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A-10 enjoying strong season, waiting for next move

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A-10 enjoying strong season, waiting for next move

CINCINNATI (AP) One recent Saturday, Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade sat courtside and watched Xavier - one of the league's mainstays - hold off upstart La Salle. Then she drove 90 miles to Indianapolis and watched Butler steal one away from Gonzaga.

A great day for the A-10 all-around.

``Fabulous,'' McGlade said, in a phone interview. ``It reminded me what this is about. For a fleeting 10 hours, I didn't think about realignment.''

Even in good times, it's never far from any conference commissioner's minds these days.

The Atlantic 10 is enjoying a strong season, buoyed by the additions of Butler and Virginia Commonwealth. Butler was ranked No. 9 in the latest AP poll on Monday, and VCU and La Salle received votes.

The league is on pace to get at least three teams into the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight season, which would equal the best streak in A-10 history. Ten of its 16 teams are ranked in the top 90 of the RPI. The league ranks seventh in combined RPI, sandwiched between the Big 12 and the SEC.

It's been a good transition season so far. Charlotte (No. 51 RPI) and Temple (No. 55) are planning to leave after this season - the 49ers are starting a football program and moving to Conference USA, while the Owls are headed to the Big East.

Butler and VCU (No. 38 in the RPI) will allow the league to hold its own and continue raising its national profile - provided the A-10 doesn't get raided.

Seven of the Big East's schools - the so-called Catholic 7 - have decided to form their own basketball-based league. Presidents of DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova met in New York earlier this month to lay the groundwork.

Xavier, a Jesuit school, and religiously-unaffiliated Butler would be attractive to the new league. The Catholic 7 have to decide how many schools they want in the new conference, 10 or 12. Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco said in Connecticut on Monday that the separation has been amicable.

McGlade and the A-10 schools are waiting to see how that plays out.

``All of the swirling speculation about conference realignment is in some respects a little exhausting,'' McGlade said. ``And it takes away from the present, which happens to be so positive and so successful.''

The A-10 has started benefiting from its push to have the conference's also-rans make a bigger commitment to scheduling tough nonconference opponents. Last season, the league's nonconference strength of schedule ranked seventh, ahead of the SEC.

Teams at the top have longed for the day when an in-conference loss was seen as a sign of the A-10's balance rather than a black eye for March. The conference is getting there.

Last week, La Salle bounced back from that close loss at Xavier and extended its best start since 1990-91. The Explorers beat Butler and then-No. 19 VCU in back-to-back games, getting consecutive wins over ranked teams for the first time since the 1952 National Invitation Tournament.

And no one considered it a fluke.

``If you think we're surprised, you're nuts!'' coach John Giannini said.

Although Xavier is having a down season by its standards - the Musketeers lost all five starters from the team that reached the NCAA tournament's round of 16 last season - it beat Butler by 15 points early in the season. The Bulldogs have only three losses, two to A-10 teams.

McGlade has been talking to A-10 school presidents about the conference's future, trying to be proactive as the Big East's realignment continues. She points out that the A-10 is in a solid position with its scheduling, eight-year television deal and a conference tournament moving from Atlantic City to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

``I have to believe the current membership will look at those points of strength that we've been able to establish, and also our distribution model, which is extremely favorable to successful teams,'' McGlade said. ``I know my presidents. They're smart people. They're going to evaluate any opportunity that may arise very carefully, along with the strong opportunity they have right now in the A-10.

``If we're ever in a position of strength, I believe we are now.''

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AP Sports Writer Pat Eaton-Robb in Cromwell, Conn., and Hank Kurz Jr. in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter:http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

The Capitals are the Eastern Conference Champions!

After dispatching Tampa Bay in Game 7, the Caps claimed the conference crown for just the second time in franchise history. But they're not done yet. Now it's on to Vegas to face the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps' win over the Lightning and look ahead to the matchup with the Knights.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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