Monday , Nov , 08 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Atlantic 10 Conference

*** College Basketball Preview – Atlantic 10 Conference ***

The Sports Network

By Pat Taggart, College Basketball Staff Writer

OUTLOOK: Last season was a magical one for the Saint Joseph’s Hawks, as the
team from the small school in Philadelphia recorded a perfect regular season
and missed the Final Four by a single shot. Sure, the squad was crushed by
Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, but the positives greatly outweighed the
negatives. Although the Hawks are expected to take a major step back this
season, and rightly so, there is still enough talent in place to battle for
conference supremacy. Philly rival Temple will be tough, as John Chaney has a
proven scorer in Mardy Collins and an athletic supporting cast. Also expected
to be tough is Rhode Island, led by super guard Dawan Robinson. Considering
that Temple and Rhode Island have just one double-digit scorer returning, the
opportunity is there for someone to emerge as a standout performer.
Massachusetts will not be an easy out, especially since head coach Steve
Lappas will likely be canned if his troops don’t win some games. As for
Fordham and St. Bonaventure, another disappointing campaign is expected. Over
in the West Division, Xavier figures to be tough once again after reaching the
Elite Eight a year ago. First-year head coach Sean Miller is determined to
prove that the program won’t miss a beat without departed coach Thad Matta.
George Washington and Dayton figure to provide the most competition for the
Musketeers out west. The Colonials have three double-digit scorers back in the
lineup, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising if they wind up being the class
of the entire conference. As for the Flyers, they lost their best three
players but will still play hard for head coach Brian Gregory. Richmond will
provide solid competition for most squads, and Duquesne is making short but
obvious strides toward improving a struggling program. The same can’t be said
for La Salle, however, as a rape scandal involving a couple of the team’s top
players cost the program both talented performers and head coach Billy Hahn.


PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: EAST: 1. Saint Joseph’s; 2. Temple; 3. Rhode
Island; 4. Massachusetts; 5. Fordham; 6. St. Bonaventure

WEST: 1. Xavier; 2. George Washington; 3. Dayton; 4. Richmond; 5. Duquesne; 6.
La Salle



SAINT JOSEPH’S: Some may wonder how the Hawks can be picked to win the
Atlantic 10 considering that star guards Jameer Nelson and Delonte West have
moved on to the NBA. The answer is actually quite simple. First, head coach
Phil Martelli is a proven motivator who will put this year’s players in a
position to succeed. Secondly, there is still plenty of talent in place. Pat
Carroll is arguably the best pure shooter in the nation and will certainly get
many more touches in 2004-05. Fellow guard Chet Stachitas is another
tremendous marksman who is deadly if left alone outside the arc. While those
two players will fill it up from the outside, Dwayne Jones and John Bryant
return as frontcourt starters. Neither can be considered a star by any means,
but their toughness and experience will pay huge dividends this year. Some
talented freshman will see some minutes, including Pat Calathes and Robert
Ferguson. The Hawks certainly won’t be as good as last year, but
underestimating them could prove costly.

TEMPLE: Now that prolific scorer David Hawkins has moved on, other players
must step forward for legendary coach Chaney’s club. Mardy Collins netted 15.5
ppg as a sophomore and is back for what should be an outstanding junior
campaign. The slasher can rebound and pass as well, and he will contend for
A-10 Player of the Year honors. Center Keith Butler may actually be the key to
the team, as the 7-1 junior has the size to dominate the paint. He will be
joined up front by Antywane Robinson, a 6-8 junior who has the potential to be
a standout. With so many outstanding juniors, it appears that Temple is a year
away from being an outstanding team. Still, plenty more games will be won than
lost by the Owls. Keep an eye on freshman Mark Tyndale, a talented scorer who
will earn Chaney’s praise with his hard-nosed defensive play.

