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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 12:02 AM

The last time we checked in on the Atlantic 10 conference, they were looking very good in terms of March Madness hopes. They had a clear chance for a breakthrough season either as a league, or with one stalwart breaking through and going deep. Heading into this week’s action, highlighted by Tuesday Night’s Xavier-Massachusetts game, the picture has gotten very clouded.

*TEMPLE is the only team that can feel safe about enjoying a quality seed in the NCAA Tournament. Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology currently has them pegged as a 5th seed. That’s where you want to be. You draw a manageable opponent in the first round, then you probably have a matchup against the fourth seed in your second game (unless you get lucky). That gives you two warm-up games to get you ready for a shot at a power in the Sweet 16. If you represent a mid major, this is where you want to be in the Brackets.

The bad news for Temple is that respected computer ratings have them down at 31st (Ken Pomeroy) and 32nd (Jeff Sagarin) at the moment. Those rankings equate to a #8 seed. That’s the last place you want to be in the first round, because you have a coin flip opener just to earn the right to face a rested and relaxed #1 seed in the second round. If the selection committee puts a lot of weight on the computers, then Temple won’t be seeded fifth.

History suggests that respect will be given to the Atlantic 10 champion (Temple leads and has the inside track to take the regular season crown)…and to Lunardi’s projections. Temple will likely be a meaningful and dangerous team in the Dance.

*SAINT LOUIS is a mystery team because there’s mixed opinions about how good they are…and they’re NEVER on television! Lunardi currently pegs Saint Louis as a #8 seed. But, and we’re not making this up, Pomeroy says their the #11 team in the country! That’s the equivalent of a #3 seed!

Sagarin has them as the #17 team in the country, which is in the range of a 4th or 5th seed. Other places have them high up too.

So, is Saint Louis a budding superpower who’s better than Duke (Pomeroy has Saint Louis 11th, Duke 13th)? Or, are they more along the lines of Virginia, Iowa State, Kansas State, Memphis, and Mississippi State…teams that Lunardi has in 8-9 matchups in the first round?

The numbers suggest that Saint Louis is safely in the Dance…but Lord knows where they’ll end up in the brackets.

*XAVIER is right on the cusp in terms of the Dance. Lunardi has them in as an 11th seed…which is far from automatic but is currently fairly safe because Lunardi has at-large teams in the 13th slot at the moment. Several teams would have to leapfrog Xavier for the Muscateers to fall out of the brackets.

That being said, the computers think Xavier is a pretender. Pomeroy has them 58th in the nation, which isn’t good enough to earn an at-large bid normally. Sagarin has them at 56th. That tells you the resume just isn’t very impressive. There’s a good chance Xavier is getting the benefit of the doubt from earlier rankings because everyone expected they’d be good. Disappointing play has “dropped” them down to an 11th seed. The more objective computers see them as an NIT team…and not a particularly great one.

What sets up tonight’s big game for Xavier at Massachusetts. Xavier’s either near the bubble, on the bubble, or further away from the bubble than they realize. A loss tonight…and they probably drop at least one seed in Lunardi’s guesses, and even further in the computers.

Xavier (58th in Pomeroy, 56th in Sagarin)

UMASS (77th in Pomeroy, 81st in Sagarin)

Your resume doesn’t get better with a loss to UMASS!

Oh, by the way…if UMASS beats Xavier Tuesday Night, those teams would be tied in the A10 standings at 8-5. Xavier would obviously have a much more appealing wardrobe with a 9-4 league record.

*ST. JOSEPH’S is currently on the wrong side of the bubble in Lunardi’s breakdowns. He doesn’t have them in his first four out (just missing), but does have them in his next four out (teams 5-8 away from an invite). So…they’re on the radar but they have some work to do.

Note that, if UMASS does beat Xavier to forge a tie at 8-5, they’d both be tied with St. Joe’s with the same record! Not only that, LaSalle and St. Bonaventure are 7-5 as we write this, and will have a chancne to move to 8-5 Wednesday when LaSalle plays Temple at home (tough game, but it would be a huge win) and St. Bonaventure visits lowly Fordham.

If Xavier wants to reach the Big Dance…a win at UMASS is absolutely vital. Being part of a “big three” with a 9-4 record and a track record of success is going to sound good in backroom discussions. Being stuck in a huge logjam at 8-5 with borderline teams is going to be much worse.

Let’s see how the computers rank everyone in that potential logjam:

LaSalle (45th in Pomeroy, 59th in Sagarin)

Xavier (58th in Pomeroy, 56th in Sagarin)

St. Joe’s (59th in Pomeroy, 57th in Sagarin—virtual dead heat with Xavier)

UMASS (77th in Pomeroy, 81st in Sagarin)

St. Bonaventure (74th in Pomeroy, 87th in Sagarin)

Hey Joe Lunardi…have you ever heard of LaSalle?! Computer composites would have LaSalle ahead of BOTH Xavier and St. Joe’s in terms of Dance quality. A big win over Temple just might put the Explorers on the national radar in a way that helps the A10 but hurts Xavier.

We told you the picture was very clouded!

There’s a chance only two teams from this conference will be Dancing. There’s a chance four teams from this conference will be Dancing. There’s a chance that only three qualify, but that Xavier falls out and isn’t one of the three.

Oh, there’s a chance that Saint Louis is better than Duke! And, there’s certainly a chance that Temple can derail a superpower’s dreams in about a month as well.

We wish ESPN could spend more time telling you about the exciting stories happening in the conferences they don’t televise. Instead, they’ve locked themselves into continually presenting disappointments from the Big East, Big 12, and SEC. And, they may be in for a rude awakening with some of their preferred clients from the Big Ten and ACC.

We hope YOU pay attention to the Atlantic 10 from this point forward. This is shaping up as another year of potential surprises in the Dance because of vulnerability from the powers…and quality from teams you haven’t seen on TV yet. We can assure you nobody wants to run into Wichita State or New Mexico right now. Or the eventual Colonial champ. Don’t sleep on Murray State either. Or Temple or Saint Louis!

Here at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK, we follow ALL the board teams because it’s our job to find you the best plays on the board. Now is the perfect time to sign up because you get the stretch run of the college season as a tune-up for MARCH MADNESS. We also have select NBA plays that have literally been jumping off the schedule thanks to our information sources.

Game day releases go up a few hours before first tip. You can also sign up in the office by calling 1-800-323-4453.

We’ll talk more college hoops Wednesday, the busiest weeknight in this sport. We’ll also be college heavy through the weekend because it’s the NBA All-Star Break. We know many of you took a little hiatus after football to recharge your batteries. IT’S TIME TO GET BACK TO MAKING MONEY! March is just days away. Take your first step down THE ROAD TO RICHES tonight with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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