The Atlantic 10 word with The Charlotte Observer’s Jim Utter

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Jim Utter writes for The Charlotte Observer and has been covering the Atlantic 10 Conference for four years now.  As a graduate of UNC-Charlotte he has cherished and reveled in the A-10 roundball scene for even more years.  He gives us his thoughts on some of the things to look for as conference play kicks into gear and Cinderella stories potentially develop.


What are your general thoughts/forecast on the upcoming A-10 season. I think Xavier is the team to beat right now. However, I think unlike last season I expect to see three to four teams battling for the regular season championship as the season unfolds. I think there are several teams – including Dayton, Temple, UMass and Charlotte (if they are  healthy) – who can win on any given night against the top teams.

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How many team’s (and who) can we expect to see in the dance? And what team could potentially be wearing that Cinderella Slipper? I would say three teams from the Atlantic 10 would be a safe bet. The league has steadily been producing NCAA-caliber teams on a regular basis now and teams are scheduling more with at-large invitations in mind. After seeing the non-conference season about complete, I would say Duquesne or St. Bonaventure could surprise this season. Neither was expected to contend for one of the top four seeds in the conference.

What one liner could be the conference’s tag line at the end of the season? Bigger is not always better.

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What teams do you see overachieving this season and what, if any, unheralded players could make a splash in league play? I think in many ways St. Bonaventure has already overachieved. What will be interesting is to see if they can carry what they’ve accomplished into the conference season. Many times it’s hard to judge how good teams are even when they rack up a lot of wins because of the quality of the opposition they faced. Charlotte’s 6-foot-10 center Phil Jones has been surprisingly effective so far this season, adding a legitimate low-post presence to the 49ers’ offense – something they have not had in a while.

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Is it time for the conference to cut ties with team with doormat teams like St. Bonaventure and La Salle?  Is there any talk about trying to add teams from Conference USA and/or the Missouri Valley? I have advocated this move since I began covering the league with Charlotte’s arrival. I think the league should move to the most compact and best programs to form a 10-team league. Use all criteria – program history, location, metro areas – and make the best out of something that is very scattered and non-inclusive right now.

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Do you think the conference is doing the best to brand themselves? They have schools in many major markets, a luxury some other conferences don’t have.  Could they be working harder to increase exposure and in turn potentially increase the quality of play? Teams can increase exposure the most by playing quality opposition. Unfortunately the downside is the risk of losing a lot of games, which is not good for coaches’ tenures. However, the best exposure is to see A-10 teams playing good teams in big games on TV. If fans see the league exposed consistently throughout the season – not just a few times when they happen to land a game against a Top 25 opponent – I think it will awaken more fans and potential recruits to what the league has to offer.

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Best rivalry going in the conference right now? Xavier-Dayton.  No question.

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Through your travels on the beat, which campus is your favorite to visit? Why? I have been to every A-10 school except St. Bonaventure and Fordham and will cross the Bonnies off the list this season. Of the ones I have visited, my favorite A-10 campus is Rhode Island. I love that area of the country. It’s a very historic area and I like the design of the campus. I also love visiting Newport while there for games. Second on my list is Dayton. It’s not the greatest city, but the campus is nice and I have seen few other schools with as passionate fans as Dayton, in good times and bad.

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During your career, what is the best team you have seen play live? Probably the 1997-98 Kentucky Wildcats. I was covering Davidson College that season and it was Coach Bob McKillop’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats lost in the first round to Michigan in Atlanta but I stayed to watch Kentucky play in the second round and they went on to win the championship.

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We love revering the former college basketball player who couldn’t quite make it at the next level (hence the Billy Edelin reference).  Is there a player you absolutely loved watching at some point in your career, but now he’s a complete afterthought to the common fan? There was a player at Charlotte in the early 1990s named Jarvis Lang. He was an unheralded recruit from Farmville Central High in Eastern North Carolina but when he arrived at Charlotte he developed into one of the school’s best and most exciting inside players. As a freshman, he led the nation’s Division I freshmen in scoring and rebounding. Fans at Charlotte still talk about his dunks. He never had an NBA career but did play overseas I believe. He still shows up at Charlotte games occasionally. At Charlotte he is often portrayed as the type of recruit the 49ers try to find – a diamond in the rough, someone overlooked or counted out by the other Division I schools in the area (particularly the ACC schools.)

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