The road to an Atlantic Ten Conference title might be traveled by a team with an unfamiliar look.
Led by all-American Candice Dupree, the Owls built a conference powerhouse, winning the last three A-10 championships, and four of the last five.
But Temple has quite a new look this season. Dupree, Jennifer Owens and Khadija Bowens – the team’s assist leader and third-leading scorer – are gone.
Kamesha Hairston, who averaged nearly 13 points and six rebounds per game last season, now leads a team that returns only one other starter, junior center Lady Comfort. Comfort’s role is to provide the post presence of Dupree.
Temple’s roster then becomes a lot greener. Only four of the 12 players on the roster have significant collegiate experience.
This inexperience is likely the reason Temple was picked to finish second in a poll conducted by A-10 coaches and media.
But coach Dawn Staley said she likes buiding young teams with a lot to prove.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Staley said. “The growth of it, the challenge of it… We’re gonna get knocked-up side our heads earlier on this season, but [the title] is still ours until March and we will defend it.”
The Owls will defend their title against a tough cluster of opponents.
George Washington, which made the NCAA Tournament last season, enters the season not only as the favorite to win the conference, but also started the season as the AMNo.25 ranked team in the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll.
The Colonials return four starters,
including a backcourt that boast two-year starting point guard Kimberly Beck and junior guard Sarah-Jo Lawrence.
Beck led the conference in assists last season with 5.5 per game, while Lawrence led the Colonials in scoring with an average of 11.6 points per game.
Despite its early exit in last season’s A-10 tournament, Xavier rounds out the top three places in the A-10 poll. The Musketeers return five players including a trio of experienced guards, led by senior Suntana Granderson.
Granderson, who ranked second on the Musketeers with 14.9 ppg, currently sits fourth on Xavier’s all-time three-point field goals list with 193. The 2006 All-Conference First-Teamer also eclipsed the 1,000-point mark late last season.
Juniors Miranda Green and Michele Miller join her. Green, who has been the Musketeers starting point guard for 88 straight games, led the Musketeers with 3.5 assists per game last season. Miller finished third on the team in scoring with 9.6 ppg, while snagging 5.8 boards a game.
Cross-town rival Saint Joseph’s and Charlotte also have the potential to make some noise.
The Hawks return four starters at the guard position, led by senior Ayahna Cornish.
Cornish, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear with nine games remaining last season, looks to return to the form that made her an A-10 All-Conference selection.
Though Cornish missed significant time, she still led the team with 12.1 ppg and 1.5 steals per contest.
Charlotte underwent an overhaul during
the offseason, losing all-conference selections Sakellie Daniels and Pam Brown.
Four-year starter Andrea Davidson and center Krystion Obie also departed.
The 49ers finished 13-3 last season in their inaugural conference season while enjoying their third consecutive WNIT berth. This season, junior guard Whitney Hoey, who finished third on the team with 9.0 ppg, leads the squad.
With experience being few and far between
amongst the teams within the A-10, the fastest to mature on the basketball court might just hoist the trophy come March.
Jeremy Drummond can be reached at email@example.com.