So rarely does a mid-major league flirt with the possibility of sending four teams to the NCAA tournament.
Is it possible the Atlantic 10 could send six? On two occasions the conference has sent five through to the tournament: in 1997 and 1998. Can that be repeated?
That's a broad question to which the answers will become more clear in the next three weeks, but at the very least you can count on this league sending three teams dancing. That's a terrific thing.
Every single result that needed to happen into help the A10's case for mulitiple bids came to fruition Saturday. That almost never happens for a mid-major league seeking to play to its strengths. Let's break down each game of consequence and see where it puts each team in the here and now.
Is it possible the team with the best record in conference would be the one left out right now? And can you even guess which team that is? It's not Temple. It's not Dayton. It's not Xavier.
Charlotte 77, Fordham 72. This was almost bad. We're talking one-month-old milk kind of bad. Fordham has just two wins this season and was beating Charlotte with less than five minutes remaining. If Charlotte hadn't won, they'd be out of the discussion. The Fordham Rams beating you would be a kind of stench that a skunk couldn't stand.
If it wasn't for the seven-game winning streak, the 49ers wouldn't be at 8-1 and leading the conference race. The best non-con win is Louisville. Eh. Unfortunately, this team can't afford to dip below a second-best record in the conference or else it risks NIT affiliation. But they're good ... for now.
Richmond 71, No. 17 Temple 54. Richmond shot 58 percent from the floor and handled the Owls unlike anyone had before in this regular season. Kevin Anderson 29 points. I have no shame admitting it: I wouldn't recognize Kevin Anderson if he showed up at my house with his jersey on. Temple's got nothing to worry about in the time being; the Owls have a strong strenght of schedule, good wins out of conference over Villanova, Siena and Virginia Tech. Plus, the may not even fall out of the rankings because of this loss.
Richmond really benefits here because they only stay one game behind of the 49ers in the loss column and don't hurt their low KenPom and RPI numbers. Ole Miss, Missouri and Florida are banner Richmond wins, but it has to avoid damaging A10 losses from bottom-feeders for the rest of the season.
Dayton 90, Xavier 65. The schools are only a sitcom length's car ride from each other, you know. The Flyers made little work of the Musketeers yesterday to the point where I think it was one of the five most impressive performances I've seen from any team this season — given the circumstances head coach Brian Gregory's team was in. As close to a do-or-die game as you can have in early February. Xavier is not typical dragon-slayer Xavier, but it's good.
Dayton made it look JV-level Saturday.
The Flyers and X don't have a lot outside of the conference. After yesterday, Dayton's still only 5-3 inside of it; Xavier is 8-2 in the league, but I'd probably have them at No. 4, just barely ahead of Charlotte due to a slightly better SOS. I'd put Dayton at No. 6 overall in pecking order. The A10 needed a definitive Flyers win and it got it.
Rhode Island 93, Massachusetts 85. The Rams are 19-3 and find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Boston College, Oklahoma State and Providence lay in their wake. Not the strongest victim list, but still worthwhile. In previous seasons, URI started out strongly but quickly did its best Charlie Brown interpretation by slipping up one too many times. No longer.
For example, Akeem Richmond scored 19 points and Lamonte Ulmer had 17 for Jim Baron's club. They're not the team's two best players. I caught Rhode Island at the beginning of January and these guys were loose, unapologetic for their apathy toward Top 25 rankings (they really don't care about that at all) and didn't want to talk about what was "different" this year.
If there's one team from this conference that I think wouldn't be rattled by the bright lights of March, it's this one.