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Atlantic 10 crowded at top

A couple of games this week should bring some clarity to the muddled Atlantic 10 race, but the battle for the coveted top four seeds in the conference tournament could be jumbled until the end of the season.

Saint Louis, which is 8-2 in the league, hosts first-place VCU (9-2) today and then visits Butler (8-3) on Friday in an ESPNU game.

Most teams have five league games left, and eight are within three games of first. The top 12 teams advance to the A-10 tourney in Brooklyn on March 14-17. And while there are no first-round games at campus sites this year, the top-four finishers earn byes into the quarterfinals and won’t have to play on the opening Thursday at the Barclays Center.

“Some people call it parity, I call it competitive,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said of the A-10 on the coaches teleconference Monday. “There are enough good players spread around this league, on any given night, one or two of them get hot and you’re in for a long night.

“It’s going to be very, very interesting over the last week and a half or two weeks to see who gets crowned champion and who settles for getting a bye in the conference tournament.”

Over the line: The Dayton fans who taunted Xavier coach Chris Mack’s wife during the Flyers’ 70-59 win Saturday weren’t students and aren’t subject to school disciplinary measures, a UD spokesman said. But after they were located by security, they were escorted out of the building.

The former Christi Hester, once a star guard for the Flyers, was sitting behind the Musketeers bench but got up and left in tears after hearing chants of, “Christi Hester is a b——!” UD Athletic Director Tim Wabler reached out to her by phone Monday to clear things up.

Chris Mack said: “You hear things everywhere you go — you’re human. On the sidelines, you’re trying to focus on the game, but I heard it. There’s really nothing you’re going to do during the course of the game. You’re going to try to coach your team and deal with whatever happens after the game.

“It was unfortunate. But my wife and I — and for that matter, our whole program — understands it’s just one or two knuckleheads. It doesn’t reflect the entire (UD) program or its fans. Other than that, we were treated very kindly — except on the court on Saturday.”

Toss-ups: UMass has been in five one-point games this year, which is an unusually high number. But Temple has had five STRAIGHT one-point games. That’s the longest streak in Division I since STATS, LLC began collecting data in 1996-97.

They’ve won three of the five. After suffering a damaging 84-83 home loss to Duquesne, the Owls knocked off UMass, 83-82, on the road Saturday.

“One thing you tell your team all the time is, it wasn’t the last possession that decided the game. There was a possession in the first half where you had a poor shot and had no chance of making it, and the other team ran down and got a 3. That was a five- or six-point turnaround. That’s what cost you the game, rather than the last possession,” Owls coach Fran Dunphy said.

Offensive woes: Preseason favorite St. Joe’s, which has slumped to 14-10 overall and 5-6 in the league, is off until Saturday, but coach Phil Martelli bristled at the suggestion the break is coming at a good time.

“You can say it will soothe us or it will reinvigorate our spirit. But that’s not been the concern. It’s our basketball play,” he said. “I’ve been saying it over and over and over again: We have not played good offensive basketball. We’re a Division I team that averages about 64 points a game, and in our last six games, we’ve averaged 62 points a game. It’s hard to win that way.”

The Hawks have plenty of talent but don’t really have a true point guard, which may be the most important piece.

“I think for academic recovery time (the break is) really important, but not for soothing anyone’s frayed emotions or psyche or anything like that,” Martelli said.

RPI update: Butler hasn’t the highest RPI in the A-10 with a rating of 18, and the league has 10 top-100 teams.

La Salle has a ranking of 35, VCU 36, UMass 45, Charlotte 53, Saint Louis 56, Temple 59, Richmond 84, Saint Joseph’s 85 and Xavier 89. Dayton is 13th at 123.

The Big East has 12 top-100 teams, the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC eight each. No other league has more than seven.

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