Butler and VCU are nationally ranked, and Xavier has won its first four Atlantic 10 games. But coaches on the A-10 teleconference Monday seemed to be in agreement that no team will get through the league unscathed.
Underscoring the balance among the 16 conference members, three so-called bottom-tier schools pulled off road wins Saturday against title contenders: Rhode Island 82, Saint Louis 80, OT; George Washington 79, UMass 76; and St. Bonaventure 81, Temple 78.
“One of the reasons this league is such a great league and one of the top six or seven in the country is its parity,” said sixth-year St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt, whose team won at Temple for the first time in 31 tries. “When I was at Xavier (as an assistant in the late 1990s), there was really a big separation between the good teams and lower-end teams. There isn’t that separation anymore.
“If you don’t come in and play well, you’re going to lose. It doesn’t really matter if you play at home or on the road. … You can lose three, four or five in a row in a blink of an eye.”
Butler racked up another noteworthy win for the A-10 by beating No. 8 Gonzaga on Saturday in the Hinkle mosh pit with the ESPN College GameDay crew in attendance. VCU matched the Bulldogs for the league’s best winning streak at 13 in a row, but it needed overtime at home to hold off Saint Joseph’s on Thursday.
“I think one of the things we can’t undersell are the environments,” St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said. “I did not see the Butler-Gonzaga game, but I did see the highlights and that atmosphere. Thursday night, I was blown away by the professional approach VCU put on in our game down there.
“A close friend of mine, whose team is in the top-10 in the country, said to me after his team played Saturday, ‘I never saw anything like Thursday. I never saw anything like Saturday. I think we all know your league is undervalued.’ “
No emotion: While pandemonium erupted around him after Roosevelt Jones’ steal and game-winning basket with one-tenth of a second left, Butler coach Brad Stevens, arms folded, never changed expressions.
His players piled on each other at midcourt and fans rushed the court after the 64-63 victory over the Zags, but Stevens just walked toward the opposing bench for post-game handshakes. His reaction seemed so out of place under the circumstances that CBS analyst Seth Davis even posted it on YouTube.
He responded the same way after a win over Marquette on a buzzer-beater.
Asked to explain how he stays so composed, Stevens said: “It’s not about the shot. You don’t evaluate your team on whether that shot goes down or not. You evaluate your team on how well they played, how hard they played, how much they put in to get there. I’ll let everybody else react or overreact to winning and losing.
“We over-exaggerate winning. We’ve had a ton of articles written about how great we are. But we’re no better than if that shot would have missed. It has very little to do with that final shot.
“My job’s not to be the guy that jumps around. My job is to keep this thing moving in the right direction.”
Butler played without star guard Rotnei Clarke, who suffered a neck injury against Dayton on Jan. 12. He’ll sit out his third straight game Wednesday when the Bulldogs visit La Salle.
Turning heads: Xavier freshman guard Semaj Christian had 19 points and 10 assists in a win at St. Bonaventure and 18 points in a home victory against La Salle last week.
The 6-foot-3 Winton Woods High School product, who spent a prep-school year at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, is leading the team in scoring (14.7) and assists (5.1). He was named A-10 Rookie of the Week for the fourth time.
“In my opinion, he’s the best freshman in the conference, but he’s still a freshman,” Musketeers coach Chris Mack said. “But the great thing about Semaj is that he keeps getting better every day because of his ‘coachability’ and his attitude.
“He’s explosive. He reads situations well. He’s got a good hesitation-dribble move and great size.”
RPI numbers: The A-10 is ranked as the seventh-best conference nationally in the RPI standings and has 11 teams in the top 100.
Butler has an RPI of 12, VCU 29, La Salle 43, Temple 49, Charlotte 56, UMass 60, Xavier 67, Saint Louis 78, Saint Joseph’s 80, Richmond 82 and Dayton 92.