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Saturday surprises suggest Atlantic 10 will be deep, strong league

One of the popular questions asked of Atlantic 10 coaches both at media day in October and on the conference call before the start of league play was whether having so many good teams in the league would be a problem.

The concern being that if the stronger squads beat the small number of weak teams and split the games with each other, would only a few A-10 schools make the NCAA Tournament?

The big assumption in that inquiry was that the highly regarded teams would actually take care of business against the struggling squads.

Five games into the conference schedule and that appears to be out the window as the league’s expected bottom feeders upset the apple cart Saturday.

UMass knows this all too well. The Minutemen didn’t have any good wins or bad losses going into Saturday’s game. The results were about what they were supposed to be through 16 games. But while George Washington had shown signs all year of breaking through with close losses to Rutgers, Kansas State and Temple, it had played poorly on the road until winning 79-76 Saturday.

For UMass, losing to a below-.500 team at home is a bogey. If the Minutemen want to stay in NCAA consideration, they’ll need a birdie or two somewhere down the line to counteract it.

The only consolation for the Minutemen is that they weren’t the only Atlantic 10 team to suffer a bad loss.

St. Bonaventure had never won at Temple going into Saturday’s game at the Liacouras Center. Not during the Marques Green-J.R. Bremer NCAA Tournament season of 2001. Not last year when the Bonnies made their surprise run to the NCAA tournament.

Never. Not in 30 previous trips. And this certainly didn’t look like the year. St. Bonaventure was in rebuilding mode at 7-9 coming in and Temple boasted a win over No. 3 Syracuse on Jan. 19.

But sure enough St. Bonaventure built an 11-point lead in the second half and made enough big shots late to hold on 81-78.

That wasn’t the most shocking result of the day either. Everybody figured Danny Hurley would turn Rhode Island around quickly. He’s got an impressive recruiting class coming in for next year. But this year figured to be a rough one as the Rams simply don’t have that much talent.

Saint Louis might disagree. Against a Billiken team noted for its defense, the Rams shot 55.1 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from 3-point range and pulled off the 82-80 upset in overtime. A team that can beat Saint Louis at Chaifetz Arena, can be competitive with just about anyone.

As of now Butler and Virginia Commonwealth appear headed for certain NCAA tournament berths and impressive Atlantic 10 records. Fordham and Duquesne look unlikely to finish in the top 12 and make it to Brooklyn for the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

If George Washington, Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure are going to be competitive with good teams on the road, the rest of the league is up for grabs.

MY TOP 10 — 1. Duke, 2. Syracuse, 3. Michigan, 4. Kansas, 5. Louisville, 6. Arizona, 7. Butler, 8. Indiana, 9. Florida, 10. Gonzaga

For the rest of my Top 25 visit the College Hoop Week Guide on Gazettenet’s UMass Sports Blog at http://www.gazettenet.com/Blogs/UMassSports/.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: Duke at Miami, Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN — The Hurricanes have won five straight despite missing senior big man Reggie Johnson (broken thumb). Could they upset Duke?

ATLANTIC 10 GAME OF THE WEEK: Temple at Butler, Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2 — The veteran Owls are trying to win the conference one more time on the way out the door. The Bulldogs are trying to assert dominance in year No. 1.

TOUGHEST WEEK: Michigan State — The Spartans are at Wisconsin Tuesday and at Indiana Saturday.

STILL WINLESS: Deadspin had an article last week saying this Grambling team, at 0-16 (0-7 Southwest Athletic Conference), could be the worst Division I team of all time. Whether or not that’s true, the Tigers are certainly the worst Division I team in the country.

Their best chance to win might come Jan. 28 when they host Mississippi Valley State (2-14, 2-4 SWAC).

NEW NICKNAME PLEASE — Division I has 10 Eagles and only American University should keep the name for obvious reasons. The problem with renaming Boston College is that most of the best Boston/Massachusetts nicknames have already been taken either currently — Patriots, Minutemen, Revolution — or previously Lobsters, Pilgrims, Beaneaters (although Beaneaters would be worth recycling).

If this were 70 years ago, the Chestnut Hill school could have been the Chestnuts like the Hawkeyes, Buckeyes or Sycamores, but it’s not a powerful enough nickname today.

Given the city’s connection to the American Revolution, BC should pick a nickname with that in mind.

BC Beacons would be good if UMass-Boston didn’t already use it. The BC Battleships, in reference to the U.S.S. Constitution, would be ideal too. I like the Boston College Messengers even though it lacks the alliteration of the other two. The Messengers could use Paul Revere, among the city’s most prominent Patriots, riding a horse as the symbol.

ON THE ROAD TO — Butler at VCU on March 2 deciding the A-10 regular season title.

Information from personal interviews, newspaper articles and sports information releases was used in this report.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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