Whether or not your team has found success thus far, it’s tough to deny that the Atlantic 10, as a whole, has had a particularly rough non-conference showing. This league wants to assert itself as one of the better conferences in the nation. The A-10 isn’t likely to be up there with the Power 5s any time soon, but it has shown movements in the right direction in the past. This league had 6 teams make the Big Dance in 2014, and Dayton made a run all the way to the Elite 8. Just a year before, 5 teams made the tournament, and La Salle reached the Sweet 16.
Even though only 3 A-10 teams made the Big Dance last year, this league boasted some impressive non-conference wins. George Washington took down Virginia and Seton Hall. Dayton beat Monmouth, Iowa, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas. Richmond had wins over California and Northern Iowa while Saint Joseph’s beat Temple and Virginia Tech; heck, even George Mason beat Oklahoma State and Mississippi in the Charleston Classic at the start of the season. This league found a way to beat Power 5 teams with some consistency, and this is exactly what the Atlantic 10 needs if it wants to get multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament.
But this year has felt a lot different. For the most part, the Atlantic 10 has missed out on opportunities to score solid wins over beatable opponents. VCU led at the half against a very good Baylor team but ended losing by 8, and the Rams ended up losing to Illinois and Georgia Tech, both teams that they should’ve beaten. Rhode Island got a great win over a powerhouse team in Cincinnati, but the Rams failed to take down Houston, Providence, or Valparaiso on the road. Dayton’s lost to Nebraska and Saint Mary’s, Saint Joseph’s couldn’t beat Temple or NC State, and George Washington lost to both Georgia and UAB.
These are just a few of the games that the Atlantic 10 very well could’ve won but didn’t. It’s games like these that would give the conference that extra boost and start to build some respect for the league. But for whatever reason, this league has been falling short most times. In fact, this league is a mere 4-24 against current Kenpom Top 75 teams. Duquesne and George Mason each have 1 of these 4 wins, and it’s unlikely either team is going to make the NCAA Tournament (though George Mason has gotten hot, so I guess you never know).
Not to mention this league has suffered some horrible losses. Though it’s mostly the teams at the bottom, the Atlantic 10 has lost 7 games to teams that rank 200th or worse according to Kenpom. But even results like Bucknell over Richmond, Penn State over George Washington, and Texas Southern over La Salle have to leave us scratching our heads a little bit. This really won’t help the league’s case for multiple bids this season. For a league like the Atlantic 10, non-conference play means everything. Once A-10 play begins, it’s tough for any team to score a resume-building win when there are only two or three teams that are “worth” beating. Non-conference is when the Atlantic 10 can beat Power 5 teams and prove its worth as a national conference, but after what we’ve seen so far this season, it’s hard not to be a bit worried.
This could mean trouble when March Madness rolls around. St. Bonaventure showed us last season that winning this league isn’t enough to get you into the Big Dance. The Bonnies didn’t play or beat any tough opponents in the non-conference slate of their schedule, and as a result, they got left out of the field. Though many disagreed with the Selection Committee, we’re starting to see a noticeable trend: as a mid-major, you have to schedule and beat good teams to make it into the Big Dance. The Atlantic 10 has done a good job scheduling tough opponents this year, but teams are losing close games to beatable opponents and losing some embarrassing contests.
Without quality non-conference wins, the Atlantic 10 could be looking at a maximum of 2, maybe 3 bids this season. This is not the kid of step this conference wants to take. We want the Atlantic 10 to be a top-notch conference, not a stepping stone for mid-majors to eventually move up to better leagues. Without quality showings in non-conference play, it’s going to be tough to get there, and we’ve still got a few weeks until Atlantic 10 play begins, but I think I speak for all of us when we say this league has got to step it up.