(The Atlantic 10 Conference will hold its men's basketball tournament quarterfinals, semifinals and final at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City from March 9-11. The Press' A-10 report will appear every Tuesday leading up to the tournament.)
Rick Majerus doesn't seem like a conventional basketball coach. He talks about coaching as though it's not really that important at Saint Louis University.
First and foremost, it's always about the students and getting good grades. Majerus also doesn't think about winning a championship in the Atlantic 10 Conference even though his team sits just a half-game behind Temple in the standings for first place.
Nope. Titles are nice, but not essential to Majerus.
"I never sat down and talked to a team in my life about winning the conference, championship or a game," Majerus, 64, said on a conference call Monday. "I just talk to them about that day's practice and the next game. I think that's a good way to lead your life and as a coach. Everyone has all these expectations. The most important way to deal with those expectations is to live in the moment."
His methods work. Majerus has an 89-66 record since coming to Saint Louis in 2007 and has never had a losing season in a head-coaching career that began in 1983.
Saint Louis (22-5, 10-3) and Temple (21-5, 10-2) likely will both get a first-round bye in the A-10 tournament. At that point, the seedings don't mean much because all the teams are playing on a neutral court, but Temple has had a lot of success in Atlantic City, having won three of the five tournaments held on the Boardwalk.
Majerus wants to win, of course - "Obviously, who doesn't want to win?" he said - but winning the regular-season A10 title isn't the goal.
"I look at the world in a different way, I guess," Majerus said. "I don't think it's more important to be in seventh over eighth place. I just think it's more important to compete. I think it's important to the program that all the guys do really well in school. Then the rest just kind of takes care of itself."
Although Majerus' approach may seem unorthodox, he has gotten the best out of his players at Saint Louis. By his own admission, the Billikens don't have an all-league player, never mind a guy who is a top-flight NBA draft prospect.
But he doesn't need superstars to make his teams work.
"Rick is tremendous coach. They are very efficient. That is one of the things Rick's teams have always done," Fordham coach Tom Pecora said. "Every player understands their role. They're tough and compete on every possession."
Xavier has won or shared the regular-season conference title each of the last five years. This season, however, the Musketeers (17-9) sit in third place with an 8-4 conference record, two games behind Temple.
Right now, the title looks to be a race between Saint Louis and Temple.
Temple coach Fran Dunphy knows how close his team is, but it's not something he needs to discuss with his players.
"Our whole focus is on the game at hand," said Dunphy, whose team has won 10 in a row is ranked 22nd in the latest Associated Press poll. "We try to chop this up week by week. If we continue to win, we will control our own destiny."
Temple and Saint Louis faced each other on Jan. 11 with the Owls winning 72-67. The Billikens have a slightly easier road to close out the year. They have games left against Rhode Island, Xavier and Duquesne. Rhode Island and Duquesne have just eight combined league wins.
Temple will face intracity rivals La Salle and Saint Joseph, and then Massachusetts. Those three teams are fifth, fourth and sixth, respectively, in the league standings.
"These are big games," Dunphy said. "They have great implications in the A-10 standings as well. You have to finish up the year as strong as you can."
While some coaches don't like to focus on standings, Saint Joseph's Phil Martelli takes the opposite approach. Since the seventh game of the season, Martelli has included the conference standings in his players' scouting reports.
It's the first thing they look at when they're about to go through videotape and the first thing printed on the reports the players get from the coaches.
"We know what these games mean," Martelli said. "We have big games. We avoid talking about must-wins, but we do talk about big games. When we start Thursday for the next game, we will discuss what the last game meant."
The Hawks have played better basketball recently, Martelli said. It has shown in the standings. Saint Joe's has won its last three games and five of its last six to propel itself to fourth in the A-10, which would bring a first-round bye in the tournament. The Hawks only lead Massachusetts by a half-game.
But there is a potential negative to getting a first-round bye. The Hawks would have nine days off from the end of their A-10 standings
regular season until they get to Atlantic City.
Even fans are worried about the layoff. Martelli said he received an email expressing concern about the potential time off.
But Martelli can't stress about that now.
"I can't even think about lunch I am so worried about Wednesday night," Martelli said.
Players of the week
St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson and Xavier's Tu Holloway were named the A-10 Players of the Week on Monday. Nicholson averaged 25.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in two games last week. Holloway had 32 points (one shy of a career high), six rebounds, five assists and two steals in an 86-83 overtime win over Dayton.
UMass freshman Maxie Esho was named Rookie of the Week. He had a career-high 18 points in a 72-71 loss to La Salle.
Contact Susan Lulgjuraj:
Conf. Pct. Overall Pct.
Temple 10-2 .823 21-5 .808
Saint Louis 10-3 .769 22-5 .815
Xavier 8-4 .667 17-9 .654
Saint Joseph's 8-5 .615 18-10 .643
Massachusetts 7-5 .583 18-8 .692
La Salle 7-5 .583 18-9 .667
St. Bonaventure 7-5 .583 14-10 .583
Dayton 6-6 .500 16-10 .615
Duquesne 6-6 .500 15-12 .555
Richmond 5-8 .385 14-14 .500
Charlotte 4-8 .333 12-13 .480
Geo. Washington 4-8 .333 9-17 .346
Fordham 2-10 .167 9-16 .360
Rhode Island 2-11 .154 5-23 .179
Xavier at Massachusetts (7)
Dayton at Duquesne (7)
Richmond at Saint Joseph's (7)
St. Bonaventure at Fordham (7)
Temple at La Salle (7)
George Washington at Charlotte (7:30)
La Salle at Fordham (1)
Duquesne at George Washington (2)
Saint Louis at Rhode Island (2)
Massachusetts at Dayton (6)
St. Bonaventure at Charlotte (7)
Temple at Saint Joseph's (7)
Richmond at Xavier (8)