Despite several defections since last season the Atlantic 10 Conference is a formidable circuit, according to league commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade and University of Dayton coach Archie Miller.
Since the end of last year, Xavier (Big East), Butler (Big East), Charlotte (Conference USA) and Temple (American) have gone to what they hope will be greener pastures.
“The Atlantic 10 is a historically strong conference,” McGlade said Tuesday during media day at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the site of the 2014 conference tournament. “Membership speaks for itself. We know who we are. I think we will stay grounded” as a basketball-centric conference.
That new membership includes George Mason, an annual contender in the Colonial Athletic Association that brought untold publicity to the conference with its magical Final Four run in 2006. The Flyers will play Feb. 5 at George Mason, where a Final Four banner hangs at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va.
La Salle made it to the Sweet 16 last season and four other teams from the Atlantic 10 that qualified for the NCAA tournament posted a win in the round of 64.
“When you look at the NCAA tourney, the last couple of years have been unprecedented” in the Atlantic 10 with postseason berths, Miller said. “Our teams are playing on big stages. I think you are going to have the chance of Sweet 16 teams” this year.
Closer to home: The move of George Mason from the CAA to the Atlantic 10 means a return to New York roots for Paul Hewitt, the second-year head coach of the Patriots. A former head coach at Georgia Tech, Hewitt attended high school on Long Island and played college ball at St. John Fisher in upstate New York.
Mason joins the Atlantic 10 one year after VCU, a former rival in the CAA. The Patriots play twice this season against George Washington, less than 20 miles away, a member of the Atlantic 10 since 1976.
“That is one of my concerns leaving the CAA, the natural rivals,” said Hewitt, noting annual battles with in-state foes James Madison and William & Mary in Virginia. “Now we go across the bridge to play GW. I am sure the building will be sold out. I love what (this move) has done” with nearby foes at GW, VCU and Richmond.
A new look: Miller is high on three incoming freshmen: guards Kyle Davis and Scoochie Smith and forward Kendall Pollard.
“They are going to have more experience and will be ready,” said Miller, noting the NCAA rules that allowed earlier practice sessions this year. “Watching our freshman class, they have a maturity about them. I think all of them have a bright future.”
Davis and Smith were top-125 national recruits while Pollard was a three-time state champion in high school in Chicago. Davis is from Chicago while Smith is from New York, which means he will get to play at home because every Atlantic 10 team makes the postseason tournament in Brooklyn in 2014.
Happy returns: Miller said senior forward Devin Oliver weighs about 25 to 30 pounds more than he did two seasons ago. He averaged 8.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game last season.
“His first year he was very limited offensively,” Miller said. “Last year he was much better but he is not a natural scorer.” Miller feels the added weight will make him more effective this season in the paint.
David Driver is a freelance writer who can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com