Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 9:15 AM
We continue our series on college basketball's mid major conferences today with a look at the Atlantic 10 and the Colonial conferences. We'll move West on Thursday to look at a few more. Harvard and the Ivy League come under the microscope on Friday. Then, we'll use kind of a buffet approach on Saturday to pick up as many leftovers as we can from whoever hasn't been discussed yet.
The mid majors have become more and more important in recent years because they've been going so deep in the Dance. Butler of the Horizon League has made two straight Final Fours (we'll talk about them on Saturday, as the conference has taken a step back this season). Virginia Commonwealth of the Colonial also reached the final weekend last year...matching the accomplishment of George Mason from that same league not too many years ago.
There was a time when the mid majors were overrated in the seedings...with teams like UMASS and St. Joseph's earning #1 seeds only to underachieve come crunch time. Now, things may have swung too far in the other direction...with major conference pretenders getting too much respect in the brackets just before a mid major comes along to embarrass them.
Fitting that we look at the Atlantic 10 and Colonial today...as the A10 was one of those underrated mid majors for awhile, while the Colonial came through and delivered the goods. Is the Atlantic 10 ready for a resurgence? A variety of factors are suggesting that's the case. We'll start with that league...which currently has FOUR teams projected for the Big Dance...
ATLANTIC 10 NOTES
Starting with Joe Lunardi's Bracketology over at ESPN has been providing a good framework for our conference analysis this year. Let's do that again:
#11 Saint Louis
Wow...four teams currently from the A10, which grades out very well when compared to the BCS conferences from football that are on TV all the time.
LUNARDI'S BRACKETS BY CONFERENCE
Big 10: 8 teams
Big East: 8 teams
SEC: 5 teams
Big 12: 5 teams
Atlantic 10: 4 teams
Pac 12: 2 teams
Is the Pac 12 even a major any more in this sport? Note that Iowa State and NC State have barely qualified from the Big 12 and ACC respectively in the most recent report...which means those conferences could drop down to just four apiece...tying the Atlantic 10.
Maybe the A10 isn't ready to launch its way to greatness given where those seeds are located. Nobody's in the top 16...or even the top 32 at the moment. But, any time you get four teams in the Dance you're having a good season.
We want to mention a couple of additional teams who have a chance to get hot and rise up into the mix based on respected computer ratings. At the very least, these two teams will have a chance to play spoiler.
Also deserving of respect:
St. Joseph's: 71st in Pomeroy, 70th in Sagarin
St. Bonaventure: 77th in Pomeroy, 84th in Sagarin
You need to be in the top 50 to even have a chance to be considered on the bubble...and it's generally the mid 40's and below who earn at-large spots because of all the automatics. So, these teams are currently longshots for Dance consideration. They're not longshots to matter though, particularly in the conference tournament in March. (You regulars know we're using the computer rankings from Ken Pomeroy's website and Sagarin's USA Today rankings to provide additional college hoop context this season in the NOTEBOOK).
Let's take those six teams and go a bit further in depth for offensive and defensive breakdowns...
Offensive/Defensive Profiles (Adjusted Efficiency at Pomeroy's website)
Saint Louis: 30th on offense, 13th on defense
Dayton: 15th on offense, 127th on defense
Temple: 42nd on offense, 93rd on defense
Xavier: 77th on offense, 47th on defense
St. Joseph's: 61st on offense, 101st on defense
St. Bonaventure: 84th on offense, 82nd on defense
Based strictly on quality and balance, Saint Louis is the team best suited to become a factor in the Dance. In fact, the computers have them rated MUCH higher than Lunardi does. Pomeroy has the Billikens in his top 15, while Sagarin has them in his top 25. Lunardi currently has them as an 11th seed, which is more like 44th. Lunardi is focused more on selection histories and won-lost records rather than team talent. The computers are very high on Saint Louis.
That being said, they're not very high on anyone else. There's no other solid mix of offense and defense. Temple grades out disappointingly on defense given their history. And, Xavier is usually a much more impressive force in the numbers than they've been to date this year. It's probably best to think of it this way. The respect you usually have for Xavier entering the Dance should probably be directed toward Saint Louis this year. The rest of the A10 is capable of playing with anybody...but probably not likely to go deep unless they get some breaks in the brackets.
BIG A10 GAMES THIS WEEK
Wednesday: Saint Louis at Xavier
Wednesday: Dayton at St. Joseph's
Saturday: St. Joseph's at Temple
Tonight's matchup with Saint Louis and Xavier is one of the biggest games all season in the Atlantic 10. That's a good place to check out that point we just made about perceptions. Maybe Xavier isn't ready to drift away. Maybe Saint Louis isn't ready to carry the banner. HUGE game tonight in terms of what we'll learn about postseason potential.
We're still on the fence about how important the A10 is really going to be this year. Getting four teams in the Dance would be something. Losing four first round games would be a waste of an opportunity. We'll say it this way. There's so much vulnerability in the major conferences this year that we do expect SOMEBODY to break out from the A10 come dance time. The roll of the dice with bracket fortune may have more to do with determining who that's going to be than raw team quality.
Despite the solid recent history of the Colonial Conference, Joe Lunardi currently only has one team slated for the Dance...and he's penciled in George Mason as a 15th seed! Obviously the conference tournament champion will get an automatic bid no matter who it is. Lunardi is saying that Mason doesn't currently have the kind of resume that will get them in as an at-large.
Let's see what the computers have to say about the top Colonial teams heading into a busy Wednesday of action.
Virginia Commonwealth: 49th in Pomeroy, 61st in Sagarin
Drexel: 57th in Pomeroy, 81st in Sagarin
Georgia State: 69th in Pomeroy, 96th in Sagarin
George Mason: 103rd in Pomeroy, 103rd in Sagarin
The mystery now is why Lunardi is listing George Mason as the top team in the Colonial! Both respected computers have that team as fourth best, while Final Four team from last year VCU is up at the top. In fairness, it's not a mystery. Lunardi is going off the conference standings...and Mason currently sits atop the league even if the computers rank them as fourth best. We personally wouldn't have VCU seeded at 15th this season...more like 13th or 14th. We will probably see CAA improve it's seed if and when George Mason falls out of first place as the computers project.
In terms of depth, it's very hard to see more than one team reaching the Dance from this league unless VCU closes strong but then doesn't win the conference tournament. They might get some at-large consideration because of last year (though that supposedly isn't supposed to come into the mix). Generally speaking, the second best team in this league deserves to be in. Probably won't happen this year:
It sounds odd to say that Georgia State at Drexel is a big game in the Colonial. But, those teams do square off tonight, and currently sit in the top four of the computer ratings. Note that VCU will visit Georgia State Saturday afternoon in one of the most important CAA games this season.
That wraps up Wednesday. Thursday we'll move West to look at the West Coast Conference (St. Mary's, Gonzaga, BYU) and the WAC (Nevada, New Mexico State). The season is speeding along at breakneck pace. We'll do what we can to keep you up to speed across the conferences that are going to matter most over the next six weeks.
Don't forget that BIG JUICY WINNERS are available every day right here at the website. Tonight we're looking at TV games like Villanova-Louisville, West Virginia-St. John's, Missouri-Oklahoma State, and Duke-Maryland in the colleges, along with New York-Cleveland, Indiana-Chicago, Atlanta-San Antonio, and LA Clippers-LA Lakers in the NBA.
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