Dayton is the undisputed favorite heading into the 2021 Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Flyers have won the A-10 regular season for the second straight year, and the fourth time in five years. While they dropped an early non-conference game to Akron, Dayton responded by winning 11 straight games. Their lone loss in conference play was at home to Saint Louis, a team they won’t have to face again until the A-10 Finals, assuming SLU makes it that far. The Flyers are led by Erin Whalen, who is 11th in the conference in scoring, averaging 13.7 points per game, along with senior Jenna Giacone who adds 12.9 points per game. Dayton also has potential Rookie of the Year in Tenin Magassa, who averages 9.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
Dayton is currently projected to be a 13-seed in most bracketology out there, and it’s doubtful that the needle will move for them too far up or down. That said, the A-10 is almost certainly a one-bid league once again this year, so if the Flyers hope to dance this year, their only path is to win it all.
At the time that Fordham was forced to pause all basketball activity despite never producing a positive covid test (you can read more about their story here), the Rams were arguably the hottest team in the league. They had won four straight before their pause, and were still in contention to win the A-10 regular season. But the pause changed all that, and so here Fordham sits as the 2-seed. Still, not too shabby. The Rams have played just one game since February 12, and that was a March 4 “non-conference” game at George Washington, which Fordham won 48-43. I know it might now sound like much, but getting a win in your first game back from a covid pause has proved time and time again to be nearly impossible, especially in the Atlantic 10.
The Rams are led by potential A-10 Player of the Year Anna DeWolfe, who is arguably one of the most fun guards to watch in all of college basketball. She led the conference in scoring 21.5 points per game, and has consistently played at her best when her team has needed her the most.
Her wing-woman is Kaitlin Downey, the walking double-double machine, who is averaging 10.0 points and 10.5 rebounds a game this year. My only concern with this Fordham team is the time they have had off recently. They have a tough opening game, facing the winner of #7 UMass and #10 Saint Joseph’s. If the Rams can get through to the A-10 Semifinals and Finals, I wouldn’t want to be the team having to face them.
Unfortunately, the Saint Louis women’s basketball team has been just as affected by covid pauses as their men have been. After two huge wins to start the season, including one over Memphis, the Billikens didn’t get to play a game for a month and a half. Their first game back was a loss to a very hungry Fordham team, and then SLU split a pair of games with then-first place UMass. From that point on, their only loss was in overtime against Dayton, which there’s certainly no shame in. Especially when you consider the fact that the second time those two teams met, the Billikens handed Dayton their only loss in conference play.
Overall, Saint Louis has won 9 of their last 10 games, and 7 in a row heading into the A-10 Tournament. They’ve been a bit of a hard team to judge and figure out, just based on how choppy their season was with games getting canceled left and right. But you also can only beat the teams you have in front of you, so no fault to SLU. A potential Fordham-Saint Louis semifinal would be a heavyweight battle for the ages, and a potential rubber match between Dayton and Saint Louis in the finals would be must see television.
By far the biggest surprise of this season was Rhode Island. Picked to finish 11th preseason, URI overcame just about every obstacle thrown at them this season to put together one of their best years in recent memory. Emmanuelle Tahane has had a breakout year, leading Rhody is scoring at 15.1 points per game, good for 6th best in the entire conference. Not too far behind is Marie-Paule Foppossi who averages 13.7 per game. The Rams really seemed to find their stride late in the season, winning their final 3 games by an average of 18.3 points, including two key wins over VCU and Richmond to lock up the final double-bye. Don’t be surprised if URI gives Dayton some fits in the A-10 Semifinals, should they meet there.
