Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 31st, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Teams on the Rise… Teams on the Slide

Just over 38 percent of the conference schedule is in the books and two teams — Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth — have emerged as the teams to catch. Three other teams – George Mason, Duquesne and Dayton (!) — are falling out of contact with the rest of the conference.

Shaka Smart and company are once again right in the mix for the A10 crown. (AP)

Shaka Smart and company are once again right in the mix for the A10 crown. (AP)

Rising – Teams that are finding their groove

  • Saint Louis — Skeptics who groused that the Billikens’ early conference success came compliments of an easy draw have to pause for reflection after this week. Wins over Dayton, a rallying St. Bonaventure, and most recently Richmond (by 20 points) confirm that the Billikens are unlikely to slip against the conference’s middling teams and will continue to set the pace in the conference race for at least the next two weeks. A good deal of ink has extolled and analyzed Virginia Commonwealth’s HAVOC, but Jim Crews’ smothering defense — ranked #1 nationally by Ken Pomeroy (and a runaway #1 in conference play, over eight points per 100 possessions better than #2 VCU) — that provides the winning edge for the Bills. A combination of consistent two- and three-point field goal defense and strong defensive rebounding has powered Saint Louis’ defense in sharp contrast to VCU’s gambling, steal-oriented, press-and-trap approach that tolerates fouls as a byproduct. Saint Louis by contrast does not foul. Jordair Jett, the Bills’ thick but quick point guard, combines with undersized forward Dwayne Evans to provide the Billikens with an adequate, but hardly prolific, offense. The defense — for now — is enough. Their February 15 date with Virginia Commonwealth, the first of two games they will play with the Rams in the final three weeks of the regular season, is the opening shot in what may well become a three-game set that will be decided in the conference championship game at the Barclays Center. Read the rest of this entry »
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Who Won The Week? A Nebraska Sharpshooter, the Wolverines, & Rick Barnes…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 24th, 2014

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.

WINNER: Ethan Wragge

Creighton’s starting center/three-point assassin/reason why there’s no trees left in Nebraska had a performance for the ages Monday night at Villanova. The Wildcats thought it would be wise to double-team fellow Bluejay Doug McDermott – you know, the best player in college basketball – and left Wragge open. BAD. IDEA. Wragge came out and made his first seven three-pointers as the Jays shot the Wildcats to smithereens in a 96-68 game that was 90-50 before Greg McDermott’s team took its foot off the gas. Wragge wrapped up the game with 27 points on 9-of-14 three-point shooting, and also had the time to dish out three assists without a turnover. Creighton’s team stats from that game are almost as ridiculous as their bearded center’s: 33-of-58 shooting from the field, 21-of-31 from three-point range, 25 assists on the 33 made shots.

Ethan Wragge had a game to remember against Villanova. (AP)

Ethan Wragge had a game to remember against Villanova. (AP)

The Bluejays came into Monday night’s game ranked 13th  in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings and the Wildcats came in second. Because of Creighton’s ludicrous 1.4 points per possession against a team that had only given up more than a point per possession once in 17 games, the two teams flipped spots in the rankings, despite the college basketball season only half over. The difference between Creighton’s top-ranked offensive efficiency and Duke in second is equal to the difference between Duke and 16th-place Oregon. (Back to Wragge for a bit: Let’s just overlook Saturday’s eight-point performance in Creighton’s 81-68 loss versus Providence. He obviously had to save his three-pointers for a bigger game.)

(Related winners: Creighton; Providence, who also beat Butler on Tuesday; Doug McDermott, who still had 23 points despite the double-teams and the performance of Wragge. Related losers: Any voter who thought Creighton wasn’t worth ranking because of neutral-court losses to George Washington and San Diego State, and a road loss to a 14-5 Providence team; Villanova, for which there’s not enough ice left on the north pole to soothe its burns.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 23rd, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Bid Talk: 3? 4? 5!?

Two weeks of conference play has scrambled the conference’s NCAA bid picture. Going into conference play, the Atlantic 10 had five teams in the postseason conversation, increasingly a “normal” situation for the A-10. However, five conference games has shuffled the New Year’s pecking order of Massachusetts, Saint Louis, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton (last eight in). The Minutemen picked up their second loss of the season (58-55 at Richmond) after a couple of close calls (with St. Bonaventure and George Mason), as the Billikens edge closer to UMass in the hearts and minds of bracketologists — if not the poll voters (compliments of a strong opening run).

