A-10 vs. Colonial, from the coaches
Well, when you ask Colonial coaches this question, they naturally favor their league. Asking college coaches about their league is not an exercise in truth-telling, I suppose. Still, I tried to get people who would have some sort of stake in actual honesty. Like Benny Moss, who was an assistant at Charlotte last year during the 49ers' debut trip through the A-10, and who is now the head guy at UNC Wilmington.
"Tough question," he said, when I asked him to compare, and he tried to get out of it, but finally he gave me his opinion.
"I think the Colonial is probably a better conference," he said after rattling off RPI statistics, top 100 statistics, postseason results and so on. "I work in the Colonial; the Colonial is a better conference."
(Even though he had no tie to the CAA during last year's tournament, Moss was rooting for Mason, as I guess every little-guy coach in the country was. And he's already spouting the party line on the CAA's chances to work more magic this year, with all his RPI numbers. I wondered if they had passed out RPI fact sheets to all the coaches this morning or something, but he said he had just memorized all this stuff during his interview process.
"I don't think it's far-fetched for this league to get multiple teams in the tournament and to get multiple teams past the first round," he said. "The league is that good. It's pressure, but it's pressure that we welcome.")
I also thought Georgia State's Michael Perry might have an interest in CAA/A-10 honesty, since he played and coached at Richmond, which is now in the A-10. Here's what he said:
"You could see a progression over the years; this league was getting better and better and passing other leagues by, literally. The fact that you can even talk about comparing those leagues is a strong statement in itself. Years ago, that wouldn't even have been a discussion. And now you can have a very heated discussion. My opinion is that the Colonial is better, but I'm biased."
(Like virtually every coach here, Perry fielded phone call after phone call about George Mason's run during last year's tournament. He and Tom Pecora from Hofstra probably had the most compelling stories in this regard; Pecora because of the two wins over Mason, and Perry because his squad almost beat Mason in overtime during the quarterfinals of the CAA tournament last March, which would have kept the Patriots out of the NCAA field. Perry has talked often about how much his program gained from Mason's run; we just talked about it again:
"It was a lot of inspiration for our kids, considering we took them down to the wire and, in some sense, had that game won," he said. "It put a light at the end of the tunnel and showed how close we really are. I don't think it's a one-year wonder or anything like that; I certainly don't think that's the case. If you follow this league, you could see everything was pointing in that direction. I don't think anyone thought Final Four, but certainly that teams could advance.")
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