A bit of a disappointing season for the Rams, as they were the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic 10. VCU certainly compiled one of the toughest non-conference slates in the nation, scheduling the likes of Saint Mary’s, Arizona State, Stephen F. Austin, Buffalo, ECU and Vanderbilt. VCU’s downfall this season has been a painful lack of consistency. They needed overtime to defeat a winless George Mason team in late January and generally seemed to struggle against the bottom of the conference, while performing decently against the top half of the league. Their opening game will be against either Davidson or St. Bonaventure, of whom the Rams have played a combined one time. VCU defeated the Bonnies 69-67 back on January 10, and has yet to face Davidson this season. If I had to pick one team to potentially be upset in their opening game, it might just be VCU. That said, I wouldn’t count out the Rams entirely, especially considering the entire tournament is going to be played on their home floor…
The Spiders have been another team that has been plagued with inconsistency over the course of this season. They’ve struggled against the top-4 teams, but have an above .500 record against the rest of the league, which makes them difficult to judge. Their best offensive showing of the year was an 86-48 shellacking of George Mason on January 26. In fact, Richmond has a combined 4-0 record against GW and Mason, their two potential opponents in their first game. Assuming the Spiders advance, they would be a very interesting matchup with #3 Saint Louis in the Quarterfinals, as they certainly gave SLU a fight when they met earlier in the year. Richmond is led by the three-headed monster of Kate Klimkiewicz, Addie Budnik and Claire Holt, who combine to average 33.1 points a game. Don’t be suprised if Addie wins Rookie of the Year as well.
UMass has probably been the most puzzling team in the A-10 this year. They had one of their best starts in school history at 6-1, and sat atop the A-10 standings for a while, before dropping four straight games, bookended by a 2-week covid pause in the middle. That said, the Minutewomen closed the regular season with a 70-65 win over Richmond, in one of two games the final weekend they had to played at Rhode Island due to on-campus restrictions at UMass. They’ve certainly faced adversity, but they have shown tremendous ability at points this season too. They had one of the better wins of any A-10 team in non-conference play, defeating St. John’s at the buzzer on December 13.
The Minutewomen also have one of the most versatile rosters in the conference, as they are led on and off the court by Sam Breen (who despite being listed as a senior I believe has another year of eligibility remaining) who ranked 3rd in the A-10 in scoring at 17.3 points per game. Sam also ranks 2nd in rebounding, at 10.5 boards per game, while adding in 35 assists and 25 steals. I’ve said it time and time again, Sam Breen might just be the most complete player in the Atlantic 10, and definitely has WNBA potential, should she want to go that route.
But this team is far from a one-woman show. Destiney Philoxy might just be the toughest, most hard-nosed player in the league. In addition to her stats, which alone are very impressive, averaging 11.2 points,6.9 assists, and 3.9 rebounds, it is the intangibles that make her such a special player. If there is a lose ball to be had, she will be the one diving on the floor after it. She reminds me very much of Hannah Schaible from GW 2013-2016 in her style of play. Very physical, determined, a hell of a leader, and the glue that holds the team together. I’d also be remiss if I failed to mention Sydney Taylor, who adds 14.3 points a game for the Minutewomen. Oh, and did I mention UMass had the #1 offensense in the conference? You can probably tell I’m really high on this team, and if I had to pick a darkhorse to win the A-10, it unquestionably would be UMass.
This year marked La Salle’s best A-10 finish since 2017, as the Explorers earned the 8-seed. It’s been an up and down season for La Salle, as they have struggled at times to string wins together, but found a way to win games just when it looks like they’re out of gas. Their best win of the season came against George Mason, as the Explorers overcame an 11 points deficit with just 5:39 left in the game, closing on an 18-0 run to steal a win from the jaws of defeat, 56-49. Of note, they also split the season series with their first round opponent Duquesne, with each team winning the road game in the series. Claire Jacobs once again led the Explorers in scoring, averaging 16.3 points a game. But she finally got some help, as Kayla Spruill averaged 14.8 points a game to help take some of the weight off Claire’s shoulders.
It’s been a bit of a disappointing season in Pittsburgh, falling from a 20-win team a year ago to one with just 5 wins in the regular season. Granted, that number is a bit deceiving as the Dukes have only played 15 games, but nonetheless, a significant drop for sure. It also hasn’t helped that Libby Bazelak hasn’t been herself the entire season due to injury problems, appearing in just 7 of 15 games this year. In her absence, the Dukes have turned to Amanda Kalin for offense, as she leads the team at 15.5 points per game but she’s unfortunately out for the season. Freshman Megan McConnell has also proven herself as one of the top freshman in the league, averaging just shy of 8 points per game.
