The sudden and explosive expansion of the Atlantic 10 has been a result of the much discussed realignment fad of the past couple of years. While the Big East, SEC, Big 10, and Big 12 rearranged to the point that I'm not sure who plays where now, the Atlantic 10 waited until some of the dust was settling to add two excellent basketball programs. Even better, the A10 did it without compromising its current geographic profile.
When Temple announced its departure, the remaining big dog of the Atlantic 10 was Xavier. Saint Louis, St. Joe's, and Richmond have all made noise recently, but this has long been a conference dominated by Temple and Xavier. That has, obviously, changed now. Xavier remains but now faces two other teams used to being the kings of the conference. In VCU the Atlantic 10 gets a team that would have finished (by KenPom rating) between third and fourth each of the last five years. Butler is even better.
If you are now reading this with a bit of trepidation, there is good reason. Xavier has been decimated graduation and transfer and returns only Dez Wells from last year's starting lineup. Incoming freshmen Semaj Christon and Jalen Reynolds will make immediate impact and transfer Isaiah Philmore will also contribute, but there are myriad questions surround the team.
Meanwhile, Saint Louis, UMass, and St. Joseph's are all very much as good or better than they were last year. With four byes handed out to the conference tournament, finishing in the top four of the conference is vital. Xavier will need to beat one of those three teams, plus VCU and Butler, to do that. Still lurking for one more year as well is perennial rival Temple.
So how then, does Butler's arrival this year impact the Musketeers? In the short run, it is a very bad thing. Xavier looks very much like the team in transition that it was Sean Miller's first year at the helm. That team finished 17-12 and failed to make the 2004-05 NCAA tournament (or even the NIT) and was the last Xavier team to not manage the postseason. With Butler now in the way, this year's depleted squad is facing just one more hurdle to grabbing one of those coveted top four spots.
In the long run, the grab of Butler is great for the Atlantic 10 and Xavier. First, bother teams will represent a chance for good wins in conference, something that has been a bit hard to come by some years. Second, it makes a four bid league a very good possibility with the powerhouses (VCU, Butler, and Xavier) getting bids consistently and the upstarts in the Saint Louis and UMass group always having at least one team on the cusp. Five bids would not be out of the question, and that lands the A10 right in ACC, Big 10, and Big 12 territory.
The only drawback to the expansion is a short term concern, Xavier may struggle. Adding Butler and VCU a year early has turned the Atlantic 10 from a mid major league with a high major program in it to a conference that must be regarded as a legitimate power. As things keep shaking out it may turn out that Temple left at just the wrong time.