1. Temple Owls
Last season: 19-15 (12-4 A-10)
Head coach: John Chaney (21st season)
Plays GW: Jan. 5 at Temple
Does John Chaney ever have to rebuild? Ranked 47th in the country by Athlon Sports, the Owls will remain one of the best teams in the conference despite the losses of starters Kevin Lyde, Lynn Greer and Ron Rollerson. A-10 All-Rookie Team member Brian Polk will join returning starters Alex Wesby and David Hawkins in the starting lineup, while seven-foot freshman Keith Butler comes in with high expectations. Also, look for senior Greg Jefferson and sophomore Nile Murry to expand their contribution with the departures of Lyde and Greer.
As always, the Owls will play a tough non-conference schedule to prepare for the A-10 season, which starts with a Jan. 5 game against GW. The Colonials will hope to avenge last year’s embarrassing loss to the Owls at the Smith Center, which was aired on ESPN.
2. Massachusetts Minutemen
Last season: 13-16 (6-10 A-10)
Head coach: Steve Lappas (2nd season)
Plays GW: Jan. 25 at GW
Massachusetts should finish near the top of the A-10 East, led once again by senior center Micah Brand (9.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and junior guard Anthony Anderson (10 ppg), the 2002 A-10 Rookie of the Year. Freshman guard Michael Lasme, the 64th ranked incoming freshman in the country according to ESPN.com, will look to break into the starting lineup early.
UMass brought in six new players this season but won’t have long to work them into head coach Steve Lappas’ system, as the Minutemen will get an early test when they open the season at the Maui Invitational in Hawaii Nov. 25. The Minutemen could compete for a spot in the NIT if Anderson improves from last season and Lasme makes an immediate impact in the backcourt.
3. St. Bonaventure Bonnies
Last season: 17-13 (8-8 A-10)
Head coach: Jan van Breda Kolff (2nd season)
Plays GW: Feb. 26 at St. Bonaventure
The Bonnies have a big hole to fill this year with the graduation of All-Conference First Team member J.R. Bremer, last year’s A-10 leading scorer (24.6 ppg). St. Bonaventure will return two starters that averaged more than 10 points per game last season, Marques Green (15.4 ppg) and Patricio Prato (11.8 ppg).
Green, the team’s 5-foot-7 point guard, was third in the conference in assists last season, averaging 5.9 per game. The team also adds five new faces, two freshmen and three transfers. The Bonnies will look to make the postseason for the fourth consecutive year and should do so despite the loss of Bremer.
4. St. Joseph’s Hawks
Last season: 19-12 (12-4 A-10)
Head coach: Phil Martelli (8th season)
Plays GW: Jan. 29 at GW
Junior Jameer Nelson will be the go-to guy for the Hawks, averaging 14.4 points per game last season. After making the All-Conference First Team in 2001-02, the guard was named to the Wooden Award Preseason All-America Team in August. But aside from Nelson, expect the Hawks to struggle early after losing four starters.
The team lost Na’im Crenshaw, Marvin O’Connor, Bill Phillips and Damian Reed, four seniors who combined to score nearly 69 percent of the team’s points last season. Nelson, along with sophomore Delonte West and senior Alexandre Sazonov, will be counted on to make up that deficit. Head Coach Phil Martelli will push his younger players to develop quickly, but don’t count on them developing quickly enough to make a postseason run this year.
5. Rhode Island Rams
Last season: 8-20 (4-12 A-10)
Head coach: Jim Baron (2nd season)
Plays GW: Feb. 8 at Rhode Island
After 49 seasons at Keaney Gymnasium, Rhode Island moves into a new home this season, the Ryan Center, and can only hope it will bring better results. The Rams look to rebound after a miserable season under new head coach Jim Baron in 2001-02, but chances are the result will be the same.
The young team has five freshmen and four sophomores among the 14 players on their roster. They return four starters from last season’s team, but with no clear cut star on the team, the Rams will have to hope sophomore Dustin Hellenga will improve on his 9.1 points per game average. Expect the Rams to finish near the bottom of the East again this season.
