Sizing up the field

The last three days have been the most uneventful days in the Atlantic Ten Conference in months. Since Sunday, the conference has been at a standstill, with its teams finally locked into their seedings in

The last three days have been the most uneventful days in the Atlantic Ten Conference in months.

Since Sunday, the conference has been at a standstill, with its teams finally locked into their seedings in the A-10 tournament after two and a half months of scratching and clawing their way there.

Today, the unpredictability – or parity, depending on how you look at it – that has defined the A-10 returns in Atlantic City, N.J., where the A-10 tournament kicks off at Boardwalk Hall.

Most of the 12 teams that qualified for the four-round tournament reasonably hold high hopes of either capturing the A-10 championship or making a deep run.

Only Xavier, at 14-2, has set itself apart from a crowded pack looking to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee. But even the Musketeers are not safe, as history has shown.

Here’s a closer look at each of the teams:

No. 1 Xavier

Overall Record: 26-5
A-10 Record
: 14-2
Preseason Prediction: First
Top Scorers: Josh Duncan (11.6 points), B.J. Raymond (10.9), Derrick Brown (10.9), Drew Lavender (10.8), C.J. Anderson (10.6)
First Game: Thursday, noon, vs. Dayton-Saint Louis winner

Strengths: Lavender leads a balanced offense that features five players that average double-digit scoring and a sixth, Stanley Burrell, who averages 9.9 points. The Musketeers topped the A-10 in rebounding margin and their defense ranks as one of the best in the conference.
: There’s not many. This team is about as complete as they come. Perhaps the biggest weakness is the Musketeers don’t have a player who can take over the game. But then again, they haven’t needed one.
Outlook: The Musketeers are easily the best team in the conference. They’re playing to improve their seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Expect them to at least make the championship game, if not win it all.

No. 2 Temple
Overall Record: 18-12
A-10 Record: 11-5
Preseason Prediction: Ninth
Top Scorers: Dionte Christmas (20.3), Mark Tyndale (16.1)
First Game: Thursday, 6:30 p.m., vs. La Salle-Duquesne winner

Strengths: The Owls can score with the best of them and generally handle the ball well on offense. They led the A-10 in assist/turnover ratio. Sergio Olmos and Lavoy Allen have solidified the interior, improving their games down the stretch.
Weaknesses: After Christmas and Tyndale, the Owls feature a bundle of inconsistent players. Lately, the role players have been chipping in nicely. But when those players are off their games, that spells trouble for the Owls. Also, the Owls’ defense struggles to guard the three-point line.
Outlook: Aside from Massachusetts, the Owls are probably the hottest team in the A-10, having won four straight games for the first time this season. Assuming they win their second round game, they’ll likely face UMass in the semifinals. That would pit the two hottest teams against each other, possibly rekindling an old rivalry.

No. 3 Massachusetts
Overall Record: 21-9
A-10 Record: 10-6
Preseason Prediction: Eighth
Top Scorers: Gary Forbes (20.3), Ricky Harris (18.1), Etienne Brower (12.8), Chris Lowe (12.1)
First Game: Thursday, 9 p.m., vs. Charlotte-Rhode Island winner

Strengths: Forbes and Harris are potent offensive weapons and point guard Lowe certainly finds them. Lowe dished out a league-best 6.21 assists per game for the conference’s most potent offense. The Minutemen average 82.6 points.
Weaknesses: For all the points the Minutemen score, they yield nearly as many, allowing 76.2 points per contest. That ranked dead last in the A-10. However, that comes from playing a high-paced style. Their field goal percentage defense ranked in the middle of the pack.
Outlook: The Minutemen pulled themselves together after some early struggles in the A-10 schedule. They’re the hottest team in the league right now as winners of six straight. It would shock no one if they make it to the championship game. That would likely punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

