Tuesday, April 04, 2006

2006-07 Preview: Mid Majors, Part III

Atlantic 10 Conference

The conference began and ended with George Washington this past year. Pops Mensah-Bonsu graduates, but the Colonials proved that they were still a tough team to beat even with Mensah-Bonsu injured and missing from the lineup. A bigger key could be whether Danilo Pinnock (15 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg) eschews his senior year for the NBA. He is currently "testing the waters", but for now BasketballPredictions will assume that he makes the wise choice and sticks around for one more year. If Pinnock stays, then GW returns all of its guards, and only has worries on the inside. Almost all of their big-men were seniors this past year, and a key could be whether Regis Koundjia (5 ppg, 3 rpg, 1 bpg) and Montrell McDonald (4 ppg, 2 rpg, 52% shooting) fill the void. The Colonials will also receive a boost from top recruit, 6'7" Damien Hollis. That said, it's hard to imagine the new crop of forwards and centers outplaying Mensa-Bonsu, Mike Hall and Omar Williams, so expect GW to take a small step backwards next year.

Last year, GW's chief competition came from Charlotte, which also loses most of its size from last year. However, the 49ers do keep in tact their outstanding backcourt of De'Angelo Alexander (17 ppg, 6 rpg, 43% 3-point shooting) and Leemire Goldwire (13 ppg, 3 apg, 2 spg). On top of that, Charlotte brings in an outstanding recruiting class - easily the best in the conference. Besides a solid crop of four different 3-star high school recruits (according to Scouts.com), the 49ers also bring in two excellent Juco recruits. 6'9" Sean Phaler will be expected to help on the inside, while Carlos Williams will be able to run the point in what should be an excellent 3-guard offense.

Next year will probably not be a two-horse race, however, as some other teams bring back some excellent talent. Saint Louis brings back its top three scorers, led by 6'10" Ian Vouyoukas (14 ppg, 7 rpg, 2 bpg), who should dominate on the inside. Another dangerous team will be the defending A10 tournament champions, Xavier. In addition to returning four of their top five scorers, Xavier also brings in an excellent recruiting class. Their biggest graduation will be on the inside in the form of Brian Thorton (15 ppg, 7 rpg), but they will replace him with two good centers coming in (including 6'10" Juco star Charles Bronson). The best recruit of all, however, will be Adrion Graves of Cincinnati, rated as the 15th best shooting guard in the nation by Scouts.com. Meanwhile, a sleeper pick could be UMass, under excellent young coach Travis Ford. The Minutemen return five rising-seniors who all played over 20 minutes per game this past season - and teams with that type of experience always overachieve in NCAA basketball. That said, Charlotte probably brings the most talent to the table next year, and begins the season as the preseason pick:

1. Charlotte
2. George Washington
3. Xavier
4. Saint Louis
5. Massachusetts
6. Saint Joseph's

Colonial Athletic Association

The CAA put its name on the map this past year with two tournament teams and, most notably, a Final Four appearance by George Mason. The big question will be whether the conference can build on that success, or whether 2006 was a fluke. That analysis, of course, must begin with George Mason itself. The Patriots are hard hit by graduation, losing Jai Lewis on the inside, as well as their backcourt of Tony Skinn and Lamar Butler, to graduation. Their strength next year will probably be on the inside, as rising-junior Will Thomas (12 ppg, 7 rpg, 58% shooting) will be joined by several quality inside recruits, including 6'8" Juco transfer Darryl Monroe. Unfortunately, with the losses at the guard position, BasketballPredictions will go out on a limb and predict that the Patriots won't make a repeat trip to the Final Four.

As for competition for the CAA title, that has to begin with defending tournament champion, UNC-Wilmington. The Seahawks return leading-scorer T.J. Carter (14 ppg, 2 apg, 86% FT-shooting), but lose a lot of starters and role players to graduation. A team that will certainly be one to watch is Hofstra, which will be playing with a chip on its shoulder after seeing itself as snubbed by the NCAA selection committee. The aptly-named Pride will be led by a trio of guards in Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio and Carlos Rivera that combined for over 46 points per game this past year. They could be the team to beat if atleast one of a trio of rising-sophomore forwards (Chris Gadley, Mike Davis-Sabb and Arminas Urbutis - all 6'7" or 6'8") can replace the size lost to graduation. Another team that can never be ignored in the Colonial is perennial power Old Dominion. The Monarchs lose their two leading scorers, but return all of their other starters and role players, and should have the guard play to hang with the other guard-heavy teams in the conference. Moving further down the standings, another team to watch for is Drexel. If Bruiser Flint stays on as coach, they (like seemingly every other team in the CAA) will have excellent guard play from rising-seniors Dominick Mejia and Bashir Mason (a combined 26.6 ppg). Overall, there is clearly a ton of talent at the guard position in the Colonial Conference, but the most important factor could be respect. While George Mason is basking in the attention of the Final Four, Hofstra will be playing with something to prove and will be the BP preseason favorites in the Colonial:

1. Hofstra
2. George Mason
3. Old Dominion
4. Drexel
5. UNC-Wilmington

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