A-10 ShootAround: Plenty of contenders take aim as new era begins at Xavier

Updated: August 19, 2009

AP Photo/Al Behrman

No longer in the shadows of Sean Miller, Chris Mack (right) is now in charge at his alma mater.

10 Things To Know From The Offseason

1. New digs: Three of its schools are in Philadelphia. Nine are in the Northeast. The tournament is in Atlantic City, N.J. So naturally the league moved its offices to … Virginia? Conference officials and coaches alike say this move isn't any pending sign of doom, but more a sign of the economic times. The lease on the office space in Philly was up, and the league could get a sweeter deal in Newport News. Still, for a conference chronically working to generate money -- Atlantic City hasn't exactly become the destination site for the A-10 tourney -- it's an awfully odd move to take your offices out of the geographic footprint of your teams.

2. X on the spot: It had been rumored for years. Every time a hot job opened, Sean Miller's name was attached to it. So when the coach finally bolted for Arizona, it wasn't exactly stunning. But like everything else, it is the timing that matters most. Miller bolted the same year that B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson graduated and Derrick Brown decided to exit to the NBA. That leaves former assistant and Xavier alum Chris Mack with a load of talented but young players to carry on the Musketeers' tradition. No less than everyone in the league will be watching this transition.

3. Keeping him close to home: Its coach is bound to be on the hot list, so Dayton did the smart thing by inking Brian Gregory to a five-year extension. Granted, contracts are meant to be broken and bought out, but at least Dayton knows it did what it could to keep its coach.

4. Who's got next? Derrick Brown? Gone. Ahmad Nivins? Gone. Dionte Christmas? Gone. Jimmy Baron? Gone. You get the picture. The players who have dominated this league for so long are all out, begging one simple question: Who, besides Dayton's Chris Wright, has next? Until someone solidly stands alongside Wright, the future faces of this conference remain hard to see.

Jio Fontan

Tim G. Zechar/Icon SMI

Fordham played hardball with Jio Fontan, who ended up returning to the struggling Rams.

5. Should he stay or should he go? Guard Jio Fontan, who led all A-10 freshmen in scoring and assists last season, made Fordham fans (there are some left, right?) nervous this summer when he announced his plans to transfer. The school drew a hard line, though, refusing to give him his release. Eventually, after playing with the Puerto Rican 19-and-under national team, Fontan decided to stay. For a squad that finished 3-25 last season, that's more than good news. That's pennies from heaven.

6. The other Philly school: It's been a long time since La Salle grabbed even small headlines in Philadelphia, run over and out by its Big 5 and in-league brethren, Saint Joseph's and Temple. Since joining the league, the Explorers have had just two winning campaigns. One was last season, and the next should be this season. Aaric Murray, ESPNU's No. 8 center in the Class of 2009, is the odds-on favorite for league newcomer of the year and is considered a huge recruiting coup for Dr. John Giannini.

7. The name rings a bell: He is the creator of the dunk heard 'round the world -- one that was shrouded in more secrecy than the Zapruder film for a couple of weeks. If all goes as planned for Xavier, Jordan Crawford will be known for a lot more than his dunk on LeBron this summer. The Indiana transfer, who bolted amid the Kelvin Sampson mess, averaged 9.7 points in his freshman season for the Hoosiers.

8. At long last: A hot pick in the preseason last year, Charlotte instead ended up a disastrous 11-20. But two like-named players may bring the 49ers back to the forefront. Boston College transfer Shamari Spears is eligible this season. At BC, the forward averaged 9.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Coach Bobby Lutz also can finally introduce Shamarr Bowden, a high-scoring freshman who would have played last season but injured his knee during the preseason and took a redshirt.

9. Coming and going: The swinging door at Massachusetts will welcome two transfers, Hashim Bailey (Memphis) and Sean Carter (Oregon State). Bailey served as Joey Dorsey's understudy, while Carter started nine games and played in 28 for the Beavers. Doug Wiggins, who came to UMass from Connecticut and was expected to make an immediate impact at the point guard spot, won't suit up for the Minutemen. Suspended indefinitely by Derek Kellogg after he was arrested for breaking and entering, Wiggins has transferred again, moving on to Robert Morris.

10. Welcome home: Saint Joseph's returns to campus this season after calling the Palestra home for a season. The revamped Fieldhouse reopens as Hagan Arena, and attached to it is the sparkling new Ramsay Basketball Center, in honor of Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay.

10 Key Players

Chris Wright, Dayton: The prohibitive favorite for league player of the year, Wright also should be on most preseason All-American lists. If the Flyers are to be as good as advertised, it will be because of Wright.

