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Friday, December 28, 2012
Conference Power Rankings: Atlantic 10

By Eamonn Brennan

Greetings from the post-Festivus edition of the Atlantic 10 power rankings! While the reads on many teams will remain the same -- college hoops mostly takes a break during the holidays -- this is also the post-Temple-upsetting-Syracuse edition of the Atlantic 10 power rankings, and I got a lot of problems with you people.

1. Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams' only game since last week's rankings was a 93-56 win over Longwood, which is the margin you would expect against a team ranked No. 345 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings. Same deal here: VCU plays efficient offense but really shines on the defensive end, where Darius Theus and Briante Weber (who leads the nation in steal percentage) put opposing ball handlers in the equivalent of the wood-chipper scene in "Fargo." Yah.

2. Butler. But for a Dec. 5 victory over IUPUI, the Bulldogs have stuck to an all-Saturday schedule in December. It has served them well. Butler followed up its thrilling Dec. 15 neutral-court win over then-No. 1 Indiana with this past Saturday's solid home victory over Evansville. Next up: Saturday's road game against Vanderbilt, which is rebuilding but dangerous enough to warrant some caution, particularly in its own building.

3. Temple. OK, people, let's get a few things straight: You can criticize my power rankings all you want. You can politely disagree. Or you can call me stupid. You can call my name "weird." (That kind of bugs my mom, but I went to grade school. I can take it.) I have a thick skin, I take feedback well, I don't believe my rankings to be the end of the conversation but the beginning, and no, I don't take December power rankings based on 10 or 11 games all that seriously anyway. Neither should you.

Here's the one thing you cannot do: criticize the power rankings with the benefit of hindsight.

To wit: Last week, I ranked Temple 10th. This was immediately after a 10-point home loss to Canisius. It was also after a 23-point loss to Duke in which Temple never really looked competitive and no other good wins to speak of (barring a 15-point win at Villanova, which I probably should have paid more attention to). So, Temple comes out a few days after losing by 10 at home to Canisius and, of course, beats Syracuse on a neutral court. And then a bunch of people on Twitter and in the comments section write things like this: "Eamonn Brennan looks like a fool after the Temple game."

Ha! Yes, because you, all-knowing and wise college basketball fan, absolutely knew Temple was not only not mediocre but also good enough to take down Syracuse in Madison Square Garden. You're right! I should have known! How could I have missed that? It must be because I am such a hater!

Ugh.

Anyway, great win for Temple. The Owls were never the 10th-best team in the league; you'll notice in a lot of these descriptions I say something like "[Team X] is not this bad, but ..." and that certainly applied here. Frankly, I'm not sure if Temple is really the third-best team in the league. Let's wait and see. The point is I can't predict the future and hate to even try.

4. Saint Louis. The Billikens beat Loyola Marymount on Saturday; Kwamain Mitchell is still returning from the broken foot he suffered in the first week of practice in October; and the last best nonconference opportunity for the Billikens comes Monday at home against New Mexico. Big game.

5. Dayton. I was not inclined to punish Dayton for losing to Illinois State at home last week, and a similar disinclination remains today. It helped that the Flyers held serve at home against Murray State on Saturday. This team's biggest question is whether its defensive play will be consistent enough to prevent the larger inconsistent modus operandi we've talked (OK, laughed) about so often with the Flyers already this season.

6. La Salle. The Explorers shoot the ball well and don't turn it over -- they have the 19th-lowest turnover rate in the country as of this writing -- and their lack of fouls on the defensive end is keeping their per-possession numbers respectable. What this team needs now is a statement win, or something like it, and a win in Wednesday's visit to Miami would be exactly that.

7. Charlotte. I'm becoming less convinced by the 49ers by the week. I was on board after the win at Davidson, and I'm willing to forgive a loss at Miami even if the margin (31 points) is glaring. But I've seen Florida State plenty this season, enough to know that it is hard for me to take you totally seriously if you can't muster a win over the Seminoles in a quasi-home environment in your home city. That was the case on Saturday, when Charlotte fell to Florida State at the Time Warner Cable Arena, and I am losing the faith.

8. Saint Joseph's. Losing to Florida State is fine on its own. Losing to Creighton by 29 is cool; Creighton's really good. Losing to Villanova on the road in a Holy War game you probably should have -- or at least could have -- won? Fine. Taking an 11-day break and then losing to Fairfield at home? Now we need to talk. The Hawks were touted as the conference's offseason title favorite thanks largely to their huge number of returning contributors, but what if those contributors really just are what they are?

9. Xavier. Don't look now, but Xavier might actually be having a real-life down season. It feels weird to write that, because the Musketeers don't do down seasons. For nearly a decade, they've turned over coaches and players and still been among the best teams in the A-10 and a constant threat to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Last Wednesday's Crosstown loss to Cincinnati was entirely forgivable (the Musketeers cramped up late and stopped scoring entirely), but following it up with 55 points in a home loss to Wofford? Yikes. Chris Mack's team has a long way to go.

10. Richmond. The Spiders' offense has been their clear strength this season, but it betrayed them in a big way against George Mason at the Richmond Coliseum last Saturday. Richmond held the Patriots to just 1.03 points per possession but mustered only .98 of its own, and that is a recipe for losses. Saturday provides a nice chance at redemption when Davidson comes to town.

11. Massachusetts. You may have a higher opinion of East Carolina this season than I do, and I do like that Ohio win, but for now I'm still not buying the Minutemen. There's just too much ugliness on both ends of the floor -- UMass shoots the ball poorly and fouls way too often, to name a couple of examples -- to expect much sustained success going forward.

12. St. Bonaventure. Now that we're not punishing teams for losses to Canisius (the Bonnies lost by three at the Koessler Athletic Center back on Nov. 17), you can argue that three of St. Bonaventure's four losses (at Ohio and last week's loss at NC State) are entirely forgivable. But there is still the matter of that loss at Arkansas State, not to mention the fact that St. Bonaventure opponents seem to shoot the ball exceedingly well from beyond the arc. After a certain number of games, that is less about luck and more about perimeter defense.

13. George Washington. After 11 days off, George Washington recovered from its three-game losing streak to hold off VMI at home. It moves up the rankings one spot because Duquesne lost to Louisiana-Lafayette by 12.

14. Duquesne. Yep, you read that correctly: Duquesne lost to Louisiana-Lafayette by 12. Granted, it was a road game, and Lafayette did give Michigan State some problems early in the season, but -- actually, no, not granted. That needs to be a win.

15. Rhode Island. Keep an eye out for Rhode Island. No, seriously! The Rams have won four of their past six games, and though none of those wins has been particularly fancy, they are wins -- already more than half of the seven victories the Rams won all last season.

16. Fordham. Speaking of mini-win streaks, Fordham has won two of its past three, including a Dec. 15 win over Princeton on a neutral floor. The problem is it lost seven of eight before then, albeit against a brutal schedule.