Early in the year, the Atlantic 10 was all Xavier.
With a lofty preseason ranking, an all-american anchoring a back court that could match up with anyone in the country and a pair of come-from-behind wins over Purdue and at Vanderbilt, it really shouldn’t be any wonder that the Musketeers were the talk of the conference.
But a Dec. 10th brawl with Cincinnati sparked a collapse for Xavier, one that would see them lose five of their next six games and eventually drop to 10-6 in league play, it became evident that this conference wasn’t going to be Xavier’s to lose. We probably never should have felt that way in the first place, because the A-10 has proven that, this season, they are as competitive of a league as you are going to find.
There may actually be too much balance.
Temple is the class of the conference and St. Louis isn’t all that far behind them. There’s a noticeable gap between those two teams and the rest of the pack. But with six teams sitting within a game of third place, its quite obvious that the ‘pack’ has eaten itself alive. The A-10 is probably looking at a situation where they are going to get, depending on how the tournament plays out, three or four teams. But if La Salle and UMass, and even Duquesne and Richmond, hadn’t knocked off some of those other middle-of-the-pack teams, five and even six bids wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility.
Competitive balance makes for fun conference races. But a stockpile of good teams at the top of the league may actually lead to more of a postseason presence for teams.
Where: Campus sits and Atlantic City, NJ
When: March 6th-March 11th
Final: March 11th, 1 p.m. CBS
Its hard not to love what Temple has done this season. The Owls won a competitive league outright, which is not an easy thing to do, particularly when you are playing a completely different style than you are used to. Fran Dunphy has become synonymous with tough, defensive-minded basketball in his time with the Owls, but this season they like getting up and down the floor. They win thanks to the ability of guys like Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez to score. With Michael Eric back, the Owls now also have the size to battle bigger teams in the paint.
And if they lose?: St. Louis
Rick Majerus has done a great job with the Billikens. They finished second in the Atlantic 10 despite being just one season removed from a rape allegation that resulted in their best player getting kicked off the team for a year. This group defends well, controls the pace and shoots it from the perimeter. And if you believe Kenpom, you might want to pick St. Louis. He’s got them 12th in the country. Overall.
Other contenders?: Its impossible not to put Xavier in on this list. When you have a back court of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, a glue-guy with the talent of Dez Wells and a front line with high-major size and talent, you expect victories. We’ll see if they can get back into that rhythm.
Sleeper: St. Joseph’s
I really like this group now and I’ve really liked them all season long. They have a terrific back court and an athletic front line that is capable of putting on a show for the folks at Sportscenter. The Hawks won five of six games in February to get themselves back into the bubble discussion, but stumbled down the stretch, losing two of their last three games.
Deeper sleepers: St. Bonaventure is playing well and has the league’s Player of the Year, Andrew Nicholson, anchoring the paint. La Salle and UMass have both won enough games this season to garner a mention here as well.
– Carl Jones and Langston Galloway, St. Joe’s: This back court duo averages 32.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 5.5 apg.
– Chris Gaston, Forhdam: He may be the most productive player on the country, but he also plays for Fordham. Who is going to recognize him from there?
– Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt, Fairfield: These two combine to average 34.9 ppg, 6.8 apg and 7.4 rpg.
– Kevin Dillard, Dayton: The A-10 is loaded when it comes to back court players, but Dillard has stood out because he has been the catalyst and one of the lone bright spots for a confounding Flyer team.