Jake Sherman: A-10, Colonials wonder what comes next

They all sat at round tables, players by their sides, media guides in tow. At the Atlantic 10’s media day in Philadelphia, before the start of the 2005-2006 season, coaches were showcased and available to the media that would be casting the critical eye all year.

Travis Ford sat timidly at a round-clothed table in a ballroom at the Philadelphia hotel. Ford was a player at Kentucky and a coach at Eastern Kentucky, but his predictions about the A-10 were clear-cut.

After a year that had GW, a 22-8 squad, as its only team in the NCAA Tournament, would the league shed its one-bid league characterization? Many thought the addition of Charlotte and Saint Louis, two former Conference USAers, would bolster the league’s dwindling reputation.

Would more than the league champion get in, a reporter asked?

Definitely, said Ford, the Massachusetts coach. As did Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli, Charlotte’s Bobby Lutz and even GW’s Karl Hobbs.

The league coaches agreed on this much: 2005-2006 would be a good season for the A-10. In the end, their predictions were somewhat correct. Xavier beat out Saint Joseph’s for the league’s automatic bid. GW, after compiling an undefeated conference mark and having a first-round conference tournament exit, got an eight seed, in line to face the top team in the country.

An eighth seed for a team that won 16 conference games and beat Maryland and lost to North Carolina State on the road.

What went wrong?

In the past two seasons, Hobbs and Director of Athletics Jack Kvancz have employed two scheduling strategies, hoping to gain favor in the eyes of the selection committee. In the 2004-2005 season, GW played good out-of-conference games including Maryland, Michigan State, Wake Forest and West Virginia. In the A-10, GW went 11-5 and finished it off by becoming the A-10 Tournament champions.

The result: a 12 seed.

This season, Kvancz and Hobbs got wins. They scheduled easier games on top of Maryland and N.C. State, relying on the A-10 competition to be tough. GW went 16-0, only the fourth season of its kind in the league, and lost in the first round of the conference tournament. The NCAA selection committee awarded GW an eight seed.

Kvancz, a former committee member, was very vocal with his opinion about the seeding. Kvancz said he told committee members, which included George Mason Athletic Director Tom O’Connor, a friend of Kvancz, that he felt his team got an unfair placement.

But as evidenced by the last two seasons, it would appear that the A-10 may be holding down a team such as GW. Kvancz said he thinks there are good teams in the A-10, but it may be time to be worried.

“If you look at the bottom four teams, they need to start winning,” Kvancz said. “But what do we say to a team? If you have four losing seasons you’re out? I just don’t know.”

Kvancz also said he thinks basketball success is cyclical. Three years ago, Saint Joseph’s and Xavier were in the Elite Eight, a heartbeat away from the Final Four. This past season, five of the A-10’s 14 teams were under .500 and two were at .500. Duquesne and St. Bonaventure won fewer than 10 games. In the 10-team Missouri Valley Conference, four teams were under .500 and the conference received four bids, including two teams in the Sweet 16. The A-10 has received multiple bids in 14 of the last 16 tournaments.

The two worst teams in the last four years are Duquesne and St. Bonaventure. The two teams have compiled a .274 winning average in the last four campaigns, but is it time to get rid of them? Kvancz doesn’t know.

“I don’t know how you tell a team that they need to do this, this and this, or else you’re getting kicked out,” Kvancz said. “I don’t know how you tell a team they aren’t trying.”

Linda Bruno, the commissioner of the A-10, is not as concerned.

Bruno does not put much credence into the MVC’s success this year, or the A-10’s downfall. Bruno said the MVC scheduled well but “everything clicked for them” in a season where four of its teams made it into the NCAA Tournament.

“We had a few things that didn’t click for us this year,” Bruno said in a phone interview Tuesday. “You can’t predict that Xavier had some kids hurt. You can’t predict Temple plays a great non-conference schedule, wins some of those games, and loses some conference games you don’t expect them to and their RPI is a little lower.”

She added, “All of those things combined, that’s how sometimes you end up where you are.”

The A-10, some say, is in dire straights. The league finished 10th of 32 Division I conferences, a placing with which Bruno said she is not overly disappointed. Bruno cited that her conference has the most television exposure outside the football conference schools and that success is cyclical.

Bruno said she thinks the MVC schedules non-conference games well, but the A-10 has a reward-based system for out-of-conference scheduling. Although the actual formula has not been made public, Bruno said if a team plays a 1-50 RPI team, they get a certain amount of points. The points translate to monetary compensation because teams in the A-10 need to go on the road to get good non-league games.

Kvancz does not buy into the A-10’s formula.

“Do I tell my coach to go three (wins) and five (losses) out-of-conference for a few thousand dollars?” Kvancz said.

So next year, GW has upped the ante. The Colonials will fly to California twice in one month to face either UCLA or USC, and Air Force, Colgate or Santa Clara. GW will meet Dartmouth in the Smith Center and Virginia Tech at the Verizon Center, Boston University in Beantown and Marshall at home.

Sure, GW will fly to Georgia to face Kennesaw State, but the rest of the schedule seems to be looking up.

When asked if he’d schedule differently in 2006-2007 from what he did during his 27-3 campaign, Hobbs shook his head. He said if the schedule was better this year, nothing would’ve been different.

Sometimes, it seems like Hobbs think his squad is full of Rodney Dangerfields.

“We’re GW,” he said.

And they get no respect.

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