St. Joseph's is the choice to win the A-10, but Hawks coach Phil Martelli pointed out that six league teams received first-place votes. That's a great indicator of how that league will go in Temple's last season before departing for the Big East, and in the first year for impressive newcomers Butler and Virginia Commonwealth.
Just to show what a jumble the A-10 looks like, the league's media picked the top four to be St. Joseph's, St. Louis, VCU, and Butler, while national media have the same four receiving votes in the preseason top 25. However, the order is VCU, St. Louis, Butler, and St. Joseph's. It's possible that St. Louis would have received the most votes in both polls if Billikens coach Rick Majerus hadn't announced he wasn't coaching this season due to heart problems.
It's also possible that defending regular-season champion Temple will be in the mix to repeat. Everybody's been sleeping on the Owls a little bit, present company included, since they lost three integral starters in Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez, and Micheal Eric.
But Owls coach Fran Dunphy, not known for overhyping his team, pointed out last week that he's in the rare position of being able to replace those guys with experienced players. Scootie Randall sat out last season after knee surgery but was named the A-10's most improved player in 2010-11. He'll give a jolt to the Owls offense. West Virginia transfer Dalton Pepper also will keep opposing defenses honest. Boston University transfer Jake O'Brien was a double-digit scorer for three seasons with the Terriers. It will be interesting to see how the new and old parts mix.
The other local that nobody should sleep on is La Salle. The Explorers could be contenders for their first NCAA berth in over two decades. John Giannini lost only one starter and brings in Virginia Tech transfer Tyrone Garland after he sits out the first seven games. We'll guess that La Salle point guard Tyreek Duren noticed his omission from the A-10 top 15 players in the preseason media poll. A glaring omission.
Speaking last week at a Coaches vs. Cancer luncheon that included all the local Division I coaches, Giannini made an interesting point, that Explorers post player Jerrell Wright pulled off a rare feat in the A-10 last season, as an inside player who was able to make big contributions to a good team as a freshman. Giannini mentioned Temple's Lavoy Allen and Dayton's Chris Wright as others who did it, and those guys turned out to be two of the better big men in the league throughout their careers.
At the same luncheon, Martelli made some inarguable points, that his Hawks are "a very, very exciting group," but he suggested that late-game execution must be better. Martelli said that of last season's 14 Hawks losses, they led in the second half of 11 of them. St. Joe's has the top frontcourt rotation in the league, and we always like teams full of experienced juniors.
The bottom line for New Year's Eve, for the most anticipated local game, is that the home team would be the favorite. Last season, the Hawks had that advantage and ran Drexel off the court. This time, with four starters back from a team that won a school-record 29 games, Drexel probably will be favored. Expect the same kind of success. If Drexel's talented backcourt keeps on the same trajectory, the Dragons could crack the top 25.
It's not news to say Villanova and Penn are not expected to be in the NCAA race. Last season's Big Five player of the year, Zack Rosen, was too integral to Penn's success to think the Quakers can improve in their first year without him. On the Main Line, consider this Year 1 of a reclamation project. Getting to the NIT would indicate that the Wildcats are on the right track. The last few years, 'Nova's train certainly has been going in the other direction.
Preseason Big East favorites Louisville and Syracuse both are coming to Philadelphia this season. But the A-10 figures to provide the top sustained action. Just in the second week of January, Butler will show up at Hagan Arena, then a few days later Richmond will be at Tom Gola Arena and St. Louis at the Liacouras Center.
There are a bunch of weeks like that, ample reasons for NCAA selection committee members to make it to town. Maybe they'll even stumble upon that little gym just off Market Street while they're here.
Contact Mike Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jensenoffcampus.