Atlantic 10 keeps right on winning after defections
NEW YORK — The Atlantic 10 Conference lost some big-name programs and keeps right on winning.
The A-10 is in position to possibly send a league-record six teams to the NCAA tournament. It could wind up with more bids than the ACC, SEC or Big East — the conference that poached Butler and Xavier after last season.
Temple also departed for the American Athletic Conference and Charlotte to Conference USA, but the A-10 is proving plenty deep.
The league’s current members have the basketball cred to get invited to tournaments with top-notch fields in November and December. That offers not just the opportunity for quality non-conference wins for those schools but helps everyone’s RPI once they start beating up on each other. The result: the chance to send as many programs to the Big Dance as anyone.
Five things to know about the A-10 tournament at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, which opens Wednesday with the play-in game between 12th-seeded George Mason and No. 13-seeded Fordham:
Seniors Dwayne Evans, Jordair Jett, Rob Loe and Mike McCall were all a big part of No. 18 Saint Louis’ A-10 tournament championship last year. Jett, the do-everything leader for the Billikens (26 – 5, 13-3), is the conference player of the year.
They’re trying to become the first team to sweep the A-10 regular-season and conference tournament titles two straight years since UMass dominated the league in the mid-1990s.
"They’re not a real emotional group," coach Jim Crews said. "I think that’s helped their consistency the last three years."
But they were amped up to clinch the outright regular-season title at UMass on Sunday, and Crews believes there’s something special about winning a conference tournament title in New York.
Depending on how other conference tournaments play out, a potential quarterfinal between fourth-seeded Saint Joseph’s and fifth-seeded Dayton could serve as an NCAA play-in game. The Hawks (21-9, 11-5) swept the Flyers in the regular season and beat VCU at home, but they didn’t help themselves with a loss to La Salle in Sunday’s finale.
Dayton (22-9, 10-6) must play Thursday against George Mason or Fordham. The Flyers are hot, which the selection committee always likes to see. They’ve won nine of 10, including a road victory over Saint Louis. The only loss in that span: at Saint Joseph’s.
BROOKLYN’S OWN: UMass (23-7, 10-6) is seeded sixth, but with non-conference wins over New Mexico, Nebraska, BYU and Providence, the Minutemen appear assured of their first NCAA bid since 1998. They haven’t won the A-10 tournament since the 1996 Final Four team.
Senior guard Chaz Williams is headed home to Brooklyn for the conference tourney, where his team would need to win four games in four days for the title.
"It’s been a while since UMass had a conference title and that’s something that we want to go out with," he said. "Just making the tournament, just being ball players isn’t good enough for us."
VCU fans made the trip from Richmond — it’s a 5-hour drive — en masse for last year’s tournament, when the Rams lost to Saint Louis in the final. The more noise, the better for No. 23 VCU and its "Havoc" defense. The Rams (24-7, 12-4) are again seeded second behind the Billikens.
"I like hitting 3s and hearing the fans cheer for me," said sophomore guard Melvin Johnson, who hails from the Bronx, "and I knew I was going to potentially have that with all the black and gold there."
George Washington was eliminated Thursday at last year’s A-10 tournament when seeded 11th. Now the Colonials (23-7, 11-5) have a bye to Friday’s quarterfinals as the No. 3 seed and are in position for their first NCAA berth since 2007.
They got a huge boost from transfer guard Maurice Creek. He was able to play immediately after earning his degree from Indiana, where he had an injury-plagued career. The graduate student leads GW with 14.6 points per game.