Terrell Vinson, UMass: A top-100 recruit who considered several Big East and ACC schools, the Baltimore swingman was rated the No. 8 small forward in his class. The Minutemen were not as good as expected a year ago. With Vinson on board, that could change.

Dan Geriot, Richmond: The Spiders' leading scorer from 2007-08, Geriot returns after missing last season with a torn ACL. Richmond moves into a contender role in the league, with Geriot's return giving the Spiders the necessary boost.

Terrell Holloway, Xavier: After overcoming growing pains and injury, the point guard matured into a steady hand for the Musketeers last season. He'll be the key to Xavier's transition season.

Andrew Nicholson

William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US Presswire

Canadian native Andrew Nicholson (right) was a large reason the Bonnies took a step toward respectability last season.

Juan Fernandez, Temple: When he became eligible in December, the Argentine point guard showed flashes of his promised flair and talent. Fully acclimated now, Fernandez could provide a needed spark as the Owls move on without Dionte Christmas.

Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure: The league rookie of the year and the Bonnies' second-leading scorer last season, Nicholson is the key as St. Bonaventure tries to keep improving, this time without Jonathan Hall.

Rodney Green, La Salle: The senior scorer proved his worth last season, helping the Explorers accrue 18 wins. Now with more talent around him, Green could be a sleeper candidate for league player of the year honors should La Salle put together a breakout season.

DiJuan Harris, Charlotte: Harris is the owner of one of the nation's best assist-to-turnover ratio, and his numbers should be even better with the addition of frontcourt talent Shamarr Bowden and Shamari Spears. A better scorer toward the end of last season, Harris needs to continue to improve to give the 49ers some offense from the backcourt.

Melquan Bolding, Duquesne: A promising recruit who originally committed to Louisville, Bolding more than delivered for the Dukes last season. An all-freshman selection who averaged 10 points per game, he helped 21-win Duquesne officially right the ship after the tragic on-campus shooting of a few years back. Expect more of the same from Bolding this season.

Kevin Anderson, Richmond: Two years ago, he was A-10 Rookie of the Year; this past season, one of just two sophomores on the second-team all-conference list. In 2009-10, the guard's return is one of the big reasons people are so high on the Spiders.

10 Freshmen We Can't Wait To See

Aaric Murray, C, La Salle: Murray is a big-bodied, low-post player. He needs to give a constant, consistent effort, but he should be an immediate impact player for the Explorers.

Terrell Vinson

Chris Rossi for ESPN.com

Baltimore native Terrell Vinson (left) is expected to make an immediate contribution in Amherst.

Terrell Vinson, PF/SF, UMass: He might be the best incoming recruit in the conference. Vinson is a 6-foot-7 skilled wing who could even play the 4 if the Minutemen need him to. He can shoot from the high post with range out to 19 feet.

Jeff Robinson, PF, Xavier: Robinson is a 6-8, skilled 4 who can play in the high and low post. He disappears at times, but if Chris Mack can get his motor going and get him to be consistent, he could be an all-league player.

Carl Jones, PG, Saint Joe's: Jones is a 5-11 point guard who is primarily a scorer. If he can get stronger and improve his decision-making, he could be a very good player in the A-10.

Chris Braswell, PF, Charlotte: Like Robinson, Braswell is an athletic, 6-8 power forward who is extremely talented. Don't be surprised if he wins a league player of the year award before he leaves. He has had some off-the-court issues in the past, but if he has matured, he could be fantastic for the 49ers.

Raphael Putney, PF/SF, UMass: Derek Kellogg's incoming big might be the biggest sleeper recruit in the conference. Very skilled, he could even end up being a 3. He'll need to get stronger but has tons of potential.

Jon Smith, PF, Saint Louis: He's a long, thin and athletic combo forward. He could be a very skilled 4-man at SLU. He's a good shot-blocker and could be capable of playing on the perimeter down the road.

Matt Kavanaugh, C, Dayton: A strong low-post player who can also step out and hit 15-to-17-footers. He has a good body and strength and plays with a nasty edge. He will fit Brian Gregory's style perfectly.

Akeem Richmond, PG, Rhode Island: This 6-foot scoring point guard has shown a solid midrange game. He should be a solid four-year contributor in the A-10.

Cody Ellis, PF, Saint Louis: An Australian import, the 6-8 Ellis has a good inside-outside game. His solid post skills should help him see the floor early for Rick Majerus.

