Reaction: George Mason joins the Atlantic 10

A year ago, it was the Atlantic 10’s patience and pragmatism that made them the biggest winners of conference realignment. But this week’s addition of George Mason is frantic and underwhelming.

It happened Sunday afternoon in the midst of the finale of one of the greatest seasons in the history of the Atlantic 10 conference. Butler, La Salle, St. Louis, Temple, and VCU had started the 2013 NCAA tournament a combined perfect 6-0, but 13th-seeded La Salle was the only remaining team, and they were just a few hours away from tipping off with 12th-seeded Ole Miss. It broke on twitter: George Mason will join the A-10 effective July 1st.

One year ago, it was the Atlantic 10’s patience and pragmatism that made them the biggest winners of conference realignment outside of the ACC and Big 10. Less than 365 days later, the addition of George Mason is frantic and underwhelming.

Butler and Xavier’s departure have been rumored for months, but weren’t official until March 20th. Upon hearing the rumors, the Atlantic 10 needed to ask themselves two questions: 1) Does the conference need more teams? 2) If so, who does the conference add?

Does the conference need more teams (now)?

VCU joined the Atlantic 10 knowing that Temple and Charlotte were departing the conference after the 2012-13 season. The departures of 3rd place Butler and 6th place Xavier come as a surprise, but it is a reminder that conference realignment is far from done.

With twelve solid teams and a sixteen game schedule, the Atlantic 10 should have played this season and waited for conference realignment to work itself out in the ACC, Big 10, Old Big East, and New Big East. TV deals and money talk, and unfortunately, the Atlantic 10 is below those conferences in the pecking order.

This is the era of more and faster in college basketball. More and faster transfers through graduate transfer rules, more and faster hiring and firing, and more and faster realignment. If it was patience that made the A-10 a winner the first time around, then why are they hastily adding George Mason?

Lack of football is a limiting factor for the Atlantic 10. The A-10 built itself into the elite basketball-first conference, but they now split the bill with the Big East (Catholic 7). The Atlantic 10 isn’t going to be able to attract a football-first program, but waiting for a season or two at twelve teams could have enabled the conference to add that fit better than George Mason.

[The addition of George Mason] will put us at 13 member institutions which quite frankly is still a large conference. I think I’ve made the comment before that the number of institutions is not necessarily the be all and end all but it’s really what institutions make up the Atlantic 10. Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade

If so, who does the conference add?

When rumors swirled one year ago, George Mason was frequently listed alongside Butler and VCU as an addition to the A-10, but the Patriots ended up not making the move. Like Butler in 2010 and 2011, and VCU in 2011, George Mason took March by storm by making a surprise trip to the Final Four in 2006. Unlike Butler and VCU, George Mason has slid to mediocrity and they no longer have the coach that led them through the tournament.

George Mason

Season Coach Record Conference Finish Postseason RPI SOS KenPom
2012-13* Hewitt 19-14 (10-8) 5th CBI #138 #163 139th
2011-12 Hewitt 24-9 (14-4) 3rd None #80 #189 106th
2010-11 Larranaga 27-7 (16-2) 1st NCAA 3rd round #25 #97 28th
2009-10 Larranaga 17-15 (12-6) 4th CIT 1st round #163 #167 166th
2008-09 Larranaga 22-11 (13-5) 2nd NIT 1st round #51 #119 88th
2007-08 Larranaga 23-11 (12-6) 3rd NCAA 1st round #64 #150 94th
2006-07 Larranaga 18-15 (9-9) T-5th None #129 #154 96th
2005-06 Larranaga 27-8 (15-3) T-1st NCAA Final 4 #18 #79 23rd

* Still in progress.

Butler under coach Brad Stevens

Season Conference Record Finish Postseason RPI SOS KenPom
2012-13 A-10 27-9 (11-5) T-3rd NCAA 3rd round #19 #28 44th
2011-12 Horizon 22-15 (11-7) T-3rd CBI semifinal #110 #122 110th
2010-11 Horizon 28-10 (13-5) T-1st NCAA Runner-up #22 #41 41st
2009-10 Horizon 33-5 (18-0) 1st NCAA Runner-up #7 #40 12th
2008-09 Horizon 26-6 (15-3) 1st NCAA 1st round #24 #96 45th
2007-08 Horizon 30-4 (16-2) 1st NCAA 2nd round #20 #152 32nd

VCU under coach Shaka Smart

Season Conference Record Finish Postseason RPI SOS KenPom
2012-13 A-10 27-9 (12-4) 2nd NCAA 3rd round #24 #42 16th
2011-12 CAA 29-7 (15-3) 2nd NCAA 3rd round #40 #146 40th
2010-11 CAA 28-12 (12-6) 4th NCAA Final 4 #31 #61 52nd
2009-10 CAA 27-9 (11-7) 5th CBI Champions #47 #141 49th

This season, George Mason finished fifth in the CAA with a conference record of 10-8. The CAA ranked 24th in conference RPI, a far cry from 2011 when it ranked 8th. The Atlantic 10 finished 7th this season. Compared to the rest of the Atlantic 10, George Mason ranks 14th in RPI and 14th on KenPom. Only the top twelve teams even travel to Brooklyn for the conference tournament.

Finish Team Record RPI KenPom
1st Saint Louis 28-7 (13-3) #18 17th
2nd VCU 27-9 (12-4) #24 16th
3rd Butler 27-9 (11-5) #19 44th
3rd Temple 24-10 (11-5) #39 61st
3rd La Salle 24-9 (11-5) #30 46th
6th Massachusetts 21-12 (9-7) #59 87th
6th Xavier 17-14 (9-7) #79 80th
8th Charlotte 21-12 (8-8) #71 129th
8th Saint Joseph’s 18-14 (8-8) #97 78th
8th Richmond 19-15 (8-8) #87 83rd
11th George Washington 13-17 (7-9) #136 108th
11th Dayton 17-14 (7-9) #109 67th
11th St. Bonaventure 14-15 (7-9) #126 119th
14th? George Mason 20-14 (?) #138 139th
14th Fordham 7-24 (3-13) #221 252nd
14th Rhode Island 8-21 (3-13) #193 189th
16th Duquesne 8-22 (1-15) #218 242nd

If not GMU, then who?

Wichita State

A week ago, luring the Shockers away from the Missouri Valley Conference would have been near impossible, but Creighton joins Butler and Xavier as the most recent schools to defect for the Big East. Wichita State doesn’t have football and they have developed quite a rivalry with VCU over the past three seasons. The Shockers would expand the footprint of the conference and add a very high quality basketball team. As an added bonus, 9th-seeded Wichita State faces 13th-seeded La Salle (also A-10) in the Sweet Sixteen on Thursday night.

Unorthodox arrangements

The conference formerly known as the Big East is becoming Conference-USA 2.0. Now a twelve team conference, four programs are out of place in basketball because of their football programs. It may seem unorthodox, but pursuing Connecticut, Temple, Cincinnati, and/or Memphis as basketball only members or as members in all sports other than football would be mutually beneficial.

Where does this leave VCU?

Since going to the Final Four in 2011, coach Smart has proven it wasn’t a fluke by turning VCU into a perennial NCAA tournament contender. With new practice facilities in the works, better recruiting, and better fundraising, the program as a whole is on the rise. The Big East wanted VCU but supposedly Georgetown shot down the idea.

No one knows what the landscape will look like in three years, but two things are for sure: 1) if VCU stays in the A-10, the conference will be loaded with cash from exit fees and forfeited NCAA tournament units, and 2) if the Rams decide to eventually leave the A-10, they are too attractive to get left behind in conference realignment.

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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