Monday, January 01, 2001

A-10 overview: Bonnies, Hawks surprising




By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Atlantic 10 coaches stressed the importance of the non-conference season in strengthening the league's Ratings Percentage Index ranking, which could ultimately pay off with more members making postseason play. With league play beginning Wednesday when Xavier visits Fordham, the A-10 gets about a B-minus on its non-conference report card.

        League teams are 71-58 (.550) thus far, virtually the same record as last season, when they finished .549 (84-69) in non-conference play. They went .517 the season prior, but in the previous eight seasons they were .593 or better.

        The A-10 is seventh in the RPI, one spot ahead of Conference USA. It ranked eighth last season. Its No.7 standing is pretty well set, since few non-conference games — those that affect conference RPI — are left to be played.

        A team-by-team rundown, in order of winning percentage:

        • Xavier (9-2): The Musketeers have won four straight games, raising their RPI from No.105 to No.20 in that span. They're learning to win on the road, and they'll need marked improvement on their 2-6 league road record of a season ago to make the NCAA Tournament.

        • St. Bonaventure (8-2): Picked to finish eighth in the A-10, the Bonnies are off to their best start in 30 years, though they looked bad Saturday losing at home to Canisius. Senior Kevin Houston, a transfer from Miami (Fla.), is averaging 19.8 points and 7.9 rebounds. SBU is outrebounding opponents by 6.9 per game.

        • St. Joseph's (9-3): Picked to finish sixth in the A-10, it has nine victories by the new year for the first time in 34 years. Its three losses are by a total of nine points, to Vanderbilt, Villanova and DePaul. The Hawks lead the A-10 in field-goal percentage (.504) and have budding stars in Marvin O'Connor (20.9 ppg) and Jameer Nelson (13.1 ppg, 5.9 assists). Na'im Crenshaw (11.7 ppg last year) is back after sitting out out the first semester.

        • Dayton (8-4): The league's Jekyll and Hyde team beat Connecticut and Maryland but lost to Marshall and Old Dominion. It's just 3-3 at home. Senior guard Tony Stanley (17.9 ppg) has been as good as advertised, and a plus-5.6 rebounding margin makes the Flyers tough to beat.

        • Fordham (7-4): The Rams made noise with a 6-1 start that included an upset of St. John's, but then had lackluster losses to Holy Cross and Siena. Star guard Bevon Robin (16.5 ppg, 5.6 assists) has a torn ligament in his foot, but touted freshman Michael Haynes just became eligible. Duke Freeman-McKamey (13.4 ppg) is second in the league in rebounding (9.5 avg.).

        • LaSalle (6-5): Picked to finish just ninth in the A-10, the Explorers have done OK despite playing just two home games. Junior forward Rasual Butler leads the league in scoring (21.7 ppg) and averages 7.6 rebounds, and Victor Thomas is second in the A-10 in scoring (21.1). LaSalle is vying for its first winning season in eight years.

        • George Washington (6-6): The Colonials started 5-1, including a victory over St. John's, but then suffered a five-game losing streak. They rank 10th in the A-10 in field-goal percentage (.401). Attila Cosby, a transfer center from Pittsburgh, has just become eligible.

        • Temple (6-7): A seven-game losing streak, Temple's longest in 25 years, isn't the worst of it. Coach John Chaney suspended Carlton Aaron for acting up. Freshman Ronald Blackshear has asked for his release. Injuries are mounting. Yet the Owls have a top-50 RPI and a stifling defense, and remain a contender for the A-10 title.

        • Duquesne (6-7): The Dukes have Wayne Smith (19.3 ppg) and Courtney Wallace (17.8), but defense is a liability. They rank last in the A-10 in defensive field-goal percentage (.477). They had won three straight before losing Saturday to Rice.

        • Rhode Island (4-9): The Rams are poor defensively, allowing 77.1 ppg and .454 shooting. They lost to Division II Alaska-Anchorage. But they've won three of their last four games and should surpass their 5-25 mark of last year.

        • Massachusetts (2-9): Coach Bruiser Flint's job is in serious jeopardy. The Minutemen have played the nation's second-toughest schedule, according to collegeRPI.com, but have little to show for it. UMass is last in the A-10 in field-goal shooting (.386) and free-throw shooting (.617).

       



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