Once again, the Atlantic 10 Conference made the power conferences sweat all season long, as memorable wins, games and performances proved that the A-10 is not a conference to take lightly. Here are the four most memorable storylines that the A-10 produced this past season.
1) George Washington wins the NIT at Madison Square Garden
The Colonials finished fifth during the regular season in the A-10 and were bounced by St. Joseph's in their first game of the conference tournament. Their resume wasn't quite enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament, so they played in the NIT and made the most of it.
Some teams treat the NIT as a consolation event, but GW brought their A-game throughout. After they got past Hofstra in the first round, the Colonials dismantled their quadrant's top seed, Monmouth, by 16 points. The Colonials then defeated SEC power Florida and crushed a defensive stalwart in San Diego State in the semifinals. In the championship game against Valparaiso, George Washington was in complete control throughout and destroyed the Crusaders at MSG to win the title. This was the most impressive achievement by a team in the A-10 this season.
2) Saint Joseph’s wins the conference tournament
Before 2014, Saint Joseph’s had not won a conference tournament title since 1997. Now, the Hawks have won two of the last three A-10 tournament titles after claiming the 2016 championship. Coach Phil Martelli has been through so much with this program and continues to take positive steps with the team. His program is known for its tenacious defense, and with great scorers like Isaiah Miles and DeAndre Bembry, it was able to win the A-10.
At Barclays Center, St. Joe’s defeated GW, then took down top-seeded Dayton in a great semifinal game before an impressive win over VCU on Championship Sunday. The Hawks thoroughly deserved the A-10 title this season and claimed the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
3) Not one, not two, but a three-way tie at the top of the A-10
When there is a tie in sports, that typically means two teams in a deadlock, but in the A-10, there was a rare three-way tie atop the standings at the end of the regular season. Through 18 conference games, Dayton, VCU and St. Bonaventure finished 14-4 after putting together impressive runs during conference play. During the season, all three had long winning stretches. The Flyers had a nine-game winning streak in the heart of conference play, while St. Bonaventure won 10 of its last 13 and VCU won 12 in a row at one point against A-10 teams. In the end, Dayton was the 1 seed in the tournament, followed by the Rams and Bonnies as the 2 and 3 seeds respectively. All three teams were impressive this season and took big steps forward at their respective programs.
4) NCAA Tournament struggles for the conference
Only three Atlantic 10 teams made it to the NCAA Tournament in 2016 and none lasted past the Round of 32. Did the committee have something to do with the struggles? A case can certainly be made. For instance, how does St. Joe's get stuck with an 8 seed after winning the conference tournament? If the Hawks were even just a 7 seed, for example, they may have had an easier road to the Sweet 16 and could have possibly reached the Elite Eight depending on their match-ups. The Hawks got past Cincinnati in the first round and gave the No. 1 Oregon a run for its money, but the Ducks pulled away to win by five.
To the surprise of many, Dayton was crushed by a Syracuse team that many believed did not deserve to be in the tournament to begin with, sending the Flyers home as the Orange marched on to the Final Four. Meanwhile, back in the West Region, VCU took care of an Oregon State team that many thought did not deserve its seed, but then ran into Buddy Hield and Oklahoma in the Round of 32. Before they knew it, the Rams were knocked out. The A-10 was dealt a tough hand and one could argue it deserved better in the big dance this season.
The Atlantic 10 continues to show that it can compete consistently with the best teams in the nation. This conference is one of the few mid-majors that has talented players on multiple teams with a chance to make the NCAA Tournament every year. Expect more of the same next season.