If you're a coach wanting to rejuvenate a career, you go to Conference USA. That's understood. Just look at Matt Doherty, Mike Davis, Tom Penders and Larry Eustachy. They're all on the rebound, working back up the professional ladder.
But what about players?
If you're a player looking to rejuvenate a career -- or simply yearning for a change of scenery -- where is the place to land? The answer, at least this year, is the Atlantic 10, where a group of talented transfers are now eligible and expected to have an impact on this league, if not the nation.
|3. Saint Louis||NIT|
|4. G. Washington||NIT|
|8. Saint Joseph's||none|
|10. La Salle||none|
|11. Rhode Island||none|
|13. St. Bonaventure||none|
Xavier will make the NCAA Tournament. Why?
Because of a transfer at point guard.
UMass will make the NCAA Tournament. Why?
Because of a transfer on the wing (and two other pretty good ones, too).
So A-10 coaches, stop scouring those high school gyms. If you want to succeed, look at the Division I program down the road. Perhaps there's a guy there searching for a new opportunity, and just maybe he'll be the player who pushes your program up a level ... after one year of sitting out, of course.
Reasons to be excited: Stanley Burrell can be an explosive scorer, and Drew Lavender, a former McDonald's All-American point guard who transferred from Oklahoma, will complete one of the better backcourts in the nation. Four of the top five scorers from the team that won the Atlantic 10 Tournament last season are back.
Reasons to be depressed: Among the players missing, however, is Brian Thornton, a 6-foot-8 center who averaged 15.3 points per game. Is there another low post scorer on the roster, someone who enjoys hanging in the paint? That's a question that must be addressed.
How it'll all shake out: Lost in the jubilation of the conference tournament title is that Xavier only went 8-8 in a so-so Atlantic 10 last season. That's not good. But the finish created momentum into the offseason, and the addition of Lavender will be enough to have the Musketeers atop this league heading into March. They won't go 8-8 again. They will be in the NCAA Tournament again, though, with a chance to win at least one game.
Reasons to be excited: Rashaun Freeman is back with nearly an average of a double-double, and he's a legitimate A-10 Player of the Year candidate. Still, the 6-9 forward might not even be the best player at UMass, especially if transfer Gary Forbes, who averaged 9.4 points per game two seasons ago at Virginia, lives up to his billing as a natural scorer on the wing.
|G - Carl Elliott, George Washington|
|G - Stanley Burrell, Xavier|
|F - De'Angelo Alexander, Charlotte|
|F - Rashaun Freeman, UMass|
|C - Ian Vouyoukas, Saint Louis|
|G - Drew Lavender, Xavier|
|G - Maureece Rice, George Washington|
|F - Gary Forbes, UMass|
|F - Justin Cage, Xavier|
|F - Bryant Dunston, Fordham|
Player of the year
Stanley Burrell, Xavier
Newcomer of the year
Drew Lavender, Xavier
Gary Forbes, UMass
Coach on the hot seat
Anthony Soloman, St. Bonaventure
Reasons to be depressed: Trying to blend one transfer can sometimes prove difficult, so it's likely meshing three into a rotation will be a challenge for Travis Ford, and chemistry issues could arise. Also, two players were arrested this month for fighting outside a bar. Bar fights are rarely a good sign.
How it'll all shake out: Based on talent alone, I'm guessing UMass will be good enough to excel in the Atlantic 10 and perhaps challenge Xavier for the league crown. It won't be a return to those Marcus Camby years, but basketball should be relevant again at the Mullins Center.
3. Saint Louis
Reasons to be excited: Ian Vouyoukas, after flirting with the NBA Draft, returned to school, giving Saint Louis a solid post presence who averaged 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season. Three other starters also return, among them Kevin Lisch, who averaged 11.1 points per game as a freshman.
Reasons to be depressed: Tommie Liddell is a nice player, but it's never a positive when your shooting guard shoots just 9.5 percent from 3-point range. And somebody forgot to tell coach Brad Soderberg about the importance and need for transfers. He has none.
How it'll all shake out: For now, I'm sticking Saint Louis on the outside of the NCAA Tournament, but this is a team I'm interested in watching. The Billikens lost only one starter from a team that went 10-6 in the A-10 last season. So they're not bad, and they could challenge Xavier and UMass, even with inferior overall talent. In fact, don't be surprised if Saint Louis gets a nice non-league win or two. No, not against North Carolina on Dec. 22. That's silly. But the Billikens could maybe steal a game at Southern Illinois, or beat Houston at home in November.
