It’s that time of the year again. The 2017 Atlantic 10 Tournament has arrived in Pittsburgh. Tournament action kicks off with the third matchup of the season between the University of Massachusetts Minutemen and the St. Joseph’s Hawks. The second game of the evening will be the rubber match between the St. Louis Billikens and the Duquesne Dukes, as Duquesne looks to take down St. Louis in Pittsburgh for the second time this season.
#12 UMass vs. #13 St. Joseph’s- 6:00 PM
The Minutemen enter the tournament losing five of their last six regular season games. They finished the year with an in conference record of 4-14, but half of those wins came over Saint Joseph’s. UMass won the first matchup 62-57 behind a 23 point performance from redshirt junior Zach Lewis. The teams met again in Philadelphia on February 11 and Massachusetts came out on top again, this time by a score of 87-76.
Saint Joseph’s enters the tournament battered and bruised. Leading scorer Shavar Newkirk suffered a torn ACL on December 30, and Lamarr Kimble’s season came to an end during the team’s last meeting with UMass. Kimble was second on the team in scoring, averaging 15.5 points per game. Sophomore Pierfrancesco Oliva and freshman Lorenzo Edwards’s seasons have also ended early and the Hawks are down to just 13 players, only nine of which are on scholarship. With their two top scorers down, SJU has relied on junior James Demery and All-Rookie Team selection Charlie Brown to lead the offense. The snakebitten Hawks were able to close out the regular season on a high note, with a 63-60 win on the road over Duquesne and will look for their second consecutive win in Pittsburgh.
Saint Joseph’s couldn’t get the best of UMass with a healthier version of their roster earlier in the season, and I don’t think they’ll be able to beat them now. I think the Minutemen will live to see another day, while the Hawks season will come to a close.
#11 St. Louis vs. #14 Duquesne- 8:30 PM
After opening conference play with a 1-7 record, the Billikens finished the year 6-12 in the Atlantic 10, and won two of their last three. Duquesne lost their final five games of the season, and managed to win just one of their last 14 games. The teams split the regular season series, both winning on their home courts.
St. Louis opened last year’s tournament with a win on Wednesday, and they look to repeat their success this year in Pittsburgh. Despite falling in the first meeting between the two teams, leading scorer Davell Roby dropped 20 on the Dukes and shot a perfect 4-4 from downtown in the rematch with Duquesne on February 11. The team saw some success at home, but they were flat out awful on the road. The Billikens finished with a 1-10 record away from home, with their lone road win coming at George Mason.
Another disappointing season means another tournament game on Wednesday for the Dukes. The team finished with a 10-21 overall record, 3-15 in conference. Freshman standout Isiaha Mike powered Duquesne over St. Louis in the first matchup between the two teams. He finished the contest with 24 points and pulled down 13 rebounds. In three games at the host PPG Paints Arena this season, Duquesne has shot just 16-64 (25%) from beyond the arc.
This one is a tough call, but I like Duquesne in this one. The Dukes don’t have to travel, and will just take a short walk across the street from their dorms to the PPG Paints Arena. Freshman Mike Lewis II and Isiaha Mike, as well as graduate transfer Emile Blackman will come out hungry, and the Dukes will narrowly slip past the Billikens in front of their hometown fans.