- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Predicted order of finish

1. Virginia Commonwealth

2. Saint Louis

3. Saint Joseph’s

4. Temple

5. Butler

6. Massachusetts

7. Xavier

8. La Salle

9. Dayton

10. Richmond

11. St. Bonaventure

12. George Washington

13. Charlotte

14. Rhode Island

15. Fordham

16. Duquesne

Surprise team: Butler. The Bulldogs were pegged sixth in the league’s preseason poll, but this is a talented bunch returning four starters from a “down” year when they went 22-15. Butler will have a learning curve in the A-10, but it could also give its new conference foes fits.

Hot seat: None. The five teams most likely to find themselves outside the A-10 tournament all have coaches entering their first, second or third season. St. Bonaventure won the league tournament last year. This de facto honor goes to Saint Louis’ Jim Crews, but only because he’s an interim coach.

Three key players

Kwamain Mitchell, Saint Louis. The fifth-year senior will miss the start of the season for the Billikens, who are already without coach Rick Majerus for health reasons. If he can effectively return before conference play, it will make a major difference for Saint Louis.

Chaz Williams, Massachusetts. The do-everything junior (16.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists last season) is the top reason the Minutemen have a chance to end an NCAA tournament drought that stretches back to 1998.

Khalif Wyatt, Temple. The lone holdover from the Owls’ impressive three-man backcourt a year ago will be asked to even more as a senior. He averaged 17.0 points last season.

Three key newcomers

G Rotnei Clarke, Butler. The sharp-shooting Arkansas transfer becomes eligible for the Bulldogs and should make an instantaneous impact on the fortunes of a program that reached the national title game in 2010 and 2011.

Coach Dan Hurley, Rhode Island. The Rams fired Jim Baron and replaced him with Hurley, a man with a famous surname thanks to his father and brother but also with a well-earned reputation as a strong coach at the high school (national power St. Benedict’s of New Jersey) and college (Wagner) levels.

Virginia Commonwealth. Yes, the Rams could make themselves at home in their new league this season. There are questions, of course; for one, how does VCU replace star and security blanket Bradford Burgess. There’s still plenty left over, so look for the Rams to thrive this winter.

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