Conference Catchup: The Atlantic 10 loses some big programs

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Shaka Smart and the Rams didn't lose a step last year in the A-10. (USATSI)
Shaka Smart and the Rams didn't lose a step last year in the A-10. (USATSI)

My CBSSports.com colleague Gary Parrish said this so well on Wednesday. I'm gonna straight quote him, just to reacquaint you with the premise behind this series: "Things are, as May winds down and June approaches, now mostly settled in college basketball. We basically know who will be coaching where. We basically know who will be playing where. So this seems like as good of a time as any to reset everything and get caught up on all of the notable leagues.

That's the idea behind the CBSSports.com Conference Catchups.

We'll post one every other day for the next four weeks.

We'll post them in alphabetical order.

That means the American was Wednesday. Next up is the Atlantic 10. Off we go.

FOUR OFFSEASON HEADLINES

1. Temple, Butler, Xavier, Charlotte: Out. This is the bittersweet aspect to realignment, the fact the Atlantic 10 had something really good last year that's getting stripped away before it gets a chance to bloom. Temple heads to the American Athletic Conference, formerly known as the Big East. Butler and Xavier head to the new Big East. Charlotte makes its return to C-USA, a move that makes some sense given how far away Charlotte is to the rest of the league. The Atlantic 10 will take a minor dip going forward without these four in the conference.

2. George Mason, Davidson: In. George Mason coming in for the fall will be good and interesting, particularly for VCU, as the in-state rivalry from the CAA days now extends into this conference. The other realignment news that came down, this from earlier in May: Davidson will join the league in 2014. Davidson is an excellent academic institution with a lot of stability in athletics. Both are critical gains for the A-10, which will be back at 14 teams once Davidson joins the fold.

3. Jim Crews got the gig: Believe it or not, despite Saint Louis' run to a four seed last season, Jim Crews remained an interim coach in the wake of Rick Majerus' death. With all that success, it only seemed natural that SLU should want Crews, and vice versa. But the deal was not finally done until mid-April.

4. Shaka turns down UCLA: For the third consecutive year Shaka Smart of VCU was coveted and courted by other programs -- only to tell them he'd prefer to stay where he got his start. Smart passed on UCLA, getting yet another contract renegotiation in place at VCU, this time ensuring the men on his staff would see an increase in their paychecks.

BIG QUESTION THAT REMAINS

Will this league continue to be of major-conference value? Last year the Atlantic 10 had big expectations. VCU and Butler entering the league meant an undeniable upgrade, especially for the one year that Temple would still be in the fold. But now, after sending five teams to the NCAA tournament, some want to know if the league will be capable of doing that regularly. It's possible, we just have to see it proven. The A-10 will immediately compete with the American and the new Big East, quite possibly getting tossed in a three-way conversation over which league is better. They'll all have teams overlapping each other geographically, so it should be fun to examine next season.

NBA DRAFT REPORT

  • Could've gone and did: C.J. Aiken (St. Joe's)
  • Could've gone but stayed: None

TRANSFERS

TEAM COMMENTARY IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

Dayton: Archie Miller has slowly but steadily been getting his type of program built. Should be a fringe bubble team this year.

Duquesne: Jim Ferry has been dealt a rash of transfers, and his up-tempo system is going to need another two years before Duquesne is an A-10 player.

Fordham: The team with the best gym in the conference (with Butler gone) is entering a year that has to be above .500 for Tom Pecora's security.

George Mason: Paul Hewitt is making the program his own. They'll be good, but NCAA-tournament good? That remains a mystery for now. Sherrod Wright is key.

George Washington: Another program with a newer coach still working its way to the top half of the league. Did you see the new court design?

La Salle: People don't realize the miracle job that John Giannini did in reaching the Sweet 16. Could honestly be another 20 years before La Salle goes that far again.

Massachusetts: I think the Minutemen are set for a very big year. Derek Kellogg has made the team progressively better in the past five seasons. Now comes a league title.

Rhode Island: Still a work-in-progress. Danny Hurley is viewed as a coach who will prop this program up in a big way in the next five years.

Richmond: Have incurred some down years, but the team is my dark horse pick for reaching the conference title game next March.

Saint Louis: Crews still has a lot of Majerus' recruits on the roster. Saint Louis is going to be a force over the next two years.

St. Bonaventure: Probably in decline, I'm afraid. Mark Schmidt made the NCAAs in 2012, but the team needs to improve massively on defense. Will have many seniors.

St. Joseph's: Phil Martelli's offseason has been fraught with tragedy. The Hawks were the A-10 favorites last fall. This year, they won't be picked top-five, most likely.

VCU: I could easily make them the favorites, but losing Troy Daniels and Darius Theus is pretty big. Will be good and Havoc-y as ever, I'm guessing.

EARLY GUESS AT THE TOP FIVE IN THE LEAGUE

  1. UMass
  2. VCU
  3. Saint Louis
  4. Richmond
  5. La Salle

EARLY GUESS AT THE ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

Final Thought: Allow me to echo what I said most of last offseason/regular season/postseason: I love this league. I love how it's basketball-oriented, how it's giving us really good teams, matchups, postseason possibilities.

But the Butler and Xavier losses are damaging and unfortunate. (Flip side: That new Big East is now one more really good league in hoops, and that is a good thing.) In coordination with playing in a bigger/better league, Butler has taken the necessary step to upgrade its facilities. Hinkle Fieldhouse will have an interior transformation over the next two seasons that upgrade and update the venue to modern standards. The best things about the place will remain as is, but things like offices, locker rooms, weight rooms, video technology -- the things that help lure recruits -- will get facelifts. Butler is proving it wants to run with the big boys when it makes decisions like this, no question.

Even with Butler, Temple and Xavier moving on, I do consider this a major conference in college basketball. With George Mason coming in this year and Davidson the year after, I think the Atlantic 10 will have chances in the next decade to be the fifth-best conference in a given year across college basketball's landscape. The combination of young and old coaches adds good dynamics, too.

VCU has already proven to be really good for the league's "brand," if you will, but the resurgence of UMass and La Salle's surprise run to the Sweet 16 made good on a hopeful season. Getting four bids per season should become the norm of expectations for A-10 fans in the reconfigured college basketball landscape.

 
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