As the Atlantic Ten Conference prepares to open up its 30th season, it will have a new look. With two new teams, the league has left the East-West Divisional alignment for a single division consisting of 14 teams. Exiting from Conference USA, both Charlotte and Saint Louis will make their A-10 debuts this season.
But although the 49ers and the Billikens are the new kids on the block, George Washington holds the title as the team to beat this year.
The Colonials are not only the defending A-10 champs; they return four starters from last year’s 22-8 team. The team will be lead by senior forward Mike Hall, who averaged 10.6 points per game, and New Jersey product Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who averaged 12.6 points per game last season.
“We are the Atlantic Ten champs,” GW coach Karl Hobbs said. “We did win the championship last time we checked, so therefore we have to defend it.”
However, defending the title this season will not come easy for Hobbs and the Colonials.
“You take a league that has 80 percent of its players returning, where we won the league, but we only won it by a game,” Hobbs said. “Then you add Charlotte and Saint Louis.”
Newcomer Charlotte has its eyes set on making an early impact, as they come into the conference as the top team to be dealt with, next to the Colonials. Charlotte returns two starters from last year’s 21-8 team, which not only was the C-USA runner-up, but also danced in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in the past nine years. Two-time All-Conference First-Teamer Curtis Withers will lead the 49ers as they try to adjust to A-10 basketball.
“It’s new to us, because coming in we’re always used to being the underdog,” Withers said. “Now we’re coming in and people are kind of shooting for us as far as who comes out on top in the conference.”
Withers averaged 18 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last year.
“We played a few of the A-10 schools the last few years,” Withers said. “George Washington, Temple, Xavier, so I know from playing those teams that they’re physical teams.”
Here in Philadelphia, when opponents think of Temple basketball, they think of Mardy Collins. Collins, who has started since his freshman year, has become one of the most talked-about players not only in the A-10 but in all of college basketball.
Collins is a physical 6-foot-6 point guard who consistently causes matchup problems for any guard attempting to defend him. Collins was easily First-Team All-Conference last season after leading the Owls in scoring (17.5 points per game), rebounding (5.9 rebounds per game), assists (109), steals (85), three-pointers (48), and minutes (37.6 minutes per game). Collins played for Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli this past summer on Team USA’s Under-21 team and is hoping to bring the Owls back to the NCAA Tournament after four consecutive years of settling for the National Invitational Tournament.
Speaking of the Hawks, Martelli’s team is coming off another impressive season, finishing 24-12 with only two conference losses. This year’s cast consists of many inexperienced players intermixed with four freshman and four sophomores. As always, however, Martelli said he is still confident he can continue to produce victories for the Hawks.
“Certainly one of the advantages that we do have is that last year we started and tried to play at a pace that was not comfortable for last year’s players,” Martelli said. “This year we’re starting off knowing the pace that’s comfortable for this year’s team.”
Xavier also could be ready to make noise in the A-10, as they have for nine of the past 10 seasons. Usually, the Musketeers are a powerhouse to be reckoned with, but under first-year coach Sean Miller last season they did not get an invite to postseason play. Miller should be able to turn his success around as he welcomes back all five starters. Four of those were double-figure scorers, including sophomore guard Stanley Burrell, who averaged 12.7 points per game last season.
Senior forward Monty Scott will try to lead Dayton to success this season, as he was selected to the A-10 Pre-Season All-Conference team for the first time. Last year, he led his team with 11.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
Donnell Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.