Originally Published: August 18, 2010

Five things to know this offseason

Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

The raid that didn't happen: When deciding the winners and losers after the conference expansion that didn't exactly happen (at least not yet), the Atlantic 10 emerged as one of the biggest winners. If a massive shakeup had occurred, the projected domino effect would have seen Big East football powers filched and the trickle-down might have destroyed the A-10. Prognostications and predictions envisioned the Catholic (and non-FBS football) Big East schools forming alliances with the Catholic A-10 schools (think Dayton, Xavier and perhaps Saint Louis). Instead the league emerges unscathed and in business.

Winning isn't anything, but it sure is something: Otherwise, how to explain the dismissal of Bobby Lutz at Charlotte and the December firing of Dereck Whittenburg at Fordham? Charlotte athletic director Judy Rose made no bones about her decision, explaining to me, "We're not an [intramural] program. This isn't a church league. We want to win." Fordham, in the meantime, canned Whittenburg in December, one day after top player Jio Fontain announced his decision to transfer.

They're baaaack: Kevin Anderson and Chris Wright, that is. Anderson, the defending conference player of the year, and Wright, a one-time league rookie of the year, are the equivalent of archeological finds in college basketball: They're seniors. Their return adds instant star power to the Atlantic 10.

Signed, sealed : The Atlantic 10 doesn't consider itself some steppingstone for bigger and better things. University administrations are making sure things remain that way, locking up their talented coaches before someone else can come calling. After a breakout season at Richmond, Chris Mooney was on the short list at Boston College. Instead, he signed a contract extension through 2017. Fran Dunphy was rumored to be on Rutgers' wish list. The Temple boss, who led the Owls to their third A-10 tournament title and a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, just re-upped through 2018. Jim Baron, who took Rhode Island to a 26-10 record and the NIT semifinals, added a year to his deal, keeping him at URI through 2014.

Numbers don't lie: The A-10 long has insisted it is a major conference masquerading in a mid-major moniker. Last season, the league lived up to its own billing, finishing with the sixth-best RPI in the country. That's the highest finish since the UMass/Temple heyday of 1993-94. With the bulk of its talent returning -- Kevin Anderson, Chris Wright, Damian Saunders and Andrew Nicholson, to name a few -- the league will be expected to be equally successful this season. Someone joining Xavier as an NCAA tournament success story will be the next step, though.

Jay Bilas predictions

Jay Bilas
ESPN.com

1. Xavier: Xavier does not just have good teams, it has a program. Chris Mack did an outstanding job in his first season at the Musketeers helm, and he made the point clearly that he didn't believe XU was a "mid-major." The Xavier program will again be healthy and competitive. Gone is Jordan Crawford, but returning are guards Terrell Holloway, Dante Jackson, Brad Redford and Mark Lyons. Jackson is one of the A-10's best individual on-ball defenders, and Redford is one of its best open shooters. Up front, Mack can rely on Kenny Frease and Jamel McLean to be physical defenders and finishers. The Musketeers will be good. Again. It is in their DNA.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIThe NIT title was nice, but Chris Johnson and Dayton are expecting nothing less than an NCAA tourney trip this season.

2. Dayton: Of all of the important returnees around the nation, the most important might have been Dayton coach Brian Gregory. It is hard to believe a big-money program did not lure Gregory away because he is the real thing. Gregory is among the finest coaches in the business, and Dayton is fortunate to have him. The Flyers will enter the 2010-11 season with championship experience, having won the NIT in a very good field. The horse Gregory will ride to the NCAA tournament is Chris Wright, who will be an NBA player. He has to carry the scoring load and the leadership role on this team. Chris Johnson provides another quality athlete and scorer to complement Wright. Dayton will defend, rebound and play hard together, but the key will be guard play. If UD gets good guard play, it will be in the A-10 hunt and in the NCAA tournament.

3. Temple: The Owls were better than they showed in their first-round loss in the NCAA tournament, but part of that was the Cornell team they ran into. Temple won 29 games last season, and it could have been a Sweet 16 team with the right draw. This season, Fran Dunphy returns stud rebounder and scorer Lavoy Allen (who played for the USA select team that played against the USA national team) and Juan Fernandez, an outstanding guard. A key will be the continued development of Micheal Eric, who can be a difference-maker inside. Freshman guard Aaron Brown should help immediately and has international experience.

4. Richmond: The Spiders return one of the best guards in the country in Kevin Anderson, who is enough to place Richmond among the best teams in the Atlantic 10. Anderson is quick, is skilled with the ball and has a knack for scoring. Justin Harper, Kevin Smith and Dan Geriot return to add experience and toughness to Anderson's dynamic playmaking and scoring ability. Opposing teams should not make the mistake of thinking that Richmond is a deliberate Princeton-style team. This team looks to score quickly and is very well-drilled and disciplined.

5. Saint Louis: Rick Majerus has the Billikens ahead of schedule. Last season, Saint Louis was young and expected to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic 10. But under Majerus, the Billikens were tough defensively and played beyond their years for much of the season. This year is the next step in the development of a very good team and an emerging program. Saint Louis will again be led by guard Kwamain Mitchell, who averaged 16 points per game while knocking down 64 3-point shots. Willie Reed, a 6-9 forward, averaged 12.4 points but could have been even more productive had he been able to knock down free throws. Add in Kyle Cassity, who led the team in assists, and you have a good nucleus returning from a 23-win team. SLU needs to rebound better and improve its efficiency from the foul line to take the next step.

