- Eamonn Brennan, College Basketball Reporter
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Another week of confusing Atlantic 10 action, another attempt to put these teams in some meaningful order by your humble power ranker. And with a big game on deck -- Saint Louis visits Butler at 7 p.m. ET tonight -- things are obviously subject to change. Let's just do our best, shall we?
1. Saint Louis. For the first time this season, the Saint Louis Billikens are your No. 1 team in the Atlantic 10. Why? Form. No team in the conference is currently playing better; no other team in the A-10 has rattled off eight straight wins, including convincing home victories over Butler and, most recently, VCU. The Billikens play the stingiest defense in the league, and their offense -- their biggest bugaboo thus far -- ranks second. They're the real deal.
Of course, there is that game at Hinkle Fieldhouse tonight, so this perception could change if Jim Crews' team is just totally blown out. Failing that, by now we have to consider Saint Louis & Co. at least the prospective equal of VCU and Butler -- if not something more.
2. Butler. It is worth noting that Butler's Feb. 13 home loss to Charlotte came when Andrew Smith was sidelined with an injury. It is also worth noting that, even with Smith back in the lineup, the Bulldogs haven't looked their best these past couple of weeks. They managed to hold on for a win at Fordham on Saturday, and beat up on hapless Duquesne Tuesday, but neither of those games featured the kind of impressive offense that drove the Bulldogs to their early-season success. This team has yet to play really vintage (or "vintage") Butler defense; its best work has always been on the offensive end. If the offense slows down, as it has recently, will the Bulldogs improve enough on the defensive end to remain formidable? (For more on this, check out Butler coach Brad Stevens's appearance with Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg on the ESPN college hoops podcast Wednesday.)
3. Virginia Commonwealth. VCU was No. 1 last week. It's No. 3 this week. I don't really think that should be taken as an indictment; I think VCU is about as good as Butler or Saint Louis overall, depending mostly on matchups and style of play. If VCU gets a team that turns over the ball even semi-frequently, they're almost impossible to beat. They create too much chaos, and get too many easy buckets. But if they play a team that limits turnovers -- see: Saint Louis -- the whole pressure-turnover-score-pressure loop breaks down, and VCU has a tough time getting stops or keeping offenses off the boards.
4. La Salle. I'm more inclined to give Temple the credit, rather than La Salle the blame, for the Owls' 82-74 win at the Liacouras Center on Thursday night. Sure, you would have liked to see La Salle put up more of a fight during the 18-0 run that broke the game open at the end of the first half, but Temple was also really hot, and when Temple gets hot, they can beat anyone. The Explorers remain in the top half of this league, to say the least, and are well positioned for a solid NCAA tournament at-large berth.
5. Charlotte. The 49ers were blown out at Saint Louis on Saturday, but Saint Louis is blowing out everyone in its own building these days, so I don't see much reason to downgrade the 49ers. If there is a reason, it's that Charlotte -- so solid defensively for the first two months of the season -- is now allowing 1.03 points per possession while scoring only 0.97. Running an efficiency margin deficit is not a good way to get in the NCAA tournament, which is a realistic goal.
6. Temple. Temple can not be ranked; Temple exists outside space and time. I mean, really: What sense can you make of a team that participated in five -- yes, five -- straight one-point games? Two were losses (at Saint Joe's, at home vs. Duquesne -- yikes) and three were wins (Charlotte, Dayton, UMass), and then Temple -- again, the same team that lost at home to Duquesne -- went on a tear against a good La Salle team Thursday night. Before Thursday night, the Owls were scoring 1.054 points per trip and allowing 1.055. I give up.
7. Massachusetts. The Minutemen are fighting like mad for an NCAA tournament bid -- they're either just outside the tournament field or way outside it, depending on whom you ask -- and needless to say, Wednesday's loss at St. Bonaventure was not helpful. The Bonnies put up 99 points (on a super-brisk 84 possessions, but still).
8. Xavier. Xavier's various RPI and strength of schedule numbers made them a very long shot to get into the tournament before they lost to Dayton on Saturday, and they fell off the Bubble Watch accordingly. But keep an eye out: Xavier's next four games all come at home, and all four -- VCU, Memphis, UMass and Saint Louis -- would aid a last-second tournament push. (And a trip to Butler is the final game of the season; that would help, too.)
9. Saint Joseph's. Remember when Saint Joe's was picked to win this league? Yeah. Not so much. They're now 14-10 with a mediocre offense and a bad defense, which is pretty much exactly where they were at this time last season. Lesson to everyone: Just because a team brings back all its players doesn't mean those players automatically get better.
10. George Washington. The Colonials are still playing solid defense. They're also still playing terrible offense. That combination makes them good enough to beat the league's bottom-half squads on given nights, but they can't muster enough scoring to do anything else consistently.
11. Dayton. For all of Dayton's struggles this year, Saturday's 11-point home win over their in-state rivals/overlords Xavier had to feel really good. It's the little things, right?
12. Richmond. The Spiders got an exciting and well-earned OT win over St. Bonaventure on Saturday, but the issues we've covered almost weekly -- injuries, a hampered offense, a defense that was never good enough to compensate for either two -- remain.
13. St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies may well have spoiled UMass's shot at an at-large tourney bid Wednesday night. Mark Schmidt's team's remaining schedule is mostly bad, but Charlotte comes to town March 2, and the 49ers would do well to avoid a fate similar to the Minutemen.
14. Rhode Island. The Rams' offense remains abysmal -- Xavier Munford and company mustered only 42 points in 64 possessions at home against the Musketeers on Wednesday, but you have to love the defensive leap they've taken in league play, and the spirit with which they've battled consistently superior opponents.
15. Duquesne. After that amazing 84-83 upset at Temple, their first league win of the season, the Dukes were probably bound for a letdown. Or maybe just a return to normalcy. Either way, they lost to Rhode Island and Butler.
16. Fordham. You sort of have to feel for teams such as Duquesne and Fordham; they are in some ways mid-majors that pale in comparison to the majority of their well-financed league foes. Anyway, they're 6-21.
Another week of confusing Atlantic 10 action, another attempt to put these teams in some meaningful order by your humble power ranker. And with a big game on deck -- Saint Louis visits Butler at 7 p.