No. 4 Richmond
Overall Record: 16-13
A-10 Record: 9-7
Preseason Prediction: 12th
Top Scorers: Dan Geriot (14.2), David Gonzalvez (12.0), Kevin Anderson (10.5)
First Game: Thursday, 2:30 p.m., vs. Saint Joseph’s-Fordham winner

Strengths: The Spiders rely heavily on their defense, which yielded just 66.2 points per game, fourth-best in the A-10. They also averaged 8.41 steals and finished third in turnover margin, finishing at +2.17.
Weaknesses: Geriot is their only big threat on an offense that doesn’t score much. The Spiders also need help on the glass. They finished dead last in rebounding margin, at -5.3.
: A few tie-breakers awarded the Spiders a first-round bye, but they are certainly not the fourth-best team in the conference. They’ll likely face Saint Joseph’s, and will likely lose. Don’t expect much.

No. 5 Saint Joseph’s
Overall Record: 18-11
A-10 Record
: 9-7
Preseason Prediction: Third
Top Scorers: Pat Calathes (17.8), Ahmad Nivens (14.5), Rob Ferguson (11.7), Tasheed Carr (10.9), Darrin Govens (10.2)
First Game: Wednesday, 2:30 p.m., vs. Fordham

Strengths: Calathes is one of the best all-around players in league; he’s particularly mobile for his lankiness. Nivens can dominate the paint while forwards Calathes and Rob Ferguson can’t light it up from beyond the arc.
Weaknesses: The Hawks are dreadful guarding the arc, finishing last in the conference in three-point percentage defense. Opponents shoot 37.9 percent. Also, they’ve fallen short in games when featuring physical play.
Outlook: The Hawks’ struggles down the stretch certainly place them at a disadvantage, considering they missed out on a bye. Still, they certainly have the talent to make a serious run at the A-10 crown. They need to regain the form they had a month ago, when they won six straight games.

No. 6 Charlotte
Overall Record: 18-12
A-10 Record: 9-7
Preseason Prediction: 10th
Top Scorers: Leemire Goldwater (18.8), Lamont Mack (12.9)
First Game: Wednesday, 9 p.m., vs. Rhode Island

Strengths: Goldwater is a force on both offense and defense. The senior is quite the thief, averaging 2.13 steals per game. He leads a defense that held opponents to a 41.9 percent shooting percentage, second-best in the conference. The 49ers don’t turn the ball over often, either.
Weaknesses: The 49ers don’t rebound the ball particularly well, nor are they much of a threat from beyond the three-point line, where they ranked 10th with a 35.1 percent shooting percentage. They struggle at the free throw line, too, shooting 68.3 percent.
Outlook: The 49ers surged down the stretch, winning four of their final five games. They just topped Rhode Island in Kingston, R.I., Sunday. Whichever team makes the adjusts better moves on.

No. 7 La Salle
Overall Record: 14-16
A-10 Record: 8-8
Preseason Prediction: 13th Top Scorers: Darnell Harris (16.4), Rodney Green (13.1)
First Game: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., vs. Duquesne

: Harris has an incredible shot. He routinely makes contested three-pointers for an offense that has no problem scoring.
Weaknesses: Defense. Is there one? The Explorers yielded 75.9 points per game. Only UMass allowed more. They also allow opponents to shoot 46.3 percent from the field, which ranked last.
Outlook: The Explorers made a nice run, but even during their five-game winning streak they continued to struggle on defense. They won’t be able to pull off a similar run now with their defense in shambles. Expect a shoot-out against the Dukes.

