One week into a college basketball season is not usually the time for panic. Sample sizes are far too small, teams don’t look like what they will come January, and weird stuff usually happens in the early weeks of the season. However, the first week of the season could certainly have gone better for the Atlantic 10.
Coaching turnover has been a big part of it. Many coaches that helped get the A-10 to its current state have all moved on to bigger jobs, leaving the league with plenty of new faces on the sidelines. Coming into the season, many expected the league to take a slight step back. The league has sent at least two teams to the NCAA Tournament every year since 2005-06. When conference previews were coming out leading up to the season, it wasn’t hard to see a scenario in which the A-10 ended up as a single bid league. Take a look at where the A-10 sits within the scope of the rest of college basketball:
Based on early results, A10 and AAC well down in mid-majorland (right on top of each other) https://t.co/5V0zEykC6G pic.twitter.com/n4k3XEMhes— Bart T rvik (@totally_t_bomb) November 12, 2018
Now, offensive and defensive efficiency aren’t the end all be all, but you can get a clear picture of where there struggles lie. Here are some mid-major conferences that have a higher offensive efficiency than the A-10: Patriot, Ivy, CAA, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt, WCC, Southern and MAC. Per Kenpom, the league only has three teams in the top 100 of adjusted offensive efficiency, and just one team in the top 50 (Davidson). So far, the league has just been kinda...meh.
The A-10 has traditionally finished closer to the top seven leagues (Power 5, Big East, AAC) in overall efficiency than it has to the rest of the mid-major conferences. Last year, the A-10 finished tenth overall in AdjEM, and it’s margin of +1.28 was its lowest since the 2005 season when it finished at +0.54. So far this year, it’s sitting at +2.92, good for ninth overall. Again, small sample sizes, it’s early, etc.
In the first week alone, the league lost a total of six buy games. George Washington fell victim twice. St. Bonaventure dropped one to Bucknell. Richmond, George Mason and La Salle have also fallen to the hands of the epitome of brutality. George Mason, who was expected to be one of the better teams in the league, also lost to Penn.
This isn’t to say the A-10 has been terrible. There are eight teams that haven’t lost a game yet, but it’s looking like the top teams are going to have to carry a lot of the weight if the league is going to perform to its usual standards. And those teams haven’t quite looked the part yet.
Saint Louis holds a pair of wins, but needed a second half rally to beat Troy. Davidson had to do the same against Dartmouth, which is expected to be one of the bottom teams in the Ivy League. VCU, Dayton, Duquesne and UMass have all handled their business accordingly. Saint Joseph’s has probably been the most impressive team thus far with convincing wins over Old Dominion and Monmouth.
The A-10 is still one of the best mid-major leagues in the country, much to the chagrin of those that hate the moniker. There’s still potential to be a multi-bid league, but with each subsequent loss to a lesser team, that margin for error shrinks. The contenders in the league are going to have to pick up some significant wins in the non-conference, because it might not be enough to just play well against conference foes this year.
Saint Louis still has four games against top 50 opponents left on its non-conference schedule. Davidson has four against the top 100. Saint Joseph’s has three against top 100 opponents with one win against them in their pocket.
There are opportunities on the table for almost every in the conference. It’s just a matter of taking advantage of those opportunities. It’s not time to panic yet. But if we get past, let’s say Feast Week, and the league is still struggling to add marquee wins to its resume? That’s when the pressure will turn up.