Atlantic 10 Awards, Tournament Preview: Part One

The 2013 Atlantic 10 Conference Championship Trophy being presented to the Saint Louis Billikens - USA TODAY Sports

The Saint Louis Billikens limped into the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed as hungry competitors seek to take down last season's A-10 champions. Before the tournament begins on Wednesday, conference awards were handed out to players and coaches.

Well, the Atlantic 10 tournament is upon us. All 13 teams will be participating in the tournament. The tournament will be in its second year at the Barclays Center and Saint Louis University will be the No. 1 seed once again. The Billikens claimed a second straight A-10 regular season title after beating Massachusetts on Sunday, March 9.

Before the tournament begins, the conference announced the winners of its major awards. Here is a list of winners of the major awards in the conference.

2013-14 Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Awards

Player of the Year: Jordair Jett, Saint Louis

Defensive Player of the Year: Briante Weber, VCU

Co-Rookies of the Year: DeAndre’ Bembry, Saint Joseph’s; E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island

Chris Daniels Most Improved Player: Kevin Larsen, George Washington

Sixth Man Award: Melvin Johnson, VCU

Coach of the Year: Jim Crews, Saint Louis

First Team All-Conference

Chaz Williams, UMass

Langston Galloway, Saint Joseph's

Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis

Jordair Jett, Saint Louis

Treveon Graham, VCU

Second Team All-Conference

Isaiah Armwood, George Washington

Tyreek Duren, La Salle

Kendall Anthony, Richmond

Halil Kanacevic, Saint Joseph's

Juvonte Reddic, VCU

Third Team All-Conference

Devin Oliver, Dayton

Ovie Soko, Duquesne

Maurice Creek, George Washington

Patricio Garino, George Washington

Ronald Roberts, Jr., Saint Joseph's

The only disagreement that I have is with the Coach of the Year selection. Don’t get me wrong, Jim Crews has done an amazing job since taking over as head coach for the Billikens. However, Mike Lonergan has done an unbelievable job in a year with his Colonials. He took a 13-17 team last season and made them a 22-7 team this season. Granted, it helped when former Indiana guard Maurice Creek enters your program, but no one expected the high level of production from Creek and the young core that Lonergan had returning this season. The Colonials have a No.3 seed entering the A-10 tournament.

Now, here is my analysis of the top half of the A-10 tournament bracket. My fellow A-10 colleague Parks Smith will have analysis of the bottom half of the bracket tomorrow.

The opening tournament game is on Wednesday between No.12 George Mason Patriots and No.13 Fordham Rams. The Patriots have played a lot of close games this season. They forced the top-seeded Billikens into overtime twice and other conference teams to the edge all season. The 12-seed has just had some poorly timed bad luck and that is the main reason they are in this position. Fordham is still rebuilding. Freshman Jon Severe has been the best player for the young Rams, but he takes too many shots. However, the Rams have defeated George Mason in one of their two conference victories this season. The winner of this game will take on the No. 5 seed Dayton Flyers on Thursday.

Thursday’s game should provide an interesting match up between the No. 8 La Salle Explorers and the No. 9 St. Bonaventure Bonnies at noon. This game features two of the most electrifying guards in the A-10 with Explorers guards Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland. Duren is the Explorers leading scorer with 15.2 points per game. Garland creates his own plays and is a source of instant offense. The Bonnies will counter with guard Matthew Wright who is having a breakout year after averaging single-digit points per game during the first three years of his career. Wright is averaging 16.7 points per game, but averages 3 turnovers a game, which is an advantage for the Explorers. The winner of this game will take on the No. 1 seed Saint Louis Billikens.

The winner of Dayton vs. George Mason/Fordham game will take on the No.4 Saint Joseph’s Hawks.

The GMU-Fordham game will be on the A-10 Network at 7 p.m. eastern time. Thursday's games will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network starting at noon.

The top-half of the bracket has some excellent teams. Saint Louis is limping into the A-10 losing three of their last four. They are hurting, leading scorer Dwayne Evans has a hip injury and A-10 Player of the Year Jordair Jett has a knee injury. The team is looking for production beyond their starting lineup, but they do not play until Friday giving the team some much needed rest.

Dayton is playing at an unbelievable level right now. They have won 9 out of their last 10 games and are trying to get into the NCAA tournament. The biggest challenge facing them is Saint Joseph’s who defeated the Flyers twice in the regular season. The Hawks have dropped two straight game after winning six straight games to get back into the NCAA Tournament conversation.

The extra day of rest should be very beneficial for the Billikens. They will heal from the various injuries for the final push of the season. The Billikens’ health is going to be the biggest factor in their tournament run, but this also gives the Flyers and Hawks an opportunity to get to the A-10 championship game.

However, the Billikens seem to find a way to respond to a challenge in the biggest moments of the season. This ability to find a way to win is what will ultimately allow them to advance to the Finals.

Dark Horse: Dayton Flyers. This team got its signature victory of the season against the nationally ranked Billikens last week. Head coach Archie Miller has his Flyers playing their best basketball at the most crucial time of the season. Three players average 10 or more points per game. Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert has been a playmaker for the Flyers allowing them have this recent string of success. However, the Hawks have had the Flyers number this season, but this Flyers team seems more desperate get a victory than Saint Joseph’s who has been struggling.

Prediction: Championship Game: Saint Louis 62 vs. Virginia Commonwealth 70. The VCU Rams have too much depth and athleticism against the Billikens. This team is seeking revenge after the Rams were defeated in the championship game by the Billikens last season. The increased depth of this Rams team gives them the advantage they need to claim their first A-10 title.

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