Reasons to be excited: Coach Karl Hobbs is still around, and there are plenty of people who thought he'd be in a BCS-league this season. Hobbs will be aided by Carl Elliott, a solid point guard who tested the NBA waters before wisely refusing to dive in.
Reasons to be depressed: Pops Mensah-Bonsu and three other starters are gone, so experience is not a strong point. Plus, if the Colonials could only muster a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament with an undefeated record in the Atlantic 10, the prospects for this season can't possibly be promising considering GW's non-league schedule is still mostly so-so.
How it'll all shake out: A two-year run of NCAA Tournaments will come to an end this season as George Washington reorganizes for the future. An NIT is likely, but certainly not a guarantee.
Reasons to be excited: De'Angelo Alexander and Leemire Goldwire will anchor Charlotte's perimeter, and they combined to average 30.4 points per game last season. Forward E.J. Drayton returns after missing last year with knee tendonitis.
Reasons to be depressed: Curtis Withers is gone, as are his 16.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. Also, it appears, five-star recruit Michael Beasley is going to sign with Kansas State after once being committed to Charlotte for more than a year. Commitments, of course, are non-binding. I'm betting Bobby Lutz hates that fact about as much as Illinois' Bruce Weber.
How it'll all shake out: It's hard to imagine Charlotte not slipping in the post-Withers era, and another NIT is likely. But Lutz continues to lure high-level recruits, at least relative to the rest of the Atlantic 10, meaning the 49ers will be competing for a league title again soon, though it would've been so much easier with that darned Beasley kid.
Reasons to be excited: Bryant Dunston could sneak into the A-10 Player of the Year conversation if the Rams overachieve. He's one of four returning starters, and the 6-8 forward averaged 16.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
Reasons to be depressed: Jermaine Anderson is gone, and he took 15.6 points per game from the guard sport with him. Penn State transfer Marlon Smith was expected to fill that void, but he left school before ever playing for the Rams.
How it'll all shake out: The Rams don't have an impressive record under fourth-year coach Dereck Whittenburg, but he seems to have laid the foundation for a nice program, and Fordham should improve on last year's 16-16 record. An NCAA Tournament appearance is improbable, but if the Rams can make the NIT that should be considered a wonderful season.
Reasons to be excited: The top three scorers are back, including Brian Roberts, a versatile guard who averaged 16.0 points and 3.5 assists per game last year. Looking further ahead, recruiting is going well, evidence being that coach Brian Gregory has a commitment from 6-6 wing Chris Wright, an in-state product and Top 50 national recruit.
Reasons to be depressed: Though four starters return, they started for a team that managed only 14 wins last season. And with Warren Williams gone, whether there is a reliable point guard on the roster remains undetermined.
How it'll all shake out: The Flyers are on the way up, and they could be better than this seventh-place prediction. Still, it's more likely this season is only marginally better than last season, and that Dayton won't be competing for the A-10 again until 2007-08, at the earliest.
Reasons to be excited: Phil Martelli lured a good group of Class of 2006 prospects, and the 12th-year coach is too good to stay down too long. So while it's doubtful the Hawks will ever repeat that Jameer Nelson/Delonte West magical year, they will be competing for league titles again soon. Reasons to be depressed: By soon, I don't mean this year. Only one starter, Rob Ferguson, is back from last season's NIT team, and trying to get all those freshmen acclimated to Division I basketball could prove difficult.
How it'll all shake out: Martelli is a winner, someone who is accustomed to success. Consequently, this will be a rough year to endure, but if he stays committed to letting the young guys learn on the job, the payoff will come, perhaps as early as 2007-08.
Reasons to be excited: Mark Tyndale and Wayne Marshall are solid players, and they give first-year coach Fran Dunphy something to build around. Problem is, both are academically ineligible for the first semester, so any excitement should be tempered.
Reasons to be depressed: Used to be, people paid attention to Temple, if for no other reason, because of John Chaney. Now, that natural lure is gone. So the Owls will have to be good to make the nation notice, and trying to be good without the departed Mardy Collins will be quite a challenge.
Which team will win the Atlantic 10?
