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Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Best case/Worst case: Atlantic 10

By Eamonn Brennan

The ESPN.com summer previewing tour continues with Summer Shootaround, our exhaustive August look at key college hoops conferences. We start today with the Atlantic 10, which you can read here, and we'll continue each Monday, Wednesday and Friday until we're good and finished.

In addition to helping out with the Shootarounds, yours truly will be adding some related commentary on this here blog. Today: a best case/worst case look at the A-10. (For more summer previews, check out Insider's Summer Buzz series here, and our blog stuff here.)

CHARLOTTE

Best case: New coach Alan Major incorporates the talent leftover from ousted Bobby Lutz's 19-12 team -- especially sophomore forward Chris Braswell, the country's No. 13-ranked player in defensive rebounding rate in 2009-10 -- and the 49ers improve enough to contend for the A-10 and a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Worst case: Major needs a year to install his system and cohere the Lutz talent and Charlotte misses the NCAA tournament for the sixth consecutive year.

DAYTON

Best case: A 2010-11 NCAA tournament appearance shouldn't be the best case for Dayton. It should be the only case. The Flyers dropped a host of close games on their way to an NIT berth (and eventual title) in 2009-10; all told, they were a bit unlucky to miss out. With forward Chris Wright back for another season, it'd be a shock to see the 2010-11 Flyers suffer the same fate.

Worst case: 2009-10 all over again. This is an NCAA tournament team. Or, at least, it should be.

DUQUESNE

Best case: Despite the return of five of Duquesne's top scorers, it's hard to envision the Dukes making the NCAA tournament in 2009-10. A top-six finish in what should be another tough A-10 would be accomplishment enough.

Worst case: A slip into under-.500 territory keeps Duquesne out of the NIT for the second straight year.

FORDHAM

Best case: Uh, yeah. Fordham finished last in the 2009-10 A-10, losing their final 21 games and finishing 2-26 in the process. A-10 rookie of the year Chris Gaston might get them a couple more wins in 2010-11. That's the most Fordham should hope for, at least in the near term.

Worst case: That rarest of college hoops indignities: the winless season. Let's hope it's not quite that bad.

GEORGE WASHINGTON

Best case: GW's group of talented youngsters makes a leap, improves the team's offensive efficiency, helps the Colonials continue their pattern of recent improvement (from 10-18 in 2008-09 to 16-15 last year) and moves them into the top half of the league.

Worst case: The improvement stops once the Colonials hit the A-10, much as it did in 2009-10, when George Washington racked up an early 11-3 record against inferior non-conference competition.

LA SALLE

Best case: Intriguingly named sophomore Aaric Murray improves on his already impressive interior defense, anchoring a La Salle team to a .500-ish season.

Worst case: The loss of do-everything senior Rodney Green -- who finished No. 8 in the country in percentage of minutes played -- leaves a gap too big for the Explorers to fill, and another cellar year goes by in Philadelphia.

UMASS

Best case: The heights of Minutemen past are still a ways off, but if UMass can make up for the loss of senior guard Ricky Harris with a pair of lanky sophomores (Terrell Vinson, Freddie Riley) and a couple of talented incoming recruits (guard Jesse Morgan, forward Maxie Esho), they should improve over last year's ugly 12-20 record.

Worst case: Harris was unquestionably the team's go-to player -- he ranked eighth in the nation in percentage of possessions used and 11th in percentage of his team's shots -- and unless fellow high-usage guard Anthony Gurley becomes much more efficient, the Minutemen are more likely to suffer another sub-standard season.

RHODE ISLAND

Best case: Featuring the best returner from a potent offensive lineup -- the Rams finished No. 37 in the country in offensive efficiency last season -- in senior forward Delroy James, the Rams incorporate new 7-foot-3 project Blake Vedder alongside seven-foot center Will Martell to dominate A-10 teams on the interior. If so, the Rams compete for the A-10 title again, and you hear from them in March.

