Dec. 10, 3:45 p.m.: The Atlantic-10 looked paricularly strong in the middle of last season, before Dayton and Rhode Island took a dive. This season, after the six power conferences, the A-10 remains respectable. I rank the A-10 as the seventh-strongest conference, even though I’m not as crazy about it as I was last season. When comparing the A-10 to the WCC, Xavier may not be Gonzaga, but the A-10 goes a little deeper than the WCC. The A-10 seems about on par with Conference USA, although it is still early. The MWC goes three deep with BYU, UNLV and San Diego State, but none of those teams is as strong as Xavier.
Best team: Xavier can lose key players and still remain the clear team to beat in the league. Sean Miller has built a program with the Musketeers, who are poised to make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament once again. Xavier has already beaten Missouri, Virginia Tech and Memphis. A good matchup looms on Dec. 20 against Duke. Miller will be a hot commodity in the hiring season once again, and for good reason.
Worst team: A few teams are off to slow starts, but Fordham just won its first game Monday against Lafayette. Fordham lost to Villanova by 39 points and will have a difficult time finding wins even before the conference season starts in early January.
Biggest surprise: Injuries cost Dayton a berth in the NCAA tournament last season. I still expected the Flyers to be strong this season even though they lost standout Brian Roberts. But Dayton has exceeded expectations and has looked like an NCAA tourney team. Chris Wright is the standout, but the Flyers are very deep. The win against Marquette was a big step in the right direction. A victory tonight against Creighton would be another.
Biggest disappointment: Umass Coach Derek Kellogg is telling the media that his team is the best 1-6 team in the country. He is probably right. But Umass is still 1-6, and the only win came against Arkansas-Monticello. Umass has been losing games in the last minute and recently dropped a game to Boston College in overtime. Forget about an at-large berth, Umass has to win the A-10 tournament.
Best win: Xavier’s victory over Memphis was impressive, and Dayton’s 14-point victory against Marquette was even more impressive. The Flyers used speed and depth to outrun Marquette in a victory that should pay RPI dividends down the road. But the score that really caught my eye was Rhode Island’s three-point loss to Duke. Jim Baron made eight three-point shots. In the process, he cemented his status as one of the nation’s best shooters and established Rhode Island as a potential contender in the A-10.
Conference rank: 7
Tournament worthy: Xavier, Dayton
December 10, 2008; 3:52 PM ET
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