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Atlantic 10 vs. CAA?

Before last year's NCAA basketball tournament, a tournament that featured a first-round game between the Atlantic 10's regular season champion (GW) and the Colonial Athletic Association's co-regular season champion (UNC Wilmington), I wrote a seemingly innocuous story about whether the CAA was gaining on, or even equal to, the A-10 in men's basketball. The premise was that, over a two-year period, the two leagues had sent the same number of teams to the postseason (NCAA and NIT tourneys), and that both seasons, the CAA had fared better in the RPI, and that, with the leagues overlapping in so many media markets, it was a fair time to make such a comparison and ask such a question.

Well, the A-10 fans weren't pleased. Weren't pleased at all. A particularly angry fan sent me several e-mails about how clearly and indisputably better the A-10 was, one of which included this passage:

Your story and especially the pernicious headline is preposterous. Your continued reliance on flawed data when you can just look at the schedules and see that there is a massive difference between these conferences is inexcuseable [sic]. Delaware? Ga. State? Northeastern? Radford is a girls school! Old Dominion I have some respect for, they could play in the A-10 probably.

I just don't understand it. It defies any logic or understanding of the actual facts.

(In another pre-tournament e-mail, he specifically picked on George Mason, and claimed no one could think "that UNC Charlotte would not dominate the crappy teams in the Colonial Athletic Conference [sic]."

Well, showing a nearly superhuman level of self-control, I never responded to any of these e-mails once the postseason was finished. I never wrote back to note that the CAA went 4-2 in the NCAA tournament, with a Final Four appearance, while the A-10 went 1-2, with no teams surviving the first weekend. I never wrote back to note that the CAA went 5-2 in the NIT tournament, with one of the losses coming in an all-CAA match-up, while the A-10 went 2-3. I never wrote back to note that the two leagues split their two postseason meetings last year, both of which went to overtime. I never wrote back to note that the CAA is now 12-9 in head-to-head match-ups with the A-10 over the past two seasons. All facts which, I would argue, make a claim of general league equivalence not particularly crazed. I'm not saying the CAA is better; I'm saying the leagues are about the same.

In defense of the A-10, I will note that the Northeastern-to-Duquesne defections are a strong check in the A-10's column. I mean, why would the coach and star player from an above-average CAA school depart for the dregs of the A-10 if the latter league were not significantly better, at least in public perception? Doesn't make any sense.

In further defense of the A-10, I will note that the CAA is eager to make comparisons between the two leagues, while the A-10 says it compares itself with leagues like the Big East and ACC. They definitely have different goals and different expectations.

And in further defense of the A-10, I will note that both today's media day and the postseason tournament are held in Atlantic City, which is cool, and that tomorrow's CAA media day (from which I'll be live blogging) will be held at the ESPN Zone in downtown D.C., which is not super cool.

So I ask you, knowledgeable basketball fans, are the two leagues now approximately equal? Or are they not?

By Dan Steinberg  |  October 24, 2006; 6:01 PM ET
Categories:  College Basketball  
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Next: What You Need to Know, in Fewer Than 300 Words

Comments

There's no question the CAA has passed the A10 as a conference, from top to bottom.

With key A10 programs like Temple and UMass, the two programs that really were the cornerstones for that league's rise to prominence, now nearly irrelevent, it's hardly a surprise.

GMU, ODU, Hofstra, UNCW, VCU...all good enough to win the A10. Other than GW, which A10 team would have had a shot at the CAA crown? Not one, while the CAA's top 5-6 teams routinely beat on each other.
Our 8th place team (Drexel) took Duke and UCLA to the limit in the preseason NIT last year, do you think ANY of the bottom half of the A10 could do the same? Please.
Hey, we had a Final Four team that was not able to win the regular season title outright, nor was it able to get out of the semis in the conference tourney. Think about that while comparing the two leagues.
One last thing, in regards to Northeastern's Shawn James defecting to Duquesne...if I'm not mistaken, Abdulai Jalloh (sp?), an All A10 pick from one of (if not the) premier programs in the A10 (St Joe's) defected to one of the worst programs in the CAA (JMU). Call it an even swap?

