Athlon Sports continues its countdown to the start of the 2012-13 basketball season, which begins with the first games on Nov. 9, with a countdown of the nation’s top conferences. We will release one conference preview each day, counting down to the top conference. For profiles of every team in each conference, check out the 2012-13 Athlon Sports College Basketball annual available in the online store.
The Atlantic 10 begins a two-year state of flux, and that’s not just because of the comings and goings of teams in the league.
Sure, the A-10 adds recent Final Four teams VCU and Butler to the lineup this season. And the league is set to lose Temple (Big East) and Charlotte (Conference USA) a year from now, but there are questions all over the conference, which may be one of the most competitive in the country, at least at the top.
With a handful of young players returning to VCU, the Rams may be the favorite in the league in their first season here. Part of the reason is personnel turnover at Xavier and Temple, the two teams that have set pace for the conference the last few years.
Saint Louis has the personnel, but one major question on the bench as Jim Crews coaches the team while Rick Majerus takes a leave of absence to tend to health concerns.
Elsewhere, UMass and St. Joseph’s appear to be ready to reclaim their spot as NCAA Tournament teams after several years of the NIT or worse.
ATHLON ALL-ATLANTIC 10 TEAM
ATLANTIC 10 FACTS AND FIGURES
G Chaz Williams, UMass*
2011-12 regular season champion: Temple
G Khalif Wyatt, Temple
2012 NCAA Tournament teams: Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure#, Temple,
G Kevin Dillard, Temple
VCU (as member of CAA), Xavier
F Juvonte Reddic, VCU
New coaches: Jim Crews (Saint Louis), Jim Ferry (Duquesne),
F Chris Braswell, Charlotte
Dan Hurley (Rhode Island)
Realignment: Added Butler (Horizon), VCU (CAA)
*preseason player of the year
#won conference tournament
2012-13 ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE PREVIEW
1. VCU (29-7, 15-3 CAA)
Coach Shaka Smart has the luxury of taking a veteran roster from the Colonial to the Atlantic 10. Five of his best players are upperclassmen and two sophomores — Briante Weber and Treveon Graham — played extensively in their first collegiate season during the Rams’ NCAA Tournament run. Defense begets offense in the VCU system, and the Rams are prodigious thieves. They led the country in total steals (381) and steals per game (10.6) last year. What’s important in that statistic is that frequently steals don’t turn into layups — they turn into backbreaking threes. Prior to last season, only two Rams had ever made at least 80 3-pointers in a season, but Troy Daniels (school-record 94) and Bradford Burgess (81) both joined that club in ’11-12. Graham has all-conference written all over him. He averaged 7.0 points in 16.8 minutes off the bench as a freshman and was adept at getting to the foul line (3.3 attempts per game). Smart has no qualms playing a four-guard lineup. Considering VCU has gone 15–5 over the past 10 seasons against current A-10 teams, an A-10 championship and another deep NCAA Tournament run is a possibility.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Two and Out
2. Saint Louis (26-8, 12-4)
Saint Louis advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a dozen years, and despite losing its leading scorer, this group could be more formidable than the won that won 26 games. There is, however, one caveat -- the Billikens must forge ahead without coach Rick Majerus, who is taking a leave of absence for health reasons. Jim Crews, who joined the staff prior to last season, will be the interim coach. Beyond losing top scorer Brian Conklin, Saint Louis brings back everyone else of note and also adds a talented freshman to a team that beat Memphis in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament before losing to top-seeded Michigan State. Kwamain Mitchell is one of the best guards in the league and could challenge for conference Player of the Year honors. Mitchell, who missed the 2010-11 campaign due to off-court issues, was sensational down the stretch last season. He was second on the team in scoring and led the team in assists. Senior forward Cody Ellis averaged double-figures while coming off the bench last season and gives Crews a skilled forward who can step out and make shots from the perimeter. Majerus is extremely high on freshman Keith Carter. The speedy Proviso (Ill.) East standout has already been labeled by Majerus as the second-best point guard he’s coached, behind former Utah Utes star and NBA veteran Andre Miller. The Billikens suffered a blow when Majerus stepped down, but the roster that nearly reached the Sweet 16 returns mostly intact.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament One and Done
3. Temple (24-8, 13-3)
The Owls’ last the Atlantic 10 will be a very different Temple squad without Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore. New leaders need to emerge and the good news is there are several candidates. Senior Khalif Wyatt (17.1 ppg) was the team’s second leading scorer and is as dangerous as any guard in the conference. Coach Fran Dunphy also sees forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson capable of making a big jump and returning big man Anthony Lee and guard T.J. DiLeo have valuable minutes under their belts. What will be the difference maker, however, is the impact several new faces can bring. Scootie Randall is no newcomer. The senior was the A-10’s Most Improved Player in 2011, but a foot injury led to a redshirt season a year ago. He averaged 10.7 points and 4.7 rebounds two years ago and will be a major impact player.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament One and Done
4. UMass (25-12, 9-7)
It’s taken longer than expected, but UMass basketball is finally healthy again. The first three years of the Derek Kellogg Era in Amherst were mediocre at best, but now, after a 25-win campaign and an NIT semifinal berth, the Minutemen appear primed to challenge for the A-10 title and could make a run at their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998. The difference: A revamped system and a legitimate point guard. For the first three years, Kellogg didn’t have a guy he could count on to run the team, but diminutive Hofstra transfer Chaz Williams was the difference-maker for the program last season, leading the team in scoring, assists and steals. Williams also fits perfectly into Kellogg’s new up-tempo, full-court pressure system— which replaces the dribble drive he implemented upon taking over four years ago. The only starter UMass will have to replace is steady big man Sean Carter (8.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg).
