A-10 Tourney Prospects
January 24, 2013
By Joe Nelson
While the Big Ten and Big XII take some heat for not adhering to the conference's name in terms of the numbers of teams involved, the Atlantic-10 is a more egregious offender this season with 16 teams filling the league. The conference is not short on quality teams, however, as conference newcomers Butler and Virginia Commonwealth have climbed in the national rankings with promising starts to the season. There are as many as nine other teams that could be in the conversation in terms of NCAA Tournament selection, although that number will dwindle as the conference season shakes out. Here is a quick look at the contenders and the paths ahead in the Atlantic-10.
With 16 games in the conference season for 16 teams, every team will play every other team once, with one match-up being played twice. Listed with each team is the team they will play twice, a key factor in projecting how this conference will shake out.
Virginia Commonwealth (plays Richmond twice): The Rams own a 16-3 overall record and importantly no bad losses, as narrow misses against Wichita State, Duke, and Missouri in non-conference play won't penalize the team in the eyes of the selection committee. While the victory over Memphis seems to be fading in stature, wins over Belmont and Alabama could gain quality as the season goes on. The Rams are far from a tournament lock at this point, as the 4-0 start in league play has not featured fierce competition. Games with Dayton and St. Joseph's were both at home and those were narrow wins, including an overtime escape against St. Joseph's. The step-up in quality in the move to the Atlantic-10 will feature a tough stretch of games ahead with each of the six remaining road games being a difficult opponent. VCU gets to play Butler at home, but the lone meetings with Charlotte, St. Louis, Xavier, and Temple will all be on the road. VCU can afford losing a couple of those games, but falling to anything worse than a 13-3 conference record could leave the Rams on the bubble. That record could still ultimately be good enough to win the regular season league title in a very competitive conference which would earn additional favor.
Butler (plays St. Louis twice): The Bulldogs also sit at 16-3, but they have wins that will keep on giving as the season goes on. Through a tough non-conference schedule, the Bulldogs earned victories over quality major conference teams Marquette, North Carolina, Northwestern, and Vanderbilt plus a key neutral site win over Indiana that could be the ticket to a NCAA Tournament bid barring a complete collapse in the Atlantic-10 season. Butler also added a huge win over Gonzaga last weekend out of the conference that will also provide a big boost to the resume. Butler's losses are less respectable than those for VCU, losing in a non-conference game with conference foe Xavier, as well as a blowout defeat to Illinois that looks worse at this point in the season. The Bulldogs also suffered a narrow conference loss against LaSalle earlier this week to fall to 3-1 in conference play. The Bulldogs have some of the toughest conference road games out of the way with just two big road contests left, playing at St. Louis next week and then at VCU in early March in the lone meeting between the projected top two teams in the conference. There are some tough home games ahead, but with the high-end wins on the resume, Butler likely could get away with a 10-6 conference mark and could even survive a few bad losses and still earn a NCAA Tournament bid.
Temple (plays Charlotte twice): The Owls have been a staple at or near the top of the Atlantic-10, but with the league adding formidable teams in recent years, the Owls will have to battle for a NCAA tournament bid. Temple has losses to Duke and Kansas on the resume that will boost the overall strength of schedule metrics, but they also lost at home to Canisius and St. Bonaventure, losses that could burn the Owls. The win over Syracuse will carry tremendous weight for this team, while the Owls can't afford many more losses to mediocre teams. Temple has gone just 2-2 in conference play so far this season and they will likely need to finish in the top four of the standings to make a strong case for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. That will be no easy task as the remaining schedule is far from easy. The next five road games are all challenging including Butler and St. Joseph's in the next two weeks and the final conference game against VCU in Philadelphia may prove to be huge for the Owls should VCU continue to lead the conference. Temple will likely need to win a few of those big road games in conference play to win some of the comparison arguments between teams in the league with similar profiles. The Syracuse victory will carry tremendous weight if the Orange stay as a top-five team in the nation, but another suspect loss could wipe away the benefit and ultimately the Owls may prove to be too inconsistent for inclusion in the Big Dance.
