Night Line: Butler the Latest Casualty of an Unpredictable Atlantic 10Posted by BHayes on January 24th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
Last weekend belonged to the Butler Bulldogs. With College Gameday in town and the national spotlight shining brightly on Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Dogs delivered as dramatic a victory as you will ever see when Roosevelt Jones coaxed in a floater at the horn to defeat Gonzaga. It was a transcendent moment that will stand alone well after this season ends, but it also vaulted Butler into the top 10 of both polls – rarefied midseason air, even for Butler. But the intoxicating high was short-lived in Indy, as Butler dove back into A-10 play tonight, coming up short in a 54-53 loss to La Salle. The Bulldogs weren’t the only team to be smacked in the face with the reality of this rough-and-tumble version of the A-10; St. Joseph’s fell at home to St. Bonaventure, while Xavier’s first Atlantic 10 loss came at the hands of surprising Charlotte – all further evidence that nights off aren’t an option in one of the deepest conferences in America.
A chaotic night in the conference indeed, but don’t mistake the happenings at La Salle as any sort of major upset. The Explorers were actually favorites in Vegas for this one, although an available Rotnei Clarke may have altered that. Either way, this has to be John Giannini’s most significant win at La Salle, and it adds some real legitimacy to his team’s at-large case. Lots of wins still need to come his way, but at 13-5 overall and 3-2 in the conference, this team undoubtedly will have the opportunity to play their way into the field.
The La Salle NCAA Tournament profile is not an unusual one in this conference. VCU and Butler look the part of Tournament locks, but behind them, the middle of the Atlantic 10 is a bona fide mess. Excluding the Rams and Bulldogs, no fewer than eight teams have a right to believe their at-large candidacies are alive and at least somewhat well. Beyond those eight, teams like GW, Richmond and St. Bonaventure should all be very competitive (just ask St. Joseph’s tonight). The chaos should make for great theater over the next six weeks, but the lack of elite teams will end up costing the conference come Selection Sunday. If everything breaks right, you could probably dream up a scenario where six A-10 teams are dancing, but a more realistic projection would be four or five bids out of the conference. There will just be too many bubble teams that need to beef up their resume by beating a fellow bubble-dweller for six to happen, but four NCAA Tournament bids would be no mark of shame for any conference outside the power six.
Ask 20 college basketball experts to predict which Atlantic 10 teams will be joining Butler and VCU in the Dance (I know, I am trying my best to invoke a collapse from one of these two teams) and you could easily get 20 different answers — it is truly that wide open. The neutral college basketball fan should be able to enjoy the ever-evolving chaos, but buckle up if you have a horse in this race — the turbulence should only be beginning.