On Friday afternoon, UMass will play host to A-10 foe Charlotte, the first game in their trek to return to the Tourney for the first time since 2008.
The A-10 as a whole has gained in strength this season thanks to teams such as Xavier (6-1-1) and Charlotte (7-2-0). The 49ers enter their battle with the Minutemen as the No. 14 team in the nation, while the Musketeers rank No. 23.
While the A-10 doesn’t have the tradition and national attention of conferences like the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference, UMass coach Sam Koch believes that the conference is better than some of the ranking systems lead us to believe.
“I think our conference is much more difficult than the RPI and rankings [show],” said Koch. “You have the top two teams, Charlotte and Xavier, and they’re in the top 25.”
In fact, the A-10 is one of only six conferences in the nation to have at least two teams ranked in the top 25.
Many A-10 teams benefit from having extreme home field advantages against both conference foes and non-conference opponents.
“Of all the conferences I’ve been in this is the by far the toughest conference when it comes to home-away advantage,” said Koch.
According to Koch, St. Joseph’s, Temple, Duquesne, Xavier, George Washington, and Dayton are all difficult places to play on the road as they always draw raucous crowds.
“It’s a hard league to play in on the road, home field advantage is vital in conference games,” said Koch.
Koch even hypothesized that a certain team undergoes a transformation when they play at home.
“It really affects teams, La Salle is a completely different team at home then La Salle on the road,” said Koch.
The difficulty of playing A-10 opponents on the road caught up to UMass last season during the home stretch.
The Minutemen entered their last two games of the season with a 4-1-2 record. They failed to register a win – which would have guaranteed them a playoff spot – over the final two games with a loss to Charlotte and a tie versus Saint Louis.
Both games were played away from Rudd Field.
This season, Koch wants UMass to assert themselves as a real threat in A-10 play. Only time will tell if this goal can be reached.
“We’ll certainly find out on Friday, I think we’re a lot closer now than we were two weeks ago,” said Koch.
UMass has 9 conference games this season and because the conference features 13 other teams, the Minutemen will not have to play four of the conference teams this season.
Those four teams are Xavier, Temple (4-5-0), Dayton (1-9-0), and La Salle (2-6-1).
UMass is fortunate to miss out on Xavier and a potentially dangerous Temple team, but they also won’t play bottom feeders like Dayton and La Salle.
“If Xavier is the second best team, then that’s an advantage to us because we don’t play Xavier but you’ve got Dayton that’s one of the bottom two teams and we don’t play them either,” said Koch.
With the way Xavier and Dayton have separated themselves from the pack in non-conference play, it’s tough to see them not finishing towards the top of the league.
However, the final four spots are up for grabs and sneaking in to one of those spots certainly isn’t an unrealistic goal for the Minutemen.
“Obviously Xavier and Charlotte have the best non-conference record going into this weekend, so the battle for those last four spots is going to be intense,” said Koch.
Jackson Alexander can be reached at email@example.com.