LaSalle (plays George Washington twice): With a huge win over Butler, LaSalle is back in the conversation at the upper echelon of the Atlantic-10. The Explorers have some blemishes on the resume that will be difficult to overcome however. Early in the season, LaSalle lost to Central Connecticut State, a team that is 7-10 currently out of the Northeast. While Bucknell may well win the Patriot League, it is not a flattering loss for a team bound for the bubble. Losing to Miami will not be damaging, but there are not any high quality non-conference wins to make up for the suspect losses, as beating Villanova and Penn State won't carry enough weight this season. LaSalle will need a very strong conference season and with two losses already to teams with similar profiles, it may be an uphill battle. A road game with VCU this weekend would be a great place to start for LaSalle to put together a fantastic week and the schedule softens in the next several weeks. Late-season road games at Temple and at St. Louis will be challenging, but overall many of the toughest games are already out of the way and LaSalle could be a team that gets credit for finishing strong as the schedule ahead could certainly keep the Explorers in the top tier of the conference.
St. Louis (plays Butler twice): After a 3-3 start and dealing with the death of former Coach Rick Majerus, a challenging season appeared ahead for the Billikens. Through a home-heavy schedule, St. Louis rallied to win nine straight games including a 14-point victory over New Mexico, but with losses in two of the last three games, St. Louis may be headed back towards the wrong side of the bubble. Losing to Kansas and Washington can be overlooked, but an early-season home loss to Santa Clara may prove problematic and the recent home loss to Rhode Island in conference play will be the game that could doom this team. Beating Texas A&M looks like a better win than many expected at the time, so there are some decent victories on the resume for the Billikens and there will be the opportunity to get a few more in conference play. St. Louis has the misfortune of having to play Butler twice, but they do get to host the lone meetings with VCU, St. Joseph's, Charlotte, and LaSalle. If St. Louis wins its remaining home games and beats the lesser teams on the road, this will shape up as a solid overall profile. This is a team that has generally been great at home, but avoiding another slip-up against a lesser team in the upcoming road schedule might be asking too much.
Charlotte (plays Temple twice): The 49ers have some of the best defensive numbers in the nation, but the schedule has been very weak. Charlotte has done its part with a 16-3 record and the losses all came on the road, losing to ACC teams Miami and Florida State, and falling at Richmond in conference play. That loss won't likely look great by season's end, especially considering they lost by 20. That said, there are a few decent wins on the resume, beating Oral Roberts, East Carolina, and Davidson as well as LaSalle and Xavier in conference play. Charlotte lacks the standout signature victory that some of the others teams competing for the same spots possess, but they have the potential to finish with a great overall record. The remaining schedule will sort out where the 49ers belong as they will face seven of the remaining 11 games on the road, as well as facing home games with VCU and Temple. Charlotte has one of the tougher remaining schedules in the conference and they will have to close with three straight road games with significant travel in games that could be very meaningful. If Charlotte stays towards the top of the conference standings, they will have a record that will keep them in the mix for a NCAA Tournament bid, even if there are not many wins that carry significant weight.
Xavier (plays Dayton twice): In a perfect world, a team like Xavier would be rewarded for taking on a very challenging non-conference schedule, but the Musketeers simply lost too many of those games. Losing to Pacific, Vanderbilt, Wofford, Tennessee, and Wake Forest will be too much to overcome unless Xavier posts a very impressive conference season. They did beat Butler in non-conference action and also have wins over Purdue and Drexel that can offset a few of the bad losses. Victories over Temple and LaSalle at home to start the conference season were helpful, but falling to Charlotte in what may be a critical head-to-head match-up will be damaging. Xavier is on the road for five of the next seven games, so they will need to survive that scheduling and be ready for a stretch of four big home games in a row starting in late February, including hosting VCU and a non-conference game with Memphis. The finale is at Butler and that may be a statement win that the Musketeers need to be taken seriously.