No. 8 Dayton
Overall Record
: 20-9
A-10 Record: 8-8
Preseason Prediction: Sixth
Top Scorers: Brian Roberts (19.0), Chris Wright (10.4)
First Game: Wednesday, noon, vs. Saint Louis

: Brian Roberts has a hot hand from beyond the arc, where the Flyers shoot 38 percent. The Flyers are strong under the glass, too, outrebounding opponents by a 5.4 margin. They also don’t give up much on defense, allowing just 64.4 points per game.
Weaknesses: The Flyers are dreadful from the free throw line, where they finished last in the A-10 with a 64.6 percent clip. Wright has only appeared in 13 games, missing the rest to injury.
Outlook: The Flyers have beaten Saint Louis twice this season, limiting the Billikens to just 36 points in the previous meeting. The Flyers are out to prove themselves to the selection committee and likely need a deep run to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

No. 9 Saint Louis
Overall Record: 16-14
A-10 Record: 7-9
Preseason Prediction: Fifth
Top Scorers
: Kevin Lisch (14.7), Tommie Liddell (12.0)
First Game: Wednesday, noon, vs. Dayton

: The Billikens own the best defense in the A-10, limiting opponents to 61.5 points and holding them to a 42.2 shooting percentage.
Weaknesses: They don’t have an offense. Their 60 points per game ranked last in the A-10. The Billikens don’t shoot very well, shooting at 43.4 percent. They’ve been held under 40 points three times this season. George Washington limited them to 20.
Outlook: The Billikens enter the tourney on a bit of a tailspin. They topped Saint Joseph’s on the road two weeks ago, but then lost to Saint Bonaventure and Duquesne. They’ve only once won three straight games this season. Don’t expect the Billikens to get past the second round.

No. 10 Duquesne

Overall Record: 17-12
A-10 Record: 7-9
Preseason Prediction: 11th
Top Scorers: Shawn James (12.8), Kojo Mensah (12.0), Kieron Achara (11.4)
First Game
: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., vs. La Salle

: The Dukes led the A-10 with 18.17 assists per game, while averaging 82.4 points and outscoring their opponents by an 8.6 margin. In that regard, only Xavier was better. Also, James averages nearly four blocked shots a game.
Weaknesses: The Dukes are not a threat at all from beyond the arc, where they average just 31.4 percent. Their high-paced offense has an adverse effect on their defense, and they tend to play a lot of shoot-outs.
Outlook: The Dukes lost five straight before pounding Saint Louis, 85-58, in their final game of the season. The Dukes fare well against teams struggling on defense, so their matchup against La Salle should bode well for them. They’ve also been able to shock a few teams, so upsetting Temple wouldn’t be a total surprise, but the likelihood of a long run is not very high.

No. 11 Rhode Island
Overall Record: 21-10
A-10 Record: 7-9
Preseason Prediction: Second
Top Scorers: Will Daniels (18.8), Jimmy Baron (13.9), Parfait Bitee (12.0)
First Game: Wednesday, 9 p.m., vs. Charlotte
Strengths: The Rams are a high-powered offense led by Daniels down low, and Baron on the perimeter. Kahiem Seawright averages 8.4 boards, second only to Fordham’s Bryant Dunston.
Weaknesses: The Rams have fallen apart down the stretch, losing six of their last seven games. They could use a confidence boost.
Outlook: The Rams likely blew an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, unless they reach the final. That would require three straight wins, a feat they haven’t accomplished since winning four games in late January and early February. They just lost to Charlotte on Sunday, too.

No. 12 Fordham
Overall Record: 12-16
A-10 Record: 6-10
Preseason Prediction: Fourth
Top Scorers: Bryant Dunston (15.5), Marcus Stout (15.2), Brenton Butler (11.3)
First Game: Wednesday, 2:30 p.m., vs. Saint Joseph’s

: If the Rams were better Dunston would have had a strong case of A-10 Player of the Year honors. With 10 rebounds per game, he’s the only A-10 player average a double-double. He also blocks 2.71 shots per contest.
Weaknesses: The Rams don’t get much offense from anyone other than the three guys listed above. They haven’t helped themselves from the foul line much, either, shooting 67.3 percent. On defense, opponents are shooting 45.1 percent. Only La Salle is worse.
Outlook: Sounds like a first round exit. With the versatility of Calathes and Ferguson, the Hawks will be too much to handle for the Rams. A disappointing year for a team picked to finish fourth.

John Kopp can be reached at

Also read: “La Salle-Duquesne gets Owls Thursday”

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