Posted by: Heywood Jablomi | October 24, 2006 6:11 PM | Report abuse

According to Ken Pomeroy's conference RPI ratings, the CAA was 10th last year and the Atlantic 10 was 11th. This is all before the CAA dominated the A-10 in the post-season tournaments.

http://kenpom.com/confrank.php?y=2006

Essentially, I'd say they are about the same, with the CAA having a slight leg up in star power. If anything, the CAA will be better. GW lost a lot of key contributors, and the rest of the A-10 was mediocre last year. Hofstra, the second-best regular-season team in the CAA last year, returns most of their key stars.

Obviously, we have to look deeper into this. But I'd agree with you as a whole. The CAA is probably a better conference than the Atlantic 10, but not by much.

-Bullets Fever

Posted by: Bullets Fever | October 24, 2006 6:23 PM | Report abuse

CAA is getting better and better as a conference, no doubt about that. A-10 is losing its prominence in NCAA basketball. George Mason to Final Four, CAA having the 2nd best post-season win percentage, and next season looks to be an impact conference again. A-10 had GW last season, a very weak schedule, in a weakening conference, it's not hard to go nearly undefeated. Almost fell to NC-wilmington, went to OT and wilmington ultimately fell. GW used scramble defense which is their weakness (which Mason used also).

The easy way to put this, in the past the A-10 was the stronger conference than the CAA. Now the CAA is a conference getting stronger and getting better recruits, many good teams (ODU, GMU, UNCW, VCU, hofstra) and now is the stronger conference.

Posted by: Andrew H | October 24, 2006 8:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm an A-10 guy as a University of Richmond grad (although they were still in the CAA my freshman year) so it pains me to say this, but it's obvious that right now the CAA is the better league. That being said, the initial poster is guilty of an absurd amount of hyperbole. GMU, Hofstra, and UNCW were all capable of winning the A-10 last year, but not ODU or VCU. Especially not ODU - my Spiders were terrible last year and we still beat ODU. And really none of the CAA's top 3 teams are considerably better (if at all) then Xavier and GW were - Mason got hot at the right time and they deserve all the credit in the world for it but they weren't a dominating team. Regarding Drexel's two brilliant game at the most meaningless time of year, St Joes beat Drexel and so did Lasalle (a middle of the pack A-10 team), so it's just foolish of you to say that a middle of the pack A-10 team couldn't hang with a top program. St Louis lost to Gonzaga by 3, St Joes beat Kansas, Dayton beat Cincinnati, Richmond beat Seton Hall, and Fordham beat UVA (ok so that last one doesn't count for much).

Just a few years ago, the A-10 had Xavier contending for the Final Four, and St Joes flirting with an undefeated season. They also fielded very competitive teams in Richmond, Dayton, GW, and Temple. And that was the norm for the league (we're also not too far gone from the Marcus Camby glory days...). The CAA has traditionally been a one big league, in which the one bid team battled hard but ultimately lost their first round game (except for the Giant Killing Spiders, of course, as we invented the 15 over 2 upset). The CAA had it's best year of all time last year, and the A-10 was down, but one year does not make a trend (three years does).

For the A-10 it's just a down couple years as St Joes has reloaded after the Nelson high, and Dayton and UR have uncharacteristically struggled (not to mention the Bonnies welding certificate fiasco). Dayton and UMASS are going to much improved this year (especially UMASS), while Xavier and GW will continue to be competitive nationally. St Louis will also be a quality team, and Charlotte will rebound with a strong year. I would expect the CAA and the A-10 to be fairly even this year and then for the A-10 to pull back ahead because they are still seen as a better basketball conference and eventually the coaching/recruiting will reflect that. But we'll see I guess.

