Friday, November 05, 1999

A-10 outlook: Temple, then everybody else


Parity rules rest of league

BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PHILADELPHIA — A year ago, the Atlantic 10 Conference was sticking out its chest and feeling pretty good. Five teams were ranked in the preseason top 25. The league had a slew of veteran stars and was receiving plenty of national attention. Now the focus is on one team.

        Temple is ranked as high as No.3 in the country (Blue Ribbon). No other team in the A-10 is ranked, and it's anybody's guess who — if anyone — will emerge as another power in the conference.

PREDICTED FINISH
  (first-place votes in parentheses)
  WEST DIVISION
  1. Xavier (30)
  2.
La Salle
  3. George Washington (8)
  4. Dayton (2)
  5. Virginia Tech (2)
  6. Duquesne
  EAST DIVISION
  1.
Temple (41)
  2. Massachusetts
  3. St. Bonaventure (1)
  4. St. Joseph's
  5. Rhode Island
  6. Fordham
        Despite losing three of the top 12 scorers in school history, Xavier has been picked to win the West Division by every preseason publication and the league's media and coaches.

        “They had to pick somebody,” coach Skip Prosser said.

        “I feel good about the fact that we're highly regarded year in and year out. When we came into the league, people questioned whether we could compete.”

        Temple, of course, is the pick to win the East. Then it gets hazy.

        Massachusetts (Athlon, The Sporting News, Blue Ribbon, A-10 media and coaches), St. Joseph's (Lindy's, Street & Smith's)and St. Bonaventure (Dick Vitale)have been picked to finish second, behind the Owls.

        In the West, George Washington (Athlon), Dayton (The Sporting News, Dick Vitale, Lindy's, Blue Ribbon)and LaSalle (Street & Smith's, A-10 media and coaches) have been predicted to finish second.

        “You can shake everybody up in a bag and get anybody you want,” UMass coach Bruiser Flint said.

        One factor in Xavier missing out on an NCAA Tournament bid last season — and in the league getting just three teams in the tourney: low Rating Percentage Index rankings of A-10 teams.

        The league may not help much this season, either. With the exception of Temple, there might be more parity than ever, but no team other than the Owls is considered a national power.

        What happened? The best teams from last season lost key players (Shawnta Rogers, Yegor Mescheriakov, Lamar Odom, James Posey, Lenny Brown, Gary Lumpkin to name a few), and weaker teams return almost everyone.

        “In one magazine, we were rated 172nd,” George Washington coach Tom Penders said. “I know we can't be that bad.”

        “There will be a surprise,” LaSalle's Speedy Morris said. “Somebody who's not picked (No.) 1 or 2 could end up 1 or 2. I hope it's us.”

        With no real powerhouse, there is great hope in many preseason camps.

        Oliver Purnell has not been to the NCAAs in his five years at Dayton. After an NIT berth in 1998, he thought last season could be the breakthrough.

        Instead, the Flyers went 5-11 in the league to finish fifth in the West. But four returning starters, some key reserves and promising freshmen give him hope for this season.

        “We've got some great pieces,” he said. “If we can put it all together, the sky's the limit. We feel like we've got a chance to step up and make a statement this year.”

        LaSalle was 13-35 in its first three years in the league before going 8-8 last season. Four starters are back.

        “We have a legitimate shot at winning it,' senior guard Donnie Carr said. “What we want to do is make it count. We really want to be in the thick of things. You know it's right there, it's right in your reach. In practice, it makes you work that much harder.”



Xavier Stories
- A-10 outlook: Temple, then everybody else
Owls play by Chaney's new rules
A-10 all-conference teams

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