Commentary

It's likely an Ohio battle for the A-10 crown

Originally Published: December 24, 2008
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

Favorite: That exposing loss to Duke notwithstanding, coupled with last night's loss to Butler, it's still hard to pick against Xavier. The Musketeers play great defense and have seasoned talent in Derrick Brown, C.J. Anderson and Dante Jackson. The missing piece is Terrell Holloway. If the rookie can develop into a solid point guard, X is that much more the favorite. Otherwise, Sean Miller's crew will be pushed by in-state rival Dayton, already 11-1 with a win against Marquette, and by Temple.

[+] EnlargeDionte Christmas
AP Photo/H. Rumph JrDionte Christmas scored 35 points in Temple's win over Tennessee.
Most surprising team: Xavier. The Musketeers lost more than 4,000 points in the form of Stanley Burrell, Drew Lavender and Josh Duncan, yet are back among the conference's elite.

Most disappointing team: Massachusetts. With their starting backcourt intact, the Minutemen should have been able to better weather the coaching-change adjustments. Things appear to be settling in for Derek Kellogg's squad, but there's still no way to explain losses to Jacksonville State, Wisconsin-Green Bay and a Toledo team that has just one other win.

Mystery team: Temple. Will the real Owls please stand up? The same Owls that beat Tennessee and gave Kansas a game also lost to Buffalo and ended Long Beach State's four-game skid. Fran Dunphy's squad has all the makings of a tourney team but has to develop some consistency.

Best player: Dionte Christmas. His national coming-out party came against Tennessee, when he exploded for 35 points, but Philadelphia folks know the sort of presence Christmas gives the Owls. Except for two bad games (11 points against Miami (Ohio) and 2 against Penn State), the senior has been scoring in bunches. And despite taking a host of shots, he still hits 45 percent of them from the floor.

Top performance: Rhode Island's Jimmy Baron against Duke. Thanks to the coach's son, the Rams gave the Devils all they could handle. Baron scored 24 points, all on 3-pointers. He connected on 8 of 10 from the arc.

Strangest score: Duke 82, Xavier 64. Fans in the Meadowlands are still waiting for the Musketeers to show up. They were down 18-1 at the first TV timeout, turning a much-anticipated top-10 game into a Blue Devils walkover.

What you might not have realized: Rick Majerus is slowly incorporating his defense-first philosophy at St. Louis. The Billikens rank seventh in the nation in scoring defense (allowing just 55 points per game) and are smothering opponents at the arc, where they lead the nation. Opponents shoot just 23.7 percent from the 3-point line against SLU.

Reason to brag: Kansas, Tennessee, Memphis, Auburn and Marquette have been victimized by Atlantic 10 teams.

Reason to worry: Appalachian State, Columbia, Jacksonville State and Holy Cross have victimized A-10 teams.

Who's going dancing: Bank on Xavier making its eighth trip in nine years. Dayton is also in, barring an in-conference meltdown, and presuming Temple finds some consistency, the Owls ought to be happy on Selection Sunday as well.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.

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