Saunders is Named to Preseason First Team All Atlantic 10

Along with the preseason team predictions, the preseason All-Conference teams were announced. Duquesne power forward Damian Saunders was given first team All-Conference and Defensive team honors. Saunders was honored with these same distinctions after last season as well as earning Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year.Along with Saunders, there are a number of familiar names on these teams including returning A-10 player of the year Kevin Anderson.

First Team
Second Team
Third Team
Defense
Rookie
Lavoy Allen TEM Juan Fernandez TEM Chris Boswell CHA Lavoy Allen TEM C.J. Aiken SJU
Kevin Anderson RICH Chris Gaston FOR Cody Ellis SLU Kevin Anderson RICH Langston Galloway SJU
Andrew Nicholson SBU Tu Holloway XAV Chris Johnson DAY Dante Jackson XAV Jordan Latham XAV
Damian Saunders DUQ Delroy James URI Lasan Kronah GW Andrew Nicholson SBU Rob Loe SLU
Chris Wright DAY Shamari Spears CHA Aaric Murray LaS Damian Saunders DUQ Juwan Staten DAY

First Team: There are few surprises on the first team list. Allen is a solid power forward who is an excellent defender, an unselfish offensive contributor and quality rebounder and clearly one of the top players in the league. Anderson is the best scorer in the league and also stands out in terms of athleticism and defense. Nicholson, the rookie of the year last season, burst onto the scene averaging a double team and requiring double teams in the low post. The Bonnies’ big man is clearly the best center in the league and perhaps the best NBA prospect. Saunders is simply solid all around and terrific on defense but needs improvement in terms of free throw shooting and finishing near the basket. Rounding out the list is my least favorite player in the league, Dayton swing man, Chris Wright. Wright is a projectable athlete with a man’s body but has shown little indication of being a quality basketball player. His court awareness is poor and has few skills beyond being able to jump over people. While averaging 14.6 points and 7.7 rebounds rarely did he take over games. He is a physical monster and could continue to improve but he remains the most overrated player in the league as of now. Wright is the kind of player who impresses during practice but fades during games which might explain his spot on this list.

Second Team: Juan Fernandez, the Argentine point guard, is my favorite non-Duke in the league. For my money, he is the best player in the conference and is my dark horse to win player of the year in 2010-11. His court awareness is unmatched in the league and he is the best shooter as well. He is a natural point guard that can play the two and makes all of the players around him better. I expect him to be on the first team at year’s end. Gaston was the one bright spot for an otherwise moribund Fordham club last season. He averaged a double-double for the year and stands out as one of the best big men in the league. His defense doesn’t match that of Allen, Nicholson or Saunders which likely explains his position on the second team as well as his youth. Also, his raw stats are a little inflated due to the up tempo style Fordham played. The artist formerly known as Terrell Holloway, is looking to fill the shoes of Jordan Crawford for the Musketeers.  He is a pass first point guard who is good at drawing fouls and then converting the free throws. He is only an average shooter but remains an excellent passer. James is an efficient scorer on the ever efficient Jim Barron Rhody offense. Spears was one of the break out players last season and and is one of the better shooters and scorers in the league.

Third Team: Boswell is another interesting big man who rebounds and scores. Ellis is a highly touted Australian swing man. He can do a little bit of everything and will likely become the Billikens top performer with the departure of Kawain Mitchell and Willie Reed. Chris Johnson is the true best player on the Dayton Flyers and much better than that other guy who shares his first name. He is a great free throw shooter which indicates a better three point shooting effort in 2010-11. He is a great rebounder for a wing player and is very careful with the ball. Where Wright is an athlete, Johnson is a basketball player. Kronah is a solid all around player who excels at shooting the basketball and should improve going into his sophmore season. Another sophmore, Murray, excelled in his maiden campaign. He is a big man who rebounds and blocks shots and is very aggressive on the offensive end taking many shots.

