Atlantic 10 Conference bashing has become a popular sport on Twitter — and for good reason. This is not the same conference that put six teams in the NCAA tournament in 2014 or even the conference that put three in the big dance last March.
“The Atlantic 10 can’t be losing home games to teams from the America East and Ivy League if it wants to have a chance at 3-4 NCAA bids annually,” wrote Jon Rothstein, of CBS Sports, in November. “EVERY loss matters.”
There is not a senior-dominated team lurking near the top 25 like Rhode Island last season or Dayton in 2017. None of the 14 A-10 teams have been ranked this season. None are receiving votes in the Associated Press poll with the start of conference play looming Thursday. The league is 0-14 against teams currently in the top 25.
EARLIER: Power rankings in early December
No A-10 team did enough in non-conference play to feel strong about its chances of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. That makes the 18-game conference schedule and the conference tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y., all the more important and interesting.
“The rest of the basketball world is mocking the state of the Atlantic 10 because with the possible exception of VCU, no team has put together anything resembling a worthy at-large résumé,” wrote Ken Pomeroy on The Athletic. “Thus you might view this as a dark period for the league. But the conference race is going to be more exciting than that of any other league in the country. It looks like a five-team scramble that could go any direction. I’d take that over a WCC snoozefest. So chin-up, A-10: You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
The Dayton Flyers dropped to ninth last season after winning or sharing the regular-season championship in back-to-back seasons and were picked to finish sixth this season, but based on their performance in non-conference play, they have to feel they can contend in the wide-open league race.
“I think this team can be really good,” said Dayton coach Anthony Grant on Saturday after a 94-90 victory against Georgia Southern. ” I think this team has the potential to compete for championships, but I’d be lying to myself and I’d be lying to you guys and our team if I didn’t tell them the truth in terms of what I’m seeing. If we can get back to being a team that’s hungry and being a team that goes out and competes for everything, being a team that really relies on each other in terms of the way we prepare and the way we go out and perform and do those things, yeah (we can compete).
“I think the conference is going to be really, really challenging. The little I have seen, we have a lot of really, really good teams in our league. Some of them, their records indicate that. Some, their records don’t. But I think it’ll be extremely competitive every night in this conference.”
Here’s a power ranking of the 14 teams entering the start of conference play:
1. Virginia Commonwealth (9-4, No. 70 Pomeroy, No. 57 NET): The Rams have a 35 percent chance of winning the conference, according to Pomeroy. They have three top-100 Pomeroy wins (No. 74 Temple, No. 84 Hofstra and No. 36 Texas) and have not lost to anyone outside the top 100. Defense has carried VCU. It leads the conference in scoring defense (62.3) and field-goal percentage defense (37.0) while ranking 12th in scoring offense (67.8) and last in field-goal percentage (39.8).
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2. Saint Louis (9-4, No. 81, No. 58): The preseason favorites have a 20 percent chance of winning the title. The Billikens also have three top-100 wins: No. 55 Seton Hall, No. 37 Butler and No. 77 Oregon State.
3. Davidson (9-4, No. 93, No. 106): The Wildcats have played without their top scorer, Kellan Grady, in the last four games. They’re 1-3 in those games with losses to Temple, No. 159 Wake Forest and No. 7 North Carolina. They have a 28 percent chance of winning the conference.
4. Dayton (8-5, No. 82, No. 72): The Flyers played five top-40 teams in a six-game stretch but beat only Butler. Their offense ranks 49th in the country in efficiency, but their defense ranks 128th. They have a 22 percent chance of winning the A-10.
5. Rhode Island (7-5, No. 104, No. 102): The defending A-10 regular-season champions have alternated wins and losses all season except for one two-game winning streak. They beat No. 50 West Virginia but also lost to No. 200 Hawaii.
NON-CONFERENCE REVIEW: Dayton’s best games, players, etc.
6. St. Joseph’s (7-5, No. 107, No. 118): The Hawks have two top-100 victories: No. 73 Old Dominion and No. 90 Loyola. They rank second in the nation in fewest turnovers (9.6 per game).
7. Duquesne (9-4, No. 175, No. 140): With a non-conference schedule that ranks 325th in the nation, the Dukes have piled up the wins. Their best victory came against No. 129 Marshall. They’re 0-3 against top-100 teams.
8. Massachusetts (7-6, No. 148, No. 163): The Minutemen have one-top 100 win: No. 59 Providence. Their worst loss was to No. 303 Howard. They lead the conference in points per game (79.2) and 3-point shooting percentage (36.4).
9. George Mason (6-7, No. 157, No. 182): The Patriots are 0-3 against the top 100 but almost recorded an upset in their last game, losing 59-58 to No. 35 Kansas State.
10. Richmond (6-7, No. 181, No. 209): The Spiders have not defeated anyone better than No. 159 Wake Forest and have four losses to teams ranked below 200.
11. St. Bonaventure (4-9, No. 164, No. 211): The Bonnies have two four-game losing streaks. Their best victory was against No. 221 Canisius.
» FOLLOW THE FLYERS: All the links you need for the season in one place
12. Fordham (9-4, No. 212, No. 199): The record is deceiving. Fordham has played the second-easiest schedule in the nation. It leads the A-10 in scoring margin (plus 10.2).
13. George Washington (4-9, No. 275, No. 290): The Colonials are 4-4 since an 0-5 start. They have not beaten a top-200 team.
14. La Salle (2-10, No. 239, No. 311): The Explorers ended an 0-10 start, which included five losses to top-100 teams, by beating Alabama A&M and Towson on back-to-back days.