Bracketology 101 Exam Week: The Atlantic 10

Heading into the 2011-12 season, it was expected that Xavier and Temple would dominate the Atlantic 10, as is now expected. A month into the season, it's clear the Musketeers and Owls may face significant challenges from Saint Louis, Dayton, and probably St. Joseph's. However, note my use of the verb "may" in that previous sentence. As we head into the conference season, it's important to remember that the 16-game Atlantic 10 grind is one of the most unpredictable league campaigns in the country--one that's perfectly capable of turning potential contenders into pretenders. After the jump, I'll look at what the 14 teams in the A-10 have accomplished since November--things they all hope are not forgotten come Selection Sunday.

For other posts in this series, visit the Bracketology 101 Exam Week 2011-12 section.

Records are accurate as of 12/15/2011.

Passing

Xavier Musketeers (8-0)
The Musketeers have been in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons since Saturday, which is a shame and tremendous disappointment, because Chris Mack's club had been one of the real standout performers of the season so far, looking like a good bet for a protected seed after grabbing wins at Vanderbilt and Purdue, and over Georgia, Purdue (after an epic comeback), and yes, Cincinnati at home. Xavier now will try to finish its main non-conference slate with some key performers being unavailable for a few of the contests. Tu Holloway will miss Sunday's tricky home game with Oral Roberts, while Mark Lyons will also be out for X's first game in the Diamond Head Classic, a titanic mid-major matchup with Long Beach State. Landon Amos and Dezmine Wells must sit on Sunday and in all three games in Hawai'i. Considering how the freshman Wells has played so far this season, his prolonged absence could be an issue in an event the Musketeers will enter as a favorite. The whole team should be intact for New Year's Eve's home game with Gonzaga, the final contest before A-10 play begins. However, it won't be the last non-conference game Xavier plays this season, as they travel to Memphis on February 4th. That contest might have major seeding implications. The Musketeers play Charlotte, Dayton, and Saint Louis twice in the conference, but I'm honestly a bit sad we're deprived of two Temple-Xavier games this time around.

Saint Louis Billikens (9-1, 8-1 vs. Division I)
In a one week span in late November, the Billikens announced their intention to be Xavier's chief competition in the A-10 race, as they torched Washington at Chaifetz Arena before traveling to Anaheim, where they blew through the 76 Classic field. Saint Louis got off track briefly after claiming the trophy, when they lost at Loyola Marymount before returning home. One factor that works against the Billikens is that none of the four major-conference foes they defeated between November 20 and 27--the Huskies, Boston College, Villanova, and Oklahoma--are anything close to an NCAA lock at the moment, so if they struggle in the conference season, they'll need some help to actually land an at-large. Rick Majerus' club has one last chance out of the league, as they visit New Mexico, a team they missed in Anaheim on New Year's Eve. Four days later, the Atlantic 10 season begins with a trip to Dayton. In conference play, Saint Louis will get the chance to pick up a few more quality wins, as they play the Flyers and Xavier (and Duquesne) twice.

Temple Owls (6-2)
The Owls have flown slightly under the radar this season, claiming third place in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off by bookending a semifinal loss to Purdue with victories over Western Michigan and Missouri Valley co-favorite Wichita State. Currently, Fran Dunphy's team is without forward Micheal Eric, who reinjured his right patella on November 25th. The Owls have won three of four without him, dropping a game at Bowling Green before rattling off three wins in a row, including a home Big 5 triumph over Villanova on Saturday. Temple has six non-conference games left, with Saturday's trip to Texas and a January 4th contest against Duke at the Wells Fargo Center, their final chances at grabbing a major non-conference scalp. However, the Owls will likely not be able to consider a game against Maryland at the Palestra on January 21st as a quality win opportunity. Basically, it looks like Temple should be in good shape with a decent A-10 season. Two games against St. Joseph's during conference play could provide a boost, but the team will need to avoid the dreaded bad loss in pairs of games against Fordham and La Salle.

Needs Improvement

Dayton Flyers (7-3)
Much like Saint Louis, the Flyers stumbled after claiming an early season tournament with a lackluster field. Dayton won the Old Spice Classic trophy by sneaking past Wake Forest and Fairfield and pummeling Minnesota, but they followed those three wins with two awful performances--a 29-point home loss to Buffalo and a 17-point loss at Murray State (bad only because of the spread, as the Racers are a legitimate team). However, Archie Miller's team looks to be back on track thanks to last Wednesday's impressive home win over an Alabama team that will contend in the SEC. Dayton has four non-league games left, all at home, with visits from middle of the pack power conference teams (Seton Hall and Mississippi) the biggest hurdles to overcome. Losses in any of those contests could slow momentum heading into the 16-game Atlantic 10 season, where the Flyers will see archrival Xavier, Saint Louis, and Duquesne twice.

St. Joseph's Hawks (7-3)
On Saturday, the Hawks picked up their biggest victory of the season, as they took out Missouri Valley contender Creighton with surprisingly little trouble. Phil Martelli's team needed that win to boost a profile that features a nice win total, but no real standout wins. Victories over teams like Georgia Tech and Penn State don't look like they'll mean much in March, while Drexel and Tulsa have really struggled. Plus, St. Joe's has not played well on the road, beating Western Kentucky, but losing to Iona (in double OT) and American. Of the Hawks final four non-conference games, the first and last contests stand out--they host on Villanova Saturday and visit Harvard on New Year's Eve. Wins in both of those games could provide a profile boost. In the A-10, the surprising Hawks face UMass, Richmond, and Temple twice.

Massachuetts Minutemen (8-3), La Salle Explorers (7-3), Richmond Spiders (6-4), Charlotte 49ers (6-2), Duquesne Dukes (6-4, 5-4 vs. Division I)
This quintet has managed to rack up a combined 32-15 mark against Division I opposition, despite not picking up any wins that will impact selection. True, Richmond and UMass have each grabbed a pair of Red Line Upsets--the Spiders over Rutgers and Wake Forest; and the Minutemen over Boston College and Utah, while Duquesne defeated Penn State on Saturday, but a win over a bad opponent with a significant financial advantage won't necessarily help a team's case in the Selection Committee's deliberations. At the moment, it looks like the two best wins this group has claimed are Charlotte's home win over Davidson (Richmond lost there on November 14th and UMass hosts them on December 22nd) and Duquesne's 2K Sports Classic win over Akron (at Valparaiso). While Richmond still has games at Bucknell and UCLA and against Old Dominion and Charlotte hosts Miami before visiting Arkansas and Memphis, all five of these teams need to mount a serious run through the A-10 to move into the at-large conversation.

Failing

St. Bonaventure Bonnies (4-4), George Washington Colonials (4-5), Fordham Rams (4-5), Rhode Island Rams (1-9)
Out of this group, the Bonnies have the most to regret, as all four of their losses came by nine or less, with a three-point overtime loss at Cleveland State and last Wednesday's five-point setback at Illinois (in a truly awful game to watch) the most painful. George Washington is going through the usual transitions of a coaching change; Fordham is as bad as expected, while Rhode Island is having an uncharacteristically difficult season. The best these four can hope for is to pull a surprise here and there (though I suspect the Bonnies could pull several) during the Atlantic 10 campaign.

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