The non-conference season is winding down for everyone and we’re beginning to get a clearer picture of who’s who in the Atlantic 10.
I’ve noted since the preseason that I felt the league would only get one bid for the conference champion this year. I still feel that’s likely as no one has really distinguished themselves in the non-conference season. The top of the league has mostly taken care of business of late against mid-level competition, but the conference only has one Tier 1 NET win, VCU over Texas, with dwindling pick up opportunities.
There is no stand out team at the top of the conference and really, the league is up for grabs. Duquesne has faired well at 8-2 with their only losses coming against FBS competition. I’d like to take some time to compare how they fit in with the rest of the Atlantic 10. I’ll put the competitors into four tiers based on their performance so far and the performance I expect from them in league play.
VCU, Saint Louis, Davidson, URI
Normally, Tier I would consist of likely NCAA tournament teams, but we don’t have any of those this year. The Atlantic 10 does have a few teams solidly on the bubble. If the league is to get an at – large bid, it will happen because one of these teams won most of their games against the rest of the teams in this category. No one’s resume is good enough at this stage that they can make the dance without cannon-balling every one else’s chances of making it.
VCU surprisingly headlines the list as they have the league’s most significant win on the road in Austin with another solid win against top 50 RPI Temple. They’ve come a long way under second year coach Mike Rhoades while playing one of the most difficult schedules in the country. Saint Louis has disappointed a little thanks to inconsistent play. They lost to Pitt, a bad loss if the selection committee isn’t quite ready to accept NET, and they missed an opportunity for a marque win against Houston this past weekend. Davidson’s only notable win came on neutral court against a down Wichita St. team although a pair of Northeastern wins could look better if the Huskies get back into the top 100. Rhode Island is in this category based on their strong RPI alone. Their best win came at Holy Cross and I don’t see the Crusaders RPI holding up once their strength of schedule takes a hit in the Patriot League. Rhode Island does play the other teams in Tier I four times, so a sweep and a run to the tournament championship could get them there.
Duquesne, Dayton, St Joe’s
In Tier II, we have the teams on the NIT bubble. If any of these teams get hot at the right time, they could make a run in the conference tournament. More likely than not, they aren’t contenders for the conference championship.
Duquesne have the league’s third best win in terms of RPI against Radford. That will likely change as the Highlanders get into the weeds of Big South play, but the Dukes have the best chances of this group to give the A-10 a fifth top 100 RPI team heading into conference play. Dayton have hung tough against really good teams, but only managed to get over the hump once against Butler. They have a winnable game against current number fifty – eight Georgia Southern that could give them another good win to close the preseason. By RPI, St Joe’s looks like they have a lot of work to just make the NIT, and they do. However, they have enough talent to be a major spoiler in 2019, and I think they can beat any team in the league on any night even if they’ve disappointed so far.
George Mason, St Bonaventure, UMass, Richmond
The teams in Tier III have the talent to win in the Atlantic 10, but have too many resume skeletons thanks to poor play during non – conference to be a threat for a postseason bid. This group has lost to Longwood, Howard, Bucknell, Niagara, Hampton, Oral Roberts, and American. Yet, any could get on a roll, do some spoiling, and finish higher than they ought to in league play as Richmond did last year.
George Mason were deservedly picked fourth in the league preseason and just started the year awfully. They have won three of their last four with a loss to a very good Vermont team mixed in. Buffalo recently held the Bonnies to 25 points, but playing in Olean is never fun for anyone. St. Bonaventure have replaced the best back court in the league with not the best back court in the league, but they have have the weapons and home court advantage to finish higher in the league than their current 300+ RPI would suggest they should. Richmond have some really good players, but they have not played well as a unit. Their post defense, defensive rebounding percentage, and effective field goals percentage against have been uncharacteristically bad. UMass are likely the best team in this group, and the most likely to spoil. They have a couple of good wins against SIU and Providence, so the argument could be made that they belong in TIer II. Both St Joe’s and UMass would need to make the top four to make the NIT in my opinion. I just think the Hawks are more likely to get there.
Fordham, George Washington, La Salle
These are the teams that have done poorly and have the least hope. Fordham have actually exceeded expectations so far, but I’m not buying their chances in league. They have a solid core of freshman guards to build around which means they’ll probably fire their coach after the season. GW has three wins and while they’ve stayed closer than expected in a number of games, I just don’t think they’re very good right now. The program will come back, but an athletic department that once looked like the pride of the league has fallen into total disarray. La Salle have Pookie Powell and a major rebuild for the future. If I had to pick a last place team, it’d be them.
So I put Duquesne solidly on the second tier. Two wins in the next three to close out non conference play, and I think they’re very solidly on the NIT bubble. Certainly, they have lots of work to do to get there, but I do think the A-10 looks like it could send a number of teams to the second tier tournament even if they can’t get multiple bids to the dance.