| ||After four years of having a conference RPI in the top 10, the Atlantic 10 slid to 10th last season and the freefall could be near. Other than Temple, there doesn't appear to be any team ready to challenge for a national ranking nor have any certainty of wrapping up a berth to the NCAA Tournament. Come late February, the least-favorite phrase in the A-10 will be "on the bubble."
One team does stand above the fray, and that's Temple. The Owls are loaded with four returning starters, along with the much-needed outside shooting of Lynn Greer. Temple should feast on the bulk of the conference as everyone else seems to be in a state of flux -- no coach wants to face Temple's matchup zone, so you can imagine how much anxiety coaches will have taking inexperienced players against John Chaney and the Owls.
That's not to say the conference doesn't have its share of individual talent. Relative unknowns Tim Winn (St. Bonaventure) and Bevon Robin (Fordham) are ready to challenge Pepe Sanchez as the league's best point guards, and Dayton's Mark Ashman (15.2 points, 5.8 rebounds) quietly is one of the conference's most effective big men. And Xavier should be picked up by the return of swingman Darnell Williams, who was one of the A-10's most dazzling players before tearing an ACL during a 1998 summer tour.
Pepe Sanchez, senior, G, Temple: 8.2 ppg, 5.8 apg
Mark Karcher, junior, F, Temple: 13.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg
Darnell Williams, senior, G, Xavier: 17.3 ppg in 1997-98
Bevon Robin, junior, G, Fordham: 17.0 ppg, 3.6 apg
Donnie Carr, senior, G, La Salle: 18.7 ppg, 4.9 apg
Player of the year: Mark Karcher
After a slow start because he was out of shape, Karcher started to exert control on the offensive end toward the end of last season. If the Owls want to get John Chaney to his first Final Four, they'll need the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Karcher to become a consistent inside and outside offensive threat. He's fully capable of doing so, and in return becoming the top offensive weapon in the conference.
Zach Marbury, freshman, G, Rhode Island
Val Brown, freshman, G, George Washington
Brooks Hall, freshman, G/F, Dayton
Marvin O'Conner, sophomore, G, St. Joseph's
Brian Woodward, freshman, G, Rhode Island
Newcomer of the year: Zach Marbury
Stephon's little brother should step in and produce right away after sitting out a year because of academics. Marbury will have the ball in his hands a lot, and judging by the lack of scorers on the Rams' roster, could be the team's leading scorer in his first season.
Best backcourt: Temple
The Owls will hardly feel the loss of Rasheed Brokenborough. Lynn Greer is a much-better shooter than Brokenborough, and Quincy Wadley gives Temple depth off the bench. With weapons like this around him, Pepe Sanchez can focus on getting the ball to the right people and spearheading the defense.
Best frontcourt: Temple
Lamont Barnes and Kevin Lyde give the Owls plenty of beef up front. They weren't the smoothest front line in the league last season, but no one can match the Owls' size and strength. Now that he's comfortable in the system, Mark Karcher is ready for a huge season. The bench provides plenty of size (6-10, 290-pound Ronald Rollerson) and skill (Rouldra Thomas and Alex Wesby).
Team on the rise: Fordham
The momentum the Rams generated last season could have taken a hit when Nick Macarchuk left to take over Stony Brook. Instead, Fordham brought in former San Antonio Spurs coach Bob Hill -- along with all his connections to New York basketball. Bevon Robin could blossom into the league's best combo guard, and with that lead Fordham into the postseason.
Team on the fall: Rhode Island
The mystery of Jim Harrick's "should I stay or should I go" routine solved itself when he left for Georgia, but the consequences are just starting to be felt at Rhode Island. No one player can replace Lamar Odom, and that hole will be harder to fill due to a thin roster. There's talent in Kingston, but not what the locals have been used to the last couple of years.
Unsung player: Mike King, George Washington
King has quietly put up big numbers in the shadow of more established players like Shawnta Rogers and Yegor Mescheriakov. Now that he's the Colonials' big gun, expect an increase on his 15.1-point and 5.2-rebound averages. His slashing style fits perfectly with Tom Penders' frenetic system.
Toughest road game: St. Bonaventure
Nobody likes to make the trek to the Reilly Center. St. Bonaventure is the most remote school in the conference, weather conditions usually make it difficult to get there and everyone always complains about the trip. Oh, and the Bonnies aren't bad, either.
NCAA: Temple, Xavier
NIT: Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure, George Washington