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VCU is top choice in a new-look A-10

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NEW YORK (AP) - Confused about all the conference realignment? Not sure which school will be in which league as the season approaches?

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Even those who do this for a living can have a momentary lapse.

Paul Hewitt, who will lead George Mason in its first season in the Atlantic 10, said this might get him in trouble but he told a story about Phil Martelli, his coaching counterpart at Saint Joseph's.

``We were at a recruiting event in July and we were talking about going to conference meetings and Phil asked me when my conference meetings were,'' Hewitt said. ``I said `Phil, we're in the same conference.'''

The Atlantic 10, like almost every other Division I conference, will have a different look this season.

Gone are Xavier, Butler, Temple and Charlotte - the first two to the Big East, the Owls to the American Athletic Conference and the 49ers to Conference USA. George Mason moves in from the Colonial Athletic Association and Davidson will join for 2014-15 from the Southern Conference.

``The A-10 historically been a very strong conference and we are a basketball-centric conference,'' Commissioner Bernadette McGlade said Tuesday at the league's media day at Barclays Center, where the conference tournament is played. ``We know who we are and we want to stay focused on that and we want to be successful.''

The conference has been that in terms of NCAA tournament bids. Five teams received bids to the tournament last season, the sixth consecutive season it had at least three in the field. La Salle reached the round of 16, giving the Atlantic 10 a team in that round for the sixth consecutive season.

VCU, one of only seven schools with at least one NCAA tournament win in the last three seasons, was the top pick in the preseason poll, and Rams coach Shaka Smart said the gap between the BCS (football) schools and members of a conference like the Atlantic 10 is closing.

``The top programs from the BCS leagues are the same every year,'' said Smart, who took VCU to the Final Four in 2011. ``The gap has narrowed but it's still an uphill battle. Maybe the middle of the pack teams and bottom teams from those leagues don't have the advantages they did 20 years ago.''

Richmond coach Chris Mooney pointed to the NCAA tournament success of schools such as Gonzaga, Butler and VCU. He added that the distance between a conference like the A-10 and the BCS leagues is ``a little bit'' closer, but ``it's hard to compare us with BCS schools because of TV exposure.''

Saint Louis, the defending regular-season and tournament champion, was second in the voting of the coaches and media, receiving five No. 1 votes, 14 fewer than VCU.

La Salle was third followed by Massachusetts, Saint Joseph's, Richmond, Dayton, George Mason, Rhode Island, George Washington, Fordham, St. Bonaventure and Duquesne.

The preseason all-conference team featured VCU's Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic, Chaz Williams of Massachusetts, Dwayne Evans of Saint Louis and Tyreek Duren of La Salle.

The Atlantic 10 will have a conference to compare itself to this season in the Big East. The basketball schools from the former BCS league broke away leaving a conference with schools with rich basketball tradition and no football money to rely on.

St. John's, Marquette, Seton Hall, DePaul, Villanova, Providence and Georgetown broke away from the football schools and added Xavier, Butler and Creighton.

``Those guys did what they felt they had to do,'' Smart said. ``I think it's going to be fascinating to watch their league and our league. You ask a lot of them and I think they will probably want to distance themselves from us, but I'm not sure there's a huge difference.

``I'm not saying we're better, but there's a lot of very good teams in their league and we have a lot of depth as well,'' he added. ``They have terrific programs with great history and so do we. It probably won't happen because of a lot of politics involved, but maybe we could set up a challenge.''

AP NEWS
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The Associated Press
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