Xavier starts conference play on Thursday, taking on Temple as the two great Atlantic 10 powers kick things off one last time. That game will be rife with reference to new conferences, a smaller Big East, and a conglomerate known as the Catholic 7. That game, and the 15 that follow it, will also determine the ultimate course of this basketball season for Xavier. Our Atlantic 10 preview (Part One and Part Two) took a look at the league before a single ball had been tipped. Since then Xavier has ridden the roller coaster of a great start, a Jeff Robinson foul, and a complete collapse. Here is how the rest of the conference is faring thus far.
Butler (12-2, 14th ESPN, 18th RPI, 53rd KenPom) - The Bulldogs faced Xavier in non-conference play this year and suffered a 15 point defeat. At that point Xavier looked looked to be a class above with stifling defense and efficient offense. Butler, on the other hand, got nothing from Rotnei Clarke and failed to make much of an impression. That was then. Now, Butler is #17 in the nation and has beaten Marquette, North Carolina, and Indiana. Butler's only loss since Xavier came at the hands of Illinois in the last of a three games in three days stretch. Clarke has recovered since X and now averages 16.2 points per game and is shooting 43% from deep.
Original outlook: Just not quite enough top end talent to win the league, but Butler should go dancing this year.
Revised outlook: Butler will go dancing, and may very well take the Atlantic 10 on the way.
Charlotte (12-2, 76th, 96th)- The 49ers are 12-2 at this point but manage a KenPom rating of only 96th. The losses (Miami (Fl) and Florida State) came in the only games where Charlotte could have actually garnered a bit of attention. Wins over the likes of Georgia Southern, Radford, and Kennesaw State are not things that at large bids are made of. Even Chris Braswell's 12/6/1 line speaks to the general mediocrity of the team.
Original outlook: This is the best team that Major has put together in his three years at Charlotte, but that still isn't enough to make them a major factor in the conference.
Revised outlook: Nothing has changed with this team. Maybe decent, not good.
Dayton (10-4, 85th, 71st)- The Flyers have been pretty good this year, even beating some solid BCS schools (most notably Alabama on the road) on their way to a 10-4 record. Kevin Dillard remains the focal point, getting 15/5/2 despite a truly atrocious 38% from the floor. The wins look good but the inconsistency that caused a home loss to Weber St must be a concern around the UD campus.
Original outlook: Hard to say. If Dillard remembers how to shoot from deep (45% as a freshman down to 32% as a junior) and stays healthy, the Flyers could make a bit of noise. Every team they play will be keying off him though, so the lack of other options keeps UD on the outside looking in.
Revised outlook: 71st in KenPom puts Dayton south of the bubble, but not by an insurmountable margin. Dillard still can't shoot, so the up and down will continue and still leave the Flyers just short.
Duquesne (7-7, 140th, 205th)- Duquesne mattered two years ago, were midpack last year, and are still plummeting now. Yes, their 7-7 doesn't look much worse than Xavier's 7-6, but it is. The wins are over James Madison, New Orleans, Youngstown State, Appalachian State, Maine, West Virginia (!?), and Western Michigan. As bad as those are, losses to North Dakota State, Robert Morris, and Albany probably didn't feel any better. Sean Johnson remains the only reason to watch this team.
Original outlook: Oh so very grim.
Revised outlook: Hey, at least they beat the Mountaineers.
Fordham (4-11, 243rd, 247th)- Chris Gaston can play some ball, getting 14/7/1 on .480/.000/.688 shooting line. Branden Frazier's shameless chucking (15.7 ppg on 37% from the floor) deprives Gaston of some touches, but this team is so bad it doesn't really matter. The Rams enter conference play on the back of a 27 point hiding from Ole Miss.
Original outlook: Better than last year, the Rams still aren't any good.
Revised outlook: 186th non-conference strength of schedule and a 4-11 record are not positive indicators. Fordham is really bad.
George Washington (6-7, 182nd, 119th)- The Colonials took a shot at scheduling some BCS schools in their attempt to begin to make a mark on the conference. Unfortunately for them, those schools (Notre Dame, Kansas St, Rutgers, and Georgia) beat them. There were encouraging signs though, as three of losses came by a total of 15 points. The Notre Dame thrashing aside, GWU has been in every game this year. Still, losses to Youngstown St and the Bradley Braves sting, no matter how close the game.
Original outlook: Could surprise and land near the lower end of the middle of the conference. You have to start somewhere.
Revised outlook: Inconsistency plagues a team with some decent talent. Lower end of the middle of the conference still looks likely.
La Salle (10-3, 48th, 60th)- One of the things the Explorers needed was some help down low to go with their loaded backcourt. So far, Steve Zack, a 6-11 sophomore, has contributed with 7/7/1 and let the backcourt (Galloway 17.8ppg, Duren 15.3, Garland 14.7) do the heavy lifting. That's take La Salle to a massive win over Penn State, an overtime victory over Villanova, and some demolitions of lower level opponents.
Original outlook: If either Steve Zack or Rohan Brown contribute down low, the Explorers could make the big dance. If they don't, the NIT waits. La Salle should be there right to the end.
Revised outlook: If that backcourt really gets rolling, they can beat anyone. Right on the edge of the bubble now, a couple of good wins and no bad losses in conference get La Salle in.
