The VCU Rams, Davidson Wildcats and Dayton Flyers will represent the Atlantic 10 conference in this year’s NCAA tournament field.
VCU won the league’s auto-bid and will head to Portland to take on an under-seeded Ohio State team playing at the 10. Dayton will surprisingly play a home game in this year’s First 4 as it was revealed they were one of the last team’s selected into this year’s tournament, while Davidson will fly west to Seattle to take on the 7-seed Iowa out of the South Region.
Their paths provide varying degrees of difficulty but opportunities for plenty of madness for all three programs, all of whom have reached the Elite 8 since 2008 and all under their current head coaches.
The VCU Rams will be the first team to tell you that matchups are more important than seeding. Shaka Smart’s squad went from First 4 to Final 4 as an 11-seed in 2011 and upset 5th-seeded Wichita State as a 12 the following season but most recently fell on that same line as the 5-seed, upset by Stephen F Austin in a first round overtime stunner (4-point SFA play at the end regulation providing the Rams one of their most painful losses ever). With that said, I’m not sure the Rams got the benefit of a decent seed OR decent matchup, landing the under-seeded Buckeyes in Portland, VCU’s third trip to the West Coast over the past four seasons (second to Portland since 2012).
Kenpom and Vegas both like Ohio State in a close win over the Rams. OSU boasts one of the nation’s premier young talents in future lottery pick, D’Angelo Russell, and are top-40 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Rams however have proven a better team away from home than the Buckeyes. VCU is 8-3 away from the Siegel Center against RPI top-100 teams while Ohio State checks in at 2-8. VCU will need that combined with an underdog mentality and a little bit of madness to extend their five-game winning streak.
If the Rams can survive Ohio State they’ll run into Arizona, kenpom’s second ranked team nationally despite coming into this tournament as a No.2 seed.
Moral of the story? You have to be impressed with the way VCU rebounded to win the Atlantic 10 tournament, but despite the highest A-10 seed, they appear to have the toughest NCAA tournament journey.
Davidson won an A-10 regular season title in their first year in the conference but had a disappointing showing in Brooklyn. Bob McKillop’s squad needed a buzzer-beater to survive A-10 9-seed La Salle, then were beaten by 20 while surrendering 93 points to a VCU team they had previous beaten by 27.
The Cats can get back to being wild with a win over Iowa then would take on 2-seed Gonzaga in a battle of previous Cinderellas.
I happen to LOVE Davidson’s round of 64 contest with the Hawkeyes, a team coming off a questionable Big 10 tourney loss to Penn State. Why? Well because the Hawkeyes can’t shoot. Iowa ranks sub-200 in both 2-point and 3-point percentages. The majority of their damage comes at the free throw stripe, but if Davidson is hitting shots like I know they can it could be a long night for the team out of the Big 10.
Where Iowa gives the Cats problems is in an extreme size advantage. All of Iowa’s most used lineups consists of a frontcourt with three players over 6’9, so Barham, Aldridge, McAuliffe and Michelson will need to play bigger than ever before to help Davidson’s three-headed backcourt monster to a win.
A week or two ago I joked about the possibility of Dayton landing a future home game in First 4 action, having zero clue this year’s committee would value the Flyers so low. Well, life sure is funny, because that’s exactly what happened.
Dayton hosts Boise State Thursday night and will enter as the favorite to advance into the round of 64. Boise State can really stroke it from deep (39.1%, 19th nationally) but will need to be extra hot against a Dayton team that hasn’t lost a home game all season. A Flyers win (which I expect) would advance Dayton an hour down the road to Columbus where they would take on the Providence Friars in another very geographically favorable contest.
Providence has been a solid enough team this season but have an ugly 10-point home win to kenpom No.256 Brown on their record. They’d have a solid size advantage over the Flyers, but who hasn’t this season? They are one of the worst three-point shooting teams Dayton will have played all season which is one of the reasons I think Dayton has a very real chance of advancing to a game with Oklahoma for a chance to make their second consecutive Sweet 16.
Overall I think this is a bit of a rebuilding year for the Atlantic 10 and don’t expect much damage from the three A-10 representatives. The A-10 sent six teams last season but outside of Dayton failed to get much going. I have a hard time imagining this smaller and younger group really making much noise, but that is also the beauty of March. The second you think someone can’t do something, they do it. VCU, Davidson and Dayton have all recently proved this to be true, and I for one am hoping the trio can conjure up some of that good ol’ fashioned madness to give A-10 fans another exciting March en route to this year’s Final 4 in Indianapolis.