PHILADELPHIA -- Perhaps Old Dominion ought to petition for membership in the Atlantic 10.
There, at least, the Monarchs are 3-0 this season, with wins against Richmond, Xavier and Dayton.
In their real home, the congested clog that is the Colonial Athletic Association, league favorite ODU is 3-2, two games behind a Hofstra team that had three coaches in six weeks this spring, and tied with UNC-Wilmington and Georgia State, the teams picked to finish last and second-to-last in the preseason poll.
Which about makes sense in a conference that is tough in both the literal and figurative sense of the word. Toss out the winless trio of Northeastern, William & Mary and Towson and anyone can win this thing.
On Thursday night, the Monarchs and Drexel played a game that DU head coach and fight fan Bruiser Flint likened to the Thrilla In Manila, a take-a-punch, give-a-punch battle that ended with the Dragons giving more than they took in a 62-57 win. Drexel was down 12 at one point, but began the second half on a 16-2 run and put the Monarchs away with ease.
The upshot of that game (one that will be wrongly billed as an upset in some corners) and all of the in-house parity, is that the league will not look as pretty on the outside as it actually is on the inside.
And in basketball, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder.
It’s in the hands of the selection committee.
Will members value the brutal nature of the conference or dismiss someone’s quality nonconference record because of its pedestrian league finish?
Those who have been through this before in the CAA are already worried it’ll be the latter.
“No, no we don’t get the respect we deserve at all,’’ said Drexel’s Daryl McCoy, whose 16 boards propped the Dragons’ 47-37 rebounding edge against an ODU team that hadn’t been outrebounded all season. “People say things like, ‘Oh the CAA. Who’s in that?’ I don’t know what it’s about. We win games. What else do they want us to do?’’
It’s a legitimate question.
The CAA has six teams in the top 100 of the RPI, five in the top 75.
Out of conference, the league is 77-53, including Drexel’s win at Louisville, VCU’s win against UCLA and the Monarchs’ 3-0 run through the Atlantic 10 plus a win against Clemson and a close loss to Georgetown.
“How is this league different than the Atlantic 10, the Missouri Valley, the WAC, the Mountain West?” said Flint, a shameless and frequent drum-beater on the behalf of his conference.
Flint frequently likens his team to squads in the A-10, a conference with similar schools in comparable locations and one he believes the CAA ought to be compared with on the basketball court.
Yet the A-10 has been able to position itself right outside of the power six and has earned the respect that comes with it.
In each of the past three seasons, the Atlantic 10 has earned three NCAA spots.
Since 2000, the CAA has earned multiple bids (and by multiple we mean two) just twice -- in 2006 and 2007.
And in ‘06, that at-large team was George Mason.
For those who have short memories, the Patriots went to the Final Four.
This year, by the way, the CAA is 9-7 against the Atlantic 10.
“We’ve had a team in the Final Four in the last decade,’’ Flint said. “The Atlantic 10 can’t say that. The WAC can’t say that.’’
Flint hopes this is the year the Colonial earns its stripes, that the out-of-conference wins merit more notice than some competitive in-league losses.
Blaine Taylor isn’t so sure.
The Old Dominion coach’s team will likely be one of the committee’s biggest case studies should it fail to win the CAA tournament. The Monarchs currently own an RPI of 28 and a loss to Delaware, two polar opposites that somehow will have to be reconciled.
“A team finishes 16-2 in the league, people tend to say, ‘Oh wow, look at them, they must be really good,’’ Taylor said. “But when we all beat each other up they think it looks like nobody can separate from one another. With the depth in our conference this season, it might be careful what you wish for. Some really good teams are probably going to have a few losses this year and that may actually hurt us.’’
Welcome to life in the Colonial Athletic Association.