Posted by: Jon | October 24, 2006 9:05 PM | Report abuse

I think right now they are near equals but give the edge to the CAA, Northeastern almost beat GMU in the regualr season and beat Old Dominon in the tourney (how they did not get a NIT bid is beyond me) its a tough league top to bottom, NU also is seeing Jose Juan Barea make a legit stab at making the Mav's roster.

Posted by: keith | October 24, 2006 10:54 PM | Report abuse

BIG EAST rules!!!

Posted by: WG-DC | October 25, 2006 12:07 AM | Report abuse

In regards to the comments from the UR fan, you discount the performance of Drexel in the early season (and are you really comparing Duke and UCLA to the like of Seton Hall, UVA and Cinci?), I don't disagree that the early season is not necessarily the best indicator of a team's strengths.
That said, I'd say the post season IS the best indicator, as teams are playing with a "one and done" mentality, correct?
If this is true, than it's pretty obvious that the A10 and CAA were NOT equal a year ago, as the CAA's post season record was as good as any league in the nation,while the A10 (which only would have had one NCAA team had GW won the A10 tourney) had a losing record.
The CAA had three NCAA tourney "worthy" teams (UNCW, GMU, HU), while the A10 had one (GW), and I'm being generous calling GW a NCAA at large worthy team, given their 207 SOS and 38 RPI (which was higher than HU's by 8 spots).

You than go on to post what these various A10 teams WILL do this year, as if you can see the future.

CLEARLY the CAA had the better season a year ago, their TV presence is growing (ODU just announced 20 games on TV this year, for instance), and the league's recruiting has taken off.
AT BEST the A10 can hope to be at the same level, but at this point, it appears the two leagues are passing each other, going in different directions (I have to believe most UR fans wish they were back in the CAA).

Posted by: Heywood Jablomi | October 25, 2006 7:20 AM | Report abuse

What does it matter? In the long run, St. Joe's, Xavier, St. Louis and one or two other programs will join up with the non-football Big East schools and the A-10 will be decimated and most likely raid the CAA for replenishment anyway, let's see what happens then.

Posted by: Chris | October 25, 2006 8:36 AM | Report abuse

Let's look at the last few years Heywood, instead of passing judgment based on one good year for the CAA.

Posted by: John | October 25, 2006 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Dan,

I agree with you on the CAA now being better than the A10. As a Siena fan the Duquesne situation is a case of highjinx. We beat them in Pittsburgh a couple years ago by 10 or more and they dropped the return game because Siena dropped its football program. Then this off season they raid our point guard, Kojo Mensah, in a clear case of tampering. Watch out for Siena this year. We lost in the bracketbuster last year at Hofstra when Mensah was 'thugged to the floor" and a close game turned their way because of technical fouls against Siena in obvious poor officiating. We get them at our place this year and you can be sure we are targeting that date. Also, watch out for Marist in the MAAC. These two teams will cause trouble in the post season this year.

Posted by: Gerald Sherry | October 25, 2006 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Eversley's move was purely that he grew up near Pittsburg. It had nothing to do with the leagues.

Posted by: ramfan | October 25, 2006 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Heywood,

Clearly you lack reading comprehension skills. I wrote " it's obvious that right now the CAA is the better league." I don't know how it can get anymore clear cut than that. I also think the A-10 will bounce back in the next few years, maybe I'm wrong, but I'm not bashing any CAA teams (but I'll get to that in a second). Second, I didn't just discount Drexel's close losses because it was early season, I discounted them because Drexel lost to two mid-tier A-10 teams. If Drexel can take UCLA (who didn't play well early season anyway) to the brink then why can't Lasalle who beat Drexel?

