- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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With UConn toppling Syracuse, Duke-UNC proving more exciting than expected and Colorado State and San Diego State waging yet another of the Mountain West's trademark uber-tight fist-fights, you can be forgiven for not noticing that a rather seismic upset happened in the Atlantic-10.
This would have been large enough in Charlotte, but it was doubly impressive to see the 49ers hang on for the win in front of the always-imposing Hinkle Fieldhouse fans. Guard Pierria Henry posted a 17-point, four-rebound, four-steal, three-assist game, and Charlotte's best asset -- its defense -- held on for the win.
Charlotte has always defended this season; Alan Major's team is scrappy and tough and, in lieu of dazzling skill, prefers to make the game as difficult for opponents as possible. But for much of the A-10 season, the 49ers' unsightly offense has held them back. That may be changing. Henry & Co. managed 71 points in 68 possessions Thursday night, scored 88 in 74 in a one-point loss at Temple, and even broke the point-per-trip barrier in a loss to VCU, one of the nation's peskiest defenses.
But Charlotte's breakthrough at Butler, if it can be called that, is not just an obviously positive sign. It's also a massive tournament credential. Before Wednesday, this team's best win was a home victory over La Salle (RPI: 34), and all but two of its other victories had come against teams ranked outside the RPI top 150. Butler's performance, particularly its wins over Gonzaga and Indiana, have made the Bulldogs the only top-20 RPI team in the Atlantic-10.
Teams like Charlotte only get opportunities like that a couple times a season, and usually the road is unforgiving. That Major's improved bunch was able to take advantage in a hostile environment is a little like found money. Left for dead just a week ago, there's no question the 49ers are in the bubble conversation now.