The Atlantic 10 conference today is comprised of 16 teams which of course makes perfect sense in today's college basketball world as does the fact that if you believe various reports that larger number could shrink any day. Seeing as 10 is the one stable number, we highlight 10 pieces of news, notes and factoids as the Brooklyn-based conference tournament begins today at noon inside the Barclays Center. Certain games will be televised on CSN and CSN+ (and the NBC Sports Network) along with games from other conference tourneys this week and weekend...
*An inspiring season by Saint Louis following the passing of fabled coach Rick Majerus. Directed by A-10 Coach of the Year Jim Crews, the Billikens (24-6, 13-3) won the program's first Atlantic 10 regular season title - and 11 straight games before falling to Xavier in overtime. One of the older teams in the country, No. 16 Saint Louis regained that winning feeling Saturday by pounding LaSalle 78-54. Their top-8 scorers on the roster are upperclassmen, including All-Atlantic 10 first team performer Dwayne Evans and conference sixth Man of the Year Cody Ellis.
*The awesome not-just-a-manipulation-of-numbers stat of the week: When VCU's opponents commit 15 or more turnovers, the Rams are 24-0. When the miscues are under 15, Shaka Smart's group is 0-7. Led by A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Briante Weber, the Rams and their "Havoc" defense lead the nation with 11.9 steals per game. However, when those turnovers are lacking, VCU's traditional defense is just kind of eh. When it comes to putting the ball into its own basket, the Rams are paced by the inside-outside combination of Juvonte Reddick (14.5 points) and guard Treveon Graham (15.7).
*George Washington from not playing in the main draw of the conference tournament for a sixth straight season to last-second dunking its way into the postseason last Saturday. Frankly, Thursday's matchup is not so bad Not that George Washington is a favorite against Massachusetts (actually a 3-point underdog), but of the four higher seeds in this round, the Minutemen are the only team the Colonials beat. Back on Jan. 19, GW won 79-76 at UMass as freshman guard Joe McDonald had 16 points and 10 assists.
*Even though Butler is the fifth seed and playing in the opening round, the Bulldogs are in much better shape for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid than the team waiting on them in the quarters. While currently on the good side of the bubble, No. 4 LaSalle is still in a tenuous position depending on other national results. In the one previous meeting this season, the Explorers hosted and defeated Butler 54-53.
*Three teams are seemingly locked into the NCAA Tournament Field of 68: Saint Louis, VCU and Butler. Temple appears to be in good shape but winning its quarterfinal game would be helpful. LaSalle, which owns wins this season over VCU and Butler, would make it five. With a deep run, 19-10 UMass could make it six.
*Speaking of UMass (19-10, 9-7), slowing down point guard Chas Williams particularly in the open court is George Washington coach Mike Lonergan primary defensive goal - and with good reason. The 5-foot-9 dynamo ranks fifth nationally with 7.6 assists and lead the Minutemen with 15.4 points. Perhaps interesting to note UMass is the only one of the A-10's bottom four scoring defenses (71.7) in the tournament.
*GW and Dayton finished in a 3-way tie for 11th place with Saint Bonaventure, the defending A-10 Tournament champion. Alas, the Bonnies will not have a chance to actually defend the title as they lost out on the various tiebreakers, landing them in dreaded 13th place.
*Temple's Khalif Wyatt led the Atlantic 10 in scoring, averaging 19.9 points per game. The senior guard also led all A-10 players in vote for Player of the Year. Yes, Wyatt won after scoring 30 or more points five teams this season. The Owls controlled potential semifinal opponent VCU 84-76 on Sunday
*Xavier freshman Semaj Christon was named the conference’s Rookie of the Year as the 6-foot-3 guard paced the seventh-seeded and long-time A-10 member with 15.4 points and 4.7 assists. Along with Butler, Xavier is rumored to be heading to the retooled basketball-centric next season, meaning this could be the final chance for the Musketeers to win their fourth conference tournament title and first since 2006. Xavier faces No. Saint Joseph's on Thursday night with the winner playing VCU. Over their last four games the Muskeeters own two wins over ranked teams, Memphis and Saint Louis.
*As for Butler, after losing late season games to Saint Louis and VCU, the Bulldogs (24-7, 11-5) dropped in the standings and now have the toughest road among the contenders to an A-10 title with that pesky extra game. Still, with Brad Stevens calmly patrolling the sidelines, the team's nose-to-nose defense still in play and perimeter hero Rotnei Clarke scoring over 16 points a game and shooting better than 41 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, overlook the Bulldogs of you dare. For what it's worth, I'm looking at Saint Louis to cut down the nets, but with this deep field, nothing is certain. Not even the number of teams in the league by next week.