Admit it: you thought the Atlantic 10 was never going to match the success it had in 2012-13, especially with one of its signature programs (Xavier) and a newcomer that gave it a big boost in that historic year (Butler), plus another one on the rise (Charlotte), off to another conference.
Don’t worry. You were hardly alone. And now that the Atlantic 10 has outdone itself, you can give the conference credit and now look at it in a different light going forward.
The Atlantic 10 had a banner year in 2013-14, sending a record six teams to the NCAA Tournament. That’s one more than last year’s five, which tied a conference record. Perhaps most ironic of all is that the team most on the bubble out of those six, Dayton, is the one that made the deepest run, reaching the Elite Eight before Florida eliminated them.
But for much of the season, the Flyers were hardly the story of the conference. UMass carried the conversation in the non-conference, as the Minutemen had a great run and for a time were atop the RPI. As conference play went on, Saint Louis was the talk of the conference as the Billikens quietly put together win after win in a 19-game winning streak. Six of those wins were by four points or less. After losing three straight, they pulled out another close one at UMass.
Strangely, VCU fell out of the conversation early, but Shaka Smart’s team still won 26 teams and was right behind Saint Louis when it was all said and done. That VCU fell out of the conversation says less about the Rams than it does about the conference, as there was much to talk about all along.
At the end of the day, it’s also worth noting that an Atlantic 10 team is but a mere footnote with one other part of the NCAA Tournament. In the second round, Saint Joseph’s – the unexpected conference tournament champion – had Connecticut on the ropes and let the game get away. We all know what the Huskies went on to do.
Fordham opened the conference tournament by edging George Mason 70-67, a fitting ending for the Patriots as they lost a number of close games in their first year in the conference. St. Bonaventure began the next round by beating La Salle 82-72 before Dayton ended any hopes Fordham had of a magical run by an 87-74 count. Richmond then beat Duquesne 76-64 and UMass ended the day by edging Rhode Island 65-61.
The quarterfinals began with a stunner, as St. Bonaventure beat Saint Louis 71-68. Saint Joseph’s then beat Dayton 70-67. VCU took out cross-town rival Richmond 71-53, then George Mason beat UMass 85-77.
Saint Joseph’s made short work of St. Bonaventure 67-48 in the first semifinal, then VCU had too much for George Washington in a 74-55 win to set up the championship game. There, Saint Joseph’s shot 48 percent from the field and held VCU below 37 percent, then had enough late to hold off the Rams by a 65-61 margin.
Player of the Year: Jordair Jett, Saint Louis
Co-Rookies of the Year: DeAndre’ Bembry, Saint Joseph’s, and E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
Coach of the Year: Jim Crews, Saint Louis
Defensive Player of the Year: Briante Weber, VCU
Dwayne Evans, Sr. F, Saint Louis
Langston Galloway, Sr. G, Saint Joseph’s
Treveon Graham, Jr. G, VCU
Jordair Jett, Sr. G, Saint Louis
Chaz Williams, Sr. G, UMass
- A record six teams made the NCAA Tournament
- Dayton made a run to the Elite Eight
- UMass scored several significant non-conference wins and led the way in boosting the conference’s profile
- Along the way, UMass won the Charleston Classic, beating Nebraska, New Mexico and Clemson
- Saint Joseph’s, expected to win last year, instead won the conference tournament this season with a decidedly different cast.
What we expected, and it happened: Rhode Island had growing pains in Dan Hurley’s second season. The Rams had a lot of newcomers to integrate, including several transfers. Besides the obvious chemistry implications, the transfers had not played for a year, and this team was still young. The departure of Jordan Hare certainly didn’t help, but getting him back next season will.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: La Salle had good personnel returning and was thought to have the potential to be back in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the Explorers never really got going, finishing 7-9 in Atlantic 10 play.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Saint Joseph’s won the conference championship. Last year was supposed to be “the year,” and when it didn’t happen expectations were not high for this season’s team. The Hawks had a quietly good season before their great run in Brooklyn.
Team(s) on the rise: George Washington. If you had any remaining doubts that Mike Lonergan can recruit and coach, feel free to cast them aside now. The Colonials are back to being an NCAA Tournament team again and the recruiting wins keep coming.
Team(s) on the decline: George Mason. Okay, it’s early yet, and the Patriots weren’t that far away from having a very different record this season. And no team is really on much of a decline. But the Patriots had a veteran team this season, so it might be another year before they’re a contender in the conference.
Next Season Conference Outlook
With the results of 2013-14 in the rearview mirror and the addition of Davidson next season, there aren’t likely to be doubts about the conference now. The Atlantic 10 is in a very good place right now and on the rise as such.
Looking ahead to next season, early favorites have to start with VCU. The Rams lose stalwarts in Juvonte Reddic and Rob Brandenburg, but Treveon Graham and Briante Weber lead a solid cast of returnees that will be boosted by an excellent recruiting class. George Washington should be right there, as should Dayton. Teams like Saint Louis, UMass, Richmond and La Salle all have potential, but must replace at least one very significant contributor and/or leader. Rhode Island is a team to keep an eye on after going through growing pains this past season, and St. Bonaventure has proven that they at least will not be an easy out. Saint Joseph’s loses a lot of production and leadership.
Fordham will probably continue to have an uphill battle to move up from the bottom, and that may be true for the likes of George Mason and Duquesne. In the latter case, Jim Ferry has the Dukes looking better, but moving up in the standings here is easier said than done.
One thing is for sure: the conference should be at least as competitive as this season. There should also be fewer doubts about how good it will be as a whole.