There are many ways college basketball analysts and fans try to gauge the Atlantic 10 conference — Kenpom metrics, strength of schedule, and non-conference performance all seem to be indicators of the league’s success. However, when we realistically evaluate if it was an “up year or down year” in the A-10, we’re looking at how many A-10 teams make the NCAA Tournament. Last year, it was 3, and many thought the league would only see 1 bid considering major losses on both Dayton and VCU’s rosters. Despite the 2 flagships having down years for the first time in seemingly forever, the conference still managed to sneak 3 teams in the NCAA Tournament — Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, and Davidson — and all of a sudden, a down year in the league felt like a respectable season. With expectations all over the place for 2018-19, it may be too early to ask: how many A-10 teams will go dancing come March? We’re still going to ask this question. Let’s take a look at teams that could reasonably expect to go dancing in 2019 and teams that may be looking for the NIT.
Tier 1 (45-55% chance): Saint Louis, Davidson
Someone has to make the Big Dance from the A-10, and if I’m going to put money on it, I believe at least 1 of these 2 teams will go dancing come March. Davidson has some great non-conference tests where it will try to pick up a resume-building win (UNC, Wichita St., Temple). Saint Louis also has some good battles before league play (Butler, Houston, Florida St.), providing the Billikens with a great chance to elevate itself in the eyes of the Selection Committee before the gauntlet that can be Atlantic 10 play. Should the Wildcats and Billikens get a key win out-of-conference and win 13-14+ games in the league, I’d expect them both to have a reasonable shot at an at-large bid for the Big Dance.
Tier 2 (15-20% chance): George Mason, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph’s
I’m not discounting any of these teams’ chances, but making the NCAA Tournament (at least without an automatic bid) would feel like a major leap compared to last year’s performances. I reasonably believe that Massachusetts is a year away. I think the Minutemen finish top 5 in the conference this season, return a lot of talent in 2019-2020, and become the frontrunners to win the entire league. George Mason will certainly improve in 2018-19, but I’m not sure if this bunch is tournament ready. Adding depth to the frontcourt is huge, and seniors like Otis Livingston II have the experience, but I’m not sure I could see the Patriots as an at-large selection. They’ll have to pick up a big out-of-conference win (i.e. Cincinnati), but George Mason has historically played much better in the latter half of the season. Saint Joseph’s could have a case with Fresh Kimble coming back and Charlie Brown as one of the sneakiest stars in the conference. Again though, the tournament might be a stretch, as the Hawks may lack the frontcourt depth to compete with other NCAA Tournament teams before conference play. But if I know one thing, I shouldn’t count out Martelli.
Tier 3 (2-7% chance): Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, VCU, Duquesne, Dayton
It would take a lot for one of these teams to get back to the NCAA Tournament in 2018-19. Duquesne is on the rise, but I don’t think this is the year they rise up enough to have at-large considerations. Dayton and VCU might improve, but they have hurdles of their own as well as adjusting coaches — that likely won’t lead to an NCAA Tournament trip in 2018-19. St. Bonaventure has some rebuilding to do, and I don’t think Courtney Stockard alone could carry the Bonnies back to the dance. Rhode Island is probably on the upper end of this percentage range (closer to 7%), but that would be an incredible accomplishment for David Cox in his first year. The reality is, Rhode Island has lost a lot of talent and will need a few seasons to reload. I think 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 could bode very well for that group in Kingston.
Tier 4 (0-1% chance): Richmond, La Salle, George Washington, Fordham
It would take a miracle for any of these teams to go dancing, and barring some incredibly exceeded expectations in the regular season, it would likely take multiple wins in Brooklyn. Richmond could be a team that surprises in the Atlantic 10, but offseason departures have hurt Mooney’s prospects in 2018-19. La Salle and George Washington have some rebuilding to do (new coach for the Explorers and some major graduation losses for the Colonials). Fordham is unlikely to find its stride in a season where its best player by far (Joseph Chartouny) decided to transfer out of the program.
Add up the average percentage for each team in each tier, and you’ll have a number that rounds close to 200%. I’m guessing that about 2 teams make the NCAA Tournament in 2018-19. There is so much basketball between November and March, so a lot can change, but I would not expect the league to produce a record number of bids this coming season. I’d figure the A-10 would be incredibly happy getting 3 teams into the Big Dance once again. 2 would probably be a reasonable expectation. 1 would be a disappointment for the league. Unfortunately, the league has been starting to move in the wrong direction when we look at bids per year; this could change if programs like Davidson and Rhode Island begin to assert themselves as NCAA Tournament regulars. For now, the conference needs to continue to be scrappy, schedule tough opponents out-of-conference, and win big games before league play.