The Saint Louis faithful is gearing up for another run at post season play. (Saint Louis athletics)

The Saint Louis faithful is gearing up for another run at post season play. (Saint Louis athletics)

With the losses of Temple, Xavier, and Butler to other leagues, more than a few publications predicted a step back for the conference’s overall postseason prospects. At this point the conference offers four candidates that will need consistent conference play to maintain their chances. How many bids can the conference get (maximum), and was the non-conference showing strong enough to boost any of the outlier programs into postseason contention (should any of the front runner fade)? Massachusetts (#13 in the January 20 AP poll; #12 in the USA Today/Coaches poll) and St. Louis (#19 AP, #20 in the USA Today/Coaches) are legitimate “High Fliers” that should contend for the conference title and draw NCAA bids with their consistently solid play. The non-conference resumes for George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton are good enough, but their conference work could move them out of contention. GW is among those “also receiving votes” from voters in both polls. Note that Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin, the RPI and ESPN (the BPI) all rank five conference teams among their top 60 — see the below table of the consensus top eight conference teams below. Read the rest of this entry »

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026 Resume Review: GW, Toledo Up; New Mexico, Harvard & Dayton Down…

Posted by Adam Stillman on January 22nd, 2014

We are less than two months away from the NCAA Tournament and the bubble picture is slowly beginning to take shape. With just 36 at-large bids handed out this year thanks to the addition of the American Athletic Conference, securing one of those precious final spots becomes just a little bit tougher. That certainly could end up haunting an O26 team with its eyes on the prize. Who knows, VCU, a First Four team in 2011, could have been left out of the Big Dance had the AAC existed then. However, with a dearth of traditional one- or two-bid conferences boasting at-large candidates, could that help hopeful teams in the Atlantic 10 or West Coast Conference? Let’s see which O26 squads helped and hurt their resumes in the past week.

Helped

George Washington (15-3). George Washington, one of the best turnaround stories in the nation, saw its RPI jump all the way from #30 to #22 as of Monday night. While victories against VCU (76-66 at home) and St. Bonaventure (79-71 on the road) help, especially considering the former came against another potential bubble team, the Colonials certainly were aided when Creighton lambasted No. 4 Villanova on Monday night thanks to a school and Big East-record 21 three-pointers. George Washington’s neutral-site win in early December against the Bluejays keeps looking better and better. The Colonials own a 3-1 record in the Atlantic 10, with the lone loss coming January 9 at a resurgent La Salle but a rematch with the Explorers (along with George Mason) on the docket over the next week. Real tests come down the road in February, however, as VCU, Massachusetts and Saint Louis all dot the schedule then. The Colonials have the look of an NCAA Tournament team for now, although the loss of second-leading scorer Kethan Savage (13.4 PPG) definitely hurts.

Projected seed for now: #9

Toledo (14-2)

In part thanks to some Juice Brown heroics, Toledo had an excellent week. (BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH)

In part thanks to some Juice Brown heroics, Toledo had an excellent week. (BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH)

It was difficult finding another team to place in this category, but I wanted to find one more considering Saint Louis was the only team I had here last week. I figured Green Bay might have fallen under this umbrella but the Phoenix’s RPI fell from #35 to #41 as of Monday. Louisiana Tech also suffered a loss to Southern Miss, while BYU still has too many losses (seven overall, two in WCC play) with home-and-homes against Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s to come. So that’s where Toledo comes in. Toledo’s RPI jumped from #50 to #37 after a home win against Buffalo and a road win at Akron last week. The Rockets don’t own a marquee win — take your pick for their best victory between Boston College, Sam Houston State, Stony Brook and Akron— but the record sure looks nice. Would 14 more conference wins — thus a 17-1 mark in the Mid-American Conference — combined with a loss in the conference title game be enough to earn Toledo the MAC’s first at-large bid since 1999? Toledo is favored in all but two of its remaining games, according to Ken Pomeroy, with away games at Ohio on February 1 and at Eastern Michigan two weeks later as the projected losses.

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Kethan Savage’s Injury Hurts George Washington

Posted by Adam Stillman on January 22nd, 2014

George Washington is in the midst of an outstanding season. The Colonials are certainly one of the best turnaround stories in college basketball, if not at the top of the list. The darlings of the Atlantic 10 are on track to reach their first NCAA Tournament since making three straight appearances from 2005-07. And then the bad news hit. Second-leading scorer Kethan Savage will miss 6-8 weeks with a fractured metatarsal in his left foot, a huge blow to GW’s at-large aspirations.

Kethan Savage's injury hurts George Washington's at-large chances. (Photo courtesy of The GW Hatchet).

Savage’s injury hurts George Washington’s at-large chances. (Credit: GW Hatchet).

