It was only five years ago that the Atlantic 10 Conference placed six teams in the NCAA Tournament, a season in which Dayton reached the Elite Eight before losing to Florida.
“That’s always been the gold standard in our league,” St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said.
The A-10’s NCAA participation was cut in half the next year but has remained steady. The conference has placed three teams in the tournament in each of the last four seasons. Last year, St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island each won one game and conference tournament champion Davidson lost to Kentucky.
However, the conference is in danger of being a one-bid league this season, with only the tournament champion going to the dance. The sole at-large possibility with less than seven weeks to go before Selection Sunday is VCU, but only if a different team grabbed the automatic bid.
Martelli is confident, however, that the A-10 will land more than one team in the NCAA Tournament.
“The Atlantic 10 is going to be, and deserves to be, in the conversation for at-large bids,” Martelli said Monday night. “The Power 5 played a more challenging league schedule, so I’m much more optimistic than I was on Jan. 1.
“That doesn’t negate that we did not win enough of our 50-50 games. Scheduling was great, but we didn’t win enough of our 50-50 games, so when people starting talking about multiple bids beyond, that I get. But we’ll have more than an automatic qualifier.”
VCU (15-6, 6-2 A-10 through Monday), which is the last at-large team in the tournament in the latest projection Tuesday by ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, is the only league team that has a nonconference win over a projected NCAA team, Texas. The Rams also have defeated Temple, a bubble team.
St. Louis has two nonconference wins over current bubble teams Seton Hall and Butler, but has skidded recently and is 5-4 in the A-10. Dayton also has defeated Butler, but its four games against current NCAA locks — Virginia, Auburn, Mississippi State, and Oklahoma — were all losses.
“So it’s depending upon whether a Temple is in or out, or a Seton Hall or a Butler are in or out,” Lunardi said Tuesday. “The A-10’s beaten some other bubble teams but not really teams that are solidly in the field to kind of hang their hat on.”
However, one positive for the A-10 is teams from larger conferences beating up on one another. Lunardi said his Tuesday bracket includes seven schools from power conferences that have losing records in their leagues.
“That is staggeringly high,” he said. “By comparison, there have been eight in the last five years. So theoretically, spots could start opening up for more Atlantic 10, or more mid-majors. It’s just not been the committee’s kind of M.O. in recent years to go in that direction. They’ve trended more toward the middle-of-the-pack teams from the power conferences.”
Martelli also finds hope in that statistic.
“Without naming names,” he said, “there are teams that people are gaga about and you look at their record and say, ‘They have seven or eight losses now. They’re under .500 in their league.’ So I’m much more optimistic.”
As A-10 play resumes Tuesday night, Davidson (16-5 overall) is 7-1 and in first place in the league but lost earlier in the season to North Carolina and Purdue. Its best nonconference win is against Northeastern, currently No. 91 in the NET rankings.
Villanova remains a No. 4 seed in the East and is one of three Big East teams in Lunardi’s most recent bracket, along with Marquette, and St. John’s, with the Red Storm one of the “last four in.” The Big East has three more teams — Creighton, Butler, and Seton Hall — in Lunardi’s “first four out.”
Temple is the last team in the “first four out.” The American Athletic Conference also has three teams in Tuesday’s projection: Houston, Cincinnati and Central Florida.