By Kevin Sweeney
One of the biggest stories in college basketball so far this season has been the Atlantic 10’s early struggles, and yesterday saw those early-season woes come to a crescendo. The league went 0-5 yesterday, losing a pair of games to somewhat comparable foes, a buy game, and a pair of high-major losses.
- Miami (FL) 57, La Salle 46
- Louisiana-Lafayette 82, Richmond 76
- Fresno State 79, George Mason 73
- Detroit Mercy 72, St. Louis 70
- Michigan 68, VCU 60
Individually, none of those results were too stunning. However, all of them together combined with how the league had performed leading up to yesterday’s action create major concerns that we could see only the conference tournament champion make the Big Dance this season.
We came into the season believing the A10 might be down a bit this season given coaching changes this offseason at the league’s two premiere programs: Dayton and VCU. However, early bad losses by St. Bonaventure (Niagara), St. Joseph’s (Toledo), Dayton (Hofstra), St. Louis (Detroit) and Richmond (Delaware, Jacksonville State, Louisiana-Lafayette) have given several at-large hopefuls early setbacks, while VCU, Rhode Island, and the surprising Davidson have all whiffed in their chances for quality wins. Meanwhile, the league has also been hit with some key injuries, with Rhode Island losing EC Matthews for 4-6 weeks with a wrist injury, St. Joe’s losing Lamarr Kimble for the season with a foot injury, and Khwan Fore still returning to 100% after missing Richmond’s first 3 games with a leg injury.
The league also just doesn’t feel as deep as I thought it would. Richmond has been as disappointing as any in college basketball so far, as they sit at 1-4. George Mason sits at 3-3 after a tough weekend in Cancun and struggled with Lafayette (PA) and CSUN earlier this season before pulling out wins. Dayton went 1-2 in the Charleston Classic with the aforementioned loss to Hofstra as well as a comfortable defeat to Old Dominion.
Meanwhile, the opportunities aren’t plentiful for some of these teams to turn things around and grab some big wins. St. Bonaventure was without Jaylen Adams in their loss to Niagara, but won’t get too many chances for great wins to overcome that defeat. The big opportunities lie this weekend, when they take on Maryland and then either TCU or New Mexico in the Emerald Coast Classic. However, the margin for error is now very thin for the Bonnies. Despite going 1-2, VCU impressed me in Maui this week but will need to pick up some good wins. Rhode Island lost their only major test so far (Nevada) and will now have to find some good wins in the OOC without Matthews. And while Davidson’s explosive offense drew lots of headlines in their first two games, they were clearly mismatched athletically when they traveled to Reno to take on Nevada earlier this week and fell 81-68.
My final concern for the A10 is that I see the league “cannabalizing” itself in conference play. Simply put, I don’t see a team that will run away with things and dominate the conference, nor do I see a clear top 2 or 3 teams head and shoulders above the rest. I see a lot of teams in that 9-13 conference win range, and while that will create a tremendous race in February, it will be an uphill battle to earn at-large bids that way.
In a few weeks, we may look back at this piece and laugh if the A10 can recover quickly. However, it’s very possible we are talking in March about the A10 earning just one bid for the first time since the 2004-05 season.