I'm happy with Richmond's decision to go to the A-10. If we hadn't left we would have never had the opportunity to play at Kansas (and beat them), not to mention Stanford, and earn an At-Large bid to the tournament. And if the NCAA hadn't give Wisconsin a home game that year, I think we would have beaten them instead of blowing a big lead in front of a frenzied crowd. In the CAA we couldn't get teams to play us because the weak teams in the league would lower our RPI and made the game too dangerous for big schools. Things have changed a lot with Mason's run, but I still think the CAA will settle back to what it was. Our biggest mistake was hiring used car salesmen Jerry Wainwright to coach out team as he ran our program into the ground and will now do the same with Depaul.

By the way (time for cheap shots), I think it's funny how all these Mason fans have sprouted up all of a sudden. Mason has never been a basketball school - I went to games in the Patriot Center growing up and you could hear some guy drop his nachos across the areana - it was that dead in there. And now all of a sudden everyone acts like they've been a huge fan since the George Evans days, if not before. Honestly, you guys are a safety school for Virginia students, especially Northern Virginia students, who would rather commute than live on your sorry campus anyway. Nobody had any pride in GooMoo - it was just a place to get a degree.

Posted by: Jon | October 25, 2006 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Nearly every program in the A10 has turned over it's Coaching Staff in the past 4 years. Many of them have been significant upgrades that are only 1 or 2 years in (Temple, UMass, Duquesne, LaSalle, Fordham, Richmond). Most of the more established coaches have worked out nicely (Xavier, Dayton, GW). Only 2 are questionable (St Bonaventure, Rhode Island).

The payoff with all these new coaches is coming. The league should be significantly better than last season. The only questions and concerns this A10 fan (UMass Grad) has is whether we can hold on to the successful guys for a while.
As far as which league is better? Who cares, that's just something a lazy sportwriter tosses out there so he can head to the Bar earlier. (Kidding!). I hope they both do well, it's those BCS leagues we gotta watch out for, they're trying to cut us all out of the loot!

Posted by: Slim Pickens | October 25, 2006 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Jon,
You and Heywood can go back and forth about bball stats and so forth, but your cheap shot at Mason as a whole reveals your bitterness, jealousy, and/or ignorance of whats truly going on. Are there bandwagon fans? Sure. But the fanbase at Mason has been on a constant upswing since before the Evans years. The only thing that has held Mason back from having a "typical" college atmosphere are the snobs from Fairfax. Additionally, the only reason you are now seeing/hearing all the Mason fans roar is that the Post and all local networks now have no choice but to include us in their stories. Its about time someone woke up and realized that there are more schools in this area than the Hoyas, Hippieville, and that clownshow in College Park.

Posted by: SMooVe | October 25, 2006 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Hey, first of all, I'm hardly a GMU fan.
Second of all, my reading comprehension is just fine.
Third, your logic is faulty, when looking at what UR's prospects would be in the CAA vs the A10.
You would not get the opportunity to play at Kansas if you were still in the CAA? Huh? BCS conference schools ROUTINELY play home games vs LOW majors, let alone mid majors.
Let's take a look at what kind of fantastic home OOC schedule GW was able to parlay it's standing as an elite A10 team into, shall we?
They (because they're in the A10 after all, and deserve respect) were able to get the likes of Kennesaw St, Norfolk St, St Francis of PA, Fla Int'l, U Maryland Eastern Shore (sucks that it says "Eastern Shore" at the end, huh?) and Stony Brook to come and visit DC.
Now, I may not be the sharpest guy in the world, but I'd have to believe that ODU's OOC home schedule, which included the likes of Depaul (who the Monarchs handed their worst defeat in HISTORY), and VA Tech (another ODU win) would trump any of those games, right? Or do you think if ODU were in the A10, they could do better in the scheduling area?
Next, let's look at the at large bid you attribute to your conference affiliation. Again, realizing I'm just not that sharp, but I DO believe a certain CAA squad, less than 7 months ago, did in fact receive an at large (which it used to start a run to the Final Four). Are you saying that the only team eligible for an at large in the entire CAA is GMU? If so, that's pretty unfair! That would explain the ridiculous shafting of Hofstra a year ago. I'll call Tom Pecora and let him know HU (and the other ten CAA squads NOT from Fairfax) are ineligible for an at large.
So, in review, you credit two nice OOC games on the road (Stanford and Kansas) to being in the A10 (while plenty of CAA squads are routinely playing comparable games), and the at large bid from a few years ago is also the result of being in the A10 (which GMU also just accomplished, and actually took advantage of it, no first round collapses from them!).

