A-10 Preview: Part One

Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

The Atlantic 10 won't be Xavier's playground this year, but that doesn't mean it won't be interesting to watch. The additions of Butler and VCU, plus the development of Saint Louis, UMass, La Salle and others should make this year a very competitive one.

The Atlantic 10 has, in recent years, been the plaything of the Xavier Musketeers. Last year marked the first season in recent memory in which the Musketeers didn’t lay claim to either the tournament or regular season crown, and that only because of a stuttering start to conference play that coincided with a little altercation you may remember.

This year, the landscape has changed. Rather than plowing through such stalwarts as Fordham, Duquesne, and Rhode Island on their way to the crown, the Atlantic 10 winner will have to defeat VCU, Butler, and, for one more year at least, Temple. The Musketeers don’t figure to be much a factor in the championship race this year, but that doesn’t mean this season won’t be a good one.

Butler- The Bulldogs enter their first year in the Atlantic 10 coming off something of a down year in the Horizon League. This Butler team isn’t the same one that was the national runner up in consecutive seasons, but they still figure to factor into the final championship run. Rotnei Clarke, probably the best shooter in the conference, takes over at the point and joins the remaining four starters from last year’s Butler team. Andrew Smith will anchor the team down low and gives Brad Stevens options in his methods of offensive attack.

Strength: Brad Stevens took two straight teams of virtual no names to the Final Four. It’s rare that a coach can make as big an impact as he does.
Weakness: Outside shooting. Outside of Clarke, who is excellent, no one on Butler is much of a threat from deep. The team shot 28% from three last year.
Outlook: Just not quite enough top end talent to win the league, but Butler should go dancing this year.

Charlotte: Depending on what you think of taunting the crowd and flexing your muscles when down ten in a conference game, you either love or hate 49er forward Chris Braswell. Braswell is the best player (15.8ppg, 7.6rpg) on a team that also returns gunner DeMario Mayfield (11.2ppg) and Pierra Henry (3.4apg). Charlotte has never been much of a threat in the Atlantic 10, but Coach Alan Major thinks this is the best team he has assembled.

Strength: Braswell and Victor Nickerson give Major bigs that are athletic enough to cause matchup problems for slower teams.
Weakness: The 49ers cannot score from outside any better than Butler can.
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.

Dayton- Xavier and Dayton played one of the best games of last season in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Xavier used a late run to knock off a Flyers team that eventually grabbed a #2 seed… in the NIT. Archie Miller brought in two transfers that could greatly impact this season in Matt Derenbecker (LSU, 8.3ppg) and Vee Sanford (Georgetown, 2.4ppg). Derenbecker is slow, but has decent size (6-7, 220) and all kinds of range. Sanford is also a shooter and Miller insists he will take some of the scoring load of returning star guard Kevin Dillard. Dayton plays a schedule this year that, if they win some games, is strong enough to get them the NCAA berth they missed last year.

Strength: Kevin Dillard averaged 6 assists a game last year and made Tu Holloway work in all three games between the Musketeers and Flyers last year. He’s only gotten better.
Weakness: Absolutely no backcourt depth. Dayton lost Matt Kavanaugh (9ppg) when he was dismissed from the team, but Josh Benson (12ppg) and both of their backups returned. Miller added two more post recruits, but didn’t really address a backcourt that will live and die on Kevin Dillard. The Flyers are also rotten on defense.
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.

Duquesne- Oh my. The Dukes couldn’t rebound anything last year, lost three of their best players to transfer, and then fired their head coach. These aren’t the ways to come into a season feeling optimistic. A respectable 16-15 last year, the Dukes look to be in a complete freefall now. Jim Ferry promises that his undersized team will run and run and run. The team’s leading rebounder is 6-7 senior Andre Marhold, who grabbed a paltry four boards per game and isn’t a pure post.

