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.
Changing of the Guard
The BCS conferences may have soaked up most of the ink spent covering conference realignment, but the Atlantic 10 has undergone three realignment-triggered makeovers in the last decade. The long term triumvirate of flagship programs — Massachusetts, Temple and Xavier — were divvied up by the bigger fish, resulting in a conference footprint that has stretched far away from its New England, Middle Atlantic and Rust Belt roots, now creeping southward into North Carolina and westward to the Mississippi River. Temple, along with the football-playing remnants of the Big East, formed the American Athletic Conference, while Xavier, along with Butler (who paused for a cup of coffee in 2012-13) joined up with the basketball-first schools of the Big East. The Atlantic 10 in reaction brought in Charlotte (which has since returned to the C-USA), Davidson, Virginia Commonwealth and St. Louis. The three Philadelphia members — La Salle, Saint Joseph’s and Temple — gave the conference a Philadelphia-centric feel through the 1990s and 2000s, as at least one of the three schools took (or shared) the regular season title (or the tournament title) in 10 of their last 15 seasons together. As Temple and Xavier took their leaves to greener pastures, Virginia Commonwealth and St. Louis (with a challenge from resurgent Massachusetts) have stepped into the vacuum.
Non-conference returns hinted change was at hand, and the games of the conference’s first weekend offer a tentative confirmation. Consider that St. Bonaventure soundly beat Massachusetts, an NCAA Tournament last season, 69-55 in Amherst. Rhode Island, whose 29-63 record over the past three seasons was the nearly the mirror opposite of host St. Louis (81-23), beat the Billikens 65-53 at Chaifetz Arena (where the Bills have a 36-10 record over the last three seasons). Davidson opened its inaugural season in the Atlantic 10 with a resounding 81-67 win over visiting Richmond even as George Washington broke its road skid with a 64-60 win on Hawk Hill. Virginia Commonwealth is still the team to beat. Shaka Smart‘s program returned to the Top 25 this week in both national polls, coming in at #20 in the AP and #21 in the USA Today/Coaches polls. VCU will, however, have to contend with new challengers, two schools south of the Mason-Dixon line and two from the northern and eastern edges of the footprint, as the Rams try to win the conference title in their third season as a member.
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