The Atlantic 10 is a proud college basketball league, emphasis on the basketball. It isn’t in the football business as a conference; only one of its 14 schools (Massachusetts) plays in the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision.
It isn’t a power conference, but don’t call it a mid-major, either. It has finished between No. 7 and No. 9 in KenPom.com’s league rankings every year since 2008. It has produced multiple NCAA tournament teams every year since 2006, and all but two seasons since 1991. It is a reliable source of quality basketball, better in some years than others even as membership has evolved.
That makes this year a potential anomaly. Rhode Island (21-3, 13-0) is running away with the regular season and can clinch a share of the title Friday night. The problem for the A-10 is the list of its NCAA at-large contenders outside the Rams begins and ends with St. Bonaventure (19-6, 9-4).
In short, there’s probably two ways for the league to continue its multi-bid streak. One is for Rhode Island to lose in the league tournament, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Only one No. 1 seed has claimed the A-10 tourney in the last seven years, while four have been knocked out in the quarterfinals.
The other probably hinges on tonight’s meeting between the Rams and St. Bonaventure (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Bonnies wobbled early in conference play, dropping four of five. Since then, they’ve taken seven in a row and wound up near the top of the A-10, as originally anticipated.
St. Bonaventure acquits itself well with the NCAA’s new quadrant system for assessing quality wins, owning a 3-2 mark against Quadrant 1 (defined as home games against teams ranked in the Rating Percentage Index, top-50 neutral-court games, top-75 road games). But there are some minuses, too, notably an opening-night loss to Niagara (when star guard Jaylen Adams sat out with an ankle injury).
Given the lack of opportunities against high-end foes the rest of the way, the Bonnies might have more on the line than anyone in the country this weekend. At the very least, their margin of error will shrink drastically if they can’t send Rhode Island home from Olean, N.Y., with its first A-10 loss.
As for other games to monitor this weekend …
Texas (15-11, 5-8 Big 12) at Oklahoma, Saturday, noon, ESPN: If the selection committee has proven anything over the last three years, it’s that teams that pile up a bunch of good victories will receive a long look. The Longhorns are a commendable 5-7 against Quadrant 1, which is why they are in better shape than some would give a 15-11 team credit for to this point.
That said, the Longhorns have dropped three in a row and they play three of the next four on the road. They can’t collapse and expect to make the field, and beating Oklahoma (which itself is on a four-game slide that began with a loss at Texas) would help stabilize things for Shaka Smart’s bunch.
Virginia Tech (18-8, 7-6 ACC) at Georgia Tech, Saturday, noon, ESPN2; and N.C. State (17-9, 7-6 ACC) at Wake Forest, Saturday, 4 p.m., ACC Network: They’re peas in the same pod. Both are borderline tournament teams with nonconference-strength-of-schedule problems (the Hokies more than the Wolfpack). They’re both on the road against teams near the bottom of the conference. The message is the same for both: Take care of business. Yes, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are dangerous at home. No, Virginia Tech and N.C. State don’t need the headache of losing to one of the worst teams in the ACC (non-Pitt division).
Syracuse (17-9, 6-7 ACC) at Miami, Saturday, noon, CBS: The most boring team, accomplishment-wise, at the edge of the field might be the Orange. It is 1-4 against Quadrant 1, is perfectly acceptable away from home (4-5) and has only one loss that could truly haunt it (at Georgia Tech). A victory in Coral Gables would help, but Syracuse still must face North Carolina, Duke and Clemson down the stretch. There’s more to gain than lose for Jim Boeheim’s bunch in this one.
Kansas State (18-8, 7-6 Big 12) vs. Iowa State, Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPNU: The same story as N.C. State and Virginia Tech, only in the bottomless Big 12. There is no such thing as a sure win in this league, but last-place Iowa State at home is as close as it gets. The Cyclones have yet to win a conference road game, and K-State has largely avoided silly setbacks (thought it probably wishes it could get back a loss to Tulsa).
Bruce Weber’s team is also deficient in its nonconference strength of schedule, and it needs to create some separation between itself and the edge of the field. Losing at Iowa State would be highly counterproductive to achieving that goal.
Baylor (16-10, 6-7 Big 12) vs. Texas Tech, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU: The Bears have sort of snuck up on everyone, winning four in a row to revive hopes of an NCAA bid. They’ve done nothing especially damaging, and much of their best work (defeats of Kansas and Texas) has come in the last week. Beating Texas Tech, even in Waco, Tex., is a tough ask. But it would bolster the Bears’ rapidly improving resume.
TCU (17-9, 5-8 Big 12) vs. Oklahoma State, Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2: The Horned Frogs are in better shape than their conference standing would suggest. They’re done with Kansas, done with West Virginia and grateful to be done with Trae Young and Oklahoma for the rest of the regular season. They play three of the next four at home, including this date with an Oklahoma State team that has lost five of seven but defeated Kansas and West Virginia on the road in that span. TCU shouldn’t let this one get away.
Nebraska (20-8, 11-4 Big Ten) at Illinois, Sunday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: On paper, the Cornhuskers might as well be Boise State. Both have hit the 20-win plateau, but their chances to collect quality victories in conference play have come and gone. Boise State didn’t get one in its two games against Nevada, while Nebraska was done playing the Big Ten’s four likely NCAA tournament teams by Jan. 22.
To the Huskers’ credit, they’ve done nothing but win ever since, gorging on the bottom half of the Big Ten to stitch together a six-game winning streak. They’re 0-7 in Quadrant 1 games and 20-1 against everyone else. A loss in Champaign, Ill., would be crushing, and it isn’t out of the question; Nebraska barely slipped past the Illini on Jan. 15 in Lincoln.
Houston (20-5, 10-3 American Athletic) at Temple, Sunday, 4 p.m., CBS Sports Network: The Cougars dealt Cincinnati its first conference loss Thursday, a triumph that does a lot to bolster their NCAA tournament candidacy. There’s even some wiggle room built in now, not that Houston should aim to use it.
That said, Temple is one of the season’s most bizarre teams. The Owls (15-11, 7-7) have defeated Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State … and lost to George Washington, La Salle and Tulane. They also won five in a row before a loss at Wichita State on Thursday, so this is far from a gimme for Kelvin Sampson’s team.
Penn State (19-9, 9-6 Big Ten) at Purdue, Sunday, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network: In two important areas, the Nittany Lions are the reverse Nebraska. Not only do they have a couple high-end victories (a sweep of Ohio State), they have the opportunity to get more down the stretch with Michigan and Nebraska still to come.
The RPI isn’t fond of the Nittany Lions (No. 74). Predictive models such as KenPom.com are bullish about Penn State (No. 28). Both will like Tony Carr and Co. even more with a victory in West Lafayette, Ind., against a Purdue team that’s dropped three in a row.
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