Dick Jerardi: Atlantic 10 looks like best non-BCS conference

Posted: January 06, 2010

THE ATLANTIC 10 is not going to catch the Big East this season or any season. But that really is not the point.

The object is to be the best non-BCS league in the country. This season, there is not much argument. It is surely that.

As the conference season begins tonight with four games (Saint Joseph's at Temple, Richmond at

Duquesne, George Washington at St. Bonaventure, Fordham at Massachusetts), the league is 115-69 overall, with 17 wins over teams from BCS leagues.

College basketball is a sport of haves and have-nots. If you want to crystallize the difference, look no farther than the schools that have the money to charter to and from distant road games and those that don't. The time saved and the rest gotten from the charters really add up over a season.

With some occasional exceptions, the A-10 is not a charter league. It is a bus league. It is a get-up-really-early-the-next-morning and get-on-the-first-flight-out-of-town (and hope it is not delayed) league.

So, with the understanding that it has certain inherent disadvantages, it is fair to say after several down seasons, the league has made a steady comeback, starting with the 2007-08 season and continuing to now.

In fact, this has the chance to be the league's best NCAA showing since five went in 1998.

Rhode Island, Temple, Charlotte and George Washington are all better than expected. Dayton, Richmond and Duquesne are about as good as expected. Xavier has been a bit unlucky, but you know it is going to be there.

Yes, the A-10 is 5-17 against the Big East. Again, that is not the measuring stick. The question is: How does it stack up against the rest of the conferences with similar aspirations? This season, it is the best of them, and one could make a pretty good argument it is also better than the Pacific-10.

The local NCAA story

Barring something completely unforeseen, Villanova and Temple already have earned at-large NCAA berths. As they get into conference play, it is hard to imagine a scenario that keeps them out of the bracket on Selection Sunday. They are playing for seeding.

Villanova, of course, is no surprise. Temple is a surprise. Yes, Fran Dunphy's team won the last two Atlantic 10 championships, but so many good players were lost from those teams, this just did not seem very likely.

Interestingly, neither of those Temple teams was going to the NCAA unless they won the tournament. This team has been so good so far that it should be able to enter the tournament with its NCAA berth secure.

As for the other four, they will have to win their league to have any chance.

That is no shock for Saint Joseph's, Drexel or Penn. None was expected to contend for the NCAA when this season began. The Hawks did not figure to be 4-8 and the Quakers did not figure to be 0-10, but nobody thought 8-4 or 10-0, either.

La Salle (7-6), to this point, has to be labeled a mystery. And nobody seems to be more confused by it than Explorers coach John Giannini. The frustration came through in the news conferences following the last two losses - home to Cornell and, inexplicably, on the road at Binghamton.

For the first time in a long time, there were expectations at 20th and Olney. The schedule was set up to give the team a chance. It just has not delivered.

The Explorers open A-10 play tomorrow at home against Xavier. For those interested in such things, La Salle is 2-12 in A-10 openers. That stat and the recent losing are trends they need to change.

La Salle has talent. The Explorers have experience. They have been unlucky with some injuries. But there just seems to be something missing. And, unless it is found soon, this is going to be the 18th consecutive year without a postseason.

The USC story

So USC penalized itself with serious sanctions because of the O.J. Mayo fiasco. All the wins from the 21-12 NCAA season in 2007-08 are gone. Not sure what that does exactly.

This season's team, probably the best in the Pac-10 at 10-4, 2-0 with an eight-game winning streak, will not have a postseason, not in the conference tournament, not in any postseason tournament. Its season will end March 6.

And that is the problem with this. This USC coach, Kevin O'Neill, and these USC players had nothing to do with any of the reasons for the penalties. Those who are left just have to deal with the consequences. Who explains that to the seniors who may be NCAA worthy and can't play?

Former coach Tim Floyd skates quietly back to the NBA. Mayo collects millions from the Memphis Grizzlies. The runners and the agents behind this mess continue to be runners and agents. Got to love the purity of it all.

Kansas fans

There was no shortage of blue at the Liacouras Center on Saturday. If Kentucky has the most passionate fans (some would call them borderline crazy) in the country, Kansas has the best.

They are loyal. They are plentiful. And they even chant at the end of road games, as they did at Temple.

KU has won 50 straight at Allen Field House. More impressively, KU has sold out 138 straight. KU has not seen many losses. In the last nine seasons, KU is a cool 134-8 at home.

By the way, the 50 straight wins is only the Jayhawks' third best home streak. They won 62 straight, ending in 1998, and 55 straight, ending in 1988. Judging by what we all saw Saturday, both of those streaks are in jeopardy.

This and that

* I am not conceding the national championship to Kansas because there are at least eight teams I like enough at this point. (Villanova would be one of those teams.) But the Jayhawks are putting up some serious numbers.

They lead the country in scoring margin (plus-29.4 points per game). They also lead in field-goal defense (33.8 percent), are second in field-goal accuracy (52.2 percent) and third in three-point shooting (42.9 percent).

* When Drexel played at Kentucky, the Dragons ran a few plays that they had not shown on tape.

After UK hammered Bruiser Flint's team, Wildcats assistant John Robic told Flint: "Your guys actually broke open, but our guys were so big you couldn't throw the pass to get it to the kid."

Which is the essence of the problem between the haves and have-nots. You can coach them up all you want, but if the other team's players are too big and too talented, there is nothing to coach.

* The Big East has gone 150-37 (.802) in nonconference games. The best-ever noncon record was 102-20 (.836). That would have been 1984-85, the season when the league had three of the Final Four.

* As good as the Big East has been so far this season, the league does not have two of the last four unbeaten teams (Kansas, Texas) or the teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 (Kansas, Texas). And it's not just those two.

Through Monday, the Big 12 was 132-28 overall and a cool 98-1 at home. Most impressively, the league was 27-9 against the five other BCS conferences.

Beyond the big two, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Missouri are all very good. In fact, every team but Colorado and Oklahoma already has double-digit wins.

* Siena senior Ronald Moore (Plymouth-Whitemarsh) leads the country in assists (8.7 per game). Some freshman from Kentucky named John Wall is second.

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