My 19th season as an Atlantic 10 Fan

In anticipation of my Atlantic 10 team previews for the upcoming basketball season, I kindly ask that you read this before indulging yourself in the team preview pieces.

The excitement of November cannot come soon enough. The college basketball junkies have awakened from their summer slumbers in anticipation of the greatest sport in the world, ahead of the NFL. It’s my favorite group of people to interact with in person and on socials. The vibrant cast of personalities, coaches, players, and the notorious fans makes college athletics — especially basketball — my favorite environment in the entire world.

I have been attending Fordham University basketball games since my birth in September 2000. Initially, I began attending games in November of that same year, but my interest in A-10 basketball began to develop during the 2004-05 season. It was during this season that I became acquainted with a group of five talented freshmen at Fordham who indirectly influenced my decision to enroll at the university in 2019-20. My ultimate goal was to secure the position of play-by-play announcer for the Fordham men’s team on WFUV 90.7 FM, the most distinguished college radio station in America.

Fast forward to the 2022-23 season, my senior year of college, I fulfilled my dream. I was given the great honor of attending A-10 media day and talking with almost every head coach in the conference. For a season I got to spend time around the great Keith Urgo, picking his brain about the daily grind that is being a head coach of a college basketball team. He also is a great teacher to his players about Fordham’s Cura Personalis — it certainly rubbed off on me as I grew as a person. I also shared it with my fellow WFUV-ers as my burning passion for Fordham Men’s Basketball rubbed off on them, they got to see why I love it so much.

I called games this season that were extremely historic with tons of special events tied to them:

Early in the season, I voiced Fordham’s first two games of the Tom Konchalski Classic followed by interviewing Tom’s brother, Steve, and the great Bob Hurley Sr.

I called the Fordham vs Harvard matchup which was also the official enshrinement of the Frank McLaughlin Family court, who dedicated over six decades of his life to Fordham from student-athlete, assistant coach, to Athletic Director — a someone I can call a good friend and teacher of life.

The Saint Louis matchup was not only the rebirth of the student section, but the night “Rose Thrill” was born as Fordham played one of the most epic games in years — and won — posting their longest win streak (and win total) as an Atlantic 10 team since 2006-07. 

Their 20th win at Davidson, the first 20 win season as an Atlantic 10 program and their first triumph of the Wildcats since 2017.

By a stroke of luck, not only was this one of the greatest Fordham seasons ever, but their greatest team from 1970-71 came back for a retirement of the sensational Charlie Yelverton and his no.34 up to the Rose Hill rafters. 

And of course, the epic semi-final game against Dayton. The first semi-final appearance since 2006 with the WFUV crew climbing aboard for the culminating broadcast of a phenomenal year.

My fandom for this conference was always strong, but went to a new level the last two seasons.

I spent a full season as a member of the college basketball media and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. Everything that happened this year allowed me to whet my appetite for what life is like while being a college senior. For the first time in over a decade, the Atlantic 10 was fun. 

In the 2000’s my father and I had a rule: if you were ever unsure of who to pick to win the conference, pick Temple or Xavier. No more is the Cintas Center in this conference, Xavier is now a Big East power. Temple’s move to the American hasn’t gone so hot — the Liacouras Center is no longer “The Apollo of Temple”, rather it’s lucky to fill up the lower bowl.

What makes this very disheartening is that without Coach John Chaney, Temple isn’t a national brand for basketball. And without Temple, the conference would never have become recognized like it is when people discuss the Atlantic 10.

Coach Chaney is the greatest mid-major coach in my estimation. He is Atlantic 10 basketball and wanted to stay at Temple when he easily could’ve left for better jobs. But not only that, he was an exceptional man with a raging passion for his players. He’s had his share of controversies between Calipari, the 2005 game against Joe’s when he ordered a hard foul, or his character-like nature that people observed from afar.

But Coach Chaney wanted to help young boys grow into responsible men who went into the world to do good. This conference never had anyone like him before, and maybe never have someone like him again.

I never looked forward to when Fordham played Temple, it was never fun because they beat them so much. However, they were always a classy team, not boisterous and annoying but tough and competitive. When the Owls packed it up for the American, a piece of the conference was missing and everyone who wants the conference to do well knows that both parties need eachother.

This truth cannot be ignored with my beloved Atlantic 10: the conference has lost its way in basketball a little last 10 years or so.

Gone are the 2000’s when it was the premiere non-power six in the nation as now the struggle to send two teams to the tournament is very much real. 2021-22 was on pace to be another single bid league until Richmond stole the show with Chris Mooney, the longest tenured coach in the conference.

2022-23 was a season of optimism: Dayton began the preseason in the top 25, everyone was super high on Saint Louis, VCU, and the traditional basement dwellers were starting to emerge from the sewer with Pennywise. 

It felt like the late 2000’s again with the coaches: We had a Miller brother (Archie), Mooney and Mark Schmidt were still at Richmond and St. Bonaventure. Fordham had the chance to be really good with an up-and-coming program, Saint Joe’s had the most talented team in sometime, Travis Ford was still here but held his post at Saint Louis instead of UMass, and the legend Fran Dunphy was back but at his alma mater of La Salle.  

Unfortunately, the multi-bid dream didn’t last long as the conference tournament winner was the lone representative in the NCAA tournament. 

Where I guess I’m trying to get at is this: forecasting this conference for 2023-24 is going to perhaps be the most challenging year to do so in my lifetime. There is no alpha team, no clear-cut “lock them in to win” this year at all. 

My top four specifically is assembled as very loose: all four of those teams I think have even odds to win the A-10 title for different reasons. The 1-6 six spots are between a littnay of teams, as many as eight possible programs (in my estimation) can obtain a top six spot. The middle part of the conference will be strong as well with a number of teams jostling for those spots. Even the pillow fight is going to be a battle, some of those teams boast competitive cores that will make for a good competition in the conference.

But when you read these, please keep in mind that these coaches are all good people. At media day they are nice enough to sit and answer all of our questions. They do get critiqued and people have opinions of them that I am sure aren’t pleasant, but these guys have a responsibility to the young men they coach to prepare them for the next stage of life.

We also love the players, we see them as ambassadors for their schools. There is animosity in college basketball, college students can act out, and there are going to be fights, but this is at the end of the day, this is a game. The players are also kids. Expectations will be set, but don’t paint a target on anyone’s back for the wrong reasons.

I want my team previews to be a la carte: you’re going to get the whole menu from my perspective. The goal isn’t to trash anyone or give into the bias. It’s to share with you my opinion, give some of the newer fans thinking material, and an attempt to read the tea leaves of what could happen.

Remember, just be classy with your fellow A-10 fans and generate a healthy competitive banter. My love for basketball started with the A-10 and it will remain that way, I consider myself a lucky man to write about this conference on this platform with such great writers. I believe that one day we can get this conference back to where it once was, and I know the folks in charge want that to happen and I stand fully by them.

Now, onto the 2023-24 team previews (and season) with much love,

-Thomas Aiello