With Xavier faltering, who’s the new A-10 favorite?

It requires only two short sentences to sum up the chaos in the Atlantic 10 in the wake of an unpredictable opening three weeks of conference play.

Five teams are tied for first place with matching 4-2 records. None of them is Xavier.

Saint Louis' 73-68 victory at Xavier on Wednesday night suggests the arrival of a new era in the Atlantic 10, one in which at least for this season the Musketeers are no longer invincible at home and no longer the undisputed kingpins. Xavier (13-7, 4-3) remains a shell of the team that started 8-0 this season before its brawl with Cincinnati and has now lost as many Atlantic 10 games this year as it did the previous two seasons combined.

A Musketeers team that is deeper and more talented than the one that went 15-1 in the A-10 last year certainly has ample time and talent to reclaim its place atop the league, but even this early adversity is surprising given the school's recent history. The last time anyone besides Xavier won the league championship outright was the 2005-06 season when George Washington finished a perfect 16-0 in Atlantic 10 play.

Determining exactly what Xavier's problem has been since the brawl is difficult because a new one seems to arise every time the Musketeers make an adjustment.

At first it appeared to be a lack of toughness in response to the backlash from the brawl. Then in an 87-72 loss to Dayton last Saturday, the team didn't defend well enough. And against Saint Louis, coach Chris Mack did not start Kenny Frease and Mark Lyons because he was unsatisfied with their practice habits and the team didn't show sufficient attention to detail, missing numerous box-outs and committing 17 turnovers.

If Xavier cannot regain its swagger and play to its potential, there are a wealth of teams capable of taking advantage.

Saint Louis plays stingy defense, boasts one of the best low-post players in the league in Brian Conklin and has a coach that will squeeze every last drop of talent out of his roster. Dayton has a veteran roster, an elite home-court advantage and victories over Xavier, Temple and Saint Louis already. And St. Joseph's, LaSalle and UMass have all shown the ability to beat good teams (and lose to middling ones).

Perhaps the team with the best chance to unseat Xavier, however, is Temple, which has one of the league's most formidable backcourts and is slowly working top big man Micheal Eric back into the rotation. The Owls have won three straight entering Saturday's home game against city rival St. Joseph's.

Of course, this year in the Atlantic 10 there's only one guarantee: Nothing will be easy to predict.

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