Worst case: Vedder doesn't pan out and guards Marquis Jones, Steve Mejia, and Akeem Richmond can't make up for the backcourt losses of Keith Cochran and Lamonte Ullner, leaving the Rams imbalanced and unable to repeat their 26-win 2009-10 season.

RICHMOND

Best case: Kevin Anderson is back. That's great news for a Richmond team that broke out in 2009-10, winning 26 games and making the NCAA tournament for the first time in coach Chris Mooney's tenure. If all goes well, Anderson will star again, and the Spiders will justify their considerable preseason hype with an A-10 title.

Worst case: The loss of senior guard David Gonzalez, Richmond's most efficient offensive player last season, leaves Anderson exposed in the backcourt. Senior forwards Justin Harper and Dan Geriot can't make up for the loss of Gonzalez's ability, and the Spiders, instead of surging into the national scene, take a step back into the middle of the A-10 muck.

SAINT BONAVENTURE

Best case: Andrew Nicholson goes from being one of the best all-around players you've never heard of -- he was nationally ranked in nearly every efficiency-based stat in 2009-10 -- to one of the best all-around players, period, and St. Bonaventure breaks the 15-win mark for the first time in coach Mark Schmidt's tenure.

Worst case: Nicholson is great again, but the Bonnies can't find him any scoring help and fail to shore up their already mediocre defense, which allowed 1.014 adjusted points per possession in 2009-10. That would mean another .500-0r-worse season for Schmidt and company.

SAINT JOSEPH'S

Best case: It all depends on the incoming class. C.J. Aiken, Daryus Quarles and Langston Galloway make up the best class Phil Martelli has had since, well, you know. If all three live up to their hype, St. Joe's could vastly improve on its recent slide into 20-loss territory.

Worst case: The incoming class takes a year to congeal (as so many do), and the talented youngsters aren't good enough to make up for the loss of leading scorers Darrin Govens and Garrett Williamson. Either way, St. Joe's should improve, but if this worst case plays out, that improvement won't have anyone recalling the 2003-04 Elite Eight run anytime soon.

SAINT LOUIS

Best case: Were it not for three late losses to three of the league's best teams (Xavier, Temple, and Rhode Island), Rick Majerus' surprising Billikens would have made the NCAA tournament. With most of that talent returning (and, theoretically, maturing), St. Louis's best case features an Atlantic-10 title.

Worst case: The 2009-10 Billikens' defense was never a problem. Their No. 190-ranked adjusted offensive efficiency was. If St. Louis doesn't rebound its own misses or get to the free throw-line more frequently than last year, Majerus could have another good-but-not-great season on his hands.

TEMPLE

Best case: Temple wasn't supposed to win the A-10 title in 2009-10; most thought Fran Dunphy's young team needed a year to grow into the role. Not so much: Temple featured one of the nation's best defenses last season, and with all of the key players returning, that shouldn't change. Best case is another title, but this time, with a few NCAA tournament wins to complement it.

Worst case: It's hard to envision Temple taking a step back, but if it does, it will have the loss of Ryan Brooks' efficient point guard play to thank. For as good as its defense was, Temple can't afford to worsen on offense.

XAVIER

Best case: The Musketeers lost a lot this offseason. Star guard Jordan Crawford, one of the country's most exciting scorers, is off to NBA pastures, and anchor forward Jason Love, the team's most efficient offensive player, graduated. If Jamel McLean can make up for Love's absence and Terrell Holloway can assume some of Crawford's scoring load, Xavier should be able to do what it always does: win in the A-10 and make the NCAA tournament.

Worst case: This is easier to envision, though not necessarily more likely. Crawford was incredibly high-usage last season -- he took the 12th-highest percentage of his team's shots in the country -- and if Xavier struggles to plug that hole with Holloway and crew, Xavier could break its impressive streak of NCAA tournament runs.