A-10 enjoying strong season
One recent Saturday, Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade sat courtside and watched Xavier, one of the league's mainstays, hold off upstart La Salle. Then she drove 90 miles to Indianapolis and watched Butler steal one away from Gonzaga.
A great day for the A-10 all-around.
''Fabulous,'' McGlade said in a phone interview. ''It reminded me what this is about. For a fleeting 10 hours, I didn't think about realignment.''
Even in good times, it's never far from any conference commissioner's minds these days.
The Atlantic 10 is enjoying a strong season, buoyed by the additions of Butler and Virginia Commonwealth. Butler was ranked No. 9 in the latest AP poll on Monday, and VCU and La Salle received votes.
The league is on pace to get at least three teams into the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight season, which would equal the best streak in A-10 history. Ten of its 16 teams are ranked in the top 90 of the RPI. The league ranks seventh in combined RPI, sandwiched between the Big 12 and the SEC.
It's been a good transition season so far. Charlotte (No. 51 RPI) and Temple (No. 55) are planning to leave after this season; the 49ers are starting a football program and moving to Conference USA, while the Owls are headed to the Big East.
Butler and VCU (No. 38 in the RPI) will allow the league to hold its own and continue raising its national profile, provided the A-10 doesn't get raided.
Seven of the Big East's schools, the so-called Catholic 7, have decided to form their own basketball-based league. Presidents of DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova met in New York earlier this month to lay the groundwork.
Xavier, a Jesuit school, and religiously-unaffiliated Butler would be attractive to the new league. The Catholic 7 have to decide how many schools they want in the new conference, 10 or 12. Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco said in Connecticut on Monday that the separation has been amicable.
McGlade and the A-10 schools are waiting to see how that plays out.
''All of the swirling speculation about conference realignment is in some respects a little exhausting,'' McGlade said. ''And it takes away from the present, which happens to be so positive and so successful.''
The A-10 has started benefiting from its push to have the conference's also-rans make a bigger commitment to scheduling tough nonconference opponents. Last season, the league's nonconference strength of schedule ranked seventh, ahead of the SEC.
Teams at the top have longed for the day when an in-conference loss was seen as a sign of the A-10's balance rather than a black eye for March. The conference is getting there.
Last week, La Salle bounced back from that close loss at Xavier and extended its best start since 1990-91. The Explorers beat Butler and then-No. 19 VCU in back-to-back games, getting consecutive wins over ranked teams for the first time since the 1952 National Invitation Tournament.
And no one considered it a fluke.
''If you think we're surprised, you're nuts!'' coach John Giannini said.
Although Xavier is having a down season by its standards — the Musketeers lost all five starters from the team that reached the NCAA tournament's round of 16 last season — it beat Butler by 15 points early in the season. The Bulldogs have only three losses, two to A-10 teams.
McGlade has been talking to A-10 school presidents about the conference's future, trying to be proactive as the Big East's realignment continues. She points out that the A-10 is in a solid position with its scheduling, eight-year television deal and a conference tournament moving from Atlantic City to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
''I have to believe the current membership will look at those points of strength that we've been able to establish, and also our distribution model, which is extremely favorable to successful teams,'' McGlade said. ''I know my presidents. They're smart people. They're going to evaluate any opportunity that may arise very carefully, along with the strong opportunity they have right now in the A-10.
''If we're ever in a position of strength, I believe we are now.''