The cream of the crop of the A-10 conference rivals the top teams in any of the major conferences in college basketball today. The two newbie’s, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth have stolen the show as they have both been ranked inside the top 20 this season. The Bulldogs and the Rams still currently hold first and second place, respectively.
Neither should plan on taking a day off anytime soon. The top eight teams in the conference are all within 1.5 games of each other. Saint Louis has shown flashes of being elite, while Charlotte has solidified themselves after what many considered was a fluke non-conference performance.
Every day and every game in this conference seems to be noteworthy, so stay tuned.
8) Xavier Musketeers
High Point: The best win of the season for Xavier might also be a pretty big source of frustration as well. The Musketeers defeated now No. 14 ranked Butler at the Cintas Center way back in November. The only catch? Despite the fact that the game was between two A-10 programs, it was not a conference game. The win was still considered a statement game for a team that featured no returning starters.
Low Point: You expect some losses with a young team. However losing to Wofford, currently the last place team in the Southern conference on your home court has to leave you scratching your head.
Most Valuable Player: It’s a young team, and there are young leaders. Freshman Semaj Christian has taken the reigns of this squad, averaging nearly 15 ppg, with 4.5 apg. He’s been very consistent for an underclassman, scoring in double figures in 17 of the 20 games in which he’s played.
Looking Forward: Despite the fact that this is a young team, the majority of the guys getting playing time are upperclassmen. Athletes like Monmouth transfer Travis Taylor and fifth year senior Ben Redford have been there when the team was in the tournament. It’s going to be on them to lead down the stretch.
End Of Season Projection: The Musketeers have a very favorable conference schedule. They will probably need to win the A-10 to get an NCAA tournament berth. That’s why I see Xavier as a good NIT team, which is probably better than what most people expected coming into this season.
7) Massachusetts Minutemen
High Point: UMass played a decent non-conference schedule, not losing any bad games, but not winning any good ones. They entered conference play having won seven in a row.
Low Point: Not too many low points for UMass this season. They missed an opportunity for a “gimme” conference game against George Washington at home. In a jam packed A-10, a loss like that can really make a difference.
MVP: UMass has a very solid offense, ranked 78th in the nation. They have three legitimate scorers. However, one guy that has played a good, yet underrated season is junior Raphael Putney. Putney has proven to be a good scorer, rebounder, and shot blocker. He also shoots a solid 76% from the line, which is impressive for a 6’9″ forward.
Looking Forward: Even though the Minutemen are 4-3 in the conference season, they have to do a better job of winning the close games down the stretch. Their last two losses have come by an average of two points.
End Of The Season Projection: Unless they win out in the regular season or make an A-10 tournament run, UMass is not likely to be an NCAA tournament team. A solid conference season and an NIT berth is certainly something to build on though.
6) St. Josephs Hawks
High Point: Beating your Philadelphia and A-10 rival Temple on your home court by one is enough to salvage even the worst of seasons. And while this certainly is not a lost season for St. Joes, it has not lived up to the billing that they were hoping for when they were picked to finish first in the A-10 preseason poll.
Low Point: Back in December the Hawks suffered an ugly home loss to Fairfield, a middle of the road MAAC program. The Hawks shot just 4-18 from three that game, and their bench couldn’t muster a single point.
MVP: The Hawks have four players averaging in double figures. Ronald Roberts Jr. has proven that he is the most well rounded of them all, averaging 11.4 ppg and 8.9 boards. He has 10 double-doubles on the season to lead the team.
Looking Forward: That’s the key for St. Joes, to look forward. If you look back and think about everything that has not been accomplished, then this season will go by the wayside. There is still a lot of potential for this squad, and they can build off of the three game winning streak they are currently on.
End Of Season Projection: Looking at the Hawks schedule it’s impossible to call them a tournament team right now. However, with all-around offensive and defensive talents like C.J. Aiken, the Hawks are still capable of turning things around.
5) Charlotte 49ers
High Point: Picked to finish 12 in the conference, the 49ers have exceeded everyone’s expectations. Although they don’t have any wins to hang their hat on, starting out the season 9-0 was key because it helped put their program on the map. They have solidified their hot start with a 5-2 conference mark.
Low Point: It sort of feels like every time they lose it’s a low point. That’s probably because in the few times that they have lost, the margin has been massive. In their four losses the average deficit has been 20.5 ppg.
