Butler's Rotnei Clarke (Getty Images)
Butler's Rotnei Clarke (Getty Images)
With conference play fast approaching, we'll reassess our preseason projections over the next week. Here's a look back at the Dagger's preseason Atlantic 10 forecast and some updated predictions for the league season:
Conference RPI: 7
Record against Top 25 teams: 5-14
Preseason predictions I'd like to have back: Leaving Butler's Rotnei Clarke off the all-league team and projecting Charlotte to finish 12th. Clarke has emerged as Butler's top player and an early Atlantic 10 player of the year favorite. And while the 49ers' gaudy 11-2 record has been inflated by a tissue-soft schedule, they appear capable of challenging to finish in the upper half of the league.
Preseason predictions I still feel good about: Projecting VCU to win the league with Saint Louis and Temple finishing second and third. Butler will probably break up that trio, but VCU has played as well as any Atlantic 10 team in December and Temple and Saint Louis appear to be viable contenders.
Conference favorite: In a wide-open league featuring a handful of teams capable of finishing atop the standings, VCU deserves the title of favorite. Thanks to their frenetic defense and the scoring of Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic, the Rams (9-3) have reeled off six straight wins since narrow losses to top 10 Duke and Missouri. Furthermore, they'll have an advantage in their debut Atlantic 10 season because most league foes will be seeing their trademark pressure for the first time.
Who else could win it: Between Butler's victories over North Carolina, Marquette and Indiana and Temple's upset of Syracuse, it's obvious VCU will have plenty of competition in the Atlantic 10. Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham have delivered the outside shooting Butler lacked a year ago, while Khalif Wyatt and Anthony Lee have formed a formidable inside-outside tandem for Temple. Also, don't sleep on Saint Louis, which gets senior point guard Kwamain Mitchell back from foot surgery this week.
Biggest surprise: It's not a surprise Butler is playing well, but the way the Bulldogs have done it has been eye-opening. Clobbering a revamped North Carolina team in Maui was unexpected. Upsetting top-ranked Indiana in Indianapolis was downright stunning. How has Butler done it? Efficient offense sparked by the outside shooting of Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham, the slashing of Roosevelt Jones and more consistent interior play from Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall.
Player of the Year: This award may eventually go to the league champion's best player because the Atlantic 10 has so many guards in contention. Ramon Galloway has a claim if La Salle's non-conference success translates into league play because he's leading the A-10 in scoring. Khalif Wyatt's 33-point masterpiece against Syracuse solidifies him as a threat as well assuming Temple contends. But the early favorite may be Butler's Rotnei Clarke, who averages 17.7 points and is shooting 45.4 percent from behind the arc despite taking almost nine 3-pointers a game.
Best freshman: The biggest reason rebuilding Xavier (7-4) has overachieved a bit so far this season has been the superb play of freshman point guard Semaj Christon. Thrust into a starting role as a result of the transfer of Mark Lyons, the highly touted top 100 recruit has averaged 14.2 points and 5.5 assists per game, all while shooting an impressive 50.5 percent from the field.
Three fearless predictions:
• VCU will win an NCAA tournament game for the third straight season and advance to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years. What's more, the Rams won't need to pull any major upsets to do it. Expect VCU to receive a No. 4 0r 5 seed if it can win the Atlantic 10 outright.
• Four or five Atlantic 10 teams will land NCAA bids, with VCU and Butler standing on the most solid ground entering league play and Temple in pretty good shape since its win over Syracuse should carry a lot of clout in March. Of the rest of the league, gun-to-head, I'd give Saint Louis and Dayton the best shot. The Billikens have a bland resume right now but they'll get a much-needed boost from the return of Kwamain Mitchell, while Dayton already boasts quality wins over Murray State and Alabama.
• If voters choose to ignore positions, the Atlantic 10's first-team all-conference team will feature a minimum of four guards. Thirteen of the league's 14 leading scorers are guards, with 6-foot-6 Richmond forward Darien Brothers as the lone exception. The most deserving true big man is forward Juvonte Reddic from VCU, though George Washington's Isaiah Armwood, St. Bonaventure's Demitrius Conger and Saint Joseph's C.J. Aiken have been solid too.
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