Growing up 15 minutes away from Wake Forest University and in the heart of ACC country, I watched the ACC-Big Ten Challenge faithfully as a child, year after year. Usually played the week after Thanksgiving, the in-season series provides fans with a phenomenal way to gauge a conference’s strength early on into the year, as well as an opportunity to catch some marquee matchups between storied programs.
Introduced in 1999, ESPN holds all of the broadcasting rights to the challenge’s games, and the recurrent competition between the conferences has led to sustained national popularity. Due to the challenge’s success, other conferences have followed suit in introducing analogous inter-conference partnerships. Examples are the Big 12/SEC Challenge and the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge.
Though fans of the Atlantic 10 take pride in being one of the nation’s premier mid-major conferences, the A10 lacks an event that allows fans an opportunity to see how the conference stacks up in direct competition with other leagues.
While the A10 is commonly compared to the West Coast Conference, it becomes evident after further enquiry that the A10 is vastly deeper than the WCC. After top teams Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU, the A10 is a far superior conference as a whole when compared to that of the WCC.
The elimination of the WCC from the list of potential adversaries in an inter-conference challenge leaves the A10 without a palpably reasonable opponent that isn’t already in a committed inter-league competition.
With the MVC’s premier program, Wichita State, departing recently to become the newest member of the American Athletic Conference, the MVC’s basketball repute is left reeling, with Illinois State as it’s only remaining member with 20 or more wins last season.
This thinking led me to beg the question: Would the A10 be more fit to face the MWC in an in-season series than the MVC is?
Since the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge has existed, from 2009-12 and 2015-present, the series has been ruled by the MWC. In the six years of competition, the MWC holds a 3-1-2 record.
More remarkably, the only MVC team with a winning record in the series is Wichita State at 5-1. However, the Shockers now belong to AAC. Every other program within the MVC either sits at the .500 mark or has a losing record in the series.
It should be noted that following the departure of Wichita State, the MVC added Valparaiso, a perennial contender in their previous conference, The Horizon League. While the Crusaders do boast impressive victories over both BYU and Rhode Island from last season, trading Wichita State for Valparaiso damages the eminence of the MVC.
Considering the minimal recent demise of the MVC, I began to wonder whether the A10 would be more fit to face the Mountain West in an in-season contest.
So, hypothetically speaking, what would this A10-MWC Challenge look like?
In trying to get an idea of how the A10 and MWC would stack up against each other, I paired each of the following matchups by last season’s standings.
Game 1: Nevada vs. Dayton
In this matchup of top teams, I’ve got Nevada knocking off the Flyers. While Dayton will certainly rebound from the departure of head coach Archie Miller, the Flyers will likely face a bit of an immediate regression. Meanwhile, Nevada has much forward momentum, as coach Eric Musselman returns an experienced roster from a successful, 28-win season last year. The Wolf Pack will be further aided by the additions of twin NC State transfers, Cody and Caleb Martin, on the wing.
Game 2: Colorado State vs. VCU
Though the Rams lost coach Will Wade to LSU this offseason, Mike Rhoades hasn’t missed a beat since he’s taken over as the head coach of VCU. Rhoades has recruited well, and the Rams have a solid returning roster from last year’s team, led by forward Justin Tillman. While Colorado State had a strong year last year, expect VCU to prevail in this one. The loss of high-scoring guard Gian Clavell hurts CSU severely.
Game 3: Boise State vs. Rhode Island
As we make our way down the standings for both of these respective conferences, we begin to see the discrepancy in talent that exists between the A10 and the MWC. While the Broncos had a solid season last year that ended with a loss to Illinois in the second round of the NIT, Rhody would be simply too much for Boise State in this matchup. The Broncos do have star forward Chandler Hutchison (17.4 ppg/7.8 rbg), and the Broncos would surely focus on attacking the interior against a Rams team that’s losing both Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson to graduation. Nevertheless, the Broncos are just too overmatched to run with the A10 Champs.
Game 4: Fresno State vs. St. Bonaventure
Due to the departure of T.J. Cline from Richmond and the optimism that surrounds the Bonnies heading into next season, I substituted SBU for Richmond for this matchup.
In an intriguing matchup of promising programs, Fresno State and do-it-all guard Jaron Hopkins faceoff with the Bonnies and the talented guard tandem of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. An extremely young Bulldogs team, who twice knocked off conference champion Nevada this past season, lose nobody to graduation, while SBU loses two key cogs in the middle – forwards David Andoh and Denzel Gregg. In a true tossup, expect whoever has the ball last to come out on top in what would surely be a high-scoring, entertaining game to see.
Game 5: New Mexico vs. Richmond
The transfer of star Lobos guard Elijah Brown brutally hurts New Mexico, as does the departure of T.J. Cline from Richmond. The overall superior Spiders prevail.
Game 6: Steve Fisher less-San Diego State tops George Washington
Game 7: George Mason bests CBI champ Wyoming
Game 8: Utah State tops La Salle
Game 9: New look-Davidson Wildcats squeak by San Jose State
Game 10: Veteran-led Air Force upsets Fordham
Game 11: Saint Louis beats UNLV in matchup of programs that will both return to glory in near future
Challenge Winner: A10, 7-4
Think the A10 would be more fit facing another conference in an in-season series? Disagree with something that you read? Leave a comment!