RHODE ISLAND: Early last season, Rhode Island appeared to be a lock for a NCAA
Tournament bid. Unfortunately, the squad struggled mightily down the stretch
and landed in the NIT. In order for the Rams to earn a spot in the field of
65, Dawan Robinson will have to be outstanding as expected and get some help
from his supporting cast. A combination guard, Robinson averaged 15.1 ppg last
year to go along with 3.5 apg. He can shoot, penetrate and dish, making the
process of defending him a monumental chore. Forward Scott Hazelton is
expected to be a solid second scoring option for the club, and fellow forward
Jamaal Wise has proven capable of scoring and rebounding a bit as well. The
most promising freshman is Will Daniels, an explosive scorer who could earn
immediate minutes.

MASSACHUSETTS: Rashaun Freeman made a splash as a rookie last season, posting
15.4 ppg and 8.5 rpg. He may be the premier frontcourt performer in the A-10,
and it is not out of the question that Freeman could make the move to the NBA
if he proves worthy this season. Art Bowers joined Freeman on the All-Rookie
Team a year ago and will be joined by Maurice Maxwell in the backcourt. Both
of those players are talented and should bring some stability to the guard
position. Jeff Vigiano is a dangerous shooter from the perimeter, and Stephane
Lasme is a shot-blocker who will help the team tremendously if he can provide
any offense at all. Judging by the players in place, UMass could definitely
take a major step forward in 2004-05 and maybe make some noise in the A-10
Tournament. Lappas certainly hopes so, as it is no secret that his job is on
the line.

FORDHAM: Fordham has not been good in some time, and there is no reason to
believe that the squad is going to improve any time soon. Mushon Ya’akosi is
one of the only players on the roster who has actually proven to be solid, as
he pulled down 7.2 rpg a year ago. Ya’akosi still has a way to go as an
offensive performer, but marginal improvement should be expected. Some scoring
is expected to come from Derrick Breland, a junior college product who figures
to log a ton of minutes in the backcourt. Jermaine Anderson and Dominic Osei
are two other players who will be counted on by head coach Dereck Whittenburg
to put the ball in the basket. Marcus Stout is the point guard who could be
the leader of the Rams in the years ahead, as he possesses the right
combination of leadership and talent for the job.

ST. BONAVENTURE: Anthony Solomon has one year of experience under his belt as
head coach of the Bonnies, and there is still a ton of work to be done before
the program can even reach the status of respectability. A great deal of
pressure will be on shoulders of Patrick Lottin, as the athletic 6-7 swingman
averaged 13.2 ppg a year ago. Unfortunately, Lottin probably won’t get a whole
lot of help from an offensive standpoint. Lottin’s high school teammate, Wade
Dunston, has been brought in from the juco ranks to run the point. The
relationship between those two players will be key, and their familiarity with
one another both on and off the court is certainly a positive. There is no
question that this team will benefit tremendously if 6-11 Yankuba Camara can
become more aggressive at the offensive end. It would be surprising if the
Bonnies won more than four league games, but Lottin is one of the conference’s
more talented performers.


XAVIER: There is not a single returning double-digit scorer on the roster for
Xavier, but expectations are still high for coach Miller’s team. Dedrick Finn
is an experienced guard who may finally get a chance to shine after taking a
back seat to stars like David West and Romain Sato the last two years. The
Musketeers have won 26 games in each of the last three seasons and have posted
at least 20 victories for seven consecutive years, but adding to those
statistics will require a strong collective effort from some unproven
performers. Brian Thornton is an exciting addition to the squad, as the
Vanderbilt transfer is a 6-8 junior who scored in double figures as a
sophomore in the SEC. Brandon Cole came on strong at the end of last season
and figures to be a frontcourt fixture this year. The situation with star
recruit Churchill Odia is still up in the air, as student-visa problems may
prevent the 6-6 dynamo from seeing action. If that situation is taken care
of, however, Xavier will benefit tremendously.

