Coming into this weekend, the Atlantic-10 had four teams that had emerged as Kenpom top 100 squads. Davidson was the most consistent team in the league. SLU had been a menace on defense, and its shooting had improved. VCU had earned a key win at Texas and it’s press defense looked scary. Dayton beat Butler on a neutral court and had challenged a number of top teams.
All four teams lost this weekend (albeit each in a game decided by five points or less to a decent team). Temple took down Davidson, Charleston beat VCU, SLU fell in the final minute to Houston, and Dayton came up short against Tulsa. There were plenty of mitigating factors: SLU had a three point lead with a minute left on the road against an undefeated and ranked team. Davidson lost by two in overtime against a 9-2 Temple team in what was essentially a road game. And of course they were playing without the preseason A-10 player of the year Kellan Grady. SLU got killed by two horrendous calls, while Davidson lost points twice on phantom shot clock violations. VCU and Dayton each could have won their game as well.
But in the end four losses are four losses. The A-10 simply isn’t going to send three teams to the tournament losing game after game to fellow bubble teams. Going 0-3 against an AAC conference which is also sure to have plenty of bubble teams itself does not help. The selection committee isn’t going to account for the poor officiating, nor Kellan Grady’s absence (though they should).
I can imagine a world where any of the four above teams wins 15 or 16 conference games, takes home the regular season crown, and gets an at-large bid after losing a tough game in the conference tournament semi-finals to one of the other top teams in the league. But it’s not going to happen to all four teams. Moreover, the middle tier of the league actually had a pretty good weekend. Duquesne looks like its going to be a factor in conference, and underestimating URI would be a big mistake after they took part West Virginia in Mohegan Sun. Given what we’ve seen so far, it seems less than probable that the top squads will cruise past the middle tier of the conference in road games.
Probably the only way the conference get its customary three bids involves Davidson and SLU dominating the ACC over the next two weeks. Davidson would need to take down Wake Forest on Monday and at the very least take UNC down to the wire after Christmas (a win would really help). Saint Louis must beat Florida State next week. If those teams both then proceeded to go 16-2 in conference, before losing to a team that gets hot in Brooklyn, three bids are imaginable. But it’s a stretch.
The A-10 has been unlucky this season by any metric (hopefully a future column) and it has a bright future. Probably no more than three seniors will be among the fifteen all conference spots. But none of this changes the reality that the A-10 has thrown away game after game against evenly matched opponents this year. The tax for those mistakes will come due in March.