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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

2012-13 Atlantic 10 Preview

The A-10 is often forgotten when discussing major basketball conferences.  Maybe it’s because most of these schools do not have football or perhaps it’s because most of the members are mid-sized private universities.  Whatever the reason, you can find good basketball here. Five straight years three or more teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament with four teams going in both 2009 and 2012.  The conference has been dominated by Xavier (15 conference titles in 28 years) and Temple (9 A-10 tournament titles) but now new challengers appear poised to make a move. 

The Reigning Champs
As mentioned above Temple should always be mentioned when discussing the potential contenders for the league crown.  Last year’s squad went 24-8 (13-3) and qualified for the NCAAs.  Unfortunately they were bounced in the first round by South Florida.  It’s going to be tough for the Owls to repeat after losing two starters including leading scorer Ramone Moore. To further complicate matters is the potential ban of stud senior Khalif Wyatt. If Wyatt is out for any length of time I think it makes Temple a bubble team and not a team that can win the conference.
St. Bonaventure
The Bonnies surprised many people (including yours truly) last season in route to winning the conference championship.  They were one and done in the NCAAs though, losing by three to Florida St. in the second round.  Their best player (Andrew Nicholson) was selected in the NBA draft and starting forward Da’Quan Cook graduated. I’m not sure there’s enough left here to compete for a repeat performance.

The Annual Contender
Xavier has an uphill battle to climb if they hope to make it back to the top.  The team underperformed all season until March.  Once the calendar turned over, the team began to click and not only reached the final in the A-10 tournament but also gave Baylor a scare in the Sweet 16. Gone are star point guard Tu Holloway, center Kenny Frease, and guard Mark Lyons who surprising transferred to Arizona during the summer.  There are still plenty of good players on the roster, but it’s hard to replace your three best players. This is still a bubble team and it will be interesting to see how they perform.

The Media’s Pick
St. Louis
According to, St. Louis ranked tenth in the nation last season in defensive efficiency.  The team returns four starters and several bench players though they did lose their best player, Brian Conklin, to graduation.  Expect another year of stalwart defense, a slow tempo, and an efficient offense that relies on three pointers and getting to the foul line.  Though they lost to Michigan St. in the third round of the NCAA tournament, they led for long portions of the game showing they can hang with some of the best. There’s no question this team is good but can they improve from last season? They may have to if they expect to win the conference.

The Newbies
The Bulldogs are hoping a change of scenery will not only help improve their NCAA resume but further help prepare them for the NCAA Tournament. While the Horizon league had some challenging teams, there’s no question the A-10 has significantly more depth.  Point guard Ronald Nored is gone and so is Chrishawn Hopkins, the best player on the team who was dismissed for a violation of team rules.  The big men are still there and stack up well in the Atlantic 10. Butler shouldn’t be confused with a Final Four team but they’ll continue to battle every night and more likely than not Brad Stevens will find a way for his squad to win.

Virginia Commonwealth
We all know the story by now.  Push the pace, penetrate to the hoop, and when help defense comes kick it out for an open three. After making the shot be sure to set up the full court press.  This formula enabled VCU to go to the Final Four in 2011 and come within a missed free throw of potentially upsetting Indiana last season despite a roster consisting of freshmen and sophomores.  Over 80% of the minutes played last season return along with two top 100 freshmen. Even with the uptick in conference difficulty the Rams need to be considered among the favorites to compete for the league title.

Looking to Take the Next Step
The Explorers have two excellent sophomore guards in Jerrell Wright and Tyreek Duren.  Ramon Galloway and Steve Zack are no slouch either.  With such a young nucleus it’s possible last season’s 9-7 conference record is not a fluke. However, this is a team that will need to overcome it’s terrible rebounding (ranked 294th in offensive and 257th in defensive rebounding)
St. Joseph’s
St. Joseph’s lost 20 games in both 2010 and 2011 before flipping the script and winning 20 last year. Why should these one year wonders be considered among the favorites then? The entire roster is back.   St. Joe’s nearly snuck into the NCAAs last year but instead settled for an invitation to the NIT.  This season there should be ample opportunity for quality wins.  Besides playing in a loaded Atlantic 10, non-conference games against Notre Dame, Iona, Creighton, Villanova, and Drexel give the Hawks a resume boost.  They’ll need to play well because another NIT invitation would be more than a little disappointing.
This team made it to the semi-finals of the NIT last year but that’s not a goal for 2013.  Armed with stellar point guard Chaz Williams, the Minutemen finished third in the nation in pace according to   While he’s not a great outside, shooter Williams excels in pushing the pace and finding open teammates.  The team also greets three other starters including Raphiael Putney who not only led the team in blocks and rebounding last season but also made 53 three-pointers at a .373 clip. Experience always helps in conference play and UMass has plenty of it.

The Sleeper
Last season saw the Spiders streak of two straight NCAA appearances and four straight postseason tournaments come to a screeching halt.  A losing conference record (7-9) and a .500 record overall will not be tolerated this time around.  With four starters and two quality freshmen suiting up this year, Richmond expects to make some noise.  Scoring won’t be an issue, especially from the outside, but rebounding and depth in the front court will be tested.  If the big men step up to the plate Richmond could be a tournament team once again.

Conference Prediction
  1. St. Louis
  2. VCU
  3. St. Joseph's
  4. Butler
  5. Richmond
  6. UMass
  7. Temple
  8. LaSalle
  9. Xavier
  10. Dayton
  11. St. Bonaventure
  12. Duquesne
  13. George Washington
  14. Charlotte
  15. Fordham
  16. Rhode Island

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