6. Charlotte: First-year coach Alan Major inherited some quality talent from longtime 49ers coach Bobby Lutz. Charlotte won 19 games last season but faltered down the stretch. Shamari Spears can be a beast inside, and he averaged 16 points and 6 rebounds per game. Chris Braswell was one of the top offensive rebounders in the league, and Derrio Green has the ability to score in bunches. The key will be point guard play and defensive toughness. Charlotte was a better defensive team than people gave it credit for last season. The 49ers can get up and down the floor and look to score, but they need to score more efficiently and take even greater pride in stopping people.

[+] EnlargeDelroy James
AP Photo/Joe GiblinDelroy James and URI won 26 games last season, but the Rams haven't "danced" since 1999.

7. Rhode Island: The Rams won 26 games last season while allowing opponents to shoot a remarkable 46 percent on field goals and being outrebounded on the year. Returning are seniors Marquis Jones and Delroy James, and they have to set the tone for a major defensive improvement for Rhody to have another good season.

8. Duquesne: The Dukes finished the 2010 season at 16-16 and return one of the most underrated players in the country in Damian Saunders. Last season, Saunders averaged 15.0 points and 11.3 rebounds and blocked 94 shots. If Saunders could shoot free throws, he would be even more productive. The question for Duquesne is, where will Saunders get significant help? Guard Bill Clark needs to increase his production and take on more of a leadership role for Duquesne to be a better team. Losing Melquan Bolding to transfer doesn't help.

9. La Salle: The Explorers lost top scorer Rodney Green and weren't able to get another year of eligibility out of Kimmani Barrett. But Aaric Murray provides scoring, rebounding and the ability to block shots (70 blocks last season) and is a top NBA prospect. He can't do it alone, though. John Giannini needs help from some less-expected sources for the Explorers to finish in the upper half of the league. La Salle has to tighten up its D (44 percent field goal defense) and take better care of the ball to move up the A-10 ladder.

10. St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies lost 25 points per game with the departures of guards Chris Matthews and Jonathan Hall. Matthews could really shoot it (101 3-pointers), and Hall could really rebound and get to the free throw line. The good news is that Andrew Nicholson is returning, and he is among the best emerging players in the Atlantic 10. Last season, Nicholson averaged more than 16 points and 7 rebounds and almost 2 blocks, shooting better than 56 percent from the floor.

11. Massachusetts: The Minutemen finished 12-20 last season and lost leading scorer Ricky Harris to boot. But with the return of Anthony Gurley, Terrell Vinson and Freddie Riley, there is some talent to work with. The key for UMass is to defend better (44 percent field goal defense), keep from turning the ball over (66 more turnovers than assists and more turnovers than its opponents), and work for better shots (40 percent field goal shooting).

12. Saint Joseph's: The Hawks will be very young and inexperienced, but Phil Martelli is at his best when bringing a young team along. However, Martelli's team might still be a year or two away. After an 11-20 season, Saint Joseph's needs a talent upgrade -- and needs to defend and rebound. The Hawks were outshot and outfought last season, and they were outrebounded by an average of eight boards per game. Things will get better on Hawk Hill, but there will be some bumps in the road because of the young kids Martelli has to teach how to play.

13. George Washington: Seems hard to believe, but it's been only four years since GW went 27-3 and a perfect 16-0 in the Atlantic 10. The Colonials have dipped down to mediocre the past few years, but they do return -- sans leading scorer Damian Hollis -- most of their contributors from a team that at least showed some signs of life last season. Will Karl Hobbs be able to right the ship and turn GW around?

14. Fordham: Think Tom Pecora has a bit of a rebuilding job to do? Over the past two seasons, the Rams have gone 1-31 in the A-10 and 5-51 overall. Ouch. The good news is that rising sophomore Chris Gaston, who averaged 18 points and 11.4 rebounds a game as a freshman, is the real deal. The bad news is that there aren't any other Chris Gastons at the moment.

Ten players to watch

Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

Lavoy Allen, Temple: After a solid season, Allen spent part of the summer working with the USA select team. The experience ought to make the forward, a key to the Owls' success this year, even more of a force.

[+] EnlargeKevin Anderson
AP Photo/Mel EvansKevin Anderson led the Spiders with 17.8 ppg last season.

Kevin Anderson, Richmond : The breakout star for the breakout Spiders returns for his senior season and is the reason Richmond, an upstart surprise last season, is considered a conference front-runner this season.

Chris Gaston, Fordham : The one-man wrecking crew for the Rams averaged 18 points and 11.4 rebounds and racked up 50 blocked shots, 43 assists and 26 steals. That he returns gives Fordham and Tom Pecora hope for a brighter future.

Anthony Gurley, Massachusetts : Without Ricky Harris, the Minutemen are officially in Gurley's hands. That's good news for Derek Kellogg as Gurley proved more than up to the challenge last season, averaging 13.6 points and 4.2 boards.

Terrell Holloway, Xavier : The point guard saved his best for last, scoring 26 points to go with six assists as Xavier took Kansas State to the wall in the Sweet 16. He'll need that and more this season as the Musketeers move on without Jordan Crawford.

Delroy James, Rhode Island : The talented forward starred for the Rams last year and could help Jim Baron reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since taking over at URI in 2001.

Kwamain Mitchell, St. Louis : If the Billikens are going to wear the new hat as conference contenders, Mitchell will have to lead the way. The guard set the tone last season, dishing out more than 100 assists while still managing to score 15.9 per game himself.

Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure : The talented Canadian more than lived up to his advanced billing, averaging 16.4 points and 7.1 rebounds. The Bonnies need more of the same from him this season if they want to move up the standings.

Damian Saunders, Duquesne : Part of a deep and talented Duquesne team, Saunders has the talent to work his way into player of the year conversations if he can lift the Dukes above the fray.

Chris Wright, Dayton : The one-time rookie of the year put off the chance at the NBA for a little while and has all the makings of a player of the year as the Flyers try to turn their NIT title into NCAA gold.