Atlantic 10 Conference
It is good to see the Atlantic 10 getting stronger again. The key has been an influx of excellent coaches. George Washington has made great strides under Karl Hobbs, one of my favorite mid-major coaches. UMass has grown leaps and bounds under the young Travis Ford. Even Temple has managed to move forward under former-Penn coach Fran Dunphy. Let's take a look at the teams that should be competing for at-large bids and the conference title in 2007-08:
We can start with the defending regular season champions, Xavier. The Musketeers had a good array of athletic scorers, three-point shooters and rebounders. Their key graduation loss will be leading-scorer Justin Doellman (13.7 per game). They have several players who can fill his roll on the inside, including rising-Sophomore Derrick Brown (6 ppg, 71% shooting). They will also get more scoring through star wing player Dante Jackson (Scout: 21 SG, Rivals: 87).
UMass will be a hard team to predict next year. This past year they were outstanding, possibly the best overall team in the A-10, but it will be extremely hard to replace Stephane Lasme and Rashaun Freeman. They had a fairly deep bench this past year, but no obvious future-stars stand out. Their recruiting class is more of the same, with atleast five decent recruits coming in, but no stars to speak of (i.e. anyone ranked by Scout.com or Rivals.com). With a team like that, and a great coach in Ford, UMass should be a good balanced team. But it's hard to see them having enough star power to win the whole conference.
George Washington also loses its star (Carl Elliot). Overall, however, they don't lose as much as UMass. They also bring in the best recruiting class in the conference. Karl Hobbs always brings in good athletes, and their new recruits also represent some more size. Jared Cunningham and Jabari Edwards are both 6'8" or taller.
Some other intriguing teams? Rhode Island returns all five starters. Fordham not only returns all five starters, but they didn't have a single Senior getting more than garbage minutes. St. Joseph's and St. Louis also return most key players. All in all, the conference should be even better next year than they were this past year. Here's how I see it panning out:
1. George Washington
2. Rhode Island
6. St. Louis
Colonial Athletic Association
Yet again the Colonial was a Tournament story. No Final Four teams in 2007, but VCU took out Duke while Old Dominion played well in its own right. VCU, especially, should remain a good team next year. The key reason for that is Eric Maynor, the kid who almost single-handedly won the Colonial Finals and beat Duke. He is a real star, and someone that you can build a team around. Many of the other key parts from VCU's run remain, including Wil Fameni (9 ppg, 5 rpg, 48% shooting). VCU will have athleticism, size and experience in abundance. 2007 was not an aberration for the Rams program.
Another team I want to comment on is George Mason, which has really taken the appropriate response to their Final Four run. It would be easy to try to throw everything on the floor to make one more Tournament run this past year, but they recognized that with all their stars gone it would make more sense to rebuild. Now, they're staring at a team with no Senior starters that almost made the Tournament anyway. They still have players with Final Four experience, and are cashing in on their fame with a solid recruiting class. There's no question this team will be improved next year.
Old Dominion, on the other hand, should take a step back. That usually happens when you lose your three top scorers. Play in the Colonial is really starting to resemble the Atlantic 10 a lot in the abundance of athletic swing men and quick, undersized post players. You need to have elite scorers to excel, and the Monarchs will have a dearth next year - especially on the inside. Drexel could also take a step back with several key players gone. But they do have one more year out of star center Frank Elegar (16 ppg, 7 rpg, 54% shooting). He should be fairly dominant and be able to open things up on for the perimeter players. All in all, here's how I see things:
2. George Mason
4. Old Dominion