Mid-Major No Longer: Atlantic-10 Bracketology

Ben AikeyCorrespondent IFebruary 1, 2010

In a year when a few of the major conferences (I’m looking at you, ACC and Pac-10) are falling apart at the seams, the Atlantic-10 is making the jump from mid-major to household name. Bracketologists everywhere are calling for four or five teams from the A-10 to make the tournament.

And for once, they’re right.

For those unfamiliar with the Atlantic-10, the conference has been on the rise for the last few years. Last year, for example, the A-10 had three tournament bids—the same as the SEC and one more than the Mountain West. The year before was the same case, with the A-10 receiving three invites to the Big Dance.

And it’s not just fluke bids either. Xavier reached the Sweet 16 each year. In 2004, St Joseph’s missed a trip to the Final Four by two points in a four-bid season for the Atlantic-10.

Starting to recognize a pattern? This is a conference that doesn’t get a lot of media attention during the regular season, but consistently puts up multiple bids and make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.

This year should be no different. The following are my picks to be named as one of the lucky 65.

In spite of dropping three out of four to begin the calendar year, Charlotte has rebounded with five straight wins, and is living up to their potential as the class of the conference. They dominated at Louisville in December, and just last week smacked Temple around at the friendly confines of Halton Arena.

With sophomore guard Derrio Green hitting his stride (10 straight games in double-digit scoring and his ability to hit clutch shots at long-range) and big men Shamari Spears and Chris Braswell establishing themselves as forces in the post, one thing is certain—the 49ers are for real. Don’t be shocked if the 49ers advance to the second round for the first time since 2001.

The Temple Owls are traditionally a strong program, having been coached for years by the legendary John Chaney from 1982-2006. Having shocked their way into the last two NCAA Tournaments by winning the Atlantic-10 conference tournament, the Owls look this year to get into the Big Dance because of a great regular season instead of a fluke victory.

The Owls have lost only four games this season, and to be fair, two of them were against collegiate powerhouses Kansas (84-52) and Georgetown (a one-point heartbreaker, 46-45). After dropping last Wednesday’s game in Charlotte, Temple seems to be back on track, defeating a struggling LaSalle team by 12.

Temple doesn’t have to play Xavier or Charlotte again this regular season, and as a result, should be able to coast the rest of the way into the postseason. If the Owls don’t win a first-round game, chalk this season up as a disappointment.

Xavier may have struggled out of conference, but they’re at the top of the Atlantic-10 conference, posting a 7-1 record so far. However, without a signature non-conference win and several non-conference losses (most notably Butler, the most overrated team in the nation, and Wake Forest in overtime), it’s hard to say the Musketeers are as good as advertised.

Yes, they beat Charlotte and Rhode Island by double digits, but I’m just not sold on Xavier this year. I’ve picked against them time and time again this year, and they always seem to prove me wrong. Still, in the first year of a new era after former coach Sean Miller left for Arizona, this team just doesn’t feel like it has the same swagger.

Xavier will certainly make the tourney at this pace, but don’t expect them to go anywhere.

Two out of Rhode Island’s three losses have come to Xavier and Temple. The other came to a very decent VCU team.  The rest of their schedule contains some tough games, including a tough trip to Philadelphia to face Temple and hosting both Charlotte and Richmond. The second half of the conference schedule will make or break Rhode Island, but in the end, I think they become the fourth Atlantic-10 team in the field of 65.

Having defeated Missouri, Old Dominion, and Florida (all probable NCAA tournament or NIT teams) certainly gives Richmond the upper hand in the conference as far as non-conference schedules go. But will they put up a strong enough conference resume to sneak into the tournament?

The Spiders already dropped one game to Charlotte (at home and by double digits), and they end their season in the Queen City as well, which could kill any momentum Richmond has built up. They also have road games at Xavier and Rhode Island coming up, and a home game against Temple.

I really think Richmond needs to win three out of those four key matchups if they want to bypass the NIT for the more prestigious postseason tournament. If that doesn’t happen, there’s always winning the Atlantic-10 tournament. I’m just not sure they have it in them at this point. Richmond may be one of the first four out on Selection Sunday.