Come on, be honest. The worm has turned, UR made a mistake (which their football team is about to pay for, as well, with the A10 football conference disbanding for CAA play), they have no natural rivals on the schedule in conference (I'm a Philly guy, born and raised on Big Five hoops, trust me, no one up here cares about UR hoops), and the league they jumped for has been passed by the league they left.
On top of all of that, just about every other sport the two leagues offer are CLEARLY better in the CAA.
Ouch.

Posted by: Heywood Jablomi | October 25, 2006 11:20 AM | Report abuse

A-10.

The only reason this is a debate is because the CAA is coming of one if its best years ever.

A-10 is deep with GW, Xavier, St. Joes, Charlotte, Umass, Dayton, St. Louis and Richmond being threats in the NCAA tournament in any given year.

That said, I'd be happy to see the two conferences play each other more, but on a year-in-year-out basis the A10 always delivers a nationally competitive team and a deep, competitive league.

Posted by: DC | October 25, 2006 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I don't think these Mason fans just sprouted up, GMU is the largest school in VA and most of it's graduates stay in this area. The GMU alumni population in this area is growing faster than probably just about any other school. Most of us have just been waiting for a reason to be heard.

Mason's only considered a "safety school" because there are so many people in this area that graduate high school and look forward to moving away from home to go to school... of course many of those flunk out at UVA/VATech/W&M/Richmond and then end up living at home and graduating from Mason anyway. I grew up in Hampton Roads and GMU was mt first choice, not my safety school. For those of us who grew up outside of NoVA, going to a school like Mason, which is so close to DC and is surrounded by such a culturally rich and diverse metropolitan area, was a far better option than being stuck in BF-Blacksburg, sleepy-town Charlottesville, or dilapidated Richmond.

Posted by: SW | October 25, 2006 11:32 AM | Report abuse

All right, I was kidding about Mason. It was a mean joke. To make up for it, I'll poke fun of Richmond....

It now costs 40,000 to attend our University, which is more than I've made in the three years since I've graduated from said university (combined)....

Every year we're a contender for the worst cheerleading squad in the NCAA. In fact it appears that having a knee brace is the only prerequisite for making the team....

And finally we recently fired our president for having absolute no people skills. And by fired him, I mean he gets to stay on for a year, and then get paid while he doesn't work. We really showed him!

I'll stop arguing with Heywood because it's impossible to have a well reasoned argument on a blog comment section, as both of us will continue to take one sentence from each other's post and draw sweeping, borderline untrue conclusions about the other's point.

We can pick this thread back up in March.

Posted by: Jon | October 25, 2006 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Fair enough.

Oh, and I agree with a few posts up, stating that the REAL enemy is the overrated BCS conferences.
Make them play some of the teams from the MVC, CAA, A10 on the road, and watch Billy Packer's boys lose their stranglehold on an absurd % of at large bids.

Posted by: Heywood Jablomi | October 25, 2006 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I thought Richmond was a football school? All i have to say is Mason has 6, count them 6, regular season games on National Television next season (this doesn't include bracket busters or regional televised games) how many games on NATIONAL television does GW or Richmond have?

Posted by: The Masonfan | October 25, 2006 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Funny Mason fan, according to the press release issued by your athletic department, you have 3--count them--3 nationally televised games. It could be old and new ones were added (http://gomason.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/082806aac.html)

I think GW has 3-6, depending on how you define "national television."

Posted by: AKA | October 25, 2006 1:45 PM | Report abuse

I saw the Redskins on TV last week; dosen't really have any relation to whether a team is good or not.

