The Atlantic 10 is usually good for 2-3 teams in the NCAA Tournament, and schools like Xavier and Temple have each made an impact in March. There are a couple key conference games tonight, with the Musketeers meeting Duquesne, while the Owls play St. Louis. The Notebook will take today to give an overview of how this conference race is shaping up.
Xavier: It's been a tough year so far for the program that was the top-heavy favorite to win the league championship and make a splash on the national stage. The problems can be directly traced to a brawl against Cincinnati that resulted in multiple suspensions. Xavier lost their next three games, all too beatable opponents and haven't really found their mojo. They have a very explosive backcourt, with Tu Holloway being one of the best guards in the nation and Mark Lyons scoring 17 ppg as his running mate. There's three good rebounders down low. I have to think it's just a matter of time before Xavier gets back into the swing of things, but for now, their struggles have made this a live race.
Temple: A win over Duke last week gave the Owls some national attention, although they dropped a tough game to Dayton immediately thereafter. Regardless, Temple has a fine backcourt trio. Ramone Moore produces points off the dribble, as does Khaliff Wyatt. Juan Fernandez hits the three-ball and that's enough to keep Temple competitive night-in, night-out. Where this team has been hurt is a knee injury to Michael Eric, the post man who could elevate them to the next level. He's expected to be out into February.
Dayton: The Flyers are off to a 2-0 start in conference play with solid wins over Temple & St. Louis. They also beat Alabama in non-conference action. Dayton has a good front line, with Josh Benson able to score and rebound in the post, and Matt Kavanaugh settled into a role hitting the boards. Chris Johnson, a 6'6" forward who can score inside and out is a big key for this team, although a concussion he's dealing with right now is a big red flag. The backcourt is where they need some help. Kevin Dillard runs the show, and someone else to step up would complete this team and make them a national contender.
St. Louis: Rick Majerus is on the sidelines here now and has the Billikens out to a 13-3 start, including wins over Washington and Oklahoma and a close loss to New Mexico. The production comes from swingman Brian Conklin, who averages 15 points/5 rebounds a game, and Majerus gets good work running the show from Kwamain Mitchell. A big help to this team would be if 6'8" post player Cody Ellis, an Australian import, took over in the paint.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Duquesne: I really want to classify this team as a contender, because the talent is there and they've been knocking on the door for a couple years. But the losses to Western Michigan, Robert Morris and Valparaiso say otherwise. Duquesne is backcourt-oriented with T.J. McConnell being a good scorer and distributor, B.J. Monteiro scoring on the wings and Eric Evans a nice role player. They need help inside and the cause for tonight's game isn't helped by a report that Monteiro may not play due to hand injury.
LaSalle: The Explorers are off to a 2-0 start in A-10 games, and with one of those wins being over Xavier I was tempted to move them up one tier. This is a guard-heavy team with Tyreek Duren running the offense, Ramon Galloway and Earl Pettis producing the points and Sam Mills kicking in some help. The only inside game comes from freshman Jerrell Wright. LaSalle's playing well, but I would like to see a better post option emerge before considering them for either a conference title or NCAA Tournament berth.
St. Joe's: Phil Martinelli's progam fell off the map after a big year in 2004 when they got a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and came within a basket of the Final Four. A bad season in '11 saw light finally come up at the end of the tunnel when the Hawks played well their last few games. Now they're 11-5, have a good backcourt with Carl Jones and Langston Galloway, to go with a balanced frontcourt of C.J. Aiken, Ronald Roberts and Hali Kanacevic. They haven't been consistent enough to be a real championship contender, but St. Joe's is the best dark horse possibility in this league.
Charlotte: At 2-0 in the conference, Charlotte fans can point to their win over St. Joe's and Richmond and wonder why they aren't positioned at least one level higher. There's just not enough depth of talent within the starting lineup. Chris Braswell is a good player at forward and Jarvarris Barnett is a solid swingman. But there's no true post player, no true point guard and no one to step up if either Braswell or Barnett have a bad night.
UMass: Exciting point guard Chaz Williams makes the Minutemen a threat in any situation, but his ball distribution skills are wasted on a team without other scorers who can finish.
Richmond: The Spiders are in a rebuilding year and have already lost seven games, but this will be a live spoiler possibility down the stretch. The backcourt has come together with Cedrick Lindsay leading the way and Darien Brothers and Kendall Anthony producing the points. A pair of sophomores inside, Darius Garrett and Derrick Williams have to rebound a little more and Richmond can make a nice NIT run, or perhaps even be a surprise winner of the A-10 Tournament in March.
St. Bonaventure: I really hoped to have the Bonnies rated a little higher at this point, as Andrew Nicholson has been one of the hidden gems in college basketball. The 6'9" senior has consistently carried bad teams with his scoring and rebounding and he's got some help now from Da'Quan Cook and Demetrius Conger. Where no help is come is in the backcourt and a team will never run efficiently without that. That's why St. Bonaventure is only 8-6.
Rhode Island: It might have been different for the 3-13 Rams, but leading scorer Jamal Wilson was kicked off the team, a key complementary piece Nikola Malsevic is out with a hand injury and forward Orion Outerbridge is going day-to-day with a back problem. Those latter two problems will fix themselves, but the loss of Wilson was devastating.
Fordham: At 7-8, this is a team that should be better than it s. Chris Gaston, a forward who scores 16 ppg and grabs 11 rbg is another underrated gem, while Branden Frazier and Bryan Smith handle backcourt duties pretty well. They get rebounding help from Kervin Bristol, a 6'10" senior. Perhaps this is another team whose best basketball is ahead, but the record speaks pretty clearly about where they are right now.
George Washington: A usually competitive program is on hard times, with Tony Taylor and Lasan Kromah being the only notable players. Neither one is taller than 6'5" and nobody else scores or rebounds.
Dan Flaherty is the editor of TheSportsNotebook.com, a site offering daily analysis, commentary and historical perspective.