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Atlantic 10 Tournament primer: Can anyone stop Dayton or VCU?

It’ll be hard for the A-10 Tournament field to keep up with the top 2 teams.

NCAA Basketball: Duquesne at Dayton Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

In many ways, this has been a disappointing year for the Atlantic 10.

It has been a long time since the conference has sent less than three teams to the NCAA Tournament—2007, in fact. This year, it may just break that streak. With two surefire bids (Dayton and VCU) and one team rested precariously on the bubble (Rhode Island), the A-10 is certainly in a small slump of sorts.

Dayton was good, but early injuries kept them from pulling off some solid non-conference wins. Back-to-back losses to Saint Mary’s and Nebraska had few worried, given the circumstances, but it was still a bit odd to see the Flyers drop two winnable games like that. Fortunately for them, the ship has been righted and the A-10 title has been won after a year-long battle with VCU.

However, things certainly turned out far different in the A-10 than the media projected back in October. For instance, the media’s pick for 4th place in the league—Davidson—finished with a middling 15-14 record and an 8-10 A-10 record that put them in the bottom half of the conference. Meanwhile, George Mason managed to surprise many fans with a 19-10 (9-9 A-10) record that placed them 7th in the conference, which is a far cry from the 12th place finish they were projected to earn.

Overall, it has been kind of a down season in the Atlantic 10, so hopefully the tournament doesn’t suffer too much. When this conference is at its best, this tournament is a showcase of some of the nation’s best mid-major teams. Hopefully this season is no different.

Tournament Format

Since the Atlantic 10 is a 14-member conference that doesn’t exclude any teams from participation in its postseason tournament, its bracket is a sprawling behemoth reminiscent of the Big East circa 2009.

The top four seeds (Dayton, VCU, Richmond, and Rhode Island) all receive double byes for their efforts, while the five and six seeds (St. Bonaventure and George Washington, respectively) both have a regular bye. Seeds seven through ten will all end up playing another team right off the bat—there will be no waiting around.

The Bracket

A-10 Bracket courtesy of Atlantic10.com
Atlantic10.com

How to Watch

The first round of this season’s tournament will be broadcast on the American Sports Network (congrats if you get that on your TV), while the second round and quarterfinals will air on the NBC Sports Network. The semifinals will take place on CBS Sports Network, and the championship game will be shown on regular, old-fashioned CBS.

March 8 (First Round)

  • Game 1—6:00 pm ET: #12 UMass (14-17, 4-14) vs. #13 Saint Joseph's (11-19, 4-14)
  • Game 2—8:30 pm ET: #11 Saint Louis (11-20, 6-12) vs. #14 Duquesne (10-21, 3-15)

March 9 (Second Round)

  • Game 3—12:00 pm ET: #8 La Salle (15-14, 9-9) vs. #9 Davidson (15-14, 8-10)
  • Game 4—2:30 pm ET: #5 St. Bonaventure (19-11, 11-7) vs. Winner of Game 1
  • Game 5—6:00 pm ET: #7 George Mason (19-10, 9-9) vs. #10 Fordham (13-18, 7-11)
  • Game 6—8:30 pm ET: #6 George Washington (18-13, 10-8) vs. Winner Game 2

March 10 (Quarterfinals)

  • Game 7—12:00 pm ET: #1 Dayton (24-6, 15-3) vs. Winner Game 3
  • Game 8—2:30 pm ET: #4 Rhode Island (21-9, 13-5) vs. Winner Game 4
  • Game 9—6:00 pm ET: #2 VCU (24-7, 14-4) vs. Winner Game 5
  • Game 10—8:30 pm ET: #3 Richmond (19-11, 13-5) vs. Winner Game 6

March 11 (Semifinals)

  • Game 11—1:00 pm ET: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8
  • Game 12—3:30 pm ET: Winner Game 9 vs. Winner Game 10

March 12 (Title Game)

  • Game 13—12:30 pm ET: Winner Game 11 vs. Winner Game 12

3 Things to Watch

1. Experienced squads

As of now, this league only has two teams that are definitely in the NCAA Tournament field: VCU and Dayton. All season long, these two teams have jockeyed for the top spot in the A-10, and they have both impressed college basketball fans everywhere. A large part of this has to do with the rosters that both teams posses—they’re an amalgam of talent and experience.

When it comes to total team experience, Dayton and VCU are 35th and 41st on KenPom, respectively. However, it is not like these are two teams full of players who are still around because they aren’t the most talented guys in the world. These two squads have guys like Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard, Justin Tillman, and Mo Alie-Cox. With rosters full of guys like that, it’s no wonder that these teams have the capability to blow through conference games. They should both fare well in the A-10 Tournament for this very reason.

2. Can Rhode Island bolster its résumé?

The only A-10 team besides VCU and Dayton that is being mentioned by bracketologists as having a shot to make the NCAA Tournament is Rhode Island. The Rams, who were ranked No. 23 in the AP Poll at the beginning of the season, have underwhelmed all season long. After a slow start that saw them possess a 10-6 record, Rhode Island recovered, finishing at 21-9. While they might have finished on a strong 5-game winning streak, there was a period there where it seemed as if things were going downhill quickly for the Rams.

Now, with their postseason dreams on the line, at least one win is a must-have. Otherwise, this team is likely going to be headed to the NIT. They’ll be playing either St. Bonaventure, UMass, or St. Joe’s in their first game, and there will be no room for error. However, if they can win two games and make the finals (which would most likely mean a win over top-seeded Dayton), they should have a good shot at an at-large bid.

3. Is the champion certain to be Dayton or VCU?

Beyond Dayton, the main contender is VCU, who had a pretty nice season themselves; Rhode Island is in a distant third really, even though they are the tournament’s 4-seed. Other than that, there’s not a great deal of optimism for the league to produce a challenger to the dominant forces during the upcoming tournament.

Richmond had a good conference season, and they’re led by A-10 Player of the Year T.J. Cline, but I believe it’d be difficult to spin that into any sort suggestion that they’ll win this tournament. After all, of their five conference losses this year, two were to VCU and one was a 15-point loss to Dayton. There’s no record of them being able to beat these top two squads. However, like the clandestine nature of the trapdoor spider, Richmond will certainly be waiting for the chance to strike their foes. If I had to pick one team outside of VCU or Dayton to win, it’d be them.

Prediction

I really don’t see any team in this tournament stopping Dayton. I think they’ll make it to the finals, where they will defeat Richmond in a game much closer than their previous meeting.