Savage, a sophomore guard, has come out of nowhere to help anchor a strong backcourt alongside Indiana transfer Maurice Creek. After tallying just 3.1 points per game in limited action as a freshman, Savage has been a revelation as a sophomore. The 6’3″ Fairfax, Virginia, native has been averaging 13.4 points per game, hitting 52 percent of his field goals, grabbing 4.6 rebounds, dishing 2.7 assists and nabbing two steals per game.

“It’s disappointing for Kethan to have this happen in the middle of his breakout sophomore season, but as a team we’ve dealt with injuries before and have emerged stronger as a unit,” George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan said in a statement. “We’ll look forward to his return to action, but I have every bit of confidence that we’ll overcome Kethan’s absence. In the meantime, this is a great opportunity for all his teammates to step up at this time. That is a mark of a great team. We are all very excited for the rest of the season ahead.”

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 9th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

The Atlantic 10 Versus the World (the rest of Division I actually):

Table01140109

Note: conference teams had no games versus team from the Atlantic Sun, the Sun Belt and the SWAC. Those conferences are not shown in the table.

With conference play starting this week, the Atlantic 10 has only four non-conference games left on the composite schedule. A look at the table shows conference teams have won 70 percent of their games against other Division I teams. While the winning percentage looks good overall, it masks a disappointing 36.5 percent (19-33) mark versus the power conferences (defined here as the five BCS conferences — the ACC, B1G, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — plus the AAC and Big East) that should trouble those fans who anticipate four or more NCAA bids in March. Chances to close that win deficit, with a single power conference game outstanding, are virtually nil. Scheduling nearly 60 percent of its games with opponents from the lower 23 conferences placed a ceiling on the highest ranking the conference could achieve. Several teams such as Massachusetts and George Washington have solid RPIs (Ken Pomeroy would also count St. Louis and Virginia Commonwealth among the “solid showing” group), and should help those considered more “bubble” than “in” over the next month with conference games.

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O26 Resume Review

Posted by Adam Stillman on January 8th, 2014

Now is when all the fun starts. No more guarantee games. Conference play is underway. We can start breaking down resumes in earnest and begin to get a clearer picture of where teams stand nationally. It’s hard to believe that the NCAA Tournament is just over two months away, but let’s take stock of where some of the O26 bubble teams stand and how their resumes stack up right now.

Note: O26 teams that are projected to be safely in the field aren’t included in this resume review. That includes Wichita State, San Diego State, Massachusetts and Gonzaga.

Boise State (11-3)

  • Good wins: Utah
  • Bad losses: None
Boise State Missed an Opportunity at Kentucky

Boise State Missed an Opportunity at Kentucky

Thoughts: Boise State has missed out on its biggest opportunities to secure marquee wins. The Broncos came up just short against Iowa State on Christmas, falling by four at the Diamond Head Classic. A 15-point drubbing at the hands of Kentucky didn’t help either. That home loss to Saint Mary’s is looking worse now with the Gaels struggling. There will be plenty of chances for Boise State in the Mountain West, though, even if the league is somewhat down from last season. There’s no better way than to tip off league play with a date at San Diego State tonight.

  • Projected seed for now: Out

Dayton (12-3)

  • Good wins: Gonzaga, at Ole Miss? California?
  • Bad losses: Illinois State, USC

Thoughts: Dayton is somewhat of an enigma. The Flyers have a really nice win against Gonzaga at the Maui Invitational and fell just a point shy against Baylor in the semifinals of that same tournament. A true road win at Ole Miss isn’t too shabby either. But then you also have to consider an away loss to Illinois State and a home loss to Southern California. The Flyers can open Atlantic 10 play off on the right foot when they host Saint Louis January 11.

  • Projected seed for now: #12

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O26 Buzz: This Week’s Storylines

Posted by Nicholas Patrick on January 3rd, 2014

Every Friday throughout the rest of the season, the Other 26 Microsite will dig into some of the top storylines featuring those leagues from the previous week.

1. Eye-Opening O26 Results from the Past Week

Kyle Collingsworth and his fellow BYU Cougars need to get back on track after opening WCC play with consecutive losses

Kyle Collingsworth and his fellow BYU Cougars need to get back on track after opening WCC play with consecutive losses

  • Saturday: UNC Greensboro 55, Virginia Tech 52: The Spartans’ complete list of victories against D-I opponents now includes High Point, Stetson, James Madison, oh, and a member of the ACC.
  • Saturday: Massachusetts 69, Providence 67 (OT): Derrick Gordon’s game-winner gave the Minutemen their fifth victory against power conference opponents.
  • Monday: Southern 116, Champion Baptist College 12: This game was already unsettling by the time CBC scored its first point (at that time, Southern had already put up 44 points).
  • Monday: Louisiana Tech 102, Oklahoma 98 (OT): Alex Hamilton scored 36 to lead the Bulldogs to their first win against a power conference opponent.
  • Monday: Pepperdine 80, BYU 74: The Cougars trailed from the opening minutes and finished a disheartening week that also included a loss to Loyola Marymount to open WCC play.
  • Tuesday: North Texas 61, Texas A&M 41: The Mean Green took charge midway through the first half and never looked back on their way to crushing the Aggies.
  • Thursday: Gonzaga 73, Saint Mary’s 51: If this blowout win over their primary WCC rival is any indication, the Zags may not have a true challenger for the conference crown.