10 Nonconference Opportunities For The League

• Xavier versus Marquette, Nov. 26: Both teams are in transition, anxious to prove they remain among the teams to reckon with this season. This first-round matchup in the Old Spice Classic gives them that chance. Give the Musketeers' more settled backcourt the edge, but Lazar Hayward gives an advantage to Marquette inside.

• Saint Joseph's versus Villanova, Dec. 9: Even though this is a transition year for the Hawks and the Wildcats ought to be a top-10 team, nothing is guaranteed when the Holy War is played at the Palestra. This is the sort of game that Nova coach Jay Wright dreads.

• Dayton versus Georgia Tech, Nov. 19: The opening matchup in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, this will pit a seasoned and highly thought-of Flyers team against Paul Hewitt's formidable recruiting class. We'll know how good both sides are after these 40 minutes.

• Kansas at Temple, Jan. 2: The Morris twins come home to Philly, potentially bringing a No. 1 ranking with them. The only thing that could make this game better would be if it were played at the Palestra. By the way, La Salle also gets a shot at the Jayhawks … but that one's in Kansas City.

Damian Saunders

Eric Hartline/US Presswire

If Damian Saunders and the Dukes can knock off Pitt, it would be a statement win for both Duquesne and the league.

• Pittsburgh at Duquesne, Dec. 2: The Dukes return a lot; the Panthers lose a lot. If Duquesne could beat its inner-city rival, it would give Ron Everhart's squad a gigantic boost.

• La Salle versus South Carolina, Nov. 19: The improving Gamecocks return Devan Downey from their NIT team and should provide a good early test for the Explorers when they meet in the opening round of the Charleston (S.C.) Classic.

• Charlotte at Tennessee, Jan. 6: At one time, Bobby Lutz was on the short list to take over at Tennessee. Bruce Pearl got the job instead. Now the two teams, both hoping to fare better than they did a season ago, meet in Knoxville in January.

• Richmond versus Florida, Dec. 19: Another newbie to the top of the conference heap, the Spiders can gauge their talent level at the Orange Bowl Classic (Sunrise, Fla.) against a Gators team that remains somewhat of a mystery.

• Xavier at Wake Forest, Jan. 3: A road win against an ACC team always is big for an A-10 squad. Having it occur in the first Skip Prosser Classic would be even more special for the Musketeers.

• Temple at Georgetown, Nov. 17: Somewhere in Philly, John Chaney is smiling. Fran Dunphy may have scrapped his matchup zone, but he has kept his scheduling attitude -- anyone, anywhere, anytime. The Owls travel to D.C. in a rematch of former Ivy League coaching rivals when Dunphy goes head-to-head with ex-Princeton boss John Thompson III.


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2009-10 Team Capsules

Atlantic 10
The 49ers have scads of talent, with a good mix of newcomers and returners. The question for Charlotte remains consistency. Impossible to predict last season -- the 49ers won games no one thought they could win and lost games no one could ever imagine they'd lose -- Charlotte could be a league player if it gets organized.

With Chris Wright, who ought to be the preseason league player of the year selection, back as well as three other starters, the Flyers should be more than just the league front-runner. Expect Dayton to make some serious noise in the national picture.

Losing leading scorer Aaron Jackson hurts, but everyone else is back from a team that advanced to the A-10 finals and is coming off its most wins since 1971. Mix in some size in the form of Morakinyo Williams, a 7-foot transfer from Kentucky, and Duquesne should finish in the top half of the league.

That Jio Fontan is back is a good thing. That the guard played well with the Puerto Rican national team is even better. Fontan averaged 13.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5 assists per game for the 19-and-under team this summer.

GWGeorge Washington
GW brings in a class of six -- three guards and three frontcourt players -- but there is a lot of work to be done. In 2006 and '07, the Colonials combined to go 50-12 (27-5 in A-10) and made back-to-back trips to the NCAA tournament. During the past two seasons, they have finished 19-35 (9-23 in A-10).

La SalleLa Salle
Highly touted freshman Aaric Murray is the unproven commodity. Rodney Green is the sure thing. The slashing scorer is another reason the Explorers should expect to be even better than last season's 9-7 league finish. Murray and Green could end up being the toughest inside-outside duo in the conference.

Ricky Harris' return certainly buoys the expectations for the Minutemen, but until Derek Kellogg can find a replacement for point guard Chris Lowe, UMass will remain a question mark.

URIRhode Island
Hotshot shooter Jimmy Baron is gone, but URI's "shoot first, ask questions later" style remains. Now the Rams just need to find someone to make up for Baron's 17.4 points per game average. No easy task, because he connected on 45 percent of his 3-point attempts. The graduation of Kahiem Seawright (14.2 ppg) doesn't help matters.

