Building an At-Large Resume
I do not miss the Horizon League. Sure, I miss having free streaming video of nearly every game. I also miss quick and easy road trips.
But that’s it.
I certainly don’t miss is being in a league where a loss or two can kill a resume that is otherwise worthy of an at-large bid. It makes for a long and stressful conference season because every other team in the league is going to give you their absolute best shot because you’re not just the team to beat, but you’re the only team to beat. The other coaches are going to spend more time getting their team ready for you than any other team they’ll play in January of February because you are their last shot to get a marquee win for the season, barring an unexpected postseason appearance.
I’m happy to be out of there. Now I’ll get to watch conference games without worrying about every single loss. No longer will second-place be a dire situation. However, while a middle-of-the-pack finish won’t keep you out of the big dance, neither will it get you into the dance.
Call me a pessimist.
The A10 is good. Damn good. We know it. Some analysts know it, too. Unfortunately, it’ll still be a while before everyone on the selection committee holds the A10 with the same esteem as the ACC, SEC, and Big Ten. That means that, for now, we can’t build an at-large resume with our best wins being in conference play. We’ve got to win marquee games in November and December, but some teams don’t even have the schedule to get an at-large bid or have already lost too many games (Charlotte, Duquesne, Fordham, George Washington, La Salle, Rhode Island, and St. Bonaventure). Other teams? Decide for yourself.
The Bulldogs have a loss to Xavier, but a loss in a rivalry game, especially at the beginning of the season, is forgivable if everything else looks good. And it does look good with wins against Marquette and #9 UNC. Beyond that, the Bulldogs still have opportunities to prove themselves, playing tonight against Illinois, at Northwestern (12/8), vs. #1 Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (12/15), at Vanderbilt (12/29), and they will host Gonzaga (1/19). Even if they win just two of the remaining games, it might be enough as long as they finish in the top six in A10 play.
Dayton has two wins over BCS competition: Auburn (SEC) and Boston College (ACC). Granted, they’re not wins against blue bloods, but they’re wins nonetheless. Unfortunately, the Flyers don’t have many other opportunities to show that they deserve to dance. They play at Alabama (12/5), host Murray State (12/22), and at USC (12/30). Those could be quality wins, but they won’t be against perennial powerhouses. The Flyers have to hope their opponents have good seasons or it will be another NIT appearance.
The Minutemen had the schedule for an at-large. Then they lost to #6 NC State by 18 and unranked Tennessee by 14. The best of the rest of their schedule is Siena, Miami (FL), and Ohio. It’s early in the season, but UMass is running out of opportunities. They need to win almost every out-of-conference game they have left or they’ll have to have nearly a perfect record in the conference.
It’s unlikely Richmond is an at-large team this year. With a 15 point loss to Minnesota, it doesn’t look like the Spiders have what it takes to get many marquee wins this season. They’ve still got some decent opponents, playing Ohio (11/24), Wake Forest (12/1), Old Dominion (12/4), Kansas (12/18), and George Mason (12/22). Unfortunately, unless those teams are having down years, it doesn’t appear likely that Richmond will get the necessary Ws.
The Hawks have one of the conference’s two best wins, beating #20 Notre Dame 79-70 in OT. However, they turned around and lost to unranked Florida State. I still expect them to be in the discussion at the end of the season, so long as they pass their tests against Creighton (12/1) and Villanova (12/10).
It’s no secret that the Billikens are struggling without Kwamain Mitchell. It’s unfortunate because they’ve only got a few opportunities for quality wins before A10 play starts. They need to win at Washington (11/28) and New Mexico (12/31) and make sure they don’t lose to the lesser competition that dominates the rest of their schedule.
I haven’t been able to get a read on the Owls yet. They had a convincing win over Kent State but won’t have a true test until they play Villanova (12/5) and Duke (12/8). They’ll also be going up against Syracuse (12/22) and Kansas (1/6).
VCU had a respectable loss to Wichita State. They’ve also got a couple of lopsided victories. The rest of their schedule gives them plenty of chances to show that they can live up to the hype that surrounded them in the preseason, including an incredible field in the Battle 4 Atlantis (Duke, Louisville, Memphis, Missouri, etc.). If they go 2-1 in that tournament, they’ll likely be dancing in March.
The musketeers have a 3-0 record, but they haven’t seen the toughest competition yet. Other than their strong win over Butler, they’ve got a lopsided win against Fairleigh Dickinson, and a win against Robert Morris that was too close for comfort. If Chris Mack can get his players to be more consistent, then they’ll be able to handle the rest of their excellent schedule, including Purdue (12/1), Vanderbilt (12/6), Kent State (12/9), Cincinnati (12/19), Tennessee (12/29), Wake Forest (1/2), and Memphis (2/26). With that schedule, this young team will have to grow up quickly.
Although I didn’t hear it myself because I didn’t watch the SLU/Kansas matchup, I read that Jay Williams was calling for 7 to 8 teams from the A10 to get into the tournament. Respectfully, I disagree. The nine above teams are the only teams that have the schedule to get them into the big dance. Even with the schedule, I just don’t see more than five A10 teams dancing. Hopefully I’m wrong.
My Thanksgiving prediction: