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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

College Chalktalk A-10 Conference Preview

Atlantic 10 Notebook: The Wild, Wide Open A-10

Ian Nolan, College Chalktalk Staff Writer

As we turn the calendar over to 2011, the conference slate is fast approaching. This week, Atlantic 10 Basketball will tip-off on Wednesday night… and Temple will officially begin their quest for a fourth straight automatic bid.  However, before we look ahead to the next three months of basketball, let’s take a look at six headlines that have captured our attention so far in the 2010-2011 season.

The Wild, Wide Open Atlantic 10
As of Saturday night, the Atlantic 10 boasted no team with fewer than three losses, and eight teams that have won at least seven of their non-conference games. Our preseason predicted champion Temple has looked the part at times this year, such as their win over 10th ranked Georgetown; but isn’t a dominant team at this point that looks poised to run away and hide with the league crown.

Xavier stands at 8-4 but has had to play with a very short bench after losing Brad Redford to a torn ACL and Justin Martin to ineligibility.  The Musketeers have had their share of poor showings (see overtime win vs. IPFW and double-digit loss to rival Miami of Ohio).

Richmond, which entered the season returning much of the same cast that pushed Temple to the limit in the A-10 title game a year ago, sports an 11-4 mark and has used the 15th best shooting percentage in the nation to carry them into league play. Chris Mooney’s club has beaten the likes of 8th ranked Purdue, Arizona State, Virginia Commonwealth, and Seton Hall, but laid the proverbial egg last night against Bucknell.

And what about Jim Baron’s Rhode Island Rams? Led by do it all senior Delroy James, the Rams are off to a 9-4 start with a quality win over Boston College last week… and are well balanced offensively with five players averaging double figures.  Defense and rebounding remain question marks that Rhody must address in conference play.

Finally, we come to the Dayton Flyers, leading the league in wins at 12-3, and are winners of seven of their last eight games. The Flyers boast the 17th best rebounding outfit in the nation (41 boards) which has helped cover up their offensive deficiencies as they rank just 299th in field goal percentage (40%). Freshman point guard Juwan Staten has been a godsend to the team, averaging 6.6 helpers per night, but more on him later.

After covering our bases by noting those five teams’ respective accomplishments, it goes without saying that the rest of the league is just as wide open as the top four or five spots.  Teams such as UMass, La Salle, St. Bonaventure, Duquesne, Charlotte, Saint Louis and George Washington could all dream of finishing as high as fifth in the league or finish as low as 11th. The combined record of those mentioned clubs is 49-40, meaning that while the race at the top of the league is hotly contested by quality clubs, the race for slots five or six on down is just as wide open, but filled with clubs who have a combination of star power (see Andrew Nicholson of St. Bonaventure, Aaric Murray of La Salle, Anthony Gurley of UMass) as well as glaring holes in their overall game (St. Bonaventure’s non-existent bench, La Salle’s inability to get stops, and UMass’ poor shooting).

If nothing else, this season of league play promises to be one of unprecedented parity with seeding for Atlantic City likely to come down to the final day of the season for many slots.

Nicholson Carries Bonnies, and hope in Olean
Andrew Nicholson entered his junior season a marked man. After losing guards Jonathan Hall and Chris Matthews, Nicholson was sure to see double and triple teams each night this year.

He has.

And he’s responded like a future NBA draft selection. Averaging over 20 points per game along with nine rebounds, Nicholson gives the Bonnies a talent they haven’t suited up in maybe thirty or more seasons; a 6-foot-9 forward who can score in a variety of ways, and can even step out and knock down the three. St. Bonaventure may not be deep but is now a team to be leery of during conference play because of its superstar forward.

Dayton Gets a Point Guard, a Damn Fine Point Guard
The Atlantic 10 doesn’t always nab the most heralded recruits in the nation when compared to the power conferences; but Juwan Staten was heralded coming out of high school and he has produced in a big time way. Staten is averaging 9 points and 6.6 assists per game, not only leading the league in that column, but he also leads the nation in assist rate (assists divided by field goals made when he is on the floor). Staten has been just what the doctor ordered for a Dayton team who always had people saying “If they only had a good point man…” The Flyers are now loaded with talent (Staten, C. Wright, C. Johnson) and ripe to make a title run under Brian Gregory who may finally have the pieces in place to climb to the top of the mountain.

Again, Fran Dunphy Finds another Scorer                    
It just doesn’t seem to matter to Fran Dunphy who graduates from his program. Dionte Christmas then Ryan Brooks, now the Owls have junior Ramone Moore who has upped his scoring from seven points a game to 15 a night, all sparked by his 36% shooting from deep. Moore has more than been a sidekick to the Allen-Fernandez duo; he’s pushed them aside to form a threesome as good as any in the league. Moore officially arrived on December 9th, the night of the Owls win over 9th ranked Georgetown on ESPN. Moore had 30 that night, and he hasn’t looked back since. While the Owls are not a sure-thing to win the league, they still have to get the nod given their track record and ability to develop players like Moore and forward Michael Eric.

Tu's got game
During this offseason Xavier point guard Terrell Holloway earned the right to be called Tu (his childhood nickname) by his coaches and teammates, and now he's more than backing it up against opponents on the court. Holloway has been fighting Andrew Nicholson for the early rights to Player of the Year honors, raising his scoring from 12 to 21 points a night to go along with over five assists per game. While Xavier has been somewhat hamstrung for scoring options this season, it has only sped up the development of their explosive point guard who has scored at least 20 points seven times already. Chris Mack’s club may not have the talent or depth as a year ago, but they still have a game changer in Holloway, who may be good enough to win them the league despite other shortcomings.

What Might have been in Saint Louis
Look at statistics from the Saint Louis roster and you will find that the top two scorers for Rick Majerus’ Saint Louis club are Kyle Cassidy and a freshman guard named Jordair Jett. It wasn’t supposed to be that way this season.  Dismissed from school prior to the season for involvement in an alleged sexual assault incident were Atlantic 10 standouts Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed. Many thought the Billikens had the one-two, inside-outside punch needed to compete for a league title, especially when considering their head coach and his track record to develop a team. Now, the Billikens are 5-8 team which ranks near the bottom of the nation in scoring and are comprised of seven freshmen who may be in over their heads come January and February. Were it not for off the court issues, Saint Louis would be a completely different ballclub, and the Temple would have one more challenger to worry about come March.

Major Credit
The boo-birds were out in full force a few weeks back with the dismissal of Shamari Spears and the 'Niners struggling at the time.  But not surprisingly Alan Major kept plugging along.  The team was initially buoyed by a win over then No. 7 Tennessee and has now reeled-off four straight after defeating Georgia Tech in double-overtime last night.  Charlotte, 8-6 on the year, is receiving contributions from many on both ends of the floor... and Javarris Barnett deserves particular mention.  After spending his first couple of years playing sparingly, the junior has dropped in 15 or more in two of his last three games and become a stabilizing force from the perimeter for Major.  This team's situation wasn't nearly as rosy as many speculated in the preseason given Charlotte's defensive deficiencies last year, the lack of multiple consistent scoring options, and the challenge of a new coach implementing his system with a newcomer at lead guard.  Rebuilding takes time.  So let's remember when the 'Niners lose a few - which they will - that Major's team is playing hard, he's slowly changing the culture in the Queen City and that he has this group headed in the right direction. (By: Chris DiSano)

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