Three years ago, the Spiders were a disaster, finishing 8-22 in Chris Mooney's second season. Funny how a little patience can pay off. With Dan Geriot plus four other starters back, Richmond seems an easy pick to finish among the conference's elite.

St. BonaventureSt. Bonaventure
Junior college transfers Leonard Lewis and Ogo Adegboye join four starters, which should help the Bonnies continue their return from disaster. Considering the depths from which he had to climb and the Olean, N.Y., address, Mark Schmidt should be staring at some coach of the year honors soon.

Saint Joseph'sSaint Joseph's
It'll be a tough transition year for Phil Martelli. Atlantic 10 player of the year Ahmad Nivins is gone, and although Darrin Govens and Garrett Williamson return, both have served as role players their entire career.

St. LouisSaint Louis
Incoming power forward Cody Ellis starred for the Australian under-19 team this summer. He and fellow Australian Christian Salecich are part of a six-man recruiting class that Rick Majerus hopes will bring the Billikens back to relevancy.

Owls fans have been waiting three years for Lavoy Allen to consistently deliver on the teasing promise his talent suggests. Now is the time. With Dionte Christmas gone, along with Sergio Olmos and Semaj Inge, Allen needs to step into the spotlight to keep Fran Dunphy's smooth transition flowing.

Plenty of coaches would be thrilled to have Chris Mack's rebuilding roster. Dante Jackson, Jason Love, Kenny Frease and Terrell Holloway aren't exactly a cast of no-names. Oh, and there's also that guy who dunked on LeBron. You haven't heard the last of Jordan Crawford.

2008-09 Atlantic 10 Standings

A-10 record Overall record
Xavier* 12-4 27-8
Dayton* 11-5 27-8
Temple* 11-5 22-12
Rhode Island^ 11-5 23-11
Duquesne^ 9-7 21-13
La Salle 9-7 18-13
Richmond# 9-7 20-16
Saint Joseph's 9-7 17-15
Saint Louis 8-8 18-14
Massachusetts 7-9 12-18
St. Bonaventure 6-10 15-15
Charlotte 5-11 11-20
George Washington 4-12 10-18
Fordham 1-15 3-25
*NCAA tournament
^NIT appearance
#CBI appearance

For all the A-10 news and notes, check out the conference page.

2009-10 Predictions

By Fran Fraschilla

It's never too early for predictions. Fran Fraschilla offers up his thoughts on the upcoming season in the A-10:

1. Dayton: Coming off 27 wins and an NCAA tourney victory over West Virginia, Brian Gregory's Flyers return four starters and 10 of their 11 top scorers. Because he is a warrior inside and plays way above the rim, homegrown product Chris Wright is the perfect face of a program that relies on toughness and grit. Sophomore Luke Fabrizius is an outstanding compliment to Wright beyond the arc. This team is my favorite to win the league, but the battle with I-75 rival Xavier will be fierce.

2. Xavier: New coach and former Musketeers player Chris Mack is poised to become Xavier's next outstanding young coach, even though his nonconference schedule is beyond brutal this season. Because of his hometown roots, Mack may actually stay awhile. Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford is a scoring machine, and Mark Lyons will be another weapon in the backcourt after sitting out a year. And despite the loss of Derrick Brown to the NBA, the front line is solid. Jason Love, Jamel McLean and Kenny Frease can bang bodies with the best of them.

3. Richmond: The Spiders might end up being a surprise on the national level, but Atlantic 10 folks fully expect Richmond to make a run toward the top of the league. Chris Mooney has one of the most underrated backcourts in the country in David Gonzalvez and Kevin Anderson. The return of 6-9 junior Dan Geriot from season-ending knee surgery will give this team an anchor, both inside and out -- as long as he returns to his All-Atlantic 10 self.

4. La Salle: Dr. John Giannini has done a terrific job of infusing life into a program that has had great tradition in the past. Last season's 18-13 record was another step in a positive direction. The Explorers are awaiting word on an extra year of eligibility for Vernon Goodridge, but even without him, they return their top four (and six of their top seven) scorers from last season. The team still has some issues with perimeter shooting and backcourt depth, but look for 6-foot-5 senior Rodney Green to emerge as one of the best players in the country you've never heard of. He put up 25 points against UConn last season.

5. Duquesne: The Dukes must replace maybe the most important player in the league a year ago in Aaron Jackson, a great leader on and off the court. But every other key player for coach Ron Everhart is back. Eric Evans and Melquan Bolding could be rising stars in the backcourt for the next three years. Once a laughingstock, Duquesne is a serious dark-horse candidate for the league title.