6. Fordham Rams
Last season: 8-20 (4-12 A-10)
Head coach: Bob Hill (4th season)
Plays GW: March 8 at GW
Fordham seems to have been rebuilding for several years but has yet to build anything. With the losses of Second Team All-Atlantic 10 guard Smush Parker, who left school early to enter the NBA draft, and center Duke Freeman-McKamey, head coach Bob Hill is not likely to get his first winning season in 2002-03.
The team returns only two starters from last season, Michael Haynes (9.4 ppg), who missed eight games last season due to an injury, and Mark Jarrell-Wright (8.3 ppg). Fordham will have six new players on the roster this season, including five freshmen, and will rely on rookie Jermaine Anderson to run the point.
1. Xavier Musketeers
Last season: 26-6 (14-2 A-10)
Head coach: Thad Matta (second season, A-10 Coach of the Year)
Plays GW: Feb. 4 at GW, March 1 at Xavier
The Musketeers are so far above the rest of the A-10 that they could very well win every A-10 game they play. Ranked No. 11 in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll, Xavier is unquestionably the class of the conference. Led by preseason All-American David West, a serious Naismith Award candidate, the Musketeers will look to go deeper in the NCAA Tournament than last year’s second-round loss to Oklahoma.
West averaged nearly 19 points and 10 rebounds per game last season and will be joined by fellow preseason All-American junior Romain Sato. Lionel Chalmers and David Young also return as starters for Xavier.
2. Richmond Spiders
Last season: 22-14 (11-5 A-10)
Head coach: Jerry Wainwright (first season)
Plays GW: Jan. 21 at Richmond, Feb. 16 at GW
The Spiders joined the conference last season and impressed early, finishing second in the A-10 West and going to the quarterfinals of the NIT. Jerry Wainwright takes over at Richmond after a successful run at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and inherits one of the better teams in the conference.
Wainwright will have four returning starters to work with, including 2001-02 leading scorer Reggie Brown (14.4 ppg) and Third Team All-Atlantic 10 member Mike Skrocki (12.9 ppg). Richmond will be tough competition for a weak A-10 but will need to pull some magic in the A-10 Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament.
3. Dayton Flyers
Last season: 21-11(10-6 A-10)
Head coach: Oliver Purnell (ninth season)
Plays GW: Jan. 18 at GW, Feb. 12 at Dayton
Dayton returns four starters from last season’s NIT team. Ramod Marshall, Brooks Hall, Keith Waleskowski and Sean Finn combined for 43.6 points per game last season and should put the Flyers in contention once again.
Waleskowski (6-foot-8) was fourth in the conference in rebounding (8.0 rpg) and could be the second best big man in the conference behind Xavier’s David West. With their strong core of players returning, the Flyers are well below Xavier but like many other teams will hope to get hot at the A-10 Tournament, which Dayton hosts, and sneak into the NCAA’s.
4. LaSalle Explorers
Last season: 15-17 (6-10 A-10)
Head coach: Billy Hahn (second season)
Plays GW: Jan. 11 at LaSalle, Feb. 22 at GW
Like many teams in the A-10, LaSalle will have a lot of new faces this year and will struggle as they break into collegiate play. Senior Reggie Okosa (11.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and sophomore Mike Cleaves (11.7 ppg) will lead seven new players with tremendous potential.
The Explorers will have to make up for the departures of forward Rasual Butler and point guard Julian Blanks (fourth in the A-10 in assists last season), but with a strong freshman class LaSalle could sneak up on some teams this winter. Just how many teams they sneak up on and beat will depend how fast the newcomers develop, but LaSalle seems to be headed in the right direction.
5. Duquesne Dukes
Last season: 9-19 (4-12 A-10)
Head coach: Danny Nee (second season)
Plays GW: Feb. 1 at GW, Feb. 19 at Duquesne
Finishing worse this year than they did last year will be tough, but it looks like the Dukes are up to the task. Duquesne returns two starters from last season’s team, Kevin Forney and Simplice Njoya, but loses leading scorer Wayne Smith. Smith graduated as the school’s fourth all-time leading scorer and will not be replaced this year.
The Dukes have seven new players on the roster, most notably 6-foot-8 guard Jimmy Tricco, a transfer from Gonzaga. Tricco may have more individual success with Duquesne but will soon see just how far he is from Gonzaga as the Dukes wait for their young players to develop.