- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. Virginia Commonwealth. It's another edition of the much-requested Atlantic 10 conference power rankings, and we already have a new rightful heir to the throne. The margin between VCU and St. Joe's is slim, in my opinion, and it feels tough to drop the Hawks based off a loss at Creighton … but all of VCU's losses were close, tight games against good teams. More than anything, though? With that top-15 ranking efficiency defense and the brutal-as-ever HAVOC system wreaking, well, you know, on opposing guards, I just think VCU's better.
2. Saint Joseph's. Which is not to say St. Joe's isn't good. If you're ranked this high in this year's A-10, you're pretty good. But all of a sudden that neutral-court loss to Florida State isn't looking so flattering, and neither was Saturday's 80-51 blowout at Creighton. Tuesday brings a game at Villanova, which will be pretty fascinating, but more important than anything is that C.J. Aiken breaks out of this 4-for-24 long-range slump he's on to start the season.
3. Temple. Despite my eyeballs' love of this Temple team -- I was hooked from the first moments of the Tip-Off Marathon game, bleary though I was -- I was hesitant to place the Owls above Butler last week simply because they hadn't really beaten anyone good. This week, Temple won by 15 at Villanova, and while Jay Wright's team isn't what I'd classify as "good," a 15-point win is a kind of statement. On Saturday, Temple gets Duke in East Rutherford, N.J., where the crowd will be largely Duke partisans. That, my friends, is going to be interesting.
4. Butler. Nothing new on the Bulldogs, really. Since they got back from Maui, they've been teeing off on guarantee wins (IUPUI was the latest victim Wednesday night), but Saturday -- when Butler travels to Evanston, Ill., to face Northwestern -- is a decidedly trickier challenge. It's hard to know what to make of the feast-or-famine Wildcats, so this game might not give us a reliable impression. But it will be interesting to see how Rotnei Clarke and Co. handle a true road test and some solid size on the interior.
5. Charlotte. OK, Charlotte fans. Here you go. After seven season-opening wins, it was easy to dismiss the 49ers as a mere product of their totally awful schedule. But the wins were getting better -- Oral Roberts, Northeastern and East Carolina are various shades of not-horrible -- even before Charlotte won at Davidson, 73-69, Wednesday night. That is an indisputably quality win, and, as such, I am giving the 49ers the "love" their fans seem to so desperately crave. And understandably so. It has been a long road back to relevance, and there is much more basketball to play -- and I tend to doubt Alan Major's bunch will be ranked this high more often than not -- but Charlotte appears to be a top-half A-10 team and a potential tournament squad. Who knew?
6. Saint Louis. The Billikens have not had the most emotionally easy week -- the death of former coach Rick Majerus hit hard -- but a day after they found out Majerus had passed, they got a 13-point home win over Valpo, a defensive win Majerus himself would have loved. Wednesday's victory over North Texas was nice, too, even if the Tony Mitchell-led Mean Green have underperformed expectations thus far this season. As long as the Billikens tread water until the return of Kwamain Mitchell, you have to like their prospectus.
7. Xavier. The Musketeeers had a mixed bag of a week, the kind of week you expect to see from a team this young. To wit: Last Saturday, Xavier went to Purdue (another young, inconsistent, promising team) and came away with a win, no small feat in front of that crazy Mackey Arena crowd. Then, Thursday night, Xavier lost at home to Vanderbilt. Last year, that would have been a totally acceptable loss. This year, Vandy's looking pretty rough. I still the Musketeers are to be reckoned with in the A-10 race, but it might take a little time to work out all the youthful kinks.
8. Dayton. Ahhh, Dayton. Never change. Last week, I said Dayton appeared set for another baffling and frustrating season; one commenter, "whitegrb," described it as "Get some big wins against BCS conference opponents, lose some bad games against 1-bid-mid-major conference teams." You know what's funny? That was before Dayton won at Alabama on Wednesday! That is the same good Alabama team, by the way, that nearly took down an even better Cincinnati team on its home floor Saturday. On Nov. 28, Dayton lost at home to Weber State. I'm not sure how to square any of this analytically, and I'm not sure it's possible. (Matchups? Inconsistency? Dayton fans, please help?) But I do know this: If you win at Alabama, you move up in the power rankings. That part's easy.
9. La Salle. La Salle feels destined to stay under the radar in the A-10 this season, but it remains a real sleeper, and fortunately it has made a decent impression thus far. The latest came Wednesday night, when Ramon Galloway and the Explorers absolutely blitzed an overwhelmed Penn State group 81-57 at the Palestra. An away game at (a very good) Bucknell on Dec. 15 will be this team's next best chance at a marquee nonconference win.
10. Richmond. Like La Salle, it feels a little like Chris Mooney's team is being slept on, because from an efficiency standpoint their offense is pretty great. In fact, it is the 37th-most efficient offense in the country through nine games, per KenPom.com. The Spiders have more issues on defense, and it's hard to go head over heels for a team that has beaten a lot of ugly opponents and lost to Minnesota and Ohio by a combined score of 40 points.
11. Massachusetts. Last Saturday, the Minutemen had a tailor-made opportunity to impress, when Miami -- fresh off a home upset of Michigan State -- came to Amherst for a true road game. UMass lost by 13. The wins over Harvard and Providence were nice season-openers, but since then UMass has been soundly beaten by the only teams anyone would be impressed if UMass beat. I'm torn, but let's give them time.
12. St. Bonaventure. It's a little bit crazy that we can go this deep in the Atlantic 10 and still not be willing to write off the team you're discussing from eventual NCAA tournament competition. Which is not to say the Bonnies are good; they've played a horrific schedule thus far. But their only losses (Canisius, Ohio) came on the road, and they really haven't been that bad, considering the loss of Andrew Nicholson this offseason.
13. Duquesne. Say this much for Duquesne: It is adept at preventing opponents from going to the free throw line. And three of the Dukes' four losses (Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and North Dakota State, which is better than you think) are nothing to scoff at. But this team is pretty miserable at the offensive end, and the defense hasn't been much better, either.
14. George Washington. The Colonials gave Bradley a real run on the road Tuesday, and it's always nice to see a team really contend on the road, even if Bradley isn't likely to be a Missouri Valley Conference power. Thus far, George Washington has defended relatively well. But the Colonials have been really bad on the offensive end, because they give up the third-highest rate of steals in the country and, as such, are constantly turning it over.
15. Rhode Island. For as bad as Rhode Island is supposed to -- OK, is going to -- be, you have to tip your cap for its work in the three games before Thursday's 72-57 loss at Providence. The Rams beat Auburn in double overtime on Nov. 25, lost at home to a just-OK George Mason team by three, and then beat Vermont by 10 Saturday. Before that stretch, they played Ohio State to within 11, Seton Hall to within five, and Loyola-Maryland to a four-point overtime loss. Let's be clear: Rhode Island is not good. But first-year coach Dan Hurley has the Rams playing hard, and they could spring a few upsets as they rebuild.
16. Fordham. It's going to be a rough season at Fordham. Tom Pecora's team has played a brutal schedule so far -- the Rams have had exactly one true home game in eight games to date -- and it doesn't get any easier with trips to St. John's, Princeton (in Brooklyn) and Connecticut on the immediate horizon.