The VCU Rams are looking for their sixth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, a streak that began in 2011 when the then-CAA team went from First 4 to Final 4. It was a run that almost never happened however, as the Rams’ NCAA resume had some serious flaws, namely two conference road losses to sub-175 RPI teams. The Rams lost a January 3 contest at Georgia State then later fell to Bill Coen’s Northeastern squad, both double-digit losses. The Panthers would finish that season with an RPI of 225 while the Huskies would check in at No.177.
That year’s committee however rewarded VCU for a few big wins away from home and the rest is NCAA history. They were able to eek into the 2011 Tournament as one of the last four selections and made history with the opportunity.
This year’s VCU Rams find themselves in the same boat, as the black and gold own four top-100 road wins, two of which are top-50, but have two RPI-dragging losses against No.175 UMass and No.190 George Mason.
The Rams aren’t the only A-10 squad to slip on a conference banana peel this season, with George Washington and St. Bonaventure, two NCAA bubble teams themselves, hitting Atlantic 10 land mines in the form of losses at Saint Louis and La Salle. That makes a total of four A-10 bottom-feeders that have tripped up tournament hopefuls this season.
Those losses could play a major roll in limiting the Atlantic 10’s bids this year, as both ESPN and CBS’ bracketologists have the trio of VCU, St. Bonaventure and GW firmly on the bubble, ESPN with the Rams in and Bonnies and Colonials out, CBS giving the Bonnies one of their last at-large bids while both VCU and GW currently reside in their “first four out”.
So with that and my love for the topic of conference realignment/expansion, I come to you with my coffee-induced idea of the day: A 20-team A-10 that, like European soccer leagues (or as they call themselves, “football” leagues), utilizes a promotion/relegation system that helps your conference avoid bad losses while increasing the conference footprint and viewership.
Crazy idea? Perhaps.
HERE’S HOW IT WORKS
A-10 Series A
Your Atlantic 10 Series A teams are made up of the 10 teams with the best RPIs from the previous season. Yes, teams can have major drop-offs in success from one year to the next (see: Saint Louis from 2014 to 2015) while other teams take big steps forward (Saint Joseph’s last year to this year), but more often than not this will reward the consistent programs with a higher level of competition and improved RPIs. It also in theory would make for more marquee Atlantic 10 television match-ups thanks to a round-robin conference schedule.
A-10 Series B
These are your bottom 10 teams, all fighting to earn their way into the following season’s Series A as well as that season’s conference tournament. Your top teams in this group might not have faired well in Series A, but they are able to rack up more wins throughout the regular season (fans dig that) before the top-four join all 10 of the Series A teams in that season’s conference tournament. Those four enter that season’s conference championship as the 11-14 seeds in the same A-10 Tournament setup as we currently have.
Basically what you do with this setup is add more teams without diluting the competition for the conference’s revenue generating sport.
WHO GETS INVITED?
Let’s be real, the Big East ain’t merging with the A-10, so forget that right from the jump. Same goes for the AAC. That conference exists because of football and they aren’t about to change direction anytime soon. So that means the A-10 will have to “do what it do” by continuing to add basketball programs that could thrive in a better conference. We need six of those. And here would be my suggestions.
WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS
The Shockers consistently pack WSU’s 10,506-seat arena and compete on a national level despite playing in the Missouri Valley Conference. They would be a big draw every time they hit an opposing team’s A-10 arena, just as VCU and Dayton have been, and add another marquee program to the A-10 conference. They have been consistently good for years and with one of the nation’s hottest coaches under a $3-million contract, will only build upon that success. Geographical outlier? Sure. But we already have Saint Louis and that seems to be working out alright. The Shockers are by far the best team the A-10 could add without stretching all the way to the West Coast with a Gonzaga addition.
An obvious addition to our 20-team Atlantic 10, the Saints from Albany, New York are an easy choice based off location and the passion their fans have for Saints basketball. Siena is averaging over 6,500 fans to their home games this season as the third-place MAAC team, a number that would be sure to rise with home games over their new A-10 foes, even if competing in Series B. They’ve had recent NCAA tournament success and have a nice ceiling as an Atlantic 10 team.
