We’re midway through the A-10 conference slate, which means it’s time to take a look at how the conference tournament bracket is shaping up. There’s plenty of clarity at the top and bottom, but the middle will prove the most complicated – and, therefore, the most interesting over the second half of the season. Let’s take a look at the bracket and matchups as they currently stand.
Note: In the time between the writing of this article and publication, Rhode Island defeated Massachusetts to solidify its grip on second place, and Duquesne and St. Bonaventure won to pull into third and fourth. This article reflects the status of the race prior to those contests being played.
(11) George Mason (2-7) vs. (14) Saint Joseph’s (0-9)
Both teams have been hugely disappointing thus far and have no reason to think that the road will be any easier in the second half of conference play. The Patriots still have VCU, Richmond and #6 Dayton to play, while the Martelli-less Hawks are staring down the barrel of dates with Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure, among others. If these two were to meet in Brooklyn, it would likely be a forgettable matchup for most neutral fans. Saint Joseph’s is the superior offensive outfit, but its inability to acquit itself at the other end of the floor would send George Mason to the second day of the tournament.
Pick: (11) George Mason 73, (14) Saint Joseph’s 66
(12) LaSalle (1-8) vs. (13) Fordham (1-8)
This would be bad. Stupendously bad. Painful-to-check-the-score-every-fifteen-minutes bad. Both these teams are spectacularly poor and boring this year. The average score of a Fordham game this year is 61.1-58.2, in favor of the opposition. The first day of the conference tournament is supposed to be exciting. Yes, it’s the bottom four, there are only two games, and the big boys are nowhere near entering, but the basketball on offer should be somewhat interesting. In this game, Fordham would likely play so poorly as to allow 12-seed LaSalle to impose one final slaughter on a poor excuse for an A-10 team.
Pick: (12) LaSalle 72, (13) Fordham 55
Interlude: Resolving the Five-Team Tie for Third
Before we can move to the second round, the five-team tie for third place between VCU, Duquesne, Richmond, St. Bonaventure and Saint Louis must be resolved. Per the Atlantic 10 website, the first tiebreaker is winning percentage (PCT) against tied teams. In case of ties in PCT, the next tiebreaker is the number of wins (higher is better) and then losses (lower is better). This leads to:
(3) VCU – 1.000 (2-0)
(4) Duquesne – 1.000 (1-0)
(5) Saint Louis – .500 (1-1)
(6) St. Bonaventure -.000 (0-1)
(7) Richmond -.000 (0-2)
VCU and Duquesne, therefore, receive the last two double-byes, while the rest of the teams find themselves in the second round. It will be interesting to see how this seeding situation plays out over the rest of the season, as there are nine remaining games between these five squads.
(8) Davidson (5-4) vs. (9) George Washington (4-5)
It is difficult to believe that only a game separates the Wildcats, who were preseason favorites for a top-four finish, from the middling Colonials. Davidson has begun to turn its campaign around after a dismal start and could, along with Rhode Island at the right end of the standings, be peaking at the right time. Jon Axel Gudmundsson and Kellan Grady are dominant players who can control a game on their own, especially in the opening stages of the A-10 championship. The 8-9 game, which is typically close, would be rather one-sided if this were the pairing. Most likely, though, the Wildcats will be seeded higher come March – and this would indubitably be true if it weren’t for the five-way tie for the third through seventh slots.
Pick: (8) Davidson 78, (9) George Washington 64
(5) Saint Louis (6-3) vs. (12) LaSalle (1-8)
When these two teams met for the first of two conference dates, the Billikens were fortunate to escape Tom Gola Arena with a one-point overtime win after squandering a ten-point halftime lead. This still qualifies as a contender for game of the season for the hapless Explorers, who demonstrated an inability to seize the momentum and capitalize on a friendly crowd. In the neutral environment of the Barclays Center and the high-stakes one of the Atlantic 10 Championship, Saint Louis will keep its foot to the accelerator, especially because it knows that its NCAA Tournament hopes rest squarely on a trophy in Brooklyn. LaSalle will make it a game again but will not find the extra edge needed to triumph.
Pick: (5) Saint Louis 74, (12) LaSalle 64
(7) Richmond (6-3) vs. (10) Massachusetts (3-6)
The Minutemen have at times shown potential this year, beating Duquesne and fighting Saint Louis to the buzzer before ultimately succumbing. Richmond is one of the more fragile teams in the conference thus far; its at-large bid chances have shrunk both as Rhode Island and VCU have pulled away from the pack and especially after its blowout loss to the latter last Tuesday. UMass has no reason to hold back and will be looking to give its youth some experience for years to come, while the Spiders will be playing not to lose. For that reason, an upset could very much be in the making here. It isn’t overwhelmingly likely to happen, but it’s not inconceivable.
Pick: (10) Massachusetts 68, (7) Richmond 66.
