Atlantic 10 tournament preview

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Man that went fast. The Atlantic 10 regular season has come and gone with a major surprise winner. Conference newcomer (not to mention preseason No.12), the Davidson Wildcats, basically proved what A-10 fans have known for some time yet for whatever reason refused to believe with the Wildcats, that good teams are good teams, no matter what conference they are in.

Bob McKillop’s crew earned their first ever A-10 regular season conference title in just their first year of action, doing so in impressive fashion by leading the league with a +12.3 scoring margin on the season. The Wildcats used the nation’s 4th-highest scoring offense to shoot their way to a regular season championship and a No.1 seed in this year’s A-10 tournament.

Bracket

 

THE FAVORITES

DAVIDSON – The Wildcats’ offense is a thing of beauty and with a healthy Jack Gibbs and red-hot Tyler Kalinoski (not to mention, Sullivan, Barham and the slew of other pieces they have that can light you up) are a team that is absolutely built for March.

  • Why they could win it – Davidson has offense galore, but more importantly…consistent offense galore. If they are hitting shots you can’t beat them because their shots are typically good for one more point than yours.
  • Why they might not – The Cats interior defense has been questionable at times. They await the winner of La Salle and UMass, two teams that are loaded with talented bigs. The Cats beat both on the road but also trailed in both contests with under five minutes to play.

DAYTON – #TrueTeam, ya know? Archie Miller has been coaching his tits off since last March where he led the Flyers to an Elite 8 appearance all the way into this season where he finished second in the Atlantic 10 with six scholarship players, a pack up bubble gum and some shoelaces.

  • Why they could win it – The Flyers boast the league’s second most efficient offense and fourth most efficient defense. I love a team that is good on both sides of the ball and believe in that type of team’s ability to string wins together in March.
  • Why they might not – Depth. Like I said, Dayton has six scholarship players and lack size. Winning that way twice per week seems easier than three games in three days. Foul trouble or an injury would be a killer.

RHODE ISLAND – We have waited for this rise to be completed under Dan Hurley and what better way to make that official than by lifting the trophy Sunday afternoon at the Barclays Center?

  • Why they could win it – If defense wins championships you have to love riding the league’s best D into Brooklyn. Hassan Martin and Co. have the nation’s 13th most efficient defense, holding teams to to just 29.1% from deep, a stat that ranks seventh nationally. That’s awfully helpful against a path that could include the likes of GW, Dayton and Davidson or Richmond, the four best three-point shooting teams in Atlantic 10 play.
  • Whey they might not – Rhody has needed every bit of that defense with a team that ranks dead last in the A-10 in three-point shooting percentage among conference games. Rhode Island butters their bread in the paint but often times in these big games you need to be able to come up with a big play from downtown. Can Rhode Island do that?

RICHMOND – Spider fans were talking coaching change a few weeks ago at 13-12 and 6-6 in conference play. What a difference a few weeks makes. Chris Mooney and Co. grabbed a top-4 seed by sweeping rival VCU, giving the Spiders a head-to-head tie-breaker over the conference’s preseason No.1 and are riding a nice six-game winning streak into Brooklyn.

  • Why they could win it – The Spidermen are on fire but still appear somewhat underrated. Richmond has a top-5 offense and defense in A-10 play and have a roster full of guys who can hit the deep ball. TJ Cline has got to be the league’s most underrated player but might not be for much longer with a big week in the BK.
  • Why they might not – Not the easiest path if you ask me. Congrats Richmond, you finished 4th. Now all you have to do is beat VCU for a third time on the season then assuming you do that, you get Davidson after the Rams have tried to run you for 40 minutes.

THE CINDERELLAS

VCU – The Rams have had a disappointing end to their conference season, losing three of their last four games and finishing 5-6 over their last 11 contests. That does not scream A-10 championship run but sleep on the Rams at your own peril. VCU is a couple of baskets from 16-2 despite horrible shooting percentages and a ton of injuries and absences.

  • Why they could win it – VCU’s shooting has been downright dreadful yet the Rams are the No.2 scoring team in the A-10 this season. Even in games without Briante Weber, VCU’s 67.6 points per contest would rank 4th in the conference. Two top-4 seeds, Dayton and Richmond, just recently narrowly escaped VCU despite the Rams going a combined 9-44 from distance (20.5%) in those games. I don’t know if those shots start to fall in Brooklyn, but if they do…watch out.
  • Why they might not – Offensively VCU reminds me of Rube Baker from the movie Major League 2. Their confidence is shot and they make even the simplest shots look difficult. If VCU’s shooting woes carry into Brooklyn expect an early exit.

GEORGE WASHINGTON -The Colonials may be disappointed in their sixth-place finish/seeding, but Mike Lonergan’s squad remains dangerous and appears to be heating up at the right time.

Why they could win it – GW has the size and the pieces inside out to beat any team in this conference. A loss at Davidson is the Colonials only blemish over their last four games, their three wins coming by an average margin of victory of 20.3 points. Questionable consistency but certainly talented. Don’t be surprised if GW challenges Rhode Island for a spot in the A-10 semis, assuming they survive their Thursday matchup first (no gimme).

Why they might not – The shooting just hasn’t been consistent enough to inspire much confidence in GW’s ability to make their way to Sunday. GW is 2-6 against the top-5 conference teams during regular season play and unfortunately those are the teams you have to beat if you want to earn the conference’s auto-bid.

DON’T COUNT US OUT

St. Bonaventure, UMass and La Salle – What do these three teams all have in common? Size and experience. Each of these teams boasts a win over a top-two team in the conference and have enough talented bigs to give the smaller top-four problems in Brooklyn.

BEMBRY VERSUS THE WORLD

If I’m a Saint Joseph’s fan I’m passing on the tournament pack in favor of single game tickets, but it’s worth nothing the Hawks have wins over both Davidson and Rhode Island and lost by just four at Dayton. I for one look forward to watching the league’s most exciting player attempt to carry the Hawks through Brooklyn.

 

 

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About Author

Mat Shelton-Eide has been involved in college athletics since 2007, starting as a co-founder of VCURamNation.com where he covered the Rams all the way to Houston as the one-time CAA darling shocked the hoops world with a historic run to the Final 4. He has worked within two Atlantic 10 athletic departments, first as a graduate assistant in the VCU Sports Information Department during the '09-'10 basketball season, then after receiving his M.Ed. from VCU's Center for Sport Leadership, as a ticketing and marketing intern in the University of Richmond's athletic department during the inaugural season of Richmond's Robins Stadium, months before the Spiders 2011 Sweet 16 run.

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