- Kieran Darcy, ESPNNewYork.com
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NEW YORK -- Just one of the 14 schools in the Atlantic 10 Conference calls New York City home -- Fordham -- while there are three in Philadelphia alone. Yet all 14 gathered at a hotel a stone's throw from the Brooklyn Bridge on Thursday.
Why? Because the Atlantic 10 men's basketball tournament is coming to the city that never sleeps.
The tourney will move from its current home, Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn beginning in 2013, as first announced last month. But the conference decided to get a head start on promotion by holding its annual Media Day at its new home away from home.
The coaches in attendance Thursday sounded thrilled about the new postseason location.
"I think it's tremendous for the league," said Fordham coach Tom Pecora. "Everybody's got a huge alumni base here. Everybody loves to come to New York. ... Fans from every school are gonna come to this tournament and support this tournament."
"I think it's fabulous," said Rhode Island coach Jim Baron, a Brooklyn native. "The New York market is probably the best in the country when it comes to exposure and the media outlets, so I think it's gonna be an excellent step up for us. You have so many alumni, so many schools that have people working in this area -- whether it's New York City, or the metropolitan area, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut -- I think it's excellent, because it's gonna afford people the opportunity to come see us play."
"The thing that always intrigues people is the New York market, and the New York media, so at least we're going to a situation where hopefully we can take advantage of both of those things," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "We have the opportunity to go to the Barclays, which is a brand new facility and a great building in arguably the greatest city in the world. So we'll see how it all turns out for us. I think it'll be interesting to see how New York embraces us, and we hope it will be gangbusters."
The Atlantic 10 is perennially overshadowed by its even larger rival, the Big East. But if you take a closer look, the A-10 is right on the heels of the major conferences in terms of NCAA tournament at-large bids. After the big six (Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, SEC, Pac-12), the A-10 and the Mountain West are the only other conferences to receive at least one at-large bid to the Big Dance the previous six seasons. In fact, the Atlantic 10 has gotten multiple at-large bids the past four years in a row.
Last season, Xavier, Temple and Richmond all made the field of 68, with Temple advancing to the Round of 32 and Richmond all the way to the Sweet Sixteen.
"It's a terrific basketball league," said Dunphy, who has piloted Temple to the NCAA tournament in four of his first five seasons at the school. "Very, very competitive, with some really good players, some great coaches, some really solid programs as well that really care very deeply about basketball."
Xavier, which won the A-10 regular season title last year, is the preseason favorite to win the league again this year, with Temple picked second and Rick Majerus' St. Louis squad projected third.
Xavier senior guard Tu Holloway, a Hempstead, N.Y. native and the defending A-10 player of the year, was named to the conference's preseason first team on Thursday. He was joined there, among others, by 6-foot-9 St. Bonaventure senior Andrew Nicholson, who was 15th in scoring in the country last season at 20.8 points per game.
Also on the first team is George Washington senior guard Tony Taylor, a Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. native who played his high school ball at Archbishop Stepinac in White Plains. And the league is littered with players from the tri-state area.
New York fans will be treated to some high-quality college hoops from the Atlantic 10 come 2013 -- but the conference could look different than it does now. Even though the A-10 is not a football conference, the specter of conference realignment did loom over the proceedings on Thursday. What happens going forward with the Big East, and with the other major conferences, could have a significant impact on the Atlantic 10, too.
The biggest potential prize appears to be Temple, which has an up-and-coming football program that currently plays in the Mid-American Conference. That, combined with how competitive the men's basketball program has been historically, makes Temple very attractive.
In fact, Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino said recently the Big East should "admit Temple immediately" in a blog post on his website, lauding its rising football program and basketball tradition.
"From a basketball coaching standpoint, I don't think too much about it," said Dunphy, when asked about Temple possibly moving to another conference. "I know that if our athletic director, president and board of trustees are thinking about it, and I'm sure that they are on occasion ... that's where that decision will lie. Obviously it's football-driven."
"I appreciate people like Rick Pitino saying what he did, that Temple would be a great partner for them," Dunphy added. "But on a personal basis I haven't thought a great deal about it because I don't have a lot of say about it. It'll be interesting to see where all of this activity winds up."
It will indeed. But for now, local college hoops fans can keep a closer eye on the Atlantic 10 this coming season, looking forward to a new and exciting event joining the New York sports calendar in two years' time.
12hEthan Sherwood Strauss