Postseason prediction: NIT
5. Butler (22-15, 11-7 Horizon)
The standards have become so outrageous when it comes to Brad Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs that a 22-victory campaign, one that resulted in a postseason appearance in the CBI, was considered a major disappointment last season. Butler’s biggest issue last season was knocking down the outside shot — the Bulldogs made 28 percent from the arc — but that’s certain to change with the addition of Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke and freshman wing Kellen Dunham. Clarke made 274 3-pointers in three seasons with Arkansas and established himself as arguably the top perimeter shooter in the country before transferring to Butler for his final campaign. The 6-5 Dunham gives Stevens another lights-out shooter, one who can help space the court in an effort to help guys like senior big man Andrew Smith. Butler will fill the perimeter shooting void, but it’s most glaring issue will be replacing the leadership, defense and intangibles of point guard Ronald Nored. Butler was dealt a further blow when it dismissed budding star guard Chrishawn Hopkins.
Postseason prediction: NIT
6. Saint Joseph’s (20-14, 9-7)
Saint Joseph’s suffered through an uncharacteristic dip a few years ago, winning only 11 games in 2009-10 and ’10-11. But last season the Hawks took a significant step towards getting back to the norm, winning 20 games overall and finishing 9–7 in A-10 play with a team that is set to remain intact for this coming season. Veteran coach Phil Martelli boasts a big-time scoring guard in Carl Jones, who is the veteran on the team and comes off a second consecutive campaign in which he averaged 17.0 points per game. Junior Langston Galloway, Jones’ running mate in the backcourt, is one of the elite shooters in the country from beyond the arc. The Baton Rouge, La., native hit 46.6 percent from 3-point range in ’11-12. It’ll be difficult to find a more potent guard duo in the league than Jones and Galloway. The X-factor for the Hawks up front is C.J. Aiken, the long and thin 6-9 Pennsylvania native who is one of the most adept shot-blockers in the nation. There’s truly no one else in the league who can match Aiken, who has swatted 237 shots in his two seasons on campus and altered plenty more.
Postseason prediction: NIT
7. St. Bonaventure (20–12, 10–6)
The Bonnies’ season changed dramatically during an Atlantic 10 Tournament run that included wins over Saint Joseph’s, UMass and Xavier and delivered the program’s first-ever conference title and first NCAA berth since 2000. Although he loses NBA draft pick Andrew Nicholson, coach Mark Schmidt has three returning starters and two veterans who sat out last year with injuries. The returning starters include dangerous scorer Demitrius Conger and guards Charlon Kloof and Matthew Wright. Conger is an athletic and heady wing while both Kloof and Wright made major gains as sophomores. That group will be bolstered by the return of senior Michael Davenport, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury after starting all 31 games as a junior (11.1 ppg). Davenport should be ready for a major impact year.
8. Xavier (23-13, 10-6)
Chris Mack lost a ton of talent. Tu Holloway and Kenny Frease both graduated, and guard Mark Lyons transferred to Arizona for his final season of eligibility. Those three represented Xavier’s top three scorers who accounted for nearly 43 points per game. And during the offseason Dez Wells, the top returning scorer, was dismissed and later landed at Maryland. Mack’s focus, instead, will go to rookies Freshman guard Semaj Christon has the potential to be a future star and will likely step in and replace Holloway at the point. Fellow freshmen Myles Davis, Jalen Reynolds and James Farr all have a chance to get significant playing time. In the frontcourt, Former Monmouth star Travis Taylor struggled last season, his first at Xavier, after a stellar preseason. He’ll get a chance to step in and earn a starting spot. So will Towson transfer Isaiah Philmore, a junior who averaged 15.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in the Colonial two years ago. Either Taylor or Philmore will need to have a strong season for the Musketeers to be a legitimate factor in the A-10 race.
9. La Salle (21–13, 9–7)
The Explorers entered the A-10 Tournament with 21 wins and lofty postseason hopes but a quick loss to Saint Louis and a one-and-done NIT appearance with a loss at Minnesota left a sour taste on a good season. The good news is the Explorers return four starters. The keys are dynamic point guard Tyreek Duren (13.2 ppg) and senior scoring wing Ramon Galloway (14.1 ppg). Sam Mills (10.6 ppg) also scored in double figures and completes one of the better trios of wings in the conference. That backcourt will be supplemented by the mid-December addition of Virginia Tech transfer Tyrone Garland, a Philly product with plenty of game.
