HILADELPHIA - The race for the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season became a little clearer Saturday. Four teams - the University of Massachusetts (6-1), St. Joseph's (6-1), Xavier (6-1) and Temple (5-2) - have emerged as the leading contenders for the No. 1 seed in the league's March tournament.
Before the year started, many people speculated that the A-10's unbalanced schedule (due to the 11-team league) would play a factor in determining which team became the league champion. That could certainly play out.
The Minutemen are 2-0 against A-10 teams with winning records (Xavier and Temple) and play their final nine games against opponents with a combined record of 30-31. While they have to face St. Joseph's at Hawk Hill, their remaining games against Temple and Xavier are at the Mullins Center.
Still, UMass could encounter potential land mines at George Washington (3-4) and Dayton (3-4), two places where road teams traditionally struggle.
Of the four teams above .500, Temple appears to have the most favorable schedule remaining when comparing opponents' records. The Owls play nine games against teams with a combined 30-33 record.
But Temple faces a three-game mid-February road trip at Xavier, at St. Joe's and at UMass, a stretch that could knock the Owls out of the race and further damage their fragile NCAA Tournament hopes.
Of the league's elite four, St. Joseph's has the only set of foes with a combined winning record (31-30). But the Hawks are unbeaten at Alumni Fieldhouse where they will play Xavier, Temple and UMass in critical league games.
The Musketeers' final nine opponents are 31-31. They play Temple at home, but must travel to UMass and St. Joe's. They close the season with a difficult rivalry game at Dayton.
MCGUIRE MEMORIES: Temple coach John Chaney had some warm memories of legendary Marquette coach Al McGuire, who died last week.
"He used to come and visit and spend time with me and Jim Maloney, my former assistant coach who passed away," Chaney said. "We'd go on walks and strolls and we'd go eat pork sandwiches on Main Street, where I used to live.
"He was a great garage-sale collector of Civil War riflemen and little army soldiers, the ones made of metal and pewter," Chaney continued. "About a month ago, he started to send some of them to his closest friends. I got one and I was so delighted. I called him and we talked for a while."
SCORE ONE FOR THE LOCALS: Massachusetts got the better of the unofficial Bay State vs. Philadelphia Challenge this weekend.
After Boston University fell at Drexel in America East action Friday, UMass and Boston College picked up the slack. The Minutemen upended Temple, while the Eagles cruised past Big East rival Villanova.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "It's like when you see your girlfriend getting off the train, she's a beautiful blonde. You're running toward her, staring at the blonde hair, and you trip over the curb. You have to concentrate on the curb, not the blonde."
- Xavier coach Skip Prosser, on focusing on games one at a time.
ALL NOT-FROM-THE-UNITED STATES TEAM: The A-10 has had significant foreign flavor in recent years and this year is no different, with 26 players from 15 foreign countries represented.
Following could be the league's All-United Nations Team:
Kitwana Rhymer, UMass, Virgin Islands, center; Peter Van Paassen, St. Bonaventure, Holland, forward; James Jordan, La Salle, Liberia, forward; Wayne Smith, Duquesne, Canada, guard; Romain Sato, Xavier, Central African Republic, guard.
AND FINALLY: Minutes after Chaney blasted the courage of the officials for not making a call at the end of Saturday's UMass-Temple game, he praised the courage of someone sitting in the back of the room.
"That's a man with courage. Thanks for coming son," Chaney said.
He was talking to Adam Taliaferro, the Penn State football player who suffered a spinal injury in September. Taliaferro, who was temporarily paralyzed, now is walking with a cane.