6 bids for A-10 aren't by accident

Posted: March 20, 2014

EVERYBODY AGREED that the 2012-13 season was going to be the best ever for the Atlantic 10. With recent Final Four participants VCU and Butler new to the conference and the tournament moving to the just-opened Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the league was poised to become even more of a national factor.

When five teams (Saint Louis, VCU, Butler, Temple and La Salle) ended up in the NCAA Tournament, it was obvious that everybody was right. It was a great season for the league.

Still, even as La Salle was set to play in the Sweet 16 as the final A-10 team alive, the storm clouds hovered over the league. The Big East football/basketball split had gone from rumor to reality. The A-10 was going to get raided to help complete the new 10-team Big East.

Temple was already leaving to play football. That was a huge loss, as Temple was the best basketball program in league history. Then, it was announced that Xavier and Butler were leaving for the Big East.

So, what would become of the A-10? Surely, it would slip into irrelevancy as two of its five 2013 NCAA teams and another annual NCAA team were out the door. Well, at least they had that one great, final season.

Fast-forward to this past Sunday and that was the A-10 with six teams in the NCAA: A-10 Tournament champion Saint Joseph's, Saint Louis, VCU, George Washington, Massachusetts and Dayton; two holdovers from 2013 and four new teams.

Turned out everybody was wrong about 2012-13 perhaps being the league's best season. Its best season just happened.

"The teams won the games they had to win," commissioner Bernadette McGlade said. "You can't trick the committee. You've got to get the job done by getting the right kind of nonconference wins and staying in the top of your league. It's been good to see the results."

All of the A-10 teams are in the main 64-team draw, bypassing the First Four. By the end, none of them was even close to being left out of the field.

"I said before this season that historically we've lost Rutgers, Penn State, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, and gotten better then, too," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "It's a basketball-centric league. When you have schools that are committed to basketball and have tradition, you probably will keep being good."

The conference also will be judged by NCAA results, as it should. But getting a bid is a reward for a season. One game can be an aberration. A season really cannot.

None of this success is by accident.

"We have scheduling guidelines that we put in place about 4 years ago," McGlade said. "They weren't always popular, but we thought it was important that everybody stick to it. It's not just good for your top teams to have a good RPI. You're only as strong as your weakest teams."

Scheduling is an art that most of the A-10 teams have mastered. There is a formula and they know it.

SJU played at Vermont and home against Boston University this season. The games figured to be wins against teams from lesser leagues, but the bet was that they would be two of the best teams in their leagues who would compile very good records, which would help the Hawks' RPI. The Hawks won both games. The bet paid off when Vermont and BU won their leagues' regular seasons and finished with a combined record of 46-20.

Even though UMass finished sixth in the conference, it got the third-best A-10 NCAA seed because of noncon wins against LSU, Nebraska, New Mexico, Clemson, BYU and Providence. If your sixth-place team can do that, your league has to be very good.

GW beat Creighton, Miami, Maryland, Manhattan, Boston University and Georgia. VCU beat No. 1 seed and ACC champ Virginia. Dayton beat Gonzaga and California and won at Ole Miss.

The committee really liked that the league teams scheduled all these games. It liked even more the fact that they won so many of them.

The committee wants to know if you can compete with the types of teams you will have to play in the tournament. The results proved that the A-10 teams can do that, so they were rewarded.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski took a small shot at the A-10 over the weekend while shilling for the ACC.

"It's numeric," SJU coach Phil Martelli said. "These six teams got bids, not the Atlantic 10 got six. The idea that well, if they played in our league . . . If we played in your league, we would have different facilities, maybe different coaches and different players. But I think it's marvelous what has happened. The challenge at the other schools today is they're going to say next year, 'We want to be one of those six.' "

The league simply knows how to do it. It has a new, 8-year media package with CBS, NBC and ESPN. And when the defections happened, there was no panic.

"We looked around the room and we really liked who we saw sitting around the room at our spring meetings," McGlade said.

George Mason had joined to make it 13 teams. Davidson will join next season to make it 14.

"We knew how deep the league was and we knew the tradition of the A-10," McGlade said.

The tradition will be on display in Buffalo, Raleigh, San Diego and Orlando on Thursday and Friday. And if it can get a team or teams through to New York, Memphis or Indianapolis next week, even Coach K might take notice.

Email: jerardd@phillynews.com

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