UMass (10-3, 46th, 123rd)- Well it depends on who you ask. RPI is fond of the Minutemen, Ken Pomeroy is not. What is certain is that UMass has taken care of business. All three losses are respectable. #6 NC State thumped the Derek Kellog's boys but losses to Miami (Fl) and Tennessee were much closer contests. The defense has been an issue, as has closing games. No one should need overtime to beat Elon and no one should allow 81 to Eastern Carolina or 83 to UT.
Original outlook: In the running to be conference champs and an absolute nightmare for whoever draws them in the NCAA tournament. [Full disclosure: I picked them to win the A10].
Revised outlook: the defensive struggles and the basketball being played by VCU and Butler probably knocks the Minutemen into the second tier of the Atlantic 10.
Rhode Island (5-8, 165th, 186th)- The Rams probably surprised a lot of people when they beat Auburn, not the least the Tigers themselves. What wasn't a surprise to much of anyone was the 0-5 stretch that preceded that game or the demolition at the hands of Saint Mary's just after Christmas. JuCo transfer Xavier Munford has helped keep Rhody above water by pouring in 17.5 points per game, but even that has come with the string of .404/.298/.684 shooting line attached.
Original outlook: Last place.
Revised outlook: Next to last place?
Richmond (10-5, 110th, 81st)- Nothing special, the Spiders are slowly trying to reassert themselves after last year's plunge. Darien Brothers has been the main reason that Richmond has hung on, scoring 15.7 on an astounding .507/.550/.854. Yes, 55% from deep. That hasn't come on minimal efforts either, Brothers lifts more than five times a game. Brothers can't do everything though, and the Spiders rebounding currently lands them at 328th in the nation.
Original outlook: Not there yet, but not far away. The core will remain in place after this year, so the Spiders are on the rise again.
Revised outlook: No need for revision here. The Spiders are a decent team, but they aren't quite ready to make noise in conference.
St. Bonaventure (7-6, 153rd, 111th)- The King is dead, and with Andrew Nicholson seemed to go the Bonnies hopes. A non-conference strength of schedule rank of 207th at least speaks to some self awareness at St. Bonaventure. Demetrius Conger picked up where he left off and leads the Bonnies with 13.8 points per game. Unrepentant gunner Matthew Wright is the anti Darien Brothers, getting his 7.8 on a .376/.176/.821 shooting line.
Original outlook: Things will begin well with the banner hanging, after that it is all downhill.
Revised outlook: It hasn't all been downhill, there was a 40 point win over Citadel. Still, this team doesn't figure to matter in the A10 this year.
St. Joe's (8-4, 59th, 57th)- The Hawks have continued their habit of being annoyingly effective thus far in the year. Aside from Halil Kanecivic's salute to the Villanova faithful (and the ensuing instant karma of costing his team the game at the line) the Hawks have done fairly well. A win over Notre Dame in overtime is somewhat eclipsed by getting crushed by Creighton, but St. Joe's enters conference play pretty much on course.
Original outlook: Appallingly rosy. If the Hawks don't win the thing, they'll be right in the mix.
Revised outlook: Pleasingly, a bit down. Creighton demolished St. Joe to start a 4-3 run that included being beaten by Fairfield.
Saint Louis (11-3, 56th, 40th)- It's been a difficult season off the court for the Billikens as they cope with the passing of Coach Rick Majerus. On the court, this season has been a continuation of last for a team that now has to be considered part of the upper tier of the A10. Junior Mike McCall has grown into the player that the coaching staff hope he would be, leading the squad in points (12.1), three point percentage (51%), and minutes (33.4). Jordair Jett (1.6 steals) anchors a defense that is still intent on grinding out every single possession.
Original outlook: Saint Louis was very, very close to the conference title last year. They will be again.
Revised outlook: If Saint Louis has slipped down the table a bit, it isn't their fault. Wins over Texas A&M and New Mexico should look good come March.
Temple (10-3, 27th, 55th)- The Owls have lost three games this year. Two of those, Duke and Kansas, were road or neutral against top 10 teams. The third loss, to the ferocious Golden Griffins of Canisus, is a bit confusing. Since that Canisus loss though, Temple has added a win over Syracuse and played Kansas right to the wire. Khalif Wyatt (16/2/4 and 1.3 steals) does the bulk of the offensive lifting but five players average more than seven points per game and eight players manage double digit minutes. The Owls are deep and, with the exception of dominant big man, loaded.
Original outlook: In the last year Temple and Xavier share the Atlantic 10, it doesn't look like either will win.
Revised outlook: I'll stand by the original, but Temple could surely make it close.
VCU (12-3, 36th, 12th)- HAVOC (capitalized only for emphasis) has been the bane of any offense coming against it this year. VCU leads the nation by turning over its opponents on 30.1% of possessions and also leads the nation with an otherworldly 19.3 steal percentage. In short, the Rams are likely the best defense you will ever see. Losses to Duke and Missouri came by a total of 12 points and neither opponent scored 70. In fact, only one opponent (Old Dominion) has made 70 and the Rams still beat them by 13. Oh, the Rams also get eight or more minutes out 11 different players.
Original outlook: Will go as far as the murderous defense takes them. That could be a very long way.
Revised outlook: A very, very long way.