GEORGE WASHINGTON: As mentioned above, the Colonials could win the league this
year thanks to a strong core of returning players. Although just 5-10, guard
T.J. Thompson is an experienced performer who can score in bunches. He
averaged 13.2 ppg a year ago and is entering his fourth year as the starting
point guard. Fellow guard J.R. Pinnock, a sophomore, has the potential to be a
star. He will benefit tremendously from the leadership and distribution skills
of Thompson. Up front, George Washington may have the league’s best duo in
Mike Hall and Pops Mensah-Bonsu. Hall averaged 10.3 ppg and 7.8 rpg as a
sophomore and should maintain those numbers at the very least. As for Mensah-
Bonsu, he netted 11.6 ppg and should be even better as a junior. No key
contributors were lost for the Colonials, and that is great news for head
coach Karl Hobbs.

DAYTON: Gone are Ramod Marshall, Sean Finn and Keith Waleskowski, three of the
top performers in the Atlantic 10 a year ago. The Flyers have won 21 or more
games in each of the past five seasons, but they have not won an NCAA
Tournament tilt since 1990. Expecting the squad to break that streak this year
seems a bit unrealistic. For coach Brian Gregory’s club to have success, it
will need big plays and leadership from guard Mark Jones. The senior averaged
9.1 ppg a year ago and isn’t a star by any means, but he has a chance to take
his game to the next level with the departure of so many strong contributors.
The best hope for Dayton is a recruiting class that many say was the A-10’s
best. Brian Roberts and Trent Meachum are a pair of thin rookie guards with
big game who should get plenty of clock. Nick Stafford may be ready to
explode, as the redshirt freshman has tremendous athletic ability.

RICHMOND: Jerry Wainwright is an unknown even to dedicated college basketball
fans, but the head coach of Richmond is one of the most underrated leaders in
the nation. He gets the best out of his players who haven’t been nearly as
talented as those on some of the other A-10 teams the last couple of years.
Last season, the Spiders almost knocked off Wisconsin in the opening round of
the NCAA Tournament, but expecting the team to reach the Big Dance again may
be asking too much considering that no returning player averaged more than 5.4
ppg a year ago. Sophomore Daon Merritt will run the point, and he showed some
flashes of brilliance as a rookie along with stretches of inconsistency.
Jamaal Scott and Courtney Nelson should provide some scoring from the
backcourt as well. Up front, 6-11 junior Kevin Steenberge and a bunch of young
players will carry the load. Keep an eye on Jarhon Giddings and Monty Sanders,
two talented rookie forwards who could crack the starting lineup sooner rather
than later.

DUQUESNE: Head coach Danny Nee has taken strides to improve this perennial
A-10 doormat, but the team is still near the bottom of the proverbial
mountain. Sure, the Dukes compiled their most victories in 10 years a season
ago and swept Elite Eight squad Xavier, but there is still much work to be
done. Martin Osimani is back to run the point, and the fact that he led the
A-10 with 5.9 apg a year ago is proof of his tremendous ability. If he can
score some points as well, Nee’s squad will benefit tremendously. Bryant
McAllister is a talented backcourt performer who may emerge as a double-digit
scorer this year. The same can be said of Jack Higgins, a pure shooter who
knocked down 45.6 percent of his threes last season. The biggest problem for
the squad could be getting strong play from a collection of unproven
frontcourt performers. For that reason, wins may be hard to come by.

LA SALLE: Where to begin? Gary Neal, who scored 17.9 ppg a year ago, is one of
the players no longer with the program because of the rape scandal. Dr. John
Giannini is now the 18th head coach in the 74-year history of Explorer men’s
basketball, and it remains to be seen if he will regret leaving Maine to take
the job with the Explorers. Steven Smith could certainly make the transition a
bit easier, as the sensational forward averaged 17.1 ppg a year ago and is a
tremendous rebounder as well (8.1 rpg). Mike St. John, a fellow forward, was
impressive as a rookie and figures to improve. Still, the negatives far
outweigh the positives for the once-proud La Salle program, and Giannini will
experience plenty of losses after thriving with the Black Bears.