son who played for the Rams a couple of years ago and rained down 8 three-pointers in Cameron and almost single-handedly beat Duke? He's been gone now for a couple of years, but little brother Billy just transferred in from Virginia and he profiles as a similar player. Which is good, because most of the excitement left Rhodey after last year with three of their top four scorers, including second team A-10 selection Delroy James. Joining Baron will be a couple returnees who are also excellent outside shooters and any time a team has a couple of outside threats they can also manage an upset or two, but that's about all the Rams will be good for this year.
14. LASALLE EXPLORERS. When Aaric Murray, who was ranked as the #35 overall recruit and #5 center in the country coming into school in 2009, it was a huge, huge deal. Here was a hometown kid from just outside Philly who was going to return the Explorers to the glory days of Lionel Simmons. Well. Insert fart sound. LaSalle went 4-12 and 6-10 in A-10 games the last two years, and although Murray put up good numbers he was also benched for poor effort last season and has now transferred to West Virgina with nary a post-season berth on the record. With two other double-digit scorers lost to graduation LaSalle finds itself in a position similar to the Minnesota Twins - no hope and no prospects, and one of the worst teams in the country.