Atlantic Ten Conference
Definitely the most interesting and successful season for the A-10 since the glory days of the mid-to-late 1990s. The headliner was Xavier, a solid Top 25 team all season long, and a team that showed an impressive ability to win so many games in such a tough conference. Unfortunately, they do lose a lot to graduation. Two double-digit scorers will go (Drew Lavender and Josh Duncan), but the biggest loss is probably play-maker Stanley Burrell. Obviously it will be important for Derrick Brown to stick around for another season, and if he does then Xavier will still be a very good team. The losses can't be replaced, but they will have a ton of talent. Amazingly, the Musketeers bring in five nationally ranked recruits, headlined by 6'11" Kenny Frease (Rivals: 41, Scout: 9 C).
Several of the other top A-10 teams could be improved, and I'll start with Temple. They do lose two 20+ minute-per-game players, but they were very deep to begin with. An interesting team will be St. Louis, which had such a weird dynamic last season. It was clear that Rick Majerus was not happy with his players, and they weren't happy with him. But next season he will really have some stacked cupboards. Majerus brings in four very good recruits, at least two of whom are clear blue chippers. There will be potential chemistry problems with such a rapid upheaval at a school, but I have no doubt that St. Louis will be improved.
Another interesting case will be Dayton, a team that was over-ranked, but still a very good squad. Obviously Brian Roberts will be a huge loss, but a healthy Charles Little will be nice. They will have a nice recruiting class, too. You never know how a team will bounce back from a heart-breaking end to a season, but Dayton will certainly be talented enough to be a bubble team yet again. Another bubble team (if the NBA doesn't steal Chris Lowe) will be UMass. Gary Forbes will be a tough loss, but I think Ricky Harris is good enough to lead a team to the top of the Atlantic Ten. He could average 20 points per game next season, if he has Lowe delivering him the ball.
Charlotte loses Leemire Goldwire and his 19 points per game, but every other key cog returns. Rhode Island, too, returns enough pieces to contend for a bubble spot yet again. They don't have the blue chip recruits coming in that Xavier and St. Louis do, but they have a very deep class and should get a lot of freshman production. There are a couple other teams to keep an eye on, but one for me is George Washington. The Colonials had a lot of problems getting their act together early on, but proved late in the season that they were still very tough to beat. The final record was atrocious, but A-10 fans know that the team was a lot better than where they finished in the conference standings. Add that to the fact that every single member of their regular rotation returns, and GW is a sleeper team to finish near the top of the standings next season.
The Atlantic Ten had a ton of parity last season, and that should continue again. I don't think they'll see five teams in the RPI Top 50 again, but the conference could be just as good as it was last season. And if the good teams don't beat up on each other again, the A-10 will probably be a multi-bid conference next season. Here's how I see the top shaping up:
5. St. Louis
8. George Washington
Colonial Athletic Association
Not that bad of a season for the Colonial, although it obviously didn't live up to the massive successes of the previous two. VCU was a solid bubble team all season, and they won't be too decimated by graduations. But next season's success will come down to Eric Maynor. Every draft preview you look at says that Maynor is completely on the fence with regards to going pro. For the sake of this preview I'll assume that Maynor is coming back. But obviously VCU will be a vastly inferior team if he does in fact leave.
George Mason should also be a decent team yet again, although the last of the stars from their Final Four team (Will Thomas) graduates. They probably have the best recruiting class in the league, which is continued pay-off for that success in 2006. Another team that will see a changing of the guard is UNC-Wilmington. They had a very successful third place finish, but lose all four double-digit scorers to graduation. At the same time, they have a very solid recruiting class. No blue chippers, but enough solid players that at least one or two of them will surely prove to be solid starters eventually.
After this trio of teams, it's really pretty hard to read the rest of this conference. There will be a ton of parity in the CAA. A lot of teams that will finish with RPIs in the 100-150 range - not good enough for the bubble, but good enough to win a bunch of games. ODU has a very nice crop of youngsters that should really bloom in 2010, but that should be decent next year as well. Delaware and Northeastern both return almost everybody, although neither team has the kind of raw talent that VCU and George Mason are able to bring in. Hofstra loses star Antoine Agudio, but having a more balanced team next season could actually make them better. Towson will have an extremely senior-laden team, which is always a good thing. And Drexel has a nice recruiting class and should be improved as well.
But in the end, this conference is simply going to be impossible to predict. I could probably do a better job picking names out of a hat, but I'll try my best to call this conference:
1. George Mason
4. Old Dominion
6. James Madison