Total Votes: 833
How it'll all shake out: You don't lose Chaney and Collins -- especially Collins (players win games, after all) -- and move along without issues. That's why Temple will be in the bottom-half of the Atlantic 10 this season, and it won't get much better until Dunphy gets his own recruits, and it won't get much better even then unless those recruits are talented enough to compete with what UMass, Xavier, Dayton and Saint Joseph's have coming in.
10. La Salle
Reasons to be excited: Three starters are back from an 18-win team, including guard Darnell Harris, a junior guard who averaged 12.6 points per game last year. That trio will be joined by a five-player recruiting class featuring talented prospects who can play multiple positions.
Reasons to be depressed: Providence transfer DeSean White was supposed to be an impact player, someone to help ease the loss of Steven Smith. But he transferred to Delaware during the summer, leaving La Salle's plans in disarray. Oh yeah, did I mention Smith and his 19.7 points per game are gone? That's going to be tough to overcome.
How it'll all shake out: A roster with so many new guys and without Smith isn't ideal. This is a rebuilding year at La Salle, plain and simple.
11. Rhode Island
Reasons to be excited: Point guard Jon Lucky is back after considering transferring out of the program. Will Daniels and Jimmy Baron should provide a scoring punch.
Reasons to be depressed: Coach Jim Baron is counting on some of his newcomers to provide a spark. Problem is, none of them project as impact freshmen at the A-10 level.
How it'll all shake out: Rhode Island hasn't been to an NCAA Tournament since 1999. That drought won't end this season.
Reasons to be excited: The Spiders only allowed 57.8 points per game last season. That mark led the Atlantic-10.
Reasons to be depressed: The Spiders only scored 52.1 points per game last season. That mark ranked last in the Atlantic 10, and it can't be good for recruiting when the average score of a contest a prospect might play in at Richmond would be 58-52. Prospects don't like playing in the 50s, especially if they're losing. If you're going to play slow, you'd better win. Otherwise, lose fast (consider that my coaching tip of the day).
How it'll all shake out: Hopefully, the Spiders will at least play faster. Because if they don't, then they're in for another slow and losing season, and that's just not any fun for anybody.
13. St. Bonaventure
Reasons to be excited: Junior College transfer Jermain Calvin will bring speed to the point guard position, if nothing else. Forward Michael Lee is back after scoring 12.7 points per game last season.
Reasons to be depressed: Versatile wing Ahmad Smith is gone, as are his 15.9 points per game. And if St. Bonaventure could only win eight times last season with that talent, how many wins are possible without him?
How it'll all shake out: Coach Anthony Solomon is 17-66 in three years, and there's no reason to envision things getting much better this season. A low double-digit win total is the best-case scenario, and that's kind of sad.
Reasons to be excited: Four of the five players who were shot on campus last month are out of the hospital and on track to recover. Given the initial scare and subsequent reports, that's amazing news.
Reasons to be depressed: Kansas has an eight-man rotation featuring at least five probable pros. Duquesne, on the other hand, had just eight healthy players practicing over the weekend. Period. That's perspective. That's tough. Nothing will come easy for Ron Everhart.
How it'll all shake out: The Dukes went 3-24 last season, and this year's record won't be much, if any, better. Still, everything is relative here. So if you can look up in March and see a group of healthy guys moving forward with some sense of normalcy, this will have to be chalked-up as a good season, especially considering the tragic way it started.
|2006-07 Season Preview Schedule|
|Friday, Oct. 20||Gary Parrish's Top 25|
|Monday, Oct. 23||ACC, America East, Atlantic Sun|
|Tuesday, Oct. 24||Atlantic 10, Big Sky|
|Wednesday, Oct. 25||Big East, Big South|
|Thursday, Oct. 26||Big Ten, Big West|
|Friday, Oct. 27||20 Best Games of the Year|
|Monday, Oct. 30||Big 12, Horizon|
|Tuesday, Oct. 31||Colonial, Ivy, Independents|
|Wednesday, Nov. 1||C-USA, MAAC, MEAC|
|Thursday, Nov. 2||Mountain West, MAC|
|Friday, Nov. 3||Coaches on the Hot Seat|
|Monday, Nov. 6||Missouri Valley, Mid Continent|
|Tuesday, Nov. 7||Pac-10, Ohio Valley|
|Wednesday, Nov. 8||SEC, Northeast, Patriot|
|Thursday, Nov. 9||WAC, Southern, Southland|
|Friday, Nov. 10||West Coast, SWAC, Sun Belt|