Official Atlantic 10 Preseason Predictions Announced

The projected Atlantic 10 standings and all league teams for the 2010-11 season were announced yesterday at the Atlantic 10 Media Day in New York. A poll of coaches and some media members has predicted that Duquesne will finish eighth in the league with last season’s champion Temple projected as the team to beat with 19 first place votes.  The poll results were as follows…

Rk Team #1v Pts
1 Temple 19 350
2 Xavier 3 325
3 Richmond 3 311
4 Dayton 1 310
5 Rhode Island 233
6 Saint Louis 223
7 Charlotte 218
8 Duquesne 172
9 La Salle 133
10 George Washington 130
11 Massachusetts 126
12 Saint Joseph’s 91
13 Saint Bonaventure 80
14 Fordham 28

There are not too many surprises here, it follows much of the conventional wisdom. In the newly released Coaches poll, the Temple Owls are ranked 22nd and Xavier received some votes. I would agree that these teams are the class of the conference. I would even have the Owls ranked higher, they are loaded and they will likely move up the ladder after their non conference schedule.

The Dukes on the other hand are not given much respect this year after perhaps receiving too much last year. The voters may have some buyer’s remorse left over from ranking Duquesne 5th preseason. Tha was overly kind and most Dukes fans would have told you that. Losing a do it all point guard in Aaron Jackson is difficult to make up. The team did not have and identity last year and was lost without a stabilizing presence like Jackson.

I feel as if this year, the Dukes have reclaimed an identity. After losing  malcontented shooting guard Melquan Bolding and dead space 0f Oliver Lewison, the 2010-11 team will return to its running roots. A key contributor will be freshman T.J. McConnell. He could provide that presence Jackson was, but his youth indicates it may take awhile before he can live up to his potential. If he picks up where he left off in the summer league and is good right away that would go a long way in propelling the Dukes up the standings. I am not that optimistic, however with the losses of players at St. Louis, that should objectively move Duquesne up a spot. With an improved A-10, the Dukes should be an NIT contender even at number 8.

Nonetheless, this is a good thing. These expectations should allow the Dukes to fly below the radar and catch the league by surprise. Development of the incoming players and the steady presence of veterans should allow the team to play with high energy and heart. The coaches have had their say, now lets play the games.

Note: I will begin posting team previews soon.

St. Louis Loses Top Two Players

A seismic shift has occurred in the Atlantic 10 that is sure to affect all teams and especially second tier teams like Duquesne. The Saint Louis Billikens will be without the services of their best two players until at least January. According to a report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch point guard Kwamain Mitchell and center Willie Reed are no longer enrolled at the University. The paper reports that this is because of sexual assault allegations. Reed has asked for a release from his scholarship and will not return to school but Mitchell’s lawyer expects the point guard to return in time for the conference schedule. Of course, it is yet to be seen if coach Rick Majerus may take other action.

The basketball ramifications of this are huge (for a mid major conference). If both are lost for the season, young players will be thrown into the rotation quicker than otherwise thought. Majerus, whom I consider to be perhaps one of the ten best college basketball coaches of all time, is an excellent tactician but nonetheless, this news is a great blow to the progress made in the lengendary coach’s tenure in the gateway city. This will likely result in several fewer wins for the Billikens and over the course of the conference season more wins for other A-10 programs.

The effects are rather immediate for the Dukes who immediately jump ahead in the projected standings. The Billikens would have expected with their all league players to be dark horse contenders for the title and now have fell to the bottom of the second tier or perhaps even into the third level of teams. Duquesne, with all of its primary contributors returning is a direct rival with SLU. Of particular note is that the Dukes are scheduled to play St Louis twice. Considering the status of the SLU program, the Dukes should now win those two games, whereas with Reed and Mitchell the Dukes would gladly take a split. One or two more wins in conference can make a huge difference, and that provides a cogent example of how important this news can be to the league.