March Madness: Grading the Atlantic 10 Teams' Performances

Brian GrammanContributor IIIApril 5, 2013

March Madness: Grading the Atlantic 10 Teams' Performances

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    It's been a bizarre season for the Atlantic 10 to say the least.

    The conference was at a crossroads, with two schools entering the fold (Butler and VCU), two lame duck schools who had already pledged their futures elsewhere (Temple and Charlotte) and two schools who would decide late in the year that the 2012-13 season would be their last in the A-10 (Butler and Xavier).

    Yet through all the turmoil, the conference was better than it's been in years.

    Saint Louis, Butler and VCU ended the year in or around the AP Top 25; La Salle won a share of the Philadelphia Big 5 title for the first time in 15 years, and five teams found a place in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

    Things didn't stop there for the Atlantic 10, as all five teams advanced to the Round of 32, becoming the only conference with more than two bids to have all its teams win a tournament game.

    Each team was successful in its own right, but some schools will be much happier with their performances than others.

Saint Louis Billikens

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    It's been a season to remember for Billiken fans, for reasons both good and bad.

    On August 24, 2012, Saint Louis head coach Rick Majerus announced he would be unable to coach his team for the 2012-13 due to ongoing health problems, and after months of being bedridden, he passed away on December 1.

    This was a huge blow to the team. Majerus was not only one of the greatest coaches the game of basketball has ever seen, but he also was especially close to this particular Saint Louis squad.

    Taking control of the team was Majerus' assistant Jim Crews, who led the Billikens to win 15 of their last 16 conference games, including a victory over VCU to clinch the conference championship title.

    Expectations were high for Saint Louis going into the NCAA tournament, with some slating the No. 4 seed in the Midwest to head to the Final Four.

    At first, things seemed to be going according to plan, with the Billikens cruising to a 64-44 victory over No. 13 seed New Mexico State. Even the 20-point margin of victory doesn't reflect how thorough of a blowout the game was.

    But in the Round of 32, the wheels came off.

    Facing an absurdly under-seeded Oregon squad that won the Pac-12 championship, Saint Louis lost its ability to do the two things that brought them this far: play defense and shoot the three.

    The Billikens, after holding most of their opponents well under 60 points throughout the season, gave up 74 to a No. 12 seed with something to prove, and shooting 3-of-21 from beyond the arc gave them no chance to keep up.

    It was a disappointing end to a fantastic season, and for a school that hasn't been to the Sweet 16 since 1957, this will be a tough pill to swallow.

    Postseason Grad: C

La Salle Explorers

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    Last season, La Salle reached the NIT for what would be their first postseason action in 20 years. It was a big deal for Explorers fans, who have sat through quite a bit of poor basketball over the past few decades.

    If they liked last season, they definitely loved this one.

    Dr. John Giannini and his La Salle team barely squeaked into the NCAA tournament, finding a place in the First Four against a favored Boise State team.

    The Explorers won that game the way they liked to—by scoring a lot of points.

    After their 80-71 victory against the Broncos, things got much much tougher.

    La Salle now had to play No. 4 seed Kansas State in what would practically be a home game for the Wildcats in Kansas City.

    In the first half, they continued to do that thing where they put the ball in basket at an incredible rate, with senior Ramon Galloway, as he had all season, leading the charge against very tough odds.

    Leading 44-26 at the half, the Explorers immediately got punched in the face as Kansas State came charging back with the stadium behind them.

    A-10 fans must have suffered from flashbacks to last tournament, when No. 14 seed Saint Bonaventure took a huge lead against Florida State before falling apart in the second half.

    However, Dr. Giannini kept his team together, and La Salle held on just long enough to eke out a 63-61 victory.

    Now moving on to face class act Marshall Henderson and the 12th-seeded Ole Miss Rebels, La Salle would no longer be able to sneak under the radar and knew they were about to take part in a dogfight.

    And fight they did, with junior Tyrone Garland sneaking in a layup with two seconds left to bring a 76-74 victory home to Philadelphia.

    If it hadn't been for Florida Gulf Coast, La Salle's berth in the Sweet 16 would have been the talk of the tournament.

    But it wasn't meant to be, and before the national spotlight had a chance to shine, the Explorers went down hard to Final Four-bound Wichita State, 72-58.

