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The Atlantic 10 is a big, beautiful mess

It won’t happen, but the A10 feels on track for the unprecedented no-bid league.

NCAA Basketball: Dayton at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlantic 10 is broken.

On the one hand, the league hasn’t been a one-bid league since I was five months old, and it’s trending in that direction this year, as the projected top of the league has been rather disappointing. But on the other hand, there are a group of teams vastly outperforming preseason expectations, and while they likely aren’t at-large threats, they’ve continued to close the gap between the tiers of the conference.

Nothing about the A-10 has ever made sense. It’s always been a league where chaos prevails, but this year could take that to another level.

The preseason hype at the top has turned into question marks, with disappointing performances coming in all shapes and sizes. Meanwhile, there are fanbases who have seen their teams disappoint them again and again in the past, who are finally starting to be rewarded for their faith, with promising opening months. It feels like we say this every year at some point, but the Atlantic 10 is truly wide open, and the ball hasn’t even tipped in conference play yet.

In order to try to understand the chaos, here’s why each team can win any given game, and also why each team can lose any given game.

Saint Louis currently has the highest KenPom ranking in the league, which is not a shock to many. While Dayton topped the preseason poll, the Billikens got seven first-place votes, and even received votes for the Preseason AP Top 25 Poll. Needless to say, the Bills haven’t played like a top-25 team to this point in the season, reflected by their KenPom ranking of 61.

Despite the disappointing start, the panic button doesn’t need to be pressed quite as hard as some other teams. They’ve put up a number of impressive performances: stomping Murray State on opening night, defeating a good Memphis team, and coming from behind to beat Providence at Mohegan Sun. However, they wilted on the road against Auburn, shooting 4 of 14 from the free-throw line, and blew a late lead in a chance to get a marquee win. Since that game, they’ve also been blown out at Iona, and lost at home to Boise State. Their 7-4 record isn’t bad, and they don’t have any awful losses, but the Billikens margin for error in A-10 play is perhaps thinner than we thought.

Why they can beat anybody: Yuri Collins is one of the best point guards in the country, and his distribution skills are the driving force behind SLU’s offense being the 36th best in the nation. The talent that made people believe this was a top-25 caliber team is still there, and they have tons of experience as well.

Why they can lose to anybody: Outside of Gibson Jimerson, there isn't a single Saint Louis player that has made 10 3-pointers this season, while shooting above 30%. Teams know that if you can keep Jimerson off the 3-point line, there isn’t a reliable second option at the moment from beyond the arc. If the fourth-year sophomore happens to have an off-night, SLU’s offense becomes very beatable.

Dayton has been among the most disappointing teams in all of college basketball. Coming in with a preseason top-25 ranking, the Flyers’ trip to Atlantis was supposed to be the announcement to the country that they were for real. Instead, it went about as badly as it possibly could have.

By losing to Wisconsin, NC State, and BYU, Dayton finished dead last in Atlantis. To add insult to injury, they’ve lost road games to UNLV and Virginia Tech, with the latter defeating them by nearly 30 points. Dayton’s wins haven't been all that convincing either, struggling to put away Robert Morris and Southeastern Louisiana. Yes, they’ve dealt with their fair share of injuries, but with a 6-5 record, the Flyers margin for error is razor thin, with few chances left to move the needle.

Why they can beat anybody: The athleticism and length is apparent for this team on the defensive end. With the sixth-tallest team in college basketball, Dayton is able to suffocate the half court, and force bad shots late in the shot clock.

Why they can lose to anybody: In modern basketball, if you can’t hit the 3, you’re not going to be very good. Dayton didn’t have this issue last year, but pretty much everybody has seen their 3-point percentage go down significantly this season. The Flyers went from 53rd nationally last year, to 340th this year, which has in turn, dropped their offensive rating by five full points per 100 possessions.