Posted by: DC | October 25, 2006 2:21 PM | Report abuse

The CAA was superior last year. They may be again this year, but it would be nice to see some games played before making that assessment.

The key for sustaining the relative strength of either conference is coaching. IMO, it's one of the most important, if not the most important reason that CAA closed the gap with the A-10. In recent years CAA schools have made some excellent hires, Larranaga and Pecora (sp?)to name a couple. The A-10 is just starting to receover from a slew of bad hires, Lappas, Hahn, Hill, Nee et. al.; combined with Temple allowing Chaney to stay on too long. I think that Ford, Dunphy and the other replacements are excellent choices and that the A-10 will see it's fortunes improve as a result. Only time will tell.

Ultimately, schools outside the BCS have to be able to find someone who won't leave when BCS schools come calling - Larranaga or Martelli for example, or they need to make successive good hires as Xavier and Hofstra have done. Unfortunately for A-10 and CAA schools, people like Larranaga and Martelli are the exception and making good successive hires is difficult. My guess is that the relative strengths of the two conferences will remain cyclical. Right now the CAA is ascendant. We'll see how long that lasts.

Posted by: Hoops Fan | October 25, 2006 2:50 PM | Report abuse

If I am not mistaken the last two meetings between ODU and GW have been ODU victories. A fair comparions would be to look at he league strength from top to bottom. Clearly the CAA has the advantage. The A-10 should be comparing themselves to the CAA. Not the reverse. The A-10 is behind and they know it. I have not heard one CAA wanting to jump ship to the A-10. Richmond has all but publically said they want to rejoin the CAA. Why would the CAA want them back ? They bring nothing to the table. Now, lets compare the CAA to the Big East. I know of at least one 40pt butt whipping last year that ODU put on a Big East team (Depaul).

Posted by: Monarchman1 | October 26, 2006 7:10 AM | Report abuse

CAA fans, you're delusional. One season cannot stand as a long-term statement of league strength. While I'm certainly willing to give you the nod as the better league for last season, let's remember it only marked the second time in CAA history that you had an at-large berth in the NCAAs. Clearly, that says it all.

Posted by: Hatchet Man | October 26, 2006 12:11 PM | Report abuse

You guys are like crabs in a barrel. SLIM PICKENS is the voice of reason here. While I am a CAA fan...Go Rams... the BCS schools are the enemies here. The money and power they comand gives them too much influence and forces you bubble heads to fight for scraps. Go CAA, I hope we can continue the trend. You guys can restart the crabbin after the VCU vs Xavier game! Go Rams!!!!

Posted by: MJ | October 26, 2006 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Thanks MJ, not often I hear that. ;-).

Just to restate it: I bet that most CAA fans here were pulling for Saint Joseph's a couple of years ago. And the A10 fans were pulling for GMU last year. And we were all booing Duke both years. The few that weren't probably had big money on the outcomes.

Posted by: Slim Again | October 27, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the posters who have identified the BCS conferences as the real "enemy" of the two leagues...but the topic here is CAA vs. A10. On that score the CAA has, at least for the moment, moved ahead of the A10. Should that trend continue, the better, smaller private A10 schools may opt to leave the A10 for the Big East...but should that come to pass, it won't be the A10 "raiding" the CAA...it'll go the other way, starting with UMass and Temple, if UR doesn't beat them to it.

Posted by: Longhorn | November 2, 2006 5:42 PM | Report abuse

The A-10 is up 1-0 in the new season after Charlotte's victory over Hofstra yesterday.

Posted by: Sample in Greensboro | November 12, 2006 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, most of the hype surrounding Hofstra has been based on last year's team that beat George Mason and not based on the fact that two key "bigs" graduated, leaving key spots to fill. The replacements are either Freshmen or returning Sophomores who did not receive many minutes last season.

Although people picked Hofstra to run away with the CAA, the truth is starting to show.

Posted by: HU r U? | November 22, 2006 6:39 PM | Report abuse

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