    It was a definite loss, with the Shockers controlling the game from beginning to end, and Galloway's shooting touch finally left him, finishing his La Salle career with a 4-of-15 night from the field.

    Nothing to be ashamed of for Dr. Giannini and Co.

    La Salle, a school with a very rich basketball history that was quickly becoming ancient history, proved its worth against all expectations.

    Postseason Grade: A

VCU Rams

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    VCU is a school remembered as one of the greatest underdog success stories in the NCAA tournament.

    But this year, they were an underdog no more.

    Receiving a No. 5 seed, Shaka Smart and his team were slated to play MAC champions Akron in the second round.

    The game was an absolute laugher, with VCU's 46-point margin of victory the greatest in NCAA tournament history until a few hours later when Syracuse drubbed Montana by 57.

    It's tough to give too much credit to the Rams, however, just because of the situation.

    Akron had just lost their point guard to suspension, two players to the flu and one more to back spasms.

    It was a pretty good time to be playing the Zips.

    What is most likely a better indicator of VCU's performance was their 78-53 loss to Michigan.

    VCU's famous pressure defense (called havoc by the players) was no match for a cool, calm and collected Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.

    When Michigan was able to score early, VCU became a bit rattled and began to miss shots.

    When you don't hit shots, it's pretty hard to set up a pressure defense.

    Michigan, on its way to the Final Four, is no slouch, but the margin of VCU's defeat is not something Shaka Smart will be very excited about.

    Postseason Grade: B-

Temple Owls

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    Whatever happened in the tournament this year certainly couldn't have been worse for Temple than last year.

    Temple was utterly pathetic against an average South Florida side, and Fran Dunphy's already poor postseason record took another hit.

    This year, they came ready.

    As a No. 8 seed set against No. 9 NC State, Temple was heavily favored to go down hard. NC State was a preseason Top 25 squad whose disappointing regular season led many to believe it would put it all together and shock the world in the tournament.

    Enter Khalif Wyatt.

    The Atlantic 10 Player of the Year scored 31 points, nearly as many as his whole team scored last year in the tournament, on the way to a 76-72 upset of the Wolfpack.

    Up next was a team that didn't disappoint anyone in the regular season: No. 1 seed Indiana.

    The only A-10 team to face a No. 1 seed in the 2013 tournament, Temple was unfazed by the Hoosiers, holding them to 58 points. Fifty-eight was the second-lowest point total for IU all season and their lowest in the win.

    That being said, they still won.

    Temple had Indiana on the ropes up by four with three minutes to play, but Victor Oladipo put on a show to pull his Hoosiers past the Owls.

    Wyatt once again scored 31 points, but this time, it was in a losing effort.

    The Hoosiers were a No. 1 seed, but they were a beatable No. 1 seed as evidenced by their pounding at the hands of Syracuse.

    Temple's performance improved drastically in comparison to last year, but they still couldn't quite get over the hump.

    Postseason Grade: B+

Butler Bulldogs

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    The tables were turned on Butler in the 2013 NCAA tournament, and Cinderella has now turned into the evil stepmother.

    The Bulldogs are no longer a secret after reaching back-to-back NCAA championship games.

    In fact, as a No. 6 seed, they were now one of the schools many picked as easy to upset in the first round, with some analysts picking 11th seed Bucknell to pull off the upset.

    Butler would have none of it.

    After a bizarre low-scoring first half, Brad Stevens' team held its own against the hungry and aggressive Bisons in a 68-56 victory.

    Next up was third-seeded Marquette, who Butler picked a horrendous time to face.

    Marquette had just been scared silly by Davidson in the second round, and it took a last-second Vander Blue shot for the Golden Eagles to move on.

    Buzz Williams knew his team was ready for a tough game this time, and despite a Butler lead at the halftime break, Marquette controlled the tempo throughout the entire 40 minutes, and once they drew level with the Bulldogs, a victory seemed like a sure thing.

    The end result was only a two-point margin of victory, but toward the end of the game, Butler's offense, so potent throughout the season, fell apart. Two points felt like millions.

    The next few postseason appearances for Butler (if, of course, they make it to the postseason) will be very difficult. The target is now on the Bulldogs' back as dozens of small schools look to follow in their footsteps.

    In this case, they were able to avoid disaster without much trouble, only just missing out on the Sweet 16.

    Postseason Grade: B