Richmond is an enigma; a mystery wrapped in a riddle. The reigning A-10 champs can boast a 30-point win over a good Drake team, as well as a double-digit victory over a solid Temple squad, while lamenting a 23-point loss to Toledo, and a defeat at William & Mary.

Why they can beat anybody: Richmond’s defense is really good at keeping teams away from the rim despite a mediocre block rate. They press a decent amount, and they effectively prevent easy looks on the interior, with offenses taking more jump shots against Richmond than 96% of teams.

Why they can lose to anybody: We’ve quite literally seen it happen. Despite holding a six-point lead with less than five minutes to play, the Spiders fell to a William & Mary team that would be at the bottom of the league. Sometimes that offense can be too dependent on Tyler Burton, and in games when the young guards struggle, they don’t have a ton of options to create buckets.

UMass is one of the teams that has their fans believing. Frank Martin’s first season in Amherst has started with a bang: an 8-2 start, including winning the Myrtle Beach Invitational. Wins over Colorado, Murray State, Charlotte, and Hofstra at neutral sites, as well as road wins against USF and Harvard are good wins for the program, but they look better on an NIT resume than an NCAA Tournament one. Regardless of how their resume looks, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the Minutemen.

Why they can beat anybody: It’s a different guy every night. Martin plays the deepest bench in the country, and has double as many differencemakers as most teams in the country. From seniors Isaac Kante, Wildens Leveque, and Noah Fernandes, all the way down the roster to freshmen RJ Luis, Keon Thompson, and Tafara Gapare, there’s a plethora of high level players to prepare for.

Why they can lose to anybody: While it hasn’t been a major issue yet, the Minutemen could find it very hard to climb back into games, and finish in the A-10 with their lack of 3-point volume. Not just that, but UMass hasn’t found their closeout group yet, and with so many options, it might not be as easy as it is for others. So far, somebody has stepped up for the most part, but there’s no guarantee that that continues.

Loyola-Chicago is the newcomer in the A-10, and it’s been a rough start to life even before conference play starts. The Ramblers’ season started with some weaker mid-major opponents, before losing four games in a row, and five out of six, being completely uncompetitive in Myrtle Beach. While Drew Valentine’s team is unlikely to return for their third-consecutive NCAA Tournament, there is still a chance for Loyola to establish itself in the upper echelon of the league.

Why they can beat anybody: Loyola’s offense has the highest rim & 3 rate in the conference, and they’re 2nd in the A-10 in efficiency on two-point field goals. When the Ramblers get shots up, they get buckets.

Why they can lose to anybody: Despite having over 100 games under his belt, senior point guard Braden Norris has really struggled to protect the ball. While they can make shots, they only end up getting shots on 75% of possessions, thanks to the third highest turnover rate in all of college basketball.

VCU is off to a tough start. Star guard Ace Baldwin has dealt with injuries, and without him, the Rams are just not the same team. In games that Baldwin has played, the Rams average 69 points, but that figure craters to 60 points per game when he’s unavailable. At 6-4, VCU isn’t in ideal position, but they’re still expected to take their perch near the top of the league.

Why they can beat anybody: Defense wins championships, and VCU is consistently the best defense in the league. While they don’t quite rank as highly in defensive efficiency this year, the Rams still use Mike Rhoades’ defensive principles that have led them to multiple top 10 defenses over the last few years.

Why they can lose to anybody: Offensively, VCU just doesn’t have options outside of Baldwin to create shots, or knock down shots. Baldwin has 30% of the team’s total assists, and he’s missed half of the games.

St. Bonaventure is the only team in college basketball that doesn’t return a single minute of play from last year’s team, so they were a pretty big mystery to everybody. The Bonnies are still trying to find their way, but they have an impressive win over Notre Dame to boast about. If there’s one thing Mark Schmidt is known for, it’s doing more with less, and he’s assembled a group that will fight for him.

