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Atlantic 10 Tournament at Barclays goes head-to-head with Big East

St. Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli speaks to

St. Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli speaks to the media at the NCAA college basketball Atlantic 10 media day at the Barclays Center. (Oct. 4, 2012) Credit: AP

Before now, you could have sold the Brooklyn Bridge to anyone who thought a postseason basketball tournament in this borough could rival the Big East at Madison Square Garden.

The Atlantic 10 conference is Brooklyn bound, flaunting its "best basketball conference in America" mantra all the way to Atlantic Avenue at the new Barclays Center.

The fact that the Big East tourney will be held at the same time? Fugheddaboudit!

Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli gave the keynote address on Media Day, saying, "It's time to shout about that fact that there's one league in the country that's No. 1 in basketball, only the conference, right here. Atlantic 10.''

There is the thought that the Big East, which will undergo defections from the likes of Syracuse and Pittsburgh after this season, will be vulnerable to competition come tournament time. "The challenge goes out to all of our schools, there are 100,000 alums in this area," Martelli said. "They have to bring a friend, they have to bring two friends and we have to make this place jump. Don't take a back seat to anybody when you talk about our league. Ten teams in the top 100 RPI last year, a record number of postseason appearances. It's a terrific league.''

At the very least, the coaches think the fan base will have a decision to make. "Get on that train and where are you going to go?'' Duquesne coach Jim Ferry asked. "You going to Penn Station or Atlantic Avenue. A big decision they've got.''

Ferry, the former Adelphi and LIU Brooklyn coach, added, "I saw the first piece of steel go up here. It's just fantastic. It's a perfect time, you see what this conference has become, going out and getting these teams,'' referring to newcomers Butler and Virginia Commonwealth. "To have our tournament in the hottest place in America right now, it all came together at the right time.''

The A-10 also recently announced an eight-year agreement with CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network.

"To have the ability to challenge the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, I think that's great,'' Ferry continued. "If you look at any conference that made the most noise on the positive side, it's been the Atlantic 10. Now for us to come in here, let's put our product on stage at a great place where we can challenge the Big East."

Commissioner Bernadette McGlade spoke about the five-year agreement with Barclays.

"Our contract was ending with Atlantic City,'' she said. "Our dates have always overlapped. My opinion is I'd rather be right here in Brooklyn while they are in Manhattan instead of being in another state away.''

Fordham is the local entry in the A-10 and coach Tom Pecora can't wait to be in the new venue. "It is state-of-the-art and will have a huge impact for the conference,'' he said. "You talk about a great college weekend. The center of the basketball universe will be New York City. It will be incredible for us, the amount of exposure.

"The Big East is going through their changes. I think it's an interesting dynamic to see how this all plays out over the next couple of years. The Garden is still the Garden. New York is a city that can have two premier basketball arenas, two premier entertainment facilities and handle it easily because of the number of people and the sophistication of the fans. So, I think both venues are going to thrive.''

Butler coach Brad Stevens, who twice led his team to the NCAA title game, had no idea the Barclays Center was in the picture when Butler left the Horizon League. "It's a great transition for us, being in this venue is kind of the cherry on top,'' he said. "The basketball perception has always been off the charts. To add this to it makes it more of a no-brainer.''

VCU coach Shaka Smart, with a Final Four appearance on his resume, said his program was drawn to the A-10 from the CAA by the opportunity to achieve an even higher profile. "Whether it's fair or not in college basketball you are quite often judged by the [teams] that are in your league,'' he said. "For us, moving to this league and getting to be among Xavier, Butler, what that does is put us in good company, gives us an opportunity from an RPI standpoint to play more high-quality RPI games throughout the conference season. In the CAA, lots of RPI games hurt you even when you won.''

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