- The A10 does have a signature win, and several more big ones Sure, the A10 lacks a visable notch from a Power Six conference, but Rhode Island's neutral court win over Cincinatti in the Mohegan Sun Tip-Off is just as big as a win over say, Iowa State (who Cincinnati beat on the road), Oregon, or Maryland. The Bearcats are ranked highly in all metrics (19th in Kenpom, 24th in RPI), and still have a late January home clash agasint Xavier. Ideally, the league would have two or three of these wins, but what it lacks in top 25 wins it makes up for with other solid victories. For starters, VCU beat an experienced Middle Tennessee squad that knocked out Michigan State in last year's NCAA tournament and has already demolished Ole Miss on the road and Vanderbilt at home. GW and UMass both beat Temple, who, while flawed, has neutral court wins against elite teams like West Virginia and Florida State and figures to finish in the top 50 of the RPI. Dayton got a home win over Vandy, who at the very least should stay in the Kenpom and RPI top 100 throughout the season, if not climb into the top 50 with a favorable home schedule. Even George Mason got a nice win in Happy Valley against Penn State.
2. The computer numbers are good enough
People love to give me a hard time about how much I talk about the RPI, but the fact of the matter is that this is still the primary selection tool that the Selection Committee uses. So roll your eyes if you want, but the A10 has three teams in the RPI top 50, EIGHT in the top 100, and is ranked 7th in the RPI....just like 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013. You want more than that? Fine, let's use Kenpom instead. The A10 still has three teams in the top 50 (okay, VCU is 52nd, but we all know that they're going to rise into the 40's in no time). There are five teams in the top 100, and La Salle and St. Joe's sit just outside at 101 and 102. What's even more significant are the SOS numbers of the teams contending for a tournament bid. Dayton, Rhody, VCU, and Davidson all have top 50 non-conference strength of schedules. The Selection Committee has demonstrated time and time again that even without a signature out of conference win, a high non-conference SOS can put you in good favor come March.
3. Conference scheduling will work in favor of the top teams
If not for favorable scheduling from the A10 I almost might agree that the conference will fail to get multiple bids. However, Bernadette McGlade worked her usual magic and got the following:
-VCU gets Dayton and Davidson twice, and SLU only once (unlike previous years, helping the Rams SOS)
- Dayton gets Rhody and VCU twice, which could give the Flyers two signature victories they currently lack
- Rhody gets Dayton twice, as well as VCU, St. Bonaventure, UMass, and Davidson at home.
- Davidson will play Rhody and VCU twice and gets Dayton at home
- St. Bonaventure gets Dayton twice, and VCU at home
While it's likely that only VCU, Dayton, and Rhode Island will be in strong position for bids come March, getting the mid-upper tier of the conference key home games is masterful RPI engineering. Even if Davidson isn't competing for an at-large bid, they'll likely have a top 50 or 75 RPI, giving the very top tier more quality wins by the end of the year.
And 1: The Selection Committee will be sympathetic to the injury situations of Rhode Island and Dayton
When Josh Cunningham broke his leg on a game ending dunk at Alabama in mid-November, a lot of Dayton fans figured their season would be an uphill climb to make the NCAA tournament. After all, Kendall Pollard missed the first several games of the season, making them extremely depleted. Despite narrow losses to St. Mary's and Northwestern, the Flyers avoided bad losses and still made it to conference play at 8-3. This puts them in position to score a couple of signature wins with more complete roster and demonstrate that they're one of the best 38 at-large teams at the end of the year. The same goes for Rhode Island, except despite some close road losses with a thinned roster (Hassan Martin missed several games), they narrowly lost road contests against top 100 teams. When they were at full strength, they beat a very good Cincinnati team, as we discussed above. If they can avoid more than a couple of bad losses and beat VCU and Dayton at home, the Rams will be more concerned with seeding than getting a bid.