Why they can beat anybody: The Bonnies have multiple players that can take over a game. In some, they can turn to Daryl Banks to get a bucket, in others, it’ll be Kyrell Luc, and they can also dump it into Chad Venning. Freshmen Yann Farell and Barry Evans have also shown flashes, tantalizing moments where they’ve been the star of the show.

Why they can lose to anybody: This team still doesn’t have a ton of experience playing together, as they’ve all been brought to St. Bonaventure from different places, and it can lead to moments where they can all fall apart. They struggle to piece together 40 full, clean minutes of team basketball.

After a 2-4 start to the season, including going 0-3 in the Virgin Islands, George Mason has picked up four straight wins, including three against good teams, to bring their record to 6-4. Year two of Kim English had high preseason aspirations, but there was an aura of skepticism around it as well. While the tournament hopes are gone, it still feels like the Patriots can assert themselves, and cause some chaos in the league.

Why they can beat anybody: Mason surrounds their big man Josh Oduro with shooters. Victor Bailey, Devon Cooper, and others can all hit shots, and Oduro’s vision and gravity creates openings for the offense in the half court.

Why they can lose to anybody: The Patriots really struggle to go on runs. Their inability to force turnovers, and penchant for allowing teams to move the ball really well means that they can’t disrupt offensive flow enough to hold teams off the scoreboard for elongated periods of time.

Despite starting 7-3, Davidson has fallen 29 spots in the KenPom rankings from their preseason ranking 105. The Wildcats lead the world in close games, with only one of their Division-I games being decided by double figures, so they’ve already faced and overcome adversity under new head coach Matt McKillop.

Why they can beat anybody: The Wildcats play a style of offense that keeps them in games. They’ll hit enough shots and take care of the ball to the point where they can come out on top in close games. Foster Loyer is always a threat to go absolutely bonkers, one of the best guards in mid-major basketball.

Why they can lose to anybody: Davidson has no interior defensive presence whatsoever. They give up far too many easy baskets, as no team comes even close to allowing as many Points in the Paint per 100 possessions in the league as the Wildcats do.

Duquesne went 6-24 last season, including 1-16 in the A-10, but this year, they’ve turned it around. Keith Dambrot has the Dukes sitting at 7-3, including wins over quality opponents like Colgate and UCSB. In year six, he completely turned the roster over, with the team ranking 324th in minutes continuity. Transfers Dae Dae Grant, Jimmy Clark, Tevin Brewer, and Joe Reece have all made an impact, along with a large group of freshmen.

Why they can beat anybody: The Dukes fight for every single rebound. With Austin Rotroff, Tre Williams, David Dixon, and company, the possession does not end on a missed shot. Duquesne creates extra opportunities for baskets, leading the league in 2nd chance points per possession, and field goal attempts per possession.

Why they can lose to anybody: Everything that Duquesne does so well on offense, can be their kryptonite on the other end. The Dukes are last in the Atlantic 10 in 2nd chance points against per possession, as well as defensive rebound rate, thus creating extra possessions and opportunities to score for opponents.

There’s an argument that Fordham is the team in the best situation for an at-large bid. With an 11-1 record, and the only loss being against Arkansas, the Rams haven’t slipped up against a really easy schedule. Keith Urgo’s first season has brought Fordham their first 10 game win streak since 1990-91. Building off of Kyle Neptune’s progress last year, the Rams have their highest KenPom ranking in a decade and a half going into winter break.

Why they can beat anybody: While it might seem crazy to say, the Rams’ starting group of Darius Quisenberry, Kyle Rose, Antrell Charlton, Khalid Moore, and Abdou Tsimbila is as good as any in the league. When these 5 are on the court, the Rams have scoring, passing, rebounding, and defense, in different doses, and it’s reflected by their +31.9 Net Rating together.

Why they can lose to anybody: Despite the success of their first five, Fordham is actually a slow starter, and have gotten themselves in unenviable situations multiple times this year. Coming back from 14 down at home against UIC is one thing, but trying to do that against A-10 teams could be more challenging.

