Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Previewing the Madness: The Atlantic 10

The top three teams in the Atlantic 10 shook out the way we all expected.

Sort of.

Xavier, somewhere surprisingly, climbed to the top of the conference despite losing two key starters last season and two important reserves prior to the start of the year. Temple cruised to a 14-2 mark in league play, finishing a game behind the Musketeers and a game ahead of Richmond.

There were some surprises, however. For starters, Dayton once again collapsed during the season, finishing below .500 in league play and once again leaving a disappointing taste in the mouth of the analysts that predicted this team would compete for the league title. Rhode Island once against couldn't muster a finish in the top five of the league, and St. Louis had their season blown when their two best players were kicked out of school and Rick Majerus suffered a nasty gash on his leg in a collision with an opposing player.

Where: Campus sites, Atlantic City

When: March 8th, March 11-13th

Final: March 13th, 1:00 pm, CBS
Favorite: Xavier Musketeers

It doesn't matter who suits up. It doesn't matter who is the coach. All that matters is the name on the front of the jersey. Xavier was supposed to be down this season. That's what happens when you lose your starting center and star scoring guard in the offseason and two key perimeter reserves prior to the start of the season. But Tu Holloway and turned into one of the best point guards in the country while his experienced supporting cast -- Dante Jackson, Kenny Frease, Jamel McLean, and Mark Lyons -- have managed to thrive despite playing major minutes all season long. With the exception of a slip-up at Charlotte, X rolled through the regular season.

  • Other Contenders: Temple is playing their best basketball of the season right now. Juan Fernandez didn't have the kind of year we expected out of him, but Ramone Moore stepped his game up, becoming one of the best slashers in the conference. Lavoy Allen had a underwhelming year as well, but with Michael Eric out for the season, he's averaging 17 ppg and 14 rpg over the last five.

    Richmond has the best 1-2 combination in the country is dynamic scoring guard Kevin Anderson and versatile forward Justin Harper. When those two get it going and Richmond gets consistent efforts out of their role players, they are dangerous. Ask Purdue, who the Spiders knocked off back in November.
Sleeper: Duquesne Dukes

The Dukes struggled down the stretch, losing six of their last eight games in league play, but the 8-0 start they jumped out to -- which includes a dominating victory over Temple -- was no joke. Damian Saunders is one of the best all around players in the country this season, while Brady Clark has embraced the role of the big-time scorer.

  • Deeper Sleepers: There are three teams I think could put a scare into the big boys in this league. Rhode Island is a poor man's Louisville. They love to press and fire up threes, and when those threes are dropping, this team can play with anyone. George Washington won five of their last six games to finish in a tie for fourth in the conference. Led by Tony Taylor, this is your typical Karl Hobbs team that plays with a lot of effort. And don't count out Dayton. They've struggled, but this is a group with a lot of athletes and talented basketball players.
Players to Watch:
  • Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure: Nicholson is the Bonnies star big man that averages over 20 ppg. A junior, he's continued to develop his game to the point that NBA scouts are starting to take notice. He's gone for 30-plus four times this season.
  • Delroy James, Rhode Island: The versatile, 6'7" lefty forward is the best scorer on the Rams. He's not the most fundamentally sound player and has a tendency to take bad shots, but he can flat out "get buckets", as the kids say.
  • Chris Wright, Dayton: There is a reason he is known as Top Flight. Wright is 6'8" and can soar. The only issue he has had is that he's never turned himself more than just an athlete.

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