Conference Reset: Xavier's brawl-fueled downfall spreads hope in A-10

by | College Basketball Insider
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Kwamain Mitchell needs to deliver more for Saint Louis and Rick Majerus. (US Presswire)  
Kwamain Mitchell needs to deliver more for Saint Louis and Rick Majerus. (US Presswire)  

For a while, it appeared the Atlantic 10 might finish without a conference champ. Xavier got off to a sizzling start with nine straight victories. Then came The Brawl -- followed by the Fall. Xavier suspended Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Dez Wells after the fight with cross-town rival Cincinnati -- and it all fell apart. Chris Mack's team lost three of its next four, including setbacks to Oral Roberts and Hawaii, which gave hope to everyone else in the league.

Now Rick Majerus' Saint Louis team, which has only one loss thus far, may have a shot. Temple has struggled at times, but the Owls could challenge. And Saint Joseph's finally appears back in contention after two brutal campaigns.

Xavier is no longer a lock to win the A-10.

Maximum Teams Capable of Making the NCAAs (And We're Very Serious About This): Xavier, Saint Louis, Temple and Saint Joseph's.

The League's Most Memorable Moment So Far: Yancy Gates connecting with a right that sent Xavier big man Kenny Frease to the floor, which preceded the ill-advised comments made by Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons in the post-game news conference.

Conference resets
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The Storyline You Were Too Busy to Notice: St. Bonnie's Canadian big man, Andrew Nicholson, is having a mediocre season thus far. He was supposed to challenge for Player of the Year honors, but he's not even playing like the best player on his own team.

Coach Feeling the Heat: Rhode Island coach Jim Baron has gotten off to a miserable start.

Still Unproven: UMass and its new style look impressive thus far -- but the Minutemen need to start playing better teams before we get too excited.

Player of the Year and All-League Team: Tu Holloway, Xavier (POY); Carl Jones, Saint Joseph's; Ramone Moore, Temple; Chris Gaston, Fordham; Brian Conklin, Saint Louis.

What I Loved: Xavier's 9-0 start prior to The Brawl. The Musketeers looked every bit like a Final Four contender, but the fight with Cincinnati may have changed their entire season. We'll see if they can turn it around in conference play.

What I Hated: St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli refusing to let former Hawks big man Todd O'Brien play at UAB for this one season.

1. Xavier
What's Gone Quite Right: Everything was rolling before The Brawl. Since, it's been a disaster -- losing to Oral Roberts, Long Beach State and then Hawaii.

New Year's Resolution: Don't get soft. This was a team built on toughness and even trash-talking. If that isn't there, the Musketeers won't be a factor come March.

MVP: Tu Holloway hasn't even played that well, but he's still the star on this team.

Step Your Game Up: Big man Kenny Frease took a shot from Yancy Gates, but he's been a major disappointment -- starting even before the season began, when he was suspended. Frease is averaging only 9.2 points and 5.5 boards and is shooting 30 percent from the line.

2. Saint Louis
What's Gone Quite Right: The Billikens have gotten off to a 12-1 start, including wins against Washington, Villanova and Oklahoma. The lone loss was to Loyola Marymount.

New Year's Resolution: Good health for Rick Majerus. Everyone always wonders about the big man's health but he maintains it's fine. Let's hope it stays that way -- after a tough 2011 in which he lost his mother and also suffered a major leg injury.

MVP: Senior forward Brian Conklin leads the team in scoring at 15 points per game and is shooting 66 percent from the field and 86 percent from the line.

Step Your Game Up: Kwamain Mitchell has done fine after missing all of last season, but needs to be more efficient. He's shooting only 41 percent from the field and 59 percent from the line. That's not good enough if Saint Louis wants to be a Top 25 team.

3. Temple
What's Gone Quite Right: The Owls have been without Michael Eric for much of the season and Scootie Randall the entire year -- and they still have managed an 8-3 start. The only bad loss was at Bowling Green.

New Year's Resolution: It doesn't look as though Randall will be back soon -- if at all -- but Fran Dunphy needs a healthy Michael Eric in order to contend for the league title.

MVP: Senior guard Ramone Moore leads the team in scoring (18.1), rebounds the ball and also makes those around him better.

Step Your Game Up: Juan Fernandez has been better the past few games but struggled against Villanova and Texas.

4. Saint Joseph's
What's Gone Quite Right: On the court, St. Joe's is 10-3 and has turned things around from the past two seasons. Off the court, Phil Martelli is taking a significant PR hit for the Todd O'Brien Saga.

New Year's Resolution: Martelli needs to free Todd O'Brien. The former Hawk is trying to become eligible for his final year at UAB, but Martelli won't sign O'Brien's release waiver.

MVP: Carl Jones is the veteran of the group, is bringing it more consistently and leads the team in scoring at 18.5 ppg.

Step Your Game Up: Hofstra transfer Halil Kanacevic is contributing but can do more. He's shooting 40 percent from the field and 36 percent from the line.

5. Dayton
What's Gone Quite Right: Archie Miller took over a program that doesn't have a ton of depth and talent, but he's found a way to keep the Flyers in the conversation for the top few spots in the league.