Archie Miller’s return to the sidelines hasn’t gone as planned, with Rhode Island stumbling out of the gates to a 2-7 start. While New England rivals UMass have gotten off to a great start in their new era, Rhody has had just about the opposite experience this season. Losses at home to Quinnipiac, Texas State, and Brown have gotten Rams fans angry with their teams’ performance this year, and even despite their overtime win over a good UMass Lowell team, a 4-7 start is well below expectations.

Why they can beat anybody: When Archie Miller had his best teams at Dayton, they were all driven by elite defenses, and while this Rams defense isn’t quite elite, it’s certainly good. Rhode Island is really good at running teams off the three point line, and when teams do take threes, they’re not great shots.

Why they can lose to anybody: Rhode Island struggles immensely to create offense in the half court. While Brayon Freeman and Ish Leggett can score, the lack of consistent shooting makes it hard for the Rams to space the floor, and their pick and roll is one of the worst in the country.

George Washington has started the season with a rather pedestrian 6-4 record. While they picked up their first win against a power conference opponent since 2016 in a thrashing of South Carolina, it’s been clouded by losses to UC San Diego and Radford. Expectations were pretty low for Chris Caputo in year one, but there’s still some interesting pieces in the nation’s capital.

Why they can beat anybody: James Bishop has shown to be a superstar in the landscape of college basketball, and his backcourt mate, Brendan Adams, is having his breakout season. This duo each plays 90% of the Colonials’ minutes, and provide guard play that can be envied by the rest of the league on the offensive end.

Why they can lose to anybody: Even though Bishop and Adams are among the best backcourts in the nation on offense, outside of those two and Ricky Lindo, GW doesn’t have a ton of depth. It requires superhuman efforts sometimes from their stars in order to win ballgames

La Salle is led by Fran Dunphy, who returned to the Big Five after three seasons out of coaching. The Explorers haven’t had a winning season in the A-10 since 2012-13, and while that’s likely to continue this year, there’s some interesting pieces to watch for. In a 180 from his Temple days, this year’s La Salle team doesn’t ooze size, but they still have the raw framework of a Dunphy team. The Explorers’ comeback win over Penn at The Palestra showed once again that the Big Five doesn’t disappoint. La Salle is 5-5 after ten games for the third straight year.

Why they can beat anybody: As mentioned, they have one of the most experienced and successful mid-major basketball coaches in the country, in Fran Dunphy, who has already seen his team play like he wants them to. The Explorers play a clean brand of basketball where they play strong defense, and don’t turn the ball over. On days where shots are falling, they can win some ballgames.

Why they can lose to anybody: This team simply doesn’t hit enough shots, and there’s no go-to guy on offense. Khalil Brantley and Josh Nickelberry are good players, but for now, neither is the type of player that is a first option at this level.

Saint Joseph’s has really struggled under Head Coach Billy Lange, but they always have a penchant for causing some mischief in the league. The Hawks have upset top 100 teams late in the season three times in three years under Lange, and have beaten Richmond on the road two seasons in a row. Currently sitting at 4-5, they’ve lost to Fairleigh Dickinson, but they’ve also, like La Salle, picked up a comeback win against Penn at the Palestra.

Why they can beat anybody: The Hawks take more threes and free throws than just about anybody in the league. If sharpshooters Erik Reynolds and Cam Brown get hot, they can stay hot, and power the Hawks through to wins with high volume and efficiency three point shooting.

Why they can lose to anybody: While they can certainly hit a ton of shots, they can also give up a ton of shots. FDU (281st nationally in 3P%) hit 12 threes and scored 1.35 Points per Possession against this team, and that’s only one of the occasions where the Hawks’ 3 point defense has let down their 3 point shooting.

Of the 15 teams in the Atlantic 10, very few of them are in good position for an at-large. As the top of the league failed to move the needle well, there won't be many needle-moving opportunities in league play. In a league that cannibalizes itself year in and year out, this year could bring an even bigger feast than usual.