Strength: Sean Johnson is a player on the outside and will carry the offensive load after averaging 13.5ppg last season. The senior is an effective (37%) outide shooter and can also rebound a bit.
Weakness: Horrible big men. Mamadou Datt (6-8, 2.2rpg), Derrick Martin (6-10, 1.1rpg), and Martins Abele (7-1,.3ppg) are what pass for post players for the Dukes.
Outlook: Oh so very grim.

Fordham- Last year the Rams went 10-19 overall and 3-13 in conference. This season of achievement got Head Coach Tom Pecora an extension through the 2016 season and a new lease on life. The Rams, literally the worst shooting team in the Atlantic 10 in every category, return Chris Gaston, a senior who is languishing on a bad team despite putting up 17.1ppg and 9.9rpg. Gaston stands only 6-7 but led the Atlantic 10 in both offensive and defensive rebounding last year. The Rams also bring back Branden Frazier (11.7ppg, 1.9-1 A/TO), Fatty McMillan (7.4ppg), and Bryan Smith (9.6ppg) to fill out the backcourt.

Strength: The backcourt is actually very deep, with the three starters backed by Jeffrey Short (3.9ppg) and freshman Jermaine Myers.
Weakness: 36%, 32%, 32%. Those are the field goal marks of the starting guards. The team as a whole shot 38% from the floor. That’s awful.
Outlook: Better than last year, the Rams still aren’t any good.

George Washington- This is a young team that returns only two starters. A quick glance at the Colonials record last year (10-21) indicates that is probably a good thing. Lasan Kromah brings his inaccurate (.405/.642/.313) panache back to being the returning scorer for GW. Leading rebounder David Pellom (6.1rpg) will return in mid-November and is the polar opposite of Kromah from the floor, shooting 68%. Six new players, led by Argentinian Patricio Garino and Villanova transfer Isaiah Armwood, give Coach Jim Lonergan some reason to be hopeful for the future.

Strength: Freshman Joe McDonald and Kevin Larsen give Lonergan good reason for that hope. This team is deep in talented youth.
Weakness: Chemistry with six new players trying to fit in and Kromah shooting (poorly) all the time. The Colonials are also short on top end talent.
Outlook: Could surprise and land near the lower end of the middle of the conference. You have to start somewhere.

La Salle- The Explorers made postseason play in the form of the NIT for the first time since 1992 last year. This year, they return four starters, including a loaded backcourt led by Ramon Galloway (14.1ppg on a .457/.785/.442 line) a scorer who joins Tyreek Duren and Sam Mills in what may very well by the best backcourt in the league. La Salle shot 41% from deep last season, and that doesn’t figure to get any worse this year. Jerrell Wright is the key returning big, a forward who scored nearly ten a game last year.

Strength: That backcourt. Duren (.474/.810/.392) and Mills (.422/.722/.417) can both shoot it nearly as well as Galloway.
Weakness: Having a strong backcourt comes with a trade off, and fo the Explorers that is rebounding. Wright gets 5.6 per game, no one else really bothers.
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.

UMass- The Minutemen ran and bombed their way into the NIT semifinals last year. Pressuring and shooting and generally wreaking havoc is the way that Coach Derek Kellogg likes it, but UMass will need someone to replace leading rebounder Sean Carter in order to provide a base for all that frenetic activity. Stat-stuffer extraordinaire Chaz Williams (16.9ppg, 4.4rpg, 6.2apg, 2.2spg) returns after a season in which he seemed to just keep getting better. Back with him are UMass’ top four scorers and nine of their top ten rebounders.

Strength: Loads of depth and a defense that managed a school record 326 steals. The Minutemen come at you in waves.
Weakness: Should the pace of the game slow, UMass lacks a real banger. Cady LaLanne is their best hope down low, and he missed 22 games last year due to injury.
Outlook: In the running to be conference champs and an absolute nightmare for whoever draws them in the NCAA tournament.

Come back tomorrow for the in-depth look at the rest of the Atlantic 10 conference, plus our league standings projections.

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