Conference Countdown: No. 9 -- Atlantic 10

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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The league's best backcourt? Mark Lyons (10) and Tu Holloway (52) look like it. (US Presswire)  
The league's best backcourt? Mark Lyons (10) and Tu Holloway (52) look like it. (US Presswire)  

Not much will change at the top.

It will still be Xavier and Temple.

Chris Mack will not only have the league's top player, Tu Holloway, but will also boast the depth that the Musketeers didn't have a year ago.

Temple, despite the loss of its top player, Lavoy Allen, should still pose the most formidable challenge to Xavier.

If Rick Majerus' team can stay healthy, the Saint Louis Billikens can be dangerous.

Then it's a complete crapshoot.

Maybe St. Bonaventure, led by Andrew Nicholson. No one knows quite what to expect at Richmond, Charlotte, Dayton, Duquesne and Rhode Island. UMass and Saint Joseph's should be improved, but that's almost by default after the seasons both programs had a year ago.

(Schools listed in predicted order of finish.)

2012 Tournament:
March 6-11, Atlantic City, N.J.
Quick facts
Defending regular-season champion:
Xavier
Defending tournament champion:
Richmond
Top returning scorer:
Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure), 20.8 ppg
Top returning rebounder:
Chris Gaston (Fordham), 11.3 rpg
Accolades
First team
G - Tu Holloway, Xavier
G - T.J. McConell, Duquesne
G - Ramone Moore, Temple
F - Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure
F - Chris Braswell, Charlotte
Second team
G - Juan Fernandez, Temple
G - Mark Lyons, Xavier
G - Kwamain Mitchell, Saint Louis
F - Chris Gaston, Fordham
C - Kenny Frease, Xavier
Player of the year
Tu Holloway, Xavier
Newcomer of the year
Kevin Dillard, Dayton
Breakthrough player
Raphiael Putney, UMass
Coach on the hot seat
Derek Kellogg, UMass
Click here for more
conference previews

1. Xavier: Chris Mack has even more pieces to win the league again. Tu Holloway is back and is one of the elite point guards in the nation. Mark Lyons should team with Holloway to form the league's top backcourt. Kenny Frease has developed into a quality big man. He will have help up front from Monmouth transfer Travis Taylor and Vandy transfer Andre Walker, a graduate student who can utilize his one year remaining immediately. The Musketeers will also have Justin Martin, who sat out last season, and talented freshmen Dez Wells and Dee Davis.

2. Temple: Obviously, Fran Dunphy will miss big man Lavoy Allen, but the Owls still have three big-time guys to build around: seniors Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez and Scottie Randall. The trio combined to average more than 37 points a year ago. The key will be how much Dunphy can get from senior center Micheal Eric, who missed the second half of last season due to a knee injury, and 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman Anthony Lee, who missed all of last season due to a back injury.

3. Saint Louis: Rick Majerus had what could be the most difficult year of his life. It began with his top two players being suspended and ended with his mother's passing. There was a collision with two players -- which resulted in a severe infection in his leg -- in between. Now Majerus is healthy, he has Kwamain Mitchell back -- and his young guys got plenty of experience.

4. St. Bonaventure: Mark Schmidt has done a terrific job getting the Bonnies back to respectability, and one of the primary reasons has been Andrew Nicholson, a skilled Canadian big man who will again be the focal point of the team. Schmidt will also rely on fellow seniors Da'Quan Cook and Michael Davenport -- and brings in a strong freshman class.

5. Massachusetts: The pressure is on Derek Kellogg in Year 4. He lost Anthony Gurley, but might finally have a true point guard with Hofstra transfer Chaz Williams. The young group from a couple of years ago -- juniors Freddie Riley, Sampson Carter, Javorn Ferrell, Terrell Vinson and redshirt sophomore Raphiael Putney -- needs to go out there and prove itself.

6. Charlotte: Alan Major's first season was a mess, but the 49ers will be improved. They have guards Derrio Green and Jamar Briscoe back, and forward Chris Braswell is finally starting to fulfill the potential label he was tagged with years ago. Look for Georgia transfer DeMario Mayfield to come in and make an immediate impact.

7. Duquesne: Ron Everhart and the Dukes also lost a ton with the graduation of Damian Saunders and Bill Clark, but they bring back versatile sophomore point guard T.J. McConnell, who will be the star this year. Duquesne has plenty on the perimeter with the return of B.J. Monteiro and Sean Johnson. The question marks come up front.

8. Richmond: No one lost more than Spiders coach Chris Mooney, who watched Kevin Anderson, Justin Harper and Dan Geriot all graduate. Those were the team's top three scorers and the group that helped Mooney become a highly sought-after coach who spurned a couple of opportunities this offseason. Now Mooney will have to hope role guys like Darien Brothers, Cedric Lindsay and Francis-Cedric Martel are ready to become front-line players.

9. George Washington: New coach Mike Lonergan will have plenty of work to do with the Colonials. He's fortunate to have Tony Taylor back, but the talent in the program clearly needs to be upgraded. Lasan Kromah, who averaged 11.8 points as a freshman, returns after missing last year with a foot injury and that'll help.

10. Rhode Island: It's difficult to predict this year's version of the Rams. Jim Baron lost Delroy James, Marquis Jones and Will Martell, a trio of veteran starters. URI will need guys like Nikola Malesevic and Jamal Wilson to emerge as standouts. Baron is also banking on his son, Billy, who is eligible in December after transferring from Virginia, to become a top guard in the league.

11. Dayton: New coach Archie Miller takes over for Brian Gregory and inherits a team that lost one of its top players, Chris Wright. Point guard Juwan Staten also left, transferring to West Virginia. However, Miller will have Southern Illinois transfer Kevin Dillard, senior Paul Williams and veteran guard Josh Parker.

12. Saint Joseph's: Phil Martelli's Hawks have struggled the past couple years, but they are no longer quite so young. Carl Jones averaged 17 points per game as a sophomore last season and he'll have sophomore Langston Galloway alongside on the perimeter. The key could be the progress of 6-9 sophomore C.J. Aiken.

13. La Salle: Talented forward Aaric Murray is gone, transferring to West Virginia, but I'm not sure how much sleep John Giannini is truly losing over his departure. The chemistry should be improved, but is there enough talent? Sophomore guard Tyreek Duren and senior Earl Pettis will need to step up, and South Carolina transfer Ramon Galloway will be able to play immediately and should help.

14. Fordham: There's only one way to go for second-year coach Tom Pecora: Up. He'll rely heavily again on one of the league's top big men, Chris Gaston, but will need to develop his freshmen class in order to make steady strides back to respectability.

2011-12 Season Preview
DateFeatureDateFeature
Oct. 13Preseason Top 25 (and one) Nov. 1Top freshmen
 Projected NCAA tournament field Nov. 2Top transfers
 Goodman and Parrish bracket picks Nov. 3Under the radar players
Oct. 14Team profiles: 'Cuse | UConn | UK | UNC Nov. 4Breakout players
Oct. 17Preseason All-Americans Nov. 5Best shooters
Oct. 18Top 100 players Nov. 6Best defensive players
Oct. 19Positional rankings: Point guards Nov. 768 things ...
Oct. 20Positional rankings: Wing men Nov. 8Ranking the preseason tourneys
Oct. 21Positional rankings: Big men Nov. 950 can't miss games
   Nov. 10Coaches on the Hot Seat
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