Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals morning thoughts

The Atlantic 10 Tournament has thus far been chalk across the board with one peculiar upset. Technically speaking, the Davidson Wildcats have pulled two upsets in this year’s tournament (though it was favored as the 9 seed over the 8 seed La Salle), and they’re on a roll behind Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge’s career performances. Now facing Davidson is a date with desperate Rhody who can probably only going dancing with an auto-bid from this year’s championship. On the other side of the bracket, VCU and Richmond meet for the third time this season in the Atlantic 10’s most heated rivalry. These two fanbases hate one another, and with a lot of noisy RVA natives in the house, this game could get a little chippy. It’s going to be one heck of a Saturday.

Rhode Island is probably Davidson’s toughest draw

I don’t think there are a lot of teams in the league that can stop Peyton Aldridge and Jack Gibbs when they get hot. Heck, the top-seeded Dayton Flyers couldn’t do it, and when defenses aren’t clicking, the Wildcats have a knack for making other teams pay. That’s exactly what happened on Friday afternoon, and even when Gibbs wasn’t draining three pointers, his team was finding open cutters and taking advantage of lazy Dayton defense.

Rhode Island though, is a very tough draw for Davidson. The Rams’ backcourt is likely the only one that can hang with Davidson on both offense and defense. E.C. Matthews is a capable scorer who has 39 points in Rhode Island’s two meeting with Davidson. Jack Gibbs has 41 over those two contests, but he was held to just 12 the first time these two met in Belk Arena. Matthews and Garrett play stifling defense at the top of the key, and the Rams also have the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Hassan Martin in the post. Davidson’s offense is certainly talented and on fire right now, but Rhode Island’s got the best chance of extinguishing that flame.

Rhode Island’s interior game will give the Rams a big advantage, as Davidson lacks size and true post players. Though Nathan Ekwu has proven to be a threat on the low block, he often struggles to stay out of foul trouble. In Rhode Island’s comeback win over the Wildcats to finish the regular season, Martin was the driving force, and down the stretch, the Wildcats could not stop the big-body senior in the post. He’s a true threat.

I know I’ve given a lot of reasons why Davidson could be stifled by Rhode Island’s defense and interior line, but I don’t think I’ve given Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge enough credit. Aldridge set the record for most points scored in PPG Paints Arena on Thursday with 33; Gibbs topped that on Friday with 34. If one is playing at a high enough level, it’s enough to beat anyone in the league. When the two are working together, watch out. Hot offenses are difficult to slow down, and if Rhode island is unable to do that, it’s going to have a tough time putting up enough points to stay with the Wildcats. I believe that this is Davidson’s most difficult opponent, but that doesn’t mean the Wildcats can’t beat it. They’ll have to hope the third time is the charm.

At-large chances are slipping away from Rhode Island

The problem with the Atlantic 10 is that it does not provide many opportunities to pick up solid wins. Realistically, there are two teams, Dayton and VCU, that provide any merit with a win. Other than that, no victory really looks that good on a national scale, especially in comparison to other bubble teams who come up with big wins in conference tournament play. When looking at season resumes, one could argue for Rhode Island over teams like Illinois State, Syracuse, and Kansas State, but if we look at recent trends (Kansas State just took down Baylor), it’s easy to see how the Selection Committee might get lost. We don’t want them to revert to the recent trends and ignore the rest of the regular season. If this is the case, Rhode Island gets hurt. The Rams don’t have a path to beating another NCAA Tournament team, that is, unless they beat VCU in the championship game, which would give the Rams the auto-bid in the first place and make all of this irrelevant in the end.

Dayton losing in the quarterfinals may have been a blessing or a curse. It means that Rhode Island gets to play a team it has beaten twice rather than a team it has lost two twice, but it also takes away the chance for a win over a team that’s already in the field. A win over Davidson in the semifinals, though the Wildcats are playing great basketball right now, doesn’t look that good given the Wildcats’ overall resume. Because of this, it seems like the Rams are going to have to win the A-10 Tournament to put themselves in the field. This team is real 50/50 when it comes to an at-large, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change. The only way to know for sure is by winning the whole thing. If Rhode Island loses in the championship game, I really don’t know if it has enough to get in.

Richmond will have a chance if it can avoid getting turned over

This was big for the Spiders in their opening win over George Washington. Richmond only gave the ball up 5 times, and despite a pretty poor shooting night, the Spiders came out with the win. George Mason, on the contrary, coughed the ball up 14 times against VCU and got outplayed in the last 7 or 8 minutes. As much as turnovers are crucial in any game, they seem to mean more for a team like VCU. The Rams get a lot of their points in transition, and they tend to be a very streaky team. Once they force one turnover, it becomes easier to get the next. At the same time, this team’s crowd and momentum is fueled by defensive effort and scrappy plays that lead to fast break lay-ups. VCU is energized by its havoc defense, and if you take that away from it, it becomes a bit more difficult for the Rams to find their rhythm. This is a major key for Richmond on Saturday.

Other guys need to step up

This goes for both teams. In the first half of VCU’s game against George Mason, JeQuan Lewis was non-existent, and his team was having a very difficult time manufacturing buckets and making plays at the other end. De’Riante Jenkins stepped up in the first half and hit some big threes to keep the Rams within striking defense. Later that night, ShawnDre’ Jones and Nick Sherod hit a few monumental three pointers in the second half that gave Richmond a boost. As George Washington stormed back and T.J. Cline was being held in check nicely by Yuta Watanabe, the Spiders looked to their other options, and those options delivered nicely. We all know both of these teams have stars who sine bright. The real question is: whose supporting cast is going to show up?

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Grant Labedz is a college basketball superfan who loves the entire sport but definitely has favorites in the A-10 and the Big Ten. He has written for ...