10. Dayton (20–13, 9–7)
The Flyers won their customary 20-plus games in Archie Miller’s first season as head coach, but no one in Dayton is happy with an NIT finish. A few key returnees, plus some impressive newcomers, make the Flyers a potentially dangerous team in the A-10. The leader will be senior Kevin Dillard, a second team all-league pick who led the Flyers in scoring (13.3 ppg) a year ago. He spent part of his summer competing against the best guards in the country at the LeBron James Nike camp and drew strong reviews. Wing Devin Oliver has started at times as well, but he’ll be pushed hard by Georgetown transfer Vee Sanford, LSU transfer Matt Derenbecker and freshman Dyshawn Pierre.
11. Richmond (16–16, 7–9)
Returning to the top of the A-10 standings will be tough for the Richmond, but the Spiders clearly reloaded last year with an eye on 2013. The key will be the return of a three-guard lineup that boasts plenty of experience, as well as talent. Point guard Cedric Lindsay racked up nearly twice as many assists as turnovers as a sophomore and helped trigger the scoring of both Darien Brothers (14.6 ppg) and 5-8 whippet Kendall Anthony (13.0 ppg). Both guards nailed 68 threes. The trick will be upgrading a frontcourt that has some intriguing prospects. Powerful junior Derrick Williams (5.6 rpg) is the leading returning rebounder, but no other returnee averaged more than four boards. The answers will come from a group of three redshirt freshmen and two true freshmen, all frontcourt players.
12. Charlotte (13–17, 5–11)
The 49ers are off to Conference USA in ’13-14 in a quest for relevance as a football school, but Alan Major’s team has one more spin around the Atlantic 10. Major has yet to establish a winning environment in his two years in Charlotte but is certainly remaking the roster. He added six players two years ago and six more newcomers are on board for his third season. The talent base is clearly moving in the right direction. The leader is a holdover from the Bobby Lutz Era, senior center Chris Braswell. Despite losing a ton of games in his three seasons, Braswell is a known NBA commodity who led his team in scoring (15.8 ppg) and rebounding (7.6 rpg) and shot 51 percent from the field.
13. Fordham (10–19, 3–13)
There aren’t many programs in the country that would award a contract extension to a coach who’s won four conference games in two years. Welcome to Fordham. The Rams have clearly made gains under Tom Pecora. Fordham did post a 7–6 non-league record a year ago and was not routinely blown out of A-10 games for the first time in ages. A good goal for this coming season will be making the league tournament for the first time since 2008, and with four starters back, including all-league candidate Chris Gaston, the move is possible. Now a senior, Gaston (17.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg) continues to be one of the best players no one knows about.
14. George Washington (10–21, 5–11)
Mike Lonergan has clearly made his mark on the GW program, and he’s done so in the most important department — recruiting. The Colonials are adding six new players to a mix of holdovers thirsting to make a move in the A-10. Leading the returnees is Lasan Kromah, an athletic wing who averaged 11.1 points last season. Forward David Pellom also scored in double figures (10.4 ppg) and led the team in rebounding (6.1 rpg).
15. Rhode Island (7–24, 4–12)
After winning 20 or more games in the previous four seasons, the Rams were due for a rebuilding season. and that unfolded in spades in 2012. Things got so bad that the school decided to move on after 11 years under Jim Baron that included lots of wins but zero NCAA Tournament berths. The Rams tabbed Wagner coach Dan Hurley, plus his assistant coaching brother Bobby, to lead the program. The Hurleys have a major rebuilding job on their hands and entering mid-summer there were 11 players on scholarship but only eight eligible for 2012-13. Transfers Gilvydas Biruta (Rutgers), Jarelle Reischel (Rice) and DeShon Minnis (Texas Tech) will wait for 2013-14 to make their mark while this year’s Rams replace four key players. The veterans are led by senior forward Nikola Malesevic. His 3-point shot mysteriously sank from 45 percent to 30 last year in a glimpse of the Rams’ woes.
16. Duquesne (16–15, 7–9)
After regaining solid footing in the Atlantic 10 under Ron Everhart, the Dukes felt he wasn’t the coach to lead the program to the next level and somewhat surprisingly fired him last March. Enter Jim Ferry, an impressive veteran coach who made LIU Brooklyn a leader in the Northeast Conference. Ferry has a major rebuilding job on his hands. Duquesne lost four of its top five scorers, including a painful transfer of local guard and fan favorite T.J. McConnell to Arizona. Senior guard Sean Johnson (13.5 ppg), senior forward Andre Marhold (5.1 ppg) and junior guard Jerry Jones (6.4 ppg) are the veterans Ferry can lean on, but major improvement from returnees like Kadeem Pantophlet, Mamadou Datt and Derrick Martin is vital.
More previews for the 2012-13 season can be found in the Athlon Sports College Basketball annual available in the online store
Athlon College Basketball Countdown:
8. Ohio State
10. Michigan State
11. NC State
14. North Carolina
15. San Diego State
19. Notre Dame
More from the 2012-13 College Basketball Preview:
Top 10 Freshmen for 2012-13
Impact Transfers for 2012-13
Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2012-13
10 Players Returning from Injury
Gonzaga leads International Dream Team