And besides, the Dukes have had several viral TikTok videos in the past year, so who’s really winning here anyway?
Saint Joseph’s has been one of the streakier teams this year in the A-10, as they’ve shown flashes of brilliance at times, but have struggled to maintain it. Their best win of the year by far was a victory over UMass on Hawk Hill back on January 29. The problem is, the Hawks then lost 8 consecutive games, before closing the game with a pair of wins over St. Bonaventure and Duquesne. I think this team is still a few years away, but if SJU can get hot, they have the ability to win one or two games this week.
There’s no two ways about it, this Colonials team was by far the worst team since the Mike Bozeman era of GW basketball. It’s been 10 years since George Washington finished worse than 9th place in the A-10, and this was sadly the year that streak ended. There’s been a sharp downward trend since Jennifer Rizzoti took the helm in Foggy Bottom in 2017. The Colonials went from 1st place to 5th then 8th, 7th and now 11th. As someone who has followed GW Women’s basketball since I was literally two months old, It’s been tough to watch. By comparison, Mike Bozeman’s teams finished 4th, 11th, 11th and 9th, and Johnathan Tsipis’ teams finished 7th, 2nd, 1st and 1st. There’s a clear trend that has been happening, and it’s not hard to see. I don’t say this to rag on GW basketball or any of the players. It’s just facts, and it’s tough to see. I believe Coach Rizzoti is in the final year of he contract at GW, it’ll certainly be interesting to see whether she gets any extension or if she is let go after this season comes to an end.
At any rate, the Colonials will be heavy favorites over George Mason in their first game on Wednesday, but it’s hard to see them really giving Richmond much of a game on Thursday, especially having lost twice to the Spiders already.
It was also a disappointing campaign for Davidson, as the ‘Cats were picked preseason to finish 4th in the league. It’s even more baffling considering early in the season, Davidson played Maryland just about as tough as anyone in the nation has all year long. But it really went downhill from there for the Wildcats. They finished the year dropping 10 of their final 12 contests, with the only wins during that span coming against Saint Joseph’s and George Masson. Despite their poor record, this roster is brimming with talent that I feel like is poised for a breakthrough. Especially since leading scorer Chloe Welch is just a junior, I think Davidson next year will be due for a bounce-back year.
This Bonnies team is by far one of the youngest teams in the A-10, and they showed their age at times this season. They had some heartbreaking early loses, like the back to back heartbreakers against Richmond and then VCU in OT in early January. But they definitely showed growth over the course of the year, putting together a 3-game winning streak in early February, winning back to back games over Davidson, and well as a road victory at George Mason. Asianae Johnson had a breakout year for St. Bonaventure, as she led the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game, while Tori Harris chips in 10.8 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. This team definitely shows promise for the future, but they’re still at least a year away.
And finally we come to Mason: there’s sadly not a lot positive to say about them this year. The Patriots have lost 14 consecutive games, and only four of those 14 loses were by less than 10 points. Out of 336 active Division-I Women’s Basketball programs this year, Mason is DEAD LAST (336th) in field goal percentage at 30.34% on the season. In addition, George Mason ranks 326 in points per game at just a mere 50.5 points. In addition, they are 316th in scoring margin (-14.3), 324th in assists per game (9.3), and 315th in win-loss percentage (.143). No one on the roster averages in double figures in points or rebounds, and there hasn’t really be a go-to player offensively. Safe to say it’s been tough sledding for Mason in the final season of head coach Nyla Milleson’s contract. Mason has also lost to GW, their first round opponent, twice already this season by an average margin of 24.5 points. Expect to see more of the same come Wednesday in Richmond.
First Round: March 10 (Richmond, VA)
1:00 ET: #12 Davidson vs #13 St. Bonaventure (ESPN+)
4:00 ET: #11 George Washington vs #14 George Mason (ESPN+)
12:00 ET: #1/8/9/4/13/5/12 vs #2/7/10/3/14/6/11 (ESPNU)
Predictions time! What’s March without filling out a bracket and getting absolutely none of it right?! I had to pick a few upsets, because you know there always are plenty! At any rate, this is what I’m rolling with:
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