A-10 still tough despite new faces

When asked about the state of the Atlantic 10 this season, GW men’s basketball coach Karl Hobbs explained why the league is consistently tough.

“There are teams in the league that just don’t have bad years,” he said.

The coach pointed out that Richmond, St. Joseph’s, Dayton and Xavier have each averaged over 20 wins in the past four years. All four squads made the NCAA Tournament last season. The Hawks and the Musketeers were two of the hottest teams in the nation at season’s end – both advanced to the Elite 8 before falling to Oklahoma State University and Duke University, respectively.

Many believe GW will join that top group of A-10 teams this year. In the pre-season A-10 poll, coaches and media members picked the Colonials to finish first in the West division (GW received 48 first place votes, Xavier got six). Charles Cunningham, an assistant coach at A-10 rival Duquesne, said the Colonials’ style of play has helped them gain respect in the league.

“(Hobbs) wants a team,” he said of a GW squad that did not have a single player average more than 14 points per game last season. “They’re a team, and the biggest thing they do is play hard.”

Cunningham said he would be shocked if the Colonials did not play a competitive game with Wake Forest in the Nov. 15 season opener.

“I’ll bet you that GW battles them tooth and nail,” he said. “The kids feel like anytime they’re on the court they have a chance to win. If they don’t feel that way, they shouldn’t be playing.”

Realistically, it will be hard for the A-10 to duplicate last year’s success. But Xavier and St. Joe’s, two of the best teams in the country at last season’s end, are reloading with strong recruiting classes.

Xavier’s highly touted freshman is six-foot-six-inch Churchill Odia, a physical point guard who could match up with GW’s Carl Elliott, who are both tall for their respective positions.

Perhaps the most watched rookie in the league will be St. Joe’s red-shirt freshman Rob Ferguson, a six-foot-eight-inch, 225-pound forward, who averaged 25 points and 16 rebounds per game during his senior year of high school in 2002-03.

In the pre-season A-10 poll, coaches and media members picked the Hawks to win the league’s East Division. Even without West and Nelson, St. Joe’s still received 27 first place votes.

Temple (12), Massachusetts (12) and Rhode Island (3) each received first place votes in the East, which does not have as clear a favorite as GW’s division.

Regardless of the predictions, there are bound to be a few upsets. Last season, for example, Duquesne, a team that finished 12-17 overall last year, beat Xavier twice.

“The league is so competitive that there are no real surprises,” Cunningham said. “If you don’t go out and play every night you can get beat.”

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