New Year's Resolution: Miller needs improved depth to get the program back to what it was a few years ago, an A-10 title contender.

MVP: Southern Illinois transfer Kevin Dillard has been erratic, but the Flyers can't win without their point guard.

Step Your Game Up: Senior Chris Johnson is having a decent year but needs to play even better for the Flyers to make a push for the postseason.

6. Massachusetts
What's Gone Quite Right: The Minutemen are headed in the right direction. Derek Kellogg doesn't have a ton of resume wins, but the team does have 10 victories. UMass fans will take that and run with it.

New Year's Resolution: Stay away from the Dribble Drive. It's no coincidence that UMass is finally turning it around after scrapping the Dribble Drive.

MVP: Hofstra transfer Chaz Williams has been a savior of sorts for a program that desperately needed a point guard.

Step Your Game Up: Knock-down shooter Freddie Riley is making only 33 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. That must improve.

7. LaSalle
What's Gone Quite Right: John Giannini's team has played a soft schedule so far but has enough wins to keep fans happy entering league play.

New Year's Resolution: Continue to shoot the ball well from the perimeter. Galloway and Sam Mills have been shooting the heck of the ball, each better than 47 percent from beyond the arc.

MVP: South Carolina transfer Ramon Galloway is averaging 14.8 points per game and shooting very well.

Step Your Game Up: The Explorers need improved rebounding once league play begins.

8. St. Bonaventure
What's Gone Quite Right: Aside from losing at Arkansas State, the Bonnies don't have any terrible losses. The problem is they don't have any impressive wins -- and they had chances.

New Year's Resolution: For Andrew Nicholson to play like Andrew Nicholson. His scoring is down about six points per game and he's not rebounding as well as he did a year ago.

MVP: Junior forward Demetrius Conger hasn't shot the ball very well from the perimeter, but he's given Mark Schmidt another bona fide scoring threat to go along with Nicholson.

Step Your Game Up: Nicholson was supposed to fight for Player of the Year honors but has been disappointing -- at least by his standards.

9. Charlotte
What's Gone Quite Right: The 49ers put together a five-game winning streak, which includes three road victories.

New Year's Resolution: Improved perimeter shooting. Alan Major's team doesn't have a single player who shoots better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.

MVP: Chris Braswell leads the team in scoring (14.3) and rebounding (7.9).

Step Your Game Up: Derrio Green is shooting only 30 percent from long distance and has more attempts than anyone else on the team.

10. Duquesne
What's Gone Quite Right: These guys have been erratic, but they do have quality wins at George Mason and against Akron.

New Year's Resolution: Ron Everhart needs his big guys to step it up, especially on the glass. The Dukes have been outrebounded by nearly 10 per game.

MVP: Sophomore point guard T.J. McConnell does it all: scoring (11.3 ppg) and distributing (6.0 apg).

Step Your Game Up: The Dukes need to clamp down defensively.

11. Richmond
What's Gone Quite Right: While it's going to be an adjustment without Kevin Anderson, Justin Harper and Dan Geriot, the Spiders are 9-6 and have beaten Old Dominion, Rutgers and Wake Forest.

New Year's Resolution: More shots for Darien Brothers. He's been good but can be even better.

MVP: No one player has completely stood out, but I'll go with freshman Kendall Anthony, who is averaging 13.3 points.

Step Your Game Up: The Spiders need to be more effective on the glass.

12. Fordham
What's Gone Quite Right: Even if Georgia Tech is down -- way down -- Fordham's win over the Yellow Jackets in the Bronx was still impressive. Tom Pecora has the team at 6-6 entering 2012 -- which is progress.

New Year's Resolution: These guys need to go to a shooting clinic. They are shooting 38 percent from the field and 60 percent from the line.

MVP: Chris Gaston is fifth in the league in scoring and leads the A-10 in rebounding.

Step Your Game Up: Last season, Alberto Estwick averaged 10.1 points per game as a starter. Now he's putting up only 3.4 points off the bench.

13. George Washington
What's Gone Quite Right: Not a ton. Karl Hobbs didn't leave Mike Lonergan much and the Colonials have struggled, losing seven straight entering the New Year.

New Year's Resolution: More help for Tony Taylor. It's tough for Taylor because the opposition's defense can focus on him.

MVP: Lasan Kromah is averaging in double figures and nearly six boards per game.

Step Your Game Up: Jabari Edwards has done a decent job on the defensive end, but needs to give Lonergan some scoring in the paint.

14. Rhode Island
What's Gone Quite Right: Nothing. The Rams are 2-11 and also kicked their leading scorer, Jamal Wilson, off the team.

New Year's Resolution: Billy Baron and Andre Malone, two transfers who were recently ruled eligible, need to be as good as advertised and save this brutal campaign.

MVP: Junior forward Nikola Malesevic has been a bright spot, averaging 13.4 points.

Step Your Game Up: Andre Malone has only played two games, but it's been a slow start -- averaging only six points in 20 minutes per contest.

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