Massachusetts (plays Rhode Island twice): Unlike some of the other candidates for an at-large spot, Massachusetts did not pick up a bad non-conference loss as all three defeats came against solid major conference teams. The Minutemen did not have any resume-making wins but victories over Providence, Northeastern, Ohio, and East Carolina put a little muscle behind the record. Losing at St. Louis to open Atlantic-10 play was forgivable, but the recent home loss to George Washington could doom the NCAA Tournament hopes for the Minutemen. Massachusetts has had a favorable start to league play and sitting at 2-2 was not the result they needed knowing most of the toughest games are ahead. UMass has several very tough road games remaining on the schedule, including playing LaSalle and Charlotte back-to-back next week and the home schedule is daunting as well. With the games ahead, Massachusetts is likely to play its way out of contention for an at-large bid, but should they get on a roll and win most of those games, the non-conference profile is pretty favorable relative to some of its peers in this conference.
St. Joseph's (plays Fordham twice): The Hawks already have seven losses, which is simply too many given how competitive this league will be. Losing to Butler and VCU in very close games will loom as missed opportunities and the recent home loss to St. Bonaventure probably seals the fate for this team. A challenging non-conference schedule brought a nice win over Notre Dame, but that was cancelled out by a home loss to Fairfield. The Hawks have proven that they can play with the best teams in the league, but they fell just short in the best opportunities to snag meaningful wins in conference play that would have boosted the resume. The remaining schedule is mostly favorable with many of the toughest games at home, so the Hawks can build their case with a solid overall record in the league, but they may need to nearly run the table to make up for some of the earlier losses and compare favorably with the other teams in a similar position.
Richmond (plays VCU twice): The Spiders ultimately have too many losses to keep pace with the depth of quality in this conference, but the profile is intriguing having played high-quality teams like Minnesota and Kansas. Losing to Ohio, George Mason, or Davidson would be reasonable enough if it was a singular loss, but Richmond lost to all three of those teams. In conference play, Richmond took care of business at home with wins over Rhode Island and Charlotte, but lost soundly to Butler and LaSalle and the Spiders appear to be a step below the top tier in the league. Richmond is a candidate to play spoiler as they did beat Wake Forest and Air Force in non-conference play and appear to hold a very solid home court edge with a 10-1 mark at home so far this season. Should they beat VCU at home and pick up road wins over Massachusetts and Temple in the upcoming gauntlet of games, the Spiders might move up in this list, but they are more likely to fall to the middle of the pack. Having to play VCU twice is a tough scheduling break that will hurt Richmond's chances, unless of course they can win both meetings.
Dayton (plays Xavier twice): With a 1-3 start in conference play, Dayton doesn't even make the top 10 in the Atlantic-10, but the losses came in very competitive games with perhaps the three best teams in the conference. Dayton does not have the non-conference profile to command an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, unless they basically don't lose again as they had losses to Colorado, Weber State, Illinois State, and USC. Beating Boston College, Alabama, and Murray State provides a measure of redemption in the profile, but ultimately Dayton will need to be in contention for the Atlantic-10 title to get consideration and a 1-3 start is not the easiest path to reach that level. With the games with Butler, VCU, and LaSalle out of the way, the remaining schedule should be favorable for the Flyers, but that is not necessarily the case as Dayton will play each of its next five road games and eight of its next 10 overall against the quality teams on this list, drawing one of the league's toughest overall schedules. Dayton has the potential to turn in an upset or two this season, but the damage has been done on the overall picture.
George Washington, St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island, Fordham, and Duquesne, all sit at .500 or worse at this point and won't enter the postseason conversation, but that group of a five teams has four wins over the 11 teams on this list already and there will be more upsets to come.
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