By Dennis Berry
The Atlantic 10 Conference has always been considered one of the toughest non major basketball conferences in the NCAA. The future though looks even better now for the A10. Amid all the conference realignment, the A10 added two high profile schools to replace the two it will lose next year.
The A10 appeared to be in trouble early this year. First it was announced in March that Temple would be headed to the Big East starting 2013. Then earlier in May it was announced that UNC Charlotte would be leaving to join Conference USA in 2013 as well.
The loss of UNC Charlotte is not that big in terms of basketball. The 49ers best finish in the conference came in 2006 when they finished second. That was one of two NIT trips for the 49ers as members of the A10. They never made the NCAA Tournament.
The loss of Temple was the biggest blow. Since the Owls joined the A10 in 1982 they had been the one the best known names in the conference. Most of that success came under legendary coach John Chaney, who coached Temple from 1982 to 2006. Under Chaney the Owls made the NCAA Tournament 17 times. They made it to the Elite 8 five times (1988, 1991, 1993, 1999, and 2001). They never were able to make it past a regional final and make a Final Four.
So the A10 needed to make a big move to prove that the conference will still be one of the best non-BCS conferences in the country. A10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade not only replaced Temple, but also improved the conference with new members Butler and VCU. Two programs that have both been to the Final Fours the past three years but have great coaches to guide them.
Butler was the first to announce their move to the A10. The Bulldogs will join the conference in 2013. Although they missed the NCAA Tournament last year, they have a recent history of Tournament success. They made the National Title game in 2010 and 2011. They were a half court shot away from being the champions in 2010.
Then Tuesday afternoon VCU made it official that they will move to the A10. They are not going to wait a year though. They will pay the CAA a $250,000 exit fee and begin play in the A10 this coming fall. The Rams came to national attention when they made it to the Final Four in 2011.
The Bulldogs and Rams are led by two of the best young coaches in the NCAA; Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart. Both could have left their schools after their recent success in the NCAA Tournament and got jobs at bigger schools. Both spurned the money and attention to stay at the programs they have built.
Now they will be members in a new power A10. It will be a step up competition for both schools. That is no shot at the Colonial Athletic Association or the Horizon League, just a true statement. It will be much harder for road for each team to win the A10.
Last year the A10 had eight teams win at least 20 games – Temple, Saint Louis, Xavier, St. Bonaventure, Massachusetts, La Salle, Dayton, and Saint Joseph’s. Of those eight teams, six played in the NCAA or NIT Tournaments. Compare that to the CAA and the Horizon each getting one bid each last year.
It’s not just the top that is strong, but the bottom half of the conference standings has had success as well. Richmond also made noise in the 2011 NCAA Tournament making the Sweet 16. George Washington made three straight trips to the NCAA from 2005-2007. Duquesne has not had a losing record since 2007. Even programs like Rhode Island and Fordham appear to be on the way up.
There are plenty of excellent coaching matchups that we can look forward to will also make the A10 intriguing. Rick Majerus, Chris Mack, and Phil Martelli have had success in the NCAA Tournament. Coaches Chris Mooney, Derek Kellogg, John Giannini and Mark Schmidt have built winning programs. Archie Miller just completed his first year at Dayton won 20 games. New Hires Bobby Hurley and Jim Ferry look to rebuild programs.
One reason for a move to a tougher conference is because Butler and VCU will have a better shot at making the NCAA. The A10 is a higher profile conference that generally receives more NCAA bids compared to the Horizon and CAA. If neither team wins the A10 Tournament to get the auto bid, they will have a better shot at getting an at large bid.
One that that is sure when Butler arrives in 2013, the A10 will be the strongest non BCS basketball conference in the nation.
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