Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Tournament preview: Atlantic 10
By Dana O'Neil
Armageddon did not arrive. The end, as it turns out, is nowhere near.
Conference realignment has come, team pillaging has gone, and the Atlantic 10 is still here and still fine, thank you very much.
Just a year ago, teams gathered in Brooklyn for what seemed like a swan song to real excellence, with Xavier, Temple, Butler and Charlotte on their way out the door.
Instead, the reorganized and recharged Atlantic 10 expects to get six of its 13 teams into the NCAA tournament field, a rather nice little percentage. How? Because exactly what needed to happen for the A-10 to remain relevant, did. Teams that had been stuck in the middle of the pack for years emerged this season as viable threats, replacing the ones that left for greener pastures.
Coach Jim Crews and Saint Louis have won back-to-back regular-season titles in the Atlantic 10.
Credit the schools for making good hires (Archie Miller at Dayton, Mike Lonergan at GW) and making a commitment to be basketball-centric, and credit the coaches for pushing the right buttons.
But mostly credit the conference for keeping its vision clear amid the chaos.
What’s at stake?
A shot at history for five teams -- VCU, St. Joe, GW, UMass and Dayton.
The last time one of those won the Atlantic 10 Tournament -- how about 2007?
VCU gets a pass. The Rams are in only their second season in the conference.
The rest, though, were once part of the conference backbone, league stalwarts that could be counted on for big results. Hard times and coaching changes have conspired to send all of them into reshuffling, if not flat-out rebuilding mode.
George Washington won the tourney in 2007 and again in 2005. Dayton’s drought stretches back to 2003. Saint Joseph’s, despite that magical 2004 season run, hasn’t won a postseason title since 1997, and UMass has to go all the way back to 1996 when a certain young coach by the name of Calipari led the Minutemen.
This isn’t about securing a bid, though no doubt the certainty of a relaxing Selection Sunday would be welcome.
With Saint Louis already claiming its second consecutive regular-season title, this is about lofting a trophy and legitimizing success.
Team with the most to gain
Dayton. If there is a team even slightly on the bubble, it’s the Flyers. More than likely the strong finish -- with wins against both UMass and Saint Louis -- solidified things for Dayton, but a few wins here wouldn’t hurt.
The Flyers have a solid RPI (40) and schedule (41), but no one wants to be sweating out upsets elsewhere. A longer stay in Brooklyn wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Of course, the ironic twist for Dayton is that being one of the last teams in could almost work in the Flyers’ favor. The First Four games again will be played on Dayton’s home court, and with no way to pick a new site on the fly, the selection committee has agreed to allow the Flyers to play there if they are in one of those early games.