Here are five things I can't wait to see in the Atlantic 10 this season.
1. The year of Tu Holloway
Xavier is a big-time program and expectations are always high. But the 2011-12 Musketeers have a buzz around them like few teams in the program's history. There is talk of a deep NCAA tournament run, one that could end with a Final Four appearance. In other words, the stakes are high. And that's mostly thanks to Tu Holloway.
Holloway is one of the best and most versatile scorers in the country, an incisive penetrator and consistent shooter whose early years as a true point guard left him with an ability to create plays nearly as well as he finishes them. He's a bonafide national player of the year candidate even in what should be one of the most talent-rich college hoops seasons in the last decade.
The only question is whether Holloway can actually be better as a senior. If he is, he could lead X to the justification of all those buzzy expectations -- and then some.
2. How much time will Kenny Frease miss?
On Friday, Xavier announced that senior center Kenny Frease had been suspended indefinitely by coach Chris Mack for failing to "fulfill all the responsibilities of a Xavier basketball player." The questions are legion: What did Frease do? How much time will he miss? And what does that do to the team's chances? Frease was the Musketeers' third-leading scorer (11.7 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (7.1 rpg) last season, and if his absence is extended for more than a few games, it could be a serious setback for an otherwise balanced, experienced, and talented Musketeers team.
3. Temple tries to take the next step
For all the talk of Xavier's consistency -- well-deserved though it may be -- it's easy to forget that Temple coach Fran Dunphy has turned the Owls into a year-in-year-out force in the Atlantic 10, too. TU got off the tournament schneid with its win over Penn State last season; the next step is a deep run into March.
Can it happen in 2011-12? There is good reason to be bullish, particularly because Dunphy returns basically every player of note in his backcourt, including Scootie Randall, Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez. The only significant loss is forward Lavoy Allen, an athletic lockdown defender and rebounder who also contributed on the offensive end. If the Owls can weather that loss and keep things rolling, they have the opportunity to best last season's tournament appearance.
4. Can Saint Louis return to relevance?
SLU has never been mistaken for a basketball powerhouse, but there was a time when the Billikens did have a certain niche in the college basketball world. That hasn't been the case for years, but there is reason to believe Rick Majerus' program is on the rise.
Saint Louis has a deep team full of returning players, but one return -- that of junior guard Kwamain Mitchell -- is the most noteworthy. Mitchell was suspended for the 2010-11 season thanks to off-court issues that cost him and teammate Willie Reed their entire season. Mitchell was readmitted by the school last season and is eligible to participate again this fall. With Mitchell back and the rest of the Billikens in the fold, SLU could flirt with conference title contention and a spot in the NCAA tournament.
5. Archie Miller gets going at Dayton
Dayton fans are excited about new coach Archie Miller, who replaced now-Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory at the school this spring. It's no mystery: Miller has already landed two talented recruits in the class of 2012, and if Miller is half as successful as quickly as his brother has been at Arizona, the Flyers will be competing for A-10 titles soon enough. The near term is a slightly less optimistic, if only because the roster turnover -- especially the transfer of touted recruit Juwan Staten, whose freshman season flashed tons of promise -- may be tough to overcome so soon. But if Dayton is vastly improved in just a few years' time, don't be surprised. It would appear those Millers can coach.