For starters, you add Wilmington, NC to the conference footprint, which is huge to my guy Michael Litos. A beach town with a passionate fan base, the Seahawks would add a nice rivalry with Davidson if the two found themselves in the same division on a given year or as A-10 tournament foes, as well as a renewed rivalry with the likes of VCU and George Mason who used to compete with UNCW atop the CAA. They are currently back to respectability under head coach Kevin Keats, tied atop the CAA with Hofstra and currently lead the Colonial in attendance at 4199 fans per game, which would put them at seventh in our current Atlantic 10. That number goes up as well with more marquee games on the calendar, even if it’s against Series B A-10 competition.
A hoops program with some recent success, historical success and a passionate fanbase? I think you get all of that with Valpo. The Crusaders seem to match what the A-10 has done with their recent additions of Davidson, George Mason, VCU and Butler and I think would be a good fit in the Atlantic 10. They currently rank 44th in the RPI under fifth-year head coach Bryce Drew, a Valpo legend himself as a player, not to mention a grad of Valparaiso High School, leading me to believe he could stick at his alma mater for some time and has a better chance of doing so if the Crusaders join a better conference.
The Bruins have played in the NCAA tournament in seven of the past 10 seasons. That’s the type of team the Atlantic 10 needs to add to my new expanded conference. But perhaps what I like most about Belmont is their Nashville location. Wichita, Kansas and Valparaiso, Indiana probably aren’t the most attractive away game destinations for A-10 fans, so you need to balance that out with the likes of Wilmington, North Carolina and Nashville, Tennessee. Good basketball with a side of live country music, beer and BBQ? I could get into that.
More western expansion for the conference with yet another Missouri Valley add, but there’s no denying the success of the Panthers. Head Coach Ben Jacobson has been at UNI since 2006, finishing in the MVC’s top-five in all 10 seasons and has advanced to the NCAA tournament in three of those season, making the Sweet 16 in 2010 with a memorable win over Kansas. Those are the types of programs the A-10 adds, even if we need to reach a bit West to do so.
WHAT THAT CONFERENCE WOULD LOOK LIKE
Let’s pretend today was the final day of the college hoops season, “One Shining Moment” has just been played, a trophy has been raised and we’re setting our new Atlantic 10 Series A and B “divisions”. Next season would start with the following two-team divisions.
2016-17 A-10 SERIES A
DAYTON, SAINT JOSEPH’S, ST. BONAVENTURE, WICHITA STATE, VALPO, VCU, GEORGE WASHINGTON, UNCW, DAVIDSON, BELMONT
2016-17 A-10 SERIES B
NORTHERN IOWA, SIENA, RHODE ISLAND, RICHMOND, DUQUESNE, UMASS, FORDHAM, GEORGE MASON, SAINT LOUIS, LA SALLE
Both leagues would be a battle.
Series A would offer up some must-see college basketball matchups that could garner more ESPN attention, not to mention better RPI opportunities, while Series B would provide more competitive balance for teams that would usually be in the bottom of the league with not much hope of a successful conference season.
Take for example Fordham. The Rams are 6-10 in the current Atlantic 10 but have six losses to teams that would be in the upper division of this proposed conference. The Richmond Spiders are 7-10 as of this blog post in the current A-10 but own eight losses to teams in this proposed league’s Series A division. Under college basketball’s first relegating/promoting league, both could potentially win more games, draw more fans, and work their way into any given year’s conference tournament and eventually back into Series A.
Don’t like the division you’re in? Win games. Can’t hang with the big boys? Beat up on the bottom half for a while, you’ll get back to the top. And how about a potential Cinderella conference tournament run from a sleeper No.11 seed in Northern Iowa, or the ultimate Cinderella, No.14 Richmond.
Crazy idea? Brilliant idea? Both?
Let us know how you would improve the Atlantic 10 by joining the discussion in our forum here.