When I read what pundits have to say about the 2013-14 Atlantic 10, almost universally they divide the conference into three tiers: the top three teams, the bottom three teams and the indiscernible mess in the middle. Somehow, they all end up ranking UMass fourth. How can everyone consistently rate them higher than the rest of the middle yet still consider them part of the middle? I don’t and I see them as a bubble team more on the level with LaSalle and St Louis.
Jon Rothstein and I agree on a lot of things, but even somewhat optimistic me finds the combination of sunshine and anti depressants he’s taking a little over top. That said we both see Raphial Putney as the most important piece for UMass. Sure, they have Chaz Williams and what should amount to one best front courts in the conference, but which Putney shows up will determine just how far the Minutemen go. Will they get the:
A) 10 point, 5 rebound per game slick shooter we saw his sophomore year
B) 7 point, 4.5 board per game chucker who had his minutes cut as a junior
C) The player the league expected coming off his strong sophomore year
If they can get A out of Putney, they’ll dance. If they can get C, they might challenge for the league title. If they get B, I guess they’ll end up in that sticky middle after all. Putney creates match up problems. Not many teams in the league stack up well with Cady Lalanne and Sampson Carter, but throw an effective 6’9” Putney into the mix and no one can handle them, not even VCU. When I look at it that way, I begin to think maybe another CBS analyst, Matt Norlander, wasn’t smoking crack after all when he picked the Minutemen to finish first in the conference. With Derrick Gordon beside Williams, the back court gets difficult to defend too.
By the way, Chaz looks forward to shooting over your zone.
Many seem to put St Louis in the “solid NCAA tournament team” range and I’ve seen some put the Billikens in the top 25. They look like a solid bubble team to me, but I think their talent level dropped off from last year. Dwayne Evans would shock the conference if he missed the all league team. At the very least, Jordair Jett brings the defense. The rest of the lineup gives me pause. Mike McCall junior falls short of the standard set by Kwamain Mitchell. Before Mitchell returned from injury, the Billikens went 8-3 against arguably the easiest part of their schedule last season and 20-4 against the rest. Rob Loe and Grandy Glaze will need to step up, too. Still, St Louis has enough talent to consider them a favorite to dance, but I’d have to reach to suggest they’ll win the league again.
LaSalle was a great story last year and their three NCAA tournament wins netted them and the rest of the A-10 a ton of dough. It still feels weird calling the Explorers a legit bubble team, but they are. LaSalle’s last NCAA drought reached drinking age, but they should make a second trip in two years. The loss of guard Ramon Galloway will hurt but Tyrone Garland should make an adequate replacement. Besides Garland, the Explorers could have two other all conference players, Tyreek Duren and Jerrell Wright. A member of the talented crop of 2010 Atlantic 10 freshman class, Duren will run the show once again. Wright has held down the post by himself in Dr John Giannini’s four guard set. He might get a little more help this year if Stephen Zack has anything to say about it. Quasi small forward DJ Peterson planned to transfer but changed his mind and returned.
The Atlantic 10 could earn four bids again in 2013-14 in spite of the defections from last spring. In all likelihood, one of these teams will flounder though the possibility remains that the league could find another LaSalle. George Mason, Rhode Island and even Richmond feel like candidates should everything go their way. For me, the bubble teams would disappoint if they finished out of the top 50 RPI. They’re not as solid as second tier teams last year.