The Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West came into the 2013 NCAA tournament as the two toughest mid-major conferences in the country, but their showings so far have been far from similar. Through the First Four and Round of 64, the A-10 is a perfect 6-0, while the Mountain West is 2-3.
That 6-0 record for the A-10 is thanks to two wins by La Salle (vs. Boise State, vs. Kansas State), and one each from VCU (vs. Akron), Temple (vs. NC State), Butler (vs. Bucknell), and Saint Louis (vs. New Mexico State). Meanwhile, the Mountain West has fallen victim to Harvard (New Mexico), UNLV (California), and La Salle (Boise State), with wins by Colorado State (vs. Missouri) and San Diego State (vs. Oklahoma).
But how does a team with a No. 1 RPI ranking have such a tumultuous first two rounds? Much of it comes down to matchups.
Aside from Saint Louis, which was heavily favored to begin with against New Mexico State, the A-10 benefitted from the matchups they drew in their first and second round games. That doesn’t mean teams didn’t gameplan to their strengths or execute or weren’t the better team all together, but it’s worth noting that there were factors to exploit and these teams, to their credit, took advantage.
For example, La Salle’s tough four-guard set was too difficult for Boise State to contain off the dribble and was the reason the Explorers had an 18-point halftime against Kansas State. Khalif Wyatt’s poise and maturity for Temple contrasted with a young and inexperienced NC State backcourt. Butler’s Andrew Smith was physical in containing Bucknell’s best player, Mike Muscala. VCU’s turnover-inducing defense was too much for an Akron team that was without its starting point guard.
By contrast, Harvard’s slow pace caught New Mexico on a 38 percent shooting night. California’s size on the inside was able to counter UNLV’s usual depth advantage in the paint. Boise State couldn’t keep up with the dribble penetration of La Salle’s guards.
And that’s how this NCAA has been playing out and will continue to play out. Colorado State could advance if it continues to rebound the basketball well against Louisville. San Diego State is bound for the Sweet 16 if it can match the intensity of Florida Gulf Coast in transition. Having parity in a tournament creates a need for another factor to decide these games. That factor this year is, simply put, matchups and execution.