By CHRIS GOFF
The biggest threat to Saint Louis these days would appear to be injury.
The Billikens retain the top spot of IndySportsLegends.com’s Atlantic 10 Power Rankings for a second straight week and show no signs of letting go any time soon. Usual suspects VCU and La Salle are still in pursuit. Meanwhile, Butler has tumbled to unexpected depths. With only two games left in the regular season, the conference is still on track to send five teams to the NCAA tournament.
Let’s jump right in:
1. Saint Louis (23-5, 12-2 conference)
At 18 games over .500, with 11 wins in a row and a No. 16 ranking in the AP Top 25, the only A-10 team that can beat Saint Louis is Saint Louis. The Billikens have enviable depth, as no team brings two weapons off the bench as good as Cody Ellis and Jordair Jett. They control their own destiny in pursuit of an outright regular season title and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
2. Virginia Commonwealth (23-6, 11-3)
The Rams pushed Butler around on Saturday, handing the Bulldogs their worst defeat in nearly two decades. VCU is tied with Saint Louis in setting the league pace with 17 double-digit wins.
3. La Salle (20-7, 10-4)
The Explorers have won 20 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1988-89 (26-6) and 1989-90 (30-2). If La Salle beats George Washington at home Wednesday, it will set a school record for Atlantic 10 victories with 11. This bunch knows how to close games. When ahead with 5 minutes remaining, the Explorers are 18-0. So, of all the ways to measure these new darlings, what excites you most?
4. Temple (21-8, 9-5)
If anyone can challenge the league’s upper crust, it’s these guys. Temple has suddenly won five straight. We were tough on him a few weeks ago when Khalif Wyatt was the Owls’ only productive scorer, so it’s only fair to spotlight Scootie Randall’s turnaround: 11 or more points in five straight to spark this win streak. Temple is rollin’ at just the right time of year. Even senior Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson is blowing up, with averages of 12 points, 4.4 assists and 11.8 rebounds over his last five. Break up the Owls.
5. Butler (22-7, 9-5)
Losing all three games to VCU and Saint Louis was bad. Worse? How average the once-top 10 Bulldogs continue to look: 2-3 in their past five games, with Rotnei Clarke’s flaws more exposed than ever before. They’ll make the NCAA tournament. But their seeding may wind up so low that it limits them to one win at most. The good news: Butler remains an outstanding rebounding team, pulling down 55.5 percent of available boards, the ninth-best rate in the country.
6. Massachusetts (18-9, 8-6)
Will there be a springboard effect for the Minutemen after their recent victory in Cincinnati? Beating Xavier at the Cintas Center is no small feat. Now Chaz Williams, who is teaching a master’s course on the point guard position this semester, leads his teammates at home Thursday against Butler.
7. Xavier (16-12, 8-6)
The home loss to UMass squeezed the juice out of a great win against Memphis. Semaj Christon is one of the most talented players in the league. He can get by anybody, and he is a playmaker with the potential to get hot in the conference tournament. It’s easy to love his game, despite a penchant for turnovers. The Musketeers’ string of six straight seasons with a winning record in A-10 play could come to an end. A tough week sees Xavier host Saint Louis and visit Butler.
8. Saint Joseph’s (16-11, 7-7)
Have observers consistently overrated their talent? The Hawks have been playing .500-type ball since the calendar flipped to December. Phil Martelli called out Carl Jones and Langston Galloway, his top two scorers, for their unproductive efforts in a disappointing showing at Saint Louis. Instead of that game becoming a pivot point, it was a spanking.
9. St. Bonaventure (14-13, 7-7)
Don’t look now, but the Bonnies have won four of six, with both losses coming in overtime. Eric Mosley has scored at least 15 points in all six games. He leads the conference in 3-point shooting (45.1 percent). This team can score on anyone. Mark Schmidt has them playing smart and together.
10. Richmond (17-12, 7-7)
Derrick Williams scored 17 points in Saturday’s loss to Dayton, by far his best game in the six he has played after a nine-game absence. In part because of Williams’ injury, Richmond has been suppressed by an utter inability to rebound this season. The Spiders have plenty of talent but are scrambling to achieve late-season chemistry.
11. Dayton (16-12, 6-8)
The way things were going, it’s a relief for the Flyers just to be playing games that matter in March. Archie Miller’s team has two very winnable ones this week. Dayton has an opening to get into the conference tournament. Can’t stop wondering, if the Flyers don’t make it, how a team that shoots 47 percent from the field could disappoint so mightily.
12. Charlotte (18-10, 6-8)
Sitting thirteenth in a postseason race with only 12 spots must have the 49ers feeling some heat, especially since they represent the city’s only playoff hope. In the midst of a four-game free fall, Alan Major’s team can’t even keep ˜em close these days. The memories of the Butler win are as long gone as DeMario Mayfield.
13. George Washington (12-15, 6-8)
The Colonials own a tiebreaker over Charlotte and host Dayton in the season finale on Saturday but must travel to La Salle on Wednesday. With a 2-6 record in its last eight games, George Washington is just hoping to earn a trip to Brooklyn and win a game or two on the strength of its defense and rebounding.
14. Rhode Island (8-19, 3-11)
It’s a shame the Rams didn’t make the conference tournament. They never give up. Even on the road, facing one of the hottest teams in the league, Rhody cut Temple’s 11-point lead to one in the final three minutes. Dan Hurley appears to be the right coach to turn the program around.
15. Duquesne (8-20, 1-13)
The Dukes have lost 15 of their last 16 games. Derrick Colter, averaging 13.1 points and 5.1 assists per game, needs to improve his shooting but should take care of point guard for the next three seasons.
16. Fordham (6-23, 2-12)
The Rams have lost nine in a row and are playing out the string. They didn’t show up in a 26-point defeat at St. Joe’s over the weekend.
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