(6) St. Bonaventure (6-3) vs. (11) George Mason (2-7)
The Bonnies, who have played much of the season without star center Osun Osunniyi, are even stronger than their record indicates. The sophomore returned for Bona’s last game against Fordham and, if he remains healthy, will make a major difference over the home stretch of conference play and the tournament. As is the case with Davidson, Bona could be much higher if it were not for the traffic jam at the bottom of the top half of the A-10. This team should be able to dismantle Mason with relative ease and advance to the quarterfinals.
Pick: (6) St. Bonaventure 78, (11) George Mason 69
(1) #6 Dayton (9-0) vs. (8) Davidson (5-4)
Two of the strongest programs in the league would do battle here, and, unfortunately for the Wildcats, the top-seeded one happens to also be headed for a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament and quite possibly a Final Four. The Flyers should meet little resistance in Brooklyn and can be excused for devoting less than their full attention to what is essentially a weekend of tune-up games. Davidson can take advantage of this to try to stick with Dayton, but Obi Toppin and friends will be able to turn up the intensity as needed to advance.
Pick: (1) #6 Dayton 85, (8) Davidson 70
(4) Duquesne (6-3) vs. (5) Saint Louis (6-3)
This appears to be one of the evenest matchups on paper of the whole tournament and should be significantly more interesting to watch than the battle of 1-8 sides on opening day. The two are set to play tomorrow night, as luck would have it. Saint Louis is hitting its stride now, while Duquesne has fallen from receiving top-25 votes to losing to the likes of UMass. In this sport, timing is crucial. That alone is enough to tip the balance of what promises to be a terrific game in favor of the reigning champions.
Pick: (5) Saint Louis 73, (4) Duquesne 72
(2) Rhode Island (8-1) vs. (10) Massachusetts (3-6)
After losses to Brown and Richmond, URI’s season looked to be dead in the water. An eight-game winning streak currently bookended by victories over VCU, however, has not only resuscitated the Rams but also placed them squarely in the NCAA Tournament reckoning; the team is currently ranked thirtieth in the AP Poll and listed as a 10-seed on the Bracket Matrix. Fatts Russell is the conference’s leading scorer, and he and Jeff Dowtin are finally shining at their full potential together. UMass always plays Rhody tough, but David Cox’s side should have more than enough to end the Minutemen’s Cinderella story and reach their third consecutive A-10 semifinal.
Pick: (2) Rhode Island 77, (10) Massachusetts 66
(3) VCU (6-3) vs. (6) St. Bonaventure (6-3)
Barring the unexpected, Virginia Commonwealth will come to Brooklyn knowing that it is the third-best team in the Atlantic 10 and that its pair of losses to Rhode Island will place it squarely behind its fellow Rams on Selection Sunday. The URI game will already have been played when the 3rd and 6th seeds take the court, so VCU will know that a victory will set up the ultimate revenge game. That, as well as an extra day’s rest, should be more than enough for the Richmond Rams to progress to the weekend.
Pick: (3) VCU 89, (6) St. Bonaventure 81
(1) #6 Dayton (9-0) vs. (5) Saint Louis (6-3)
The Dayton Express will be tested much more in this one. Saint Louis nearly knocked off the Flyers in January and was unlucky to lose in overtime. Dayton, once again, might be (understandably) focused on the future at the expense of the present and could be slow out of the blocks. Buoyed by their fans and any neutrals in the Barclays Center, the Billikens could grab the advantage and hold on to it. Dayton, however, will most likely be strong enough to withstand any pressure it might encounter and dispose of Saint Louis to reach the final.
Pick: (1) #6 Dayton 82, (5) Saint Louis 75
(2) Rhode Island (8-1) vs. (3) VCU (6-3)
This is the ultimate revenge game for VCU. The Richmond Rams are 1-9 against their Kingston counterparts in the last four years and have been eliminated from every conference tournament by that team over that span. Clearly, the Commonwealth seniors, led by Marcus Evans, are itching to return the favor to URI. However, Rhode Island has definitely developed a mental advantage in this matchup and has been able to dominate more than the teams’ statistics would suggest, building a 29-point lead when the two met on Friday. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be any way VCU can survive this pairing.
Pick: (2) Rhode Island 84, (3) VCU 76
Championship Game: (1) #6 Dayton (9-0) vs. (2) Rhode Island (8-1)
We’ll have more insight into how close this game might be after the two much-anticipated showdowns between these teams coming this month, but all that will really tell us is how much the Flyers will win by. URI is peaking at the right time and Dayton is not invincible, but Anthony Grant’s team will not lose in league play or this tournament and will complete its 21-0 run here. Rhode Island is a less consistent team and is prone to falling asleep at the wheel for large chunks of games. Against weaker opposition, this turns double-digit leads into razor-thin ones; facing a top-ten team, it could turn a narrow edge into a lost cause.
Pick: (1) #6 Dayton 92, (2) Rhode Island 81