Post-Super Bowl cram session: The A-10, where the top isn't far from the bottom
ST. LOUIS -- As Saint Louis coach Jim Crews has pointed out, despite the won-loss records, there isn't much difference between the top and bottom teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
And today there's even less difference than yesterday.
The undisputed top team in the conference, VCU, has been diminished considerably because of injuries to its two best players. First, Briante Weber was lost for the season last Saturday to an ACL injury. Then on Wednesday night, Treveon Graham -- SLU fans remember him for his last-second, game-winning drive -- aggravated an ankle injury at George Mason and joined Weber on the sideline. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Graham was wearing a brace when he left the locker room after the game.
Without the two seniors, VCU (18-4, 8-1) will be even harder pressed to maintain its superiority in the conference. And if VCU is without its best players, beating the Rams won't carry quite the significance in the RPI and even could impact the number of teams the conference sends to the tournament.
That remains to be seen, of course, as does just about everything in the Atlantic 10. With the second half of the 18-game league season just getting underway this week, here's a breakdown of what still needs to be determined.
YOUR ATLANTIC 10 POST-SUPER BOWL PRIMER
How many A-10 teams will make the field of 68? This is virtually certain: Not as many as last year, when six teams were invited. VCU, No. 9 in the RPI, still is safe, though earning a top-four seed -- its current projection -- is far from secure. The Rams, however, could get Graham back as soon as Saturday when they visit St. Bonaventure.
The latest projected brackets on foxsports.com, ESPN.com and cbssports.com have only one other A-10 team, Dayton, joining the Rams.
Massachusetts, George Washington, Richmond, Rhode Island and Davidson all are ranked among the top 68 in RPI and remain in the tournament picture. It would not be surprising to see one of these teams join VCU and Dayton. It would, however, be surprising to see more than one.
Which team has the best chance of catching VCU? That's easy. Dayton (8-1 in conference) trails by only one game in the standings and plays at VCU at the end of the month.
Keep an eye also on Richmond, which won at VCU last Saturday and is 5-3 in the A-10. The Spiders, who also have another date with VCU, have lost only twice in their past seven games, and both defeats were by just three points.
What about Player of the Year? This would be easy if Saint Joseph's forward DeAndre' Bembry played for a team in the top half of the standings. He is the conference's leading scorer and one of only six players in the nation who leads his team in points, rebounds, assists and steals. But Bembry's chances figure to be hurt because of the Hawks' poor place in the A-10 standings.
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If VCU's Graham can stay on the floor, he would be the favorite. He is the leading scorer and rebounder on the top team and the man coach Shaka Smart wants to have the ball at the end of tight games.
Dayton senior guard Jordan Sibert also will warrant consideration. He leads the Flyers with a 16.5-point scoring average and is shooting 52.9 percent in conference play.
So what about the Billikens? At 9-12, 2-7, it's safe to say the Billikens won't be making a fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. Their best bet for any postseason laurels rests on freshman Milik Yarbrough, who is in the running for Newcomer of the Year honors. Yarbrough leads his team in scoring and rebounding, is shooting 49.2 percent and has the best all-around numbers of any A-10 freshman.
SLU still has games remaining with all the teams residing in its neighborhood in the lower third of the 14-team standings. The Billikens play at Fordham (0-9) and Duquesne (2-7) but get George Mason (2-7) at home.
Of course, as Crews will tell you, beating the bottom-feeders in the A-10 is as tough as taking on the top teams.