John Giannini called it a monster.
The La Salle head coach paused, thought about it some more, then called it a monster again.
He was talking about the Atlantic 10, and its pretty easy to see just how scary it is.
Nine teams in the conference currently rank in the top 100 of the RPI, the second most of any league in the country, and Atlantic 10 teams already own 19 victories over teams from the six BCS conferences.
Its incredibly balanced, incredibly deep and theres just tremendous quality, Giannini said. I think were as good as anyone but theres going to be someone good like us finishing ninth, 10th, 11th because not everyone can win. There are that many good teams.
Giannini will get a firsthand look at the leagues tremendous depth when Atlantic 10 play officially opens Wednesday night.
The Explorers hit the road to face a Charlotte team (7:30 p.m.) that was picked to finish 12th in the league but boasts a sterling 12-2 record.
Granted, the 49ers have not played a very difficult schedule to this point, but they do own an impressive road win over Davidson and have nine players scoring over 4.5 points per game.
"Theyre big, strong, athletic, deep and are playing great defense, Giannini said in this weeks A-10 conference call. And their record speaks for itself.
Giannini was relatively pleased with La Salles 10-3 record in conference play but he expects the competition to jump up a notch starting with tonights game, noting that the Atlantic 10 is one of the best conferences in the country.
Charlotte coach Alan Major expects the same thing and dished out some especially high praise to La Salles dangerous guards.
Theyre almost like the Phoenix Suns back when Steve Nash was there, Major said. They do a lot of pick-and-rolls and they shoot the three tremendously well. I have a ton of respect for them and were going to have to bring our A game defensively to be ready for them.
The other Atlantic 10 opener tonight featuring a Philly school is at Hagan Arena (7 p.m.) as Saint Josephs (8-4) welcomes Butler (12-2), which has emerged as one of the league favorites along with fellow A-10 newcomer VCU.
Butler is the highest-ranked A-10 team in the RPI at 18, with VCU not far behind at 33. The other league teams in the top 100 are Temple (26), UMass (47), La Salle (48), Saint Louis (54), St. Joes (61), Dayton (79) and Charlotte (83).
Butler and VCU challenge everybody on campus to do their jobs better to promote better, to sell more tickets, to recruit better, to coach your team better, St. Joe's coach Martelli said. Neither one of those teams came in to finish fifth in the league. They came in to win the league.
Butler which remarkably went to back-to-back NCAA championship games in 2010 and 2011 while a member of the Horizon League comes into Hawk Hill riding a nine-game winning streak, including a stunning upset of then-No. 1 Indiana on Dec. 15.
The Bulldogs are paced by Rotnei Clarke, a transfer from Arkansas, whos averaging 16.2 points per game and is shooting 43 percent from three-point range.
The thing I like about him is he has a short memory, Martelli said. His last shot, whether it went in or didnt go in, doesnt really impact him. And his release should be admired. He only needs a millisecond to get the ball in the air.
Martelli also admired Butlers balance and competitiveness, not to mention the coaching of 36-year-old Brad Stevens, one of the best young coaches in the country.
Theyre prepared for everything, Martelli said, and they have a basketball answer for everything that you do.
A day after La Salle and St. Joes kick off their Atlantic 10 seasons, Temple (10-3) plays its first league game, heading to Xavier (7-6) for a Thursday evening contest at the Cintas Center (7 p.m.)
The Muskeeters (7-6) have lost five of their last six and rank 118th in the RPI, but it would be foolish to overlook them.
One of the most successful basketball programs in the country over the past decade, Xavier has made seven straight NCAA tournaments and 11 in the last 12 years. And Temple has only defeated Xavier once on the road (2005) in its past six contests.
Theyre a great program, Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said. Im not sure when Temple won at Xavier last but its been quite some time. We have our hands full. They have great talent. They have great shooters at the perimeter and they defend very well. Well have a phenomenal challenge.
While it might seem scary that a perennial powerhouse like Xavier could finish in the bottom half of the 16-team Atlantic 10, having such a deep league could pay big dividends down the road.
Martelli said the league looks to be the most competitive its ever been in his 18-year tenure, and VCU head coach Shaka Smart believes that as many as six A-10 teams could earn an NCAA tournament berth in March.
No question, teams in the league will beat each other up, Smart said. Thats just the nature of the beast. If you just look at the first two games, there are going to be some very good teams that are 1-1 and 0-2. Not everyone can win.
At the same time, what it does, is it gives you quite a few opportunities for high-quality wins. And even sometimes if you lose and you never want to lose its not like youre going to drop 50 spots in the RPI. Its one of the great strengths of our league.
Dave Zeitlin covers college sports for CSNPhilly.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.