Shaka Smart

Shaka Smart, Derek Kellogg speak to the strength of the Atlantic 10

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source: Getty Images
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AMHERST, Mass. – Following Friday night’s loss to UMass, VCU head coach Shaka Smart entered the room for his postgame press conference, firing off a question before even taking his seat at the table.

“Is this the same room where John Chaney said, ‘I’ll kill you’?,” he asked, referring to the former Temple coach’s confrontation with then-UMass head coach John Calipari which happened just over 20 years ago.

“You won’t hear that from me,” he then assured the room.

In his two-year tenure in the Atlantic 10, Smart has immersed himself in the history of the conference … both good and bad, apparently.

The Chaney-Calipari incident ranks high among the conference’s list of infamous moments, but Friday night’s showdown between VCU’s Havoc and UMass’ P.A.I.N. — Pressure, Agitate, Interrupt, Neutralize — is another reminder of how impressive the talent in the Atlantic 10 is. Friday night’s slate of games was particularly low, but a fast-paced 40-minute thriller between the Rams and Minutemen directed the national audience to the sold out Mullins Center for the evening.

“Our conference is still undervalued,” Smart said. “I don’t think people realized the gauntlet that you have to go through in this league. I guess Saint Louis, on paper the win-loss record, they are making it look easy, but if you look closer at some of their games, some of them have been very close. And then for the rest of us, we’ve been battling it out.”

The Billikens are winners of 19 in a row, with their last loss to the nation’s only remaining unbeaten, Wichita State. Last March, Saint Louis was one of five Atlantic 10 teams that won at least one game in the NCAA tournament. The win over VCU almost assures UMass its first NCAA tourney bid since 1998. The Minutemen could be one of four, potentially five bids in this year’s field from the A10.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but there is a lack of sophistication out there right now as it relates to the Atlantic 10,” Smart added. “There are fill-in-the-blank high-major programs and they carry a weight because of their name, first and foremost. But the reality is if you look closer and you compare them to some of the teams in our league, I think our league shapes out pretty well. Again I’m not calling out anyone individually.”

In the RPI Top 100, nine teams — Saint Louis, St. Joseph’s, UMass, VCU, Richmond, George Washington, Dayton and St. Bonaventure — all crack the list.

“I think it just continues with the A10, I think it’s stood the test of time for one reason or another,” Kellogg said, who played in the A10 from 1991-1995 under Calipari. “The proof is really right there in the numbers. That’s what it says.”

Selection Sunday is less than a month away. Two of the Atlantic 10’s bids from a season ago — Butler and Temple — are gone. St. Joseph’s doesn’t have the best out of conference resume while Richmond is without Cedrick Lindsay and Derrick Williams for the remainder of the season. The A10 has its share of bubble teams while at-large bids should be extended to multiple teams within the conference.

Teams like Saint Louis, ranked No. 10 in the AP poll, may not be in the discussion among the nation’s contenders, and the league doesn’t have the national attention it may deserve, but Friday night was a reminder of what sort of Havoc, or P.A.I.N. A10 teams like VCU and UMass can inflict on the NCAA tournament field.

The conference did account for seven wins in the 2013 NCAA Tournament after all.

“It was a pretty exciting game, a well-played game, a phenomenal crowd,” Smart said. “We just have to continue pushing forward with that and gaining respect as a league.”

VIDEO: Monmouth hits a game-winner, Bench Mob member tries to disrobe

King Rice
AP
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Monmouth used a 17-2 run in the final minutes to beat Rider on Friday night, a win that will keep the Hawks within striking distance of the kind of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament should they fall in the MAAC tourney.

The run was capped by star point guard Justin Robinson, who buried this three with three seconds left to put Monmouth up for good, 79-78:

No. 17 Arizona erases double-digit deficit to beat UCLA

Arizona coach Sean Miller reacts to a foul call during the first half of Arizona's NCAA college basketball game against UCLA, Friday, Feb 12, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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Allonzo Trier scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half and Parker Jackson-Cartwright scored 16 points in his second career start as No. 17 Arizona knocked off UCLA, 81-75, in Tucson on Friday night.

UCLA was up by as much as 11 points in the first half and took a ten point lead into half time, but in the second half, the Bruins were eventually done in by foul trouble and the stronger front line of the Wildcats.

Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski were dominant down the stretch. The duo combined to score 12 of the last 23 point for the Wildcats, including the bucket that put the Wildcats ahead for the first time since early in the first half. Off of a missed free throw, UCLA’s Thomas Welsh battled with Tarczewski for the rebound, but when Welsh finally seemed to gain control of the loose ball, Anderson knocked it out of his hands and bullied through Jonah Bolden for a layup.

All told, those two combined for 20 points and 27 boards, seven of which were offensive. They also managed to foul out both Welsh and Tony Parker, although some of the calls that went against UCLA down the stretch were questionable.

The win keeps Arizona within a game of first place Oregon in the Pac-12 standings and tied for second with No. 23 USC, who will be visiting the McKale Center on Sunday night.