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Weekend Storylines: Exams Over, But Tests on the Court Just Beginning

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 28th, 2013

Here’s to hoping that this week brought you plenty of holiday cheer, because it surely did not supply you (or anyone else!) with much quality college basketball. Entertaining Diamond Head Classic final aside, this week was as slow as the college basketball season gets. Don’t despair, however, because Santa has delivered a Saturday chalk-full of college hoops. Two big-time rivalry games occupy the prime real estate on this weekend’s marquee, but there’s plenty of substance, albeit understated, sprinkled throughout Saturday’s docket of action. Here’s a quick primer on the big games in Syracuse and Lexington, plus a few other worthwhile narratives to monitor on this busy Saturday.

For The First Time In Over Three Decades, Syracuse And Villanova Will Meet As Non-Conference Opponents

For The First Time In Over Three Decades, Syracuse And Villanova Will Meet As Non-Conference Opponents

A Couple Of Old Big East Friends

In the world of college basketball, eleven months is far from an eternity, but my, oh my; how things have changed since the last time Villanova and Syracuse locked horns! What was a Big East conference game last January will be an ACC versus (new) Big East affair today (2PM EST, CBS), and with both teams set to embark on their maiden voyages in the new leagues next week, the Carrier Dome will serve as the clinic for anyone needing one final dose of Big East nostalgia. Subplots abound in this game, but I’ll be especially interested to see how Villanova attacks the Syracuse zone. The Wildcats haven’t been a bad offensive team to this point in the season, but the Cats’ statistical breakdown on the offensive end puzzles. Villanova is 18th best in the country in two-point field goal percentage (55.1%), also shoots the ball pretty well from the stripe (72.2%), but struggles from beyond the arc (204th nationally in 3P% at 32.7%). With those splits, you’d expect Jay Wright’s team to focus their efforts inside the three-point line. So far, however, they’ve done the exact opposite – the Wildcats are 7th in the country when it comes to percentage of field goal attempts from three-point range (45.7%). Will the chucking continue against an Orange zone that begs opponents to settle for deep shots (43.1% of Syracuse opponent’s field goal attempts are threes), or can the Wildcats throw aside this bit of statistical dissonance and find a way to get quality interior looks against the zone? Remains to be seen, but expect 30,000+ to get a first-hand view of the answer.

Battle For The Bluegrass 

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on December 19th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Dealing With Expectations

Forgive me if six weeks and 10 games (more or less) into this season I am a little dizzy from all the twists and turns. Most understood Massachusetts would be good, especially with Chaz Williams’ decision to take his last season of eligibility in Amherst, but undefeated? VCU would be nicked in the non-conference schedule — that much was a given — but three losses that include a 14-point loss to Florida State on a neutral court and a loss to Northern Iowa? That is a surprise.

What's new? UMass standout Chaz Williams is having another great season. (AP)

What’s new? UMass standout Chaz Williams is having another great season. (AP)

First Team

  • Chaz Williams (Massachusetts) — It may be hard to believe, but the unanimous pick has actually exceeded expectations. Williams has led the Minutemen to a 10-0 undefeated start and a #22 ranking in AP’s Top 25. UMass is the only conference representative.
  • Dwayne Evans (Saint Louis) — The Billikens’ slashing forward’s sluggish offensive numbers mirror the larger problems facing St. Louis this season. Evans can score inside as his 51 percent two-point completion rate attests, but absent a consistent long-range scorer, opposing teams find it very easy to stop the Bills — pack the lane and wait for Evans (or guard Jordair Jett) to drive. The stingy defense lives on, Saint Louis is ranked #3 defensively by Ken Pomeroy, but a team-wide three-point drought (Jake Barnett excepted) leaves Jim Crews’ squad with a one-dimensional offense.
  • Tyreek Duren (La Salle) — Hobbled by a troublesome plantar fasciitis condition that dates back to last May, the point guard has to adjust his energy to manage the Explorers’ offense rather than create it through his typical to-the-basket drives. There are many reasons the Explorers are struggling this season and with a better start Dureen’s inability to move laterally and plant for a jumper would be a footnote.
  • Treveon Graham (Virginia Commonwealth) — Graham continues the domination that established him as a first teamer last season. He leads the Rams in scoring (196 points, 16.3 PPG) and combines prolific scoring with efficient scoring, earning a 117.9 offensive rating from Ken Pomeroy. Questions on how to get VCU back on track should not start with Graham. He is on pace to accumulate last season’s numbers, and has improved his defensive rebounding to boot.
  • Juvonte Reddic (Virginia Commonwealth) — VCU’s second leading scorer (140 points, 11.7 points per game, 110.1) and leading rebounder (30-56-86) has stepped back slightly in offensive efficiency, but has improved in block and steal rates and in getting to the line. If his contributions hold steady through the season, Reddic should be in the thick of an All-Conference conversation come March.