MVP: One thing that makes Charlotte so impressive is how balanced they are. As one of the top rebounding teams in the country, they don’t have a single player averaging more than 7.3 rebounds per game. It would be unfair to give an MVP to a team that’s biggest strength is being balanced.
Looking Forward: It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. If Charlotte finishes what it started against some very good A-10 competition, they could be an at-large team in the NCAA tournament.
End Of The Season Projection: Charlotte might be as good as they are playing, but in all likelihood that is not the case. This team will probably lose some tough conference games down the stretch and miss out on the NCAA tournament.
4) La Salle Explorers
High Point: La Salle is another team out-performing expectations. That was certainly made evident on a national scale when they upset Butler at home, then went on the road and took down VCU by eight points.
Low Point: The only bad loss La Salle has this year was an 81-74 loss at home against Central Connecticut State University in November. They allowed all five of the Blue Devils starters to get in double figures.
MVP: Ramon Galloway has been the senior leader that this team has needed. He leads the team in scoring at 17 ppg. He also can crash the boards and dishes out more than three assists a game.
Looking Forward: The Explorers still have Fordham, Rhode Island, and Duquesne on their schedule. If they only get those three wins, they will have had a successful season. That speaks to what they have already accomplished.
End of the season projection: La Salle is good enough to get 5-6 more conference wins before this regular season is up. They very well could be an NCAA team.
3) Saint Louis
High Point: A lot of these players were dealt a tough hand when, at the beginning of the season they learned of the passing of their former coach Rick Majerus. They have played an inspired season of basketball, starting a winning streak of nine straight games that started the day after Majerus’ death.
Low Point: St. Louis had a bad home loss in overtime to URI. If they had won it, they would be the top team in the A-10.
MVP: The junior forward Dwayne Evans has taken over in recent games during A-10 play. His rebounding and scoring prowess will be sorely needed down the stretch.
Looking Forward: Saint Louis has seen a mediocre non-conference schedule turn into a spectacular conference schedule. They are headed in the right direction.
End Of The Season Projection: Saint Louis has Cinderella potential. They play stingy defense and have a deep bench. They are at the very least a tournament team, and could get 11-13 conference wins.
2) Butler Bulldogs
High Point: A wild buzzer beater by Rotnei Clark gave the Bulldogs a win against Marquette in Maui. An Alex Barlow jumper led Butler to a huge upset of No. 1 ranked Indiana. However, there is no doubt that the top moment of the season for Butler and possibly even for college basketball was when Roosevelt Jones stole the inbounds pass from Gonzaga with 3.5 seconds left and down by one point, pulled up, and knocked down the floater to send the Hinkle Fieldhouse faithful into bedlam.
Low Point: The last two weeks have been nothing to hang your hat on for Butler. Brad Steven’s squad is just 2-2, which includes a 17-point road loss to Saint Louis.
MVP: Rotnei Clarke has been one of the top players in the conference. He’s back in the lineup now after being injured. Clarke had an immediate impact with his 23 points against Rhode Island in a 82-75 win on Saturday.
Looking Forward: Forward is always a good place to look when your on Butler because they seem to play their best basketball in the latter parts of the season. With five guys averaging in double figures this squad is deep and should be a tough out against even elite competition.
End Of Season Projection: We’d be stupid not to put them in at least the Final Four, right? [Ed. Note: Joking... I think.]
1) Virginia Commonwealth Rams
High Point: The Rams didn’t have a single loss from November 24 to January 24.
Low Point: After seeing their ranking soar to No. 19 in the country, the Rams dropped two straight to Richmond and La Salle. In both games the Rams shot 25% or below from behind the arc.
MVP: The Rams two top scorers are also their two top rebounders, and both will be with the team next season. Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic can share the MVP honor.
Looking Forward: The game that all of college basketball is looking forward to is VCU vs. Butler on March 2. Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens, two of the great young coaches in college basketball facing off in what will probably have a huge factor in which team captures the A-10.
End Of The Season Projection: While VCU definitely has the talent to compete in the NCAA tournament like they did in 2011, they have shown some signs of inconsistency of late. In their last game they were out-rebounded by Fordham in a 16-point win.
Sam Blum covers the A-10 Conference for Big Apple Buckets. Follow him on Twitter @DaBlumSta.