OVERTIME: A-10 throne up for grabs

It has been a little more than a month since Atlantic 10 conference play began in men’s basketball.

Each school has participated in nine games in conference play.

And yet we’re no closer to determining who the league’s top dog (no pun intended) is.

The four teams that will earn a first-round bye in the 12-team conference tournament are far from set in stone.

I’m going to take a look at the league’s top nine teams—based on in-conference record—and their upcoming schedules to determine which squad will take the No. 1 seed and which teams will round out the top four seeds in the A-10 tournament.

First and ninth place in the league standings are separated by two losses. With seven conference matchups remaining for each team, it’s not ridiculous to suggest the team currently sitting in ninth place could win the league.

Butler, Virginia Commonwealth and Saint Louis occupy the first three spots, each with 7-2 marks in A-10 play.

Positions four through six are held by a trio of 6-3 squads: Massachusetts, La Salle and Xavier.

The final three teams currently above .500 in league play are Charlotte, Temple and George Washington, all holding 5-4 records.

So which team has the fast track to the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, or at least a first-round bye via a top-four seed?

That would be the La Salle Explorers.

La Salle’s final seven foes have a combined record of 26-37, worst of the top nine teams.

The Explorers’ opponents are, on the whole, statistically weak in just about every offensive and defensive category.

But let’s get to what many of you probably want to know: How difficult is Butler’s road to the A-10 throne?

The Bulldogs’ opponents have combined for 33 victories against 30 losses in A-10 action this season.

Records don’t always tell the entire story though.

Butler will be facing some poor shooting squads down the road.

On the defensive end, it is a completely different story for Butler’s remaining foes.

The Bulldogs have the toughest slate of these nine squads when it comes to opponents’ overall rebounding.

Senior center Andrew Smith’s recent injury could not have come at a worse time, as he is the team’s second-best rebounder.

Butler has the third-most difficult schedule when it comes to opponents’ shooting defense. The Bulldogs will also deal with the fourth most difficult schedule as it pertains to 3-point shooting defense.

Statistically, Butler has the second-toughest final seven conference games of the teams listed above.

Still, I think it can attain the No. 1 seed in the A-10 tournament thanks to its early-season conference success, battle-tested nature and Brad Stevens’ coaching.

I will take VCU as the event’s No. 2 seed.

Statistically the Rams have just as challenging a remaining schedule as Butler, but adversity is something this former Final Four participant is familiar with.

Saint Louis has the toughest remaining A-10 run, facing seven teams with winning records.

I have a hard time slotting the Billikens in the No. 3 spot because of this.

Massachusetts is my sleeper pick with a middle-of-the-road remaining schedule. The Minutemen have been fairly consistent in A-10 action, so they are my current No. 3 seed.

For the No. 4 seed, it’s a toss-up between Saint Louis and La Salle.

The Explorers have a big mountain to climb being two losses behind Saint Louis.

Fittingly, the teams face off in their final game of the regular season. That could decide which team gets a bye in the A-10 tournament and which has to play right away.

These next four weeks should be a blast for A-10 fans across the nation.

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