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O26 Buzz: This Week’s Top Storylines

Posted by Nicholas Patrick on December 13th, 2013

Every Friday throughout the rest of the season, the Other 26 Microsite will dig into some of the top storylines featuring those leagues from the previous week. 

1. O26 Teams Make Statements Against Power Conference Teams

George Washington's Joe McDonald and Maurice Creek turned heads with a buzzer-beating win at Maryland (washingtontimes.com)

George Washington’s Joe McDonald and Maurice Creek turned heads with a buzzer-beating win at Maryland (washingtontimes.com)

  • Saturday: New Mexico cruises at home, handing Cincinnati its first loss, 63-54; Green Bay’s Greg Mays and Keifer Sykes each contribute 20+ points to defeat Virginia, 75-72
  • Sunday: Maurice Creek’s buzzer-beater lifts George Washington to a big win at Maryland, 77-75

  • Tuesday: After trailing nearly the entire game, Gonzaga surged ahead late to win at West Virginia, 80-76
  • Wednesday: North Dakota State’s Marshall Bjorklund scored 26 points to lead the Bison over Notre Dame, 73-69

Near misses: Arizona 63, UNLV 58; Xavier 85, Bowling Green 73 (OT); Washington State 67, Idaho 66; Kansas State 64, South Dakota 62; Xavier 63, Evansville 60.

2. Chances For More Statements to Come

With only a few weeks remaining before conference play gets into full swing, opportunities are winding down for Other 26 teams to trip up power conference opponents. Some of this week’s most intriguing match-ups:

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Quarter-Season Review: Other 26 Resumes

Posted by Adam Stillman on December 12th, 2013

The 2013-14 college basketball season is off to a great start. We’ve seen a good number of upsets, buzzer-beaters and down-to-the-wire games. Yet all this fun is just a prelude to those glorious three weeks in late March and early April. For a majority of the O26, reaching the NCAA Tournament is most of the battle. Those teams spend their seasons attempting to build a resume that will stand out when compared to other bubble teams on Selection Sunday. While it’s only about a month into the season, it’s never too early to start reviewing resumes from projected bubble teams. Let’s start with 10 of them.

Note: Since we’re limiting this to projected bubble teams, let’s leave off Gonzaga, VCU, New Mexico and Massachusetts for now. We can always revisit them later should they slide into bubble territory. UNLV is also out until the Runnin’ Rebels can climb above .500.

Belmont (8-2)

Belmont boosted its at-large resume with a shocking win at UNC. (Photo courtesy of chapelboro.com)

Belmont boosted its at-large resume with a shocking win at UNC. (chapelboro.com)

  • Good wins: UNC, Indiana State (for bubble purposes)
  • Bad losses: None
  • Thoughts: Belmont is the Ohio Valley Conference favorite, but should the Bruins falter they can always hang their hat on that great road win at North Carolina. The victory against Indiana State is nice too, considering both teams could find themselves on the bubble. The Bruins’ losses are to VCU and Richmond, with the latter hurting a little bit. Belmont gets a shot at Kentucky and another contest against Indiana State later this month to help boost  its resume. Belmont sits at #21 in the way-too-early RPI rankings, and that’s sure to drop once conference play rolls around. Is an undefeated run to the OVC title game enough to get the Bruins an at-large?
  • Projected seed for now: #12

Boise State (8-1)

  • Good wins: None
  • Bad losses: None
  • Thoughts: Boise State missed a chance at a resume-making win on Tuesday night at Kentucky, falling 70-55. Nobody can fault the Broncos for that loss, nor will be it hurt them at any point. Had Boise State won, the selection committee basically could have considered the Broncos in the field barring a disastrous MW campaign. A game against Saint Mary’s awaits Saturday before a rugged 18-game league slate.
  • Projected seed for now: #10

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