6. Temple: Coach Fran Dunphy must replace three starters from last year's Atlantic 10 tourney champion, including ultrascorer Dionte Christmas. Lavoy Allen, a 6-9 junior, has as much talent as any big man in the league and should be ready to step into a prominent role. Sophomore guard Juan Fernandez, an Argentine import who jumped into the fire at midseason, will be much more consistent this season. He is a Pepe Sanchez-type point guard with Philadelphia-style moxie.

7. Charlotte: This is a critical year for Bobby Lutz, but he has a good mix of returnees and newcomers. The 49ers, in fact, could be sneaky good. If that happens, Charlotte's strength coach may play a huge role in the success of this team. Boston College transfer Shamari Spears is a load inside and could be a dominant A-10 inside scorer if he is in shape. DiJuan Harris is an underrated point guard and a big key to the season as well.

8. St. Bonaventure: Success is measured in different ways around college basketball. Last season's 15-15 record was a huge deal to Bonnies fans, who have suffered plenty in recent years. The road back to respectability is being led by coach Mark Schmidt and a 6-9 sophomore from Toronto, Andrew Nicholson. The Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year will get added attention from opposing defenses, so his 15 pounds of added muscle will come in handy. Fellow soph Michael Davenport is a quality athlete who will help Nicholson inside.

9. Massachusetts: With so many newcomers added to the UMass roster this season, Derek Kellogg will be giving out name tags at the first practice. He does have a prolific scorer in senior guard Ricky Harris, who knocked down almost 90 3-pointers a year ago. Wake Forest transfer Anthony Gurley was very inconsistent in his first season in Amherst and must improve. Terrell Vinson, a 6-6 freshman, has a chance to impact immediately.

10. Rhode Island: Jim Baron lost two very key players to graduation, including his sharpshooting son Jimmy. Returning are outstanding role players Keith Cothran, Lamonte Ulmer and Delroy James, the league's best sixth man in 2008-09. Each will need to step up if the Rams are to stay in the conference's upper division. Playing hard has never been a problem for Baron's teams, and I have a suspicion that will be the reason this team might overachieve.

11. Saint Louis: With the backcourt of Tommie Liddell and Kevin Lisch having finally graduated, the transition to Rick Majerus-recruited players is complete. The coach will have one of the youngest teams in the country with 11 freshmen and sophomores. If the program starts to flourish, it's likely that 5-11 sophomore point guard Kwamain Mitchell will be a big reason. He already has proved to be an outstanding floor leader. Forward Willie Reed oozes potential, and if he listens to his coach the next three years, he'll reach it. The Billikens' future is bright, but this year could be bumpy.

12. Saint Joseph's: The loss of the league's best big man, Ahmad Nivins, is significant. Replacing point guard Tasheed Carr won't be easy, either. The Hawks have been a consistent 9-7 in A-10 play the past four seasons, and Phil Martelli probably would take 9-7 again in a heartbeat. Guards Darrin Govens and Garrett Williamson will have to play like Jameer Nelson and Delonte West for Saint Joe's to make noise in conference play.

13. George Washington: The Colonials have struggled the past two seasons and still have to replace about 50 percent of their offense. Senior Damian Hollis is the only returnee who has had any significant success for coach Karl Hobbs. He'll have to lead a team that has a bevy of freshmen. Guard Tony Taylor, a 6-1 sophomore, has had moments of brilliance. He'll need to grow up this season.

14. Fordham: Yikes. When a 3-25 team loses almost 60 percent of its scoring, there's not much positive to talk about. The one bit of really good news is that outstanding sophomore guard Jio Fontan did not transfer after much speculation that he might. The incoming recruiting class is solid again, but the Rams will be way too green to do any damage in the conference.

Overheard By One Head Coach

"La Salle, Richmond, even Fordham could finish in the top four in our league. … I'm curious to see how they handle it."

Early-season tournament preview

Final Shots

• Everyone seems to like Dayton. Does anyone else crack our preseason rankings? Here are Andy Katz's Top 25 and Dick Vitale's Top 40

• Joe Lunardi has an A-10 team slipping in as the last at-large in the 2010 tourney field. Find out which one it is in our Summer Bracketology.

• Which early-season events are Atlantic 10 teams taking part in? We have a list of the tournaments that will be scattered around the first two months of the college basketball calendar. Schedule

• How will Chris Mack do in his first season at Xavier? For profiles of Mack and the 29 other new hires in Division I, check out our New Faces, New Places series.