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ATLANTIC 10

Predicted order of finish:

1. Xavier, 2. Temple, 3. Saint Louis, 4. St. Bonaventure, 5. Richmond, 6. Duquesne, 7. George Washington, 8. Dayton, 9. Saint Joseph’s, 10. Charlotte, 11. Rhode Island, 12. Massachusetts, 13. La Salle, 14. Fordham

Surprise team: Charlotte. The 49ers bring back their top four scorers from a team that was 2-14 in conference play but lost six A-10 games by six points or less. Coach Alan Major is more settled in as he enters his second season, which could also help Charlotte start a climb up the standings

Hot seat: John Giannini, La Salle. The Explorers have endured two straight losing seasons and four out of five, and they have yet to play in an NCAA tournament or an NIT in Giannini’s seven seasons. Things don’t look great this year, either: La Salle lost its top three scorers from last season.

Three key games:

* Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth, Dec. 10. Already a vibrant rivalry, this should be even more fun now that the Spiders are coming off a Sweet 16 appearance and VCU can boast a trip to the Final Four. Expect the Black and Blue game to live up to its name.

* Temple at Saint Louis, Jan. 11. The Billikens were absurdly young last year, and suffered their first losing season since 2005 as a result. This isn’t the conference opener, but it’s certainly a chance for Saint Louis to declare it belongs in the A-10 title hunt.

* Xavier at Temple, Feb. 11. Over the last four seasons, neither Owls nor the Musketeers have finished worse than tied for second in the A-10 during the regular season. The teams’ lone meeting should be the highlight of the conference season.

Three key players:

* G Tu Holloway, Xavier. Last year’s conference player of the year is the early favorite to repeat. He averaged 19.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists for the Musketeers and has the best supporting cast of any of the league’s biggest stars.

* G Kwamain Mitchell, Saint Louis. Mitchell was suspended for the first half of last season and ultimately took a redshirt. But the junior averaged 15.9 points in 2009-10 and is the biggest reason to believe the Billikens can contend for their first NCAA bid since 2000.

* F Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure. One of the best players many fans have never heard of, the Canadian averaged 20.8 points and 7.3 rebounds as a junior and is unquestionably the most dynamic frontcourt force in the A-10. How good is he? Perhaps the Bonnies’ best player since Bob Lanier.

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