The Atlantic 10 should think about changing its name. Forget
that there are now 12 members, and disregard the fact that fewer
than half of those teams are actually located in coastal states.
With UMass likely to roll to a fifth consecutive conference
title, this league should be known as the Frantic 11.
The F-11, however, is not without hope. A new two-division
format has been instituted with the arrival this season of
Dayton, Fordham, LaSalle, Virginia Tech and Xavier (Rutgers and
West Virginia have departed for the Big East). The addition of
five new teams invigorates a conference that for the last three
years has seen Temple and George Washington place and show
Once again, UMass (page 94) will be the front-runner, and Temple
will try to close the gap. The Owls have seven of their top
eight players back from last season, but they have lost Rick
Brunson, their leading scorer, rebounder and playmaker. Forward
Jason Ivey and guards Johnny Miller and Levan Alston will pick
up the scoring load in Brunson's absence, but coach John Chaney
will have to find a new floor general if Temple wants a title.
The road to St. Joseph's apparently passes through Pittsfield,
Maine. At least it did for all three of the Hawks' returning
starters. Guard Mark Bass (Trenton, N.J.) and forwards Dmitri
Domani (Russia) and Reggie Townsend (Saginaw, Mich.) all
attended Maine Central Institute before enrolling at St. Joe's.
St. Bonaventure lost its top three scorers from last year, but
thanks to junior point guard Shandue McNeil, the Bonnies
shouldn't miss a beat. The 5'7" McNeil led the league in assists
(5.6 per game) and steals (2.9) in '94-95. This year the Bonnies
will need him to score if they are to match last season's 18-13
record. McNeil, who averaged 9.6 points per game, is hardly
worried. "I've always had doubters," he says. "From the first
time I played, I was always the shortest one on the court."
Rhode Island lost all but seven games last season and still
found something positive to build on--it ended a 13-game skid in
February by winning three of its next four. Now, with the Rams'
top four scorers returning, they won't have to look as hard for
silver linings. Junior swingman Cuttino Mobley and sophomore
point guard Tyson Wheeler lead a resurgence that may see the
Rams flirt with a .500 record.
Admission into the Atlantic 10 won't do much to stop the recent
slide at Fordham. Since qualifying for the NCAA tournament in
1992, the Rams have gotten worse each season. Fordham hopes to
improve on last year's 11-17 mark by having senior guard David
Mascia (12.3 ppg) fill it up from the outside and senior forward
John Henry (7.1 rpg) hammer away on the inside.
Virginia Tech may be the most balanced and experienced team in
the league. The Hokies return all five starters from a team that
finished with a school-record 25 wins and the postseason NIT
crown last season. Forward Ace Custis is one of four starters
who scored in double figures (15.8 ppg), and he also led the
team in rebounds (10.5). The backcourt of Shawn Good and Damon
Watlington epitomizes the team's balance: Each dished out 108
assists last season. And the Hokies' deep bench includes
versatile identical twins Jim and David Jackson. Says coach Bill
Foster, "The great thing about this team is that no one does
anything great, but everyone does everything well."
In the spirit of diplomacy, there are five international players
on the roster at George Washington, three from Belarus. The best
of the foreigners is 7'1" sophomore center Alexander Koul, the
A-10 Rookie of the Year, who averaged 12.8 points and shot a
conference-best 63.2% from the field. "I'm going to expect a lot
from him," says coach Mike Jarvis. "Our program depends a lot on
his development." Fortunately, the Colonials can also depend on
the conference's leading scorer, guard Kwame Evans (19.4 ppg).
The Xavier Musketeers may have to take a cue from the
Mouseketeers and wear their names on the front of their uniforms
until they get to know each other. After adding nine players to
the roster, they are still without a true center and return only
one starter, forward T.J. Johnson, from last year's 23-5 team.
"Last preseason people talked about what we didn't have, and our
guys responded," coach Skip Prosser says. "This year we're
hearing the same thing."
LaSalle coach Speedy Morris, who has averaged nearly 20 wins a
season during his nine-year coaching career, saw his Explorers
lose four of their last five games to finish under .500 (13-14)
for the second consecutive season. Now he's hoping a veteran
frontcourt and sophomore point guard Shawn Smith will be able to
offset the loss of guard Kareem Townes (25.9 ppg) and put the
Explorers back on the right track.
Led by guards Tom Pipkins and Kenya Hunter, Duquesne should put
a lot of points on the board this season. New coach Scott Edgar,
a protege of Arkansas's Nolan Richardson, encourages a frenzied
attack that earned his Murray State teams three postseason bids
in four years.
Dayton has improved in each of the last three seasons, which is
impressive until you realize it won only seven games in '94-95.
With four starters and sixth man Andy Meyer back, the Flyers
actually have a shot at mediocrity. Meyer, a senior forward, won
team MVP honors last season, leading Dayton in scoring (10.3
ppg) despite starting only once. This year's MVP will probably
be sophomore forward Ryan Perryman, who averaged 9.4 points and
7.7 rebounds as a freshman.
COLOR PHOTO: RUDY WINSTON/SCHWARTZMAN SPORTS The Colonials' 7'1" Koul is a hot import. [Alexander Koul]
COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN SPURLOCK If they're going to perch atop the A-10, the Owls need more from Ivey. [Jason Ivey]
1 UMass (17)
3 St. Joseph's
4 St. Bonaventure
5 Rhode Island
1 Virginia Tech
2 George Washington