GW must handle Xavier, UMass, URI in improved A-10

This season, the GW men’s basketball team is hoping to get back tothe NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in six years. To do that, it must fight its way through one of the toughest conferences in college basketball – the Atlantic 10.

Here’s how the conference breaks down (in The GW Hatchet’s predicted order of finish):

West Division1.) George Washington

The Colonials are in the A-10 West Division, a division they were champions of in 1995-’96. Their most talented rival for that title this year will be the Xavier Musketeers.

2.) Xavier

Xavier was last year’s A-10 West champion, and the team returns virtually all its key players from last season. The Musketeers are led by high-scoring junior guards Gary Lumpkin (14.7 ppg) and Lenny Brown (15.6 ppg), and the team boast seniors T.J. Johnson and Torraye Braggs in the middle. Xavier will be a threat to get a very high seed in the NCAA Tournament this season.

3.) Dayton

Another team from the A-10 West that could give GW some trouble is Dayton. Although the Colonials have knocked off the Flyers four games in a row during the last two seasons, the team has a strong nucleus returning. This includes 6-7 senior forward Ryan Perriman, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last season. With a solid veteran backcourt to go with Perriman, the Flyers should be an improved team.

4.) Duquesne

GW will face Duquesne twice this season. The Dukes tied for last in the A-10 West last year, but are attempting to make a comeback behind impressive guard play. Duquesne will be led by senior Mike James (13.6 ppg).

5.) La Salle

The La Salle Explorers also are paced by a stellar backcourt. La Salle boasts seniors Mike Gizzi and Shawn Smith, along with sophomore phenom Donnie Carr, who led the league in scoring last year with 23.9 ppg. Head coach Speedy Morris will look to these three to lead the Explorers back to prominence.

6.) Virginia Tech

One team that may suffer a little this year is Virginia Tech. The Hokies no longer have star Ace Custis, but they have a versatile crop of freshmen and a new coach in Bobby Hussey. They won’t be vulnerable for too long, thanks to a good recruiting class last year, including prize recruit Rolan Roberts from Potomac High School. Roberts was The Washington Post’s 1995-’96 Player of the Year.

East Division1.) Massachusetts

As has been the case for most of the 1990s, the Massachusetts Minutemen will lead the pack. Although UMass lost guards Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso, it retains a strong core with junior guard Charlton Clarke and senior forward Tyrone Weeks. Head coach James “Bruiser” Flint is in his second year on the job after taking over for current New Jersey Nets head coach John Calipari.

2.) Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Rams, last year’s A-10 Tournament runner-up, will have a new coach and a strong chance to return to the NCAA Tournament. Coach Jim Harrick, who coached UCLA to a national championship in 1995, will have All-America candidate Tyson Wheeler running the point and powerful forward Antonio Reynolds-Dean under the basket. He will have a shot at a return to the big time with this talented club.

3.) Temple

The third power team in the A-10 East is Temple, which must endure the loss of center Marc Jackson to early departure for the NBA. Temple is normally a frontcourt team, but its backcourt of Pepe Sanchez and Rasheed Brokenborough will carry it this season.

4.) St. Joseph’s

St. Joe’s won last year’s A-10 title, but since has lost four key players, and it will have a tough road to a repeat. The Hawks do return senior guard Rashid Bey (15.0 ppg), but Phil Martelli and St. Joe’s should take a step back this season.

5.) St. Bonaventure

St. Bonaventure has had some tough seasons recently, and the team’s hopes of a winning season rest on forward Rashaan Palmer (16.9 ppg). The 6-5 senior also averaged nearly six rebounds a game last season.

6.) Fordham

Fordham had only one conference win last season, and it is not harboring hopes of a major turnaround anytime soon. The Rams will lean on the scoring of swingman Ray Carroll and forward Maurice Curtis.

GW must face some tough competition on the way to what it hopes will be an NCAA Tournament berth. Many believe, however, that GW is as good as anyone in the conference.

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