Strength of reconfigured Atlantic 10, Big East will play out in time

Mooney
Mooney
Posted: January 09, 2014

THE ATLANTIC 10 was so strong last season that it carried La Salle right into the NCAA Tournament. The competition was so good that La Salle's first three tourney games were not as difficult as its games against Saint Louis, VCU, Temple and Butler.

Well, Butler, Temple and Xavier are gone. George Mason has arrived, with Davidson coming next season.

So as conference play begins tonight for Saint Joseph's (at Massachusetts) and tomorrow for La Salle (home to George Washington), the question is: How good is the newest version of the A-10?

"Temple is a huge loss," said Richmond coach and Northeast Philly native Chris Mooney. "They haven't been considered a mid-major in my lifetime."

Given the teams that are no longer there, Mooney said, there are "not as many opportunities for big wins. Last year will be difficult to replicate."

No doubt.

The old Big East was clearly way better than even last season's version of the A-10. The new Big East is 10-2 against the A-10 so far, a small sample size. Time will tell where these leagues are relative to each other.

"We have to dominate the cities of the Eastern seaboard, Richmond, D.C., Philadelphia, New York," SJU coach Phil Martelli said. "The [old Big East] had facility advantages, they had TV advantages."

The Big East does have that great deal on Fox Sports 1, but the lack of ESPN presence is an issue.

"How do you get that TV talent in your pocket so that really they're doing an infomercial for you every time they do the league?" Martelli wondered. "How do you do that?"

That is an interesting question.

Some things do not change.

"It is difficult to compete with the BCS," Mooney said. "All fall, the football games are on. TV is the biggest thing that really influences a kid's decision. For the most part, a kid is going to go to the highest level that recruits him. At the end of the day, they're influenced by what we're all influenced by. How many people are watching, the exposure, the arena size, all those things."

The Big East was once a combination of BCS and the smaller Catholic schools that did not play football at the FBS level. Now, it's different and the two best nonfootball leagues in America have a similar look.

"It's going to be fascinating to watch and compare their league and our league," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "If you ask a lot of them, they probably want to distance themselves from us, but I'm not so sure there's a huge difference. I'm not saying we're better. I think it will be an interesting comparison.

"This probably won't happen, but I'd love to see some sort of challenge where we're playing against them. There's a lot of politics involved in that."

There is politics involved in everything, especially college sports. The conferences will sort themselves out over time. Let all the league games begin.

The Drexel deal

Drexel had a great nonconference start and a less pleasing finish once Damion Lee got hurt. It's all CAA from here, starting tonight at William & Mary.

It is hard to pick a clear CAA favorite at this point. Towson was picked to win. The Tigers' strength (frontcourt) is Drexel's weakness. But the Dragons strength (guards) is clearly Towson's weakness.

Delaware is very talented and could certainly get hot in March for the tournament. Beyond UD, it really looks like Drexel and Towson.

The tournament will be held in the Baltimore Arena, right in the heart of downtown, not that far from Towson's campus north of the city.

But if it's Towson-Drexel for the title, on March 10, it will be nothing like playing VCU in Richmond. Towson does not have a big following and the tournament has never been in Baltimore. So nobody really knows what kind of crowd might be there. For sure, it will be a much closer drive for Drexel fans.

First, however, the Dragons have to play the season and see where that gets them. They are certainly due for some good luck after Lee's season-ending ACL injury and the road trip from hell that went off-course after Friday night's game at Southern Mississippi and did not end until Monday when they were finally able to fly back home after weather cancellations all weekend.

Penn starts Ivy on Saturday

Penn, which has not played at all well in the nonconference, gets no bargain in its first Ivy game Saturday at the Palestra. Princeton (11-2) is in town. Penn (2-10) has simply been too inconsistent (and lately injured) to know what to expect.

But if the Quakers want to be a factor in a race that, based on noncon results, appears to be between Harvard and Princeton, this is a game they really need to win. After Princeton, Penn plays just twice in 3 weeks (SJU and NJIT) before going all Ivy to the finish line starting at Dartmouth and Harvard on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.

The unbeatens

It is very unlikely the five unbeatens from major conferences (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Syracuse, Iowa State and Arizona going into last night) will stay that way for long. Now, Wichita State from the Missouri Valley could stay that way for a long time. Without Creighton, the Valley is not as strong as other seasons. However, going on the road in the MVC is a rough deal with great, passionate fans that love their hometown teams and will want nothing more than to see them take out an unbeaten team.

By the way, Cornell is the only winless team, but that should change in its next game against tiny Oberlin.

This and that

* Scores and fouls are trending down week after week. The first week of the season, teams averaged 72 possessions and 74 points. In Week 9, it was 68 possessions and 70 points. This is not what was envisioned with the new on-the-ball defense rules.

* Since 1991, the ACC (8), SEC (6) and Big East (5) have combined to win 19 of the national championships. None of those Big East champions are still in the Big East. Connecticut and Louisville are in the American. Louisville will join Syracuse in the ACC next season.

* Duke (4), North Carolina (3), UConn (3) and Kentucky (3) have combined to win 13 of the titles. Florida, with two, is the only other multi-title winner in that time span.

* Since 2006, the CAA has had 41 postseason wins, including 14 in the NCAA. Think about that for a moment. And then think about this. The league has had two teams in the Final Four in addition to a team in the NIT semifinals and champions of the CBI and CIT.

* Princeton and Harvard were the first pair of Ivy teams since 1969-70 to get through nine games with just one loss or fewer. Back then, it was Columbia (9-0) and Penn (8-1).

* Fairleigh Dickinson should get some kind of award. FDU lost its first six games against Division I opponents and then won its next two at Rutgers and Seton Hall, two schools from serious basketball conferences. FDU naturally lost its next four games.

Email: jerardd@phillynews.com

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