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Rhode Island putting itself and the Atlantic 10 on the national stage

It’s no secret that the Atlantic 10 Conference has had its unfair share of disrespect on the national stage over the past years. The St. Bonaventure Bonnies saw a 22-8 season with a 14-4 record in conference play last season wind up in a head-scratching NIT bid. Bracketologists like Joe Lunardi said it was one of, if not the, biggest snubs in the history of NCAA Tournament selection. Even this year, an ESPN writer recapping the Atlantic 10 Tournament thought that Jack Gibbs’ mask was a result of taking a hit to the face during the Dayton game that weekend, even though he had been wearing the mask for weeks. These are just two examples that demonstrate this: the nation really doesn’t give a damn about the Atlantic 10 Conference. It sucks, but it’s proven to be true.

Rhode Island did all it could do to change that this past weekend. On behalf of all Atlantic 10 fans, I say thank you for helping us move in the right direction. Thank you for helping this conference gain some much-needed respect. Though the Rams got the auto-bid from the Selection Committee after winning the A-10 Tournament, they were definitely a bubble team heading into Selection Sunday. That’s fair. Rhode Island missed out on a lot of opportunities on the road, and other than regular season wins over Cincinnati and VCU, this team didn’t have much in terms of a resume.

This is where it could become easy to leave Rhode Island out of the field if you’re a Bracketologist or you don’t pay much attention to the Atlantic 10. This Rhode Island team was arguably the most talented A-10 team this season, and despite close losses, the Rams flashed their stuff in the final few games and proved they could beat anyone in the conference. Bottom line: Rhode Island got an 11 seed in the Big Dance, but the Rams were playing more like the team that was ranked 21st in the nation in the pre-season polls. Ask Seth Davis.

Rhode Island essentially rolled through Creighton, and even though Oregon made a furious comeback in the final minutes in the Round of 32, Stanford Robinson and the Rams had complete control over that basketball game. Rhode Island simply outplayed a Big East team that was in the top 10 for a decent portion of the season, and the Rams went toe-to-toe with an Oregon team that’s one of the best teams out west. That’s an incredible feat for a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in almost 2 decades, and that’s an incredible feat for a conference that’s trying so desperately to prove it deserves to be considered more than just a mid-major.

The key for the conference is getting NCAA Tournament performances like that consistently. Your occasional run to the Elite 8 like we saw from Dayton in 2014 was great, but we need more teams winning games in the Big Dance. We need teams like Rhode Island to build consistent programs that are tough to beat every single year. We need to get to the point where we’re averaging 4 or 5 tournament teams every year. Rhode Island’s season set a precedent for what the rest of the conference needs to do. Set up, and when your team looks like it’s headed in the wrong direction, buckle down, lock it up, and win some basketball games.

Credit the Rhode Island Rams on a fantastic season and incredible progression after that brutal home loss to Fordham. Dan Hurley has a great group of players that make a complete team, and this team proved it can compete with the best of the best in college basketball. And the Rams are going to be back next year. E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Jeff Dowtin, Jarvis Garrett, and Stanford Robinson will all be back. This team is going to be dangerous next year, and with the program Dan Hurley seems to be building, I don’t see why Rhode Island can’t be a team that consistently makes runs in the Big Dance in the next couple of years.

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Grant Labedz is a college basketball superfan who loves the entire sport but definitely has favorites in the A-10 and the Big Ten. He has written for ...