Just when the Atlantic 10 looks like it’s turning a corner in non-conference play, the league finds ways to disappoint in the most infuriating ways. Most recently, VCU allowed Charleston to take over in the 2nd half at home, and missed free throws and careless turnovers killed the Rams. Davidson had a chance to win against Temple without Kellan Grady, and some questionable calls stifled the Wildcats as well as an 8-0 Temple run in OT to seal the deal. The Atlantic 10 has been a 3 bid league for a long time, but as we creep through December, that’s been looking less and less likely. If the conference wants to save face and gain some respect heading into league play, it’s going to take some big wins.
Saint Louis needs to split Houston and Florida St.
If the Billikens want to be in NCAA Tournament consideration entering conference play, they’re going to need to pull an upset. The undefeated Cougars play host to Travis Ford’s club on December 16th, and it would go a long way for SLU to pull this one out. The Billikens have resume-building wins over Butler, Seton Hall, and Oregon St., but losses to Southern Illinois and Pittsburgh are holding them back. Houston is really good on the boards and plays a physical style of basketball similar to the Billikens. Unfortunately, Houston also defends at a high level, and SLU’s offense has been less than impressive lately.
Florida St. may be even tougher, as the Seminoles boast a very long and deep roster that plays hard on both ends of the floor. Saint Louis is a team that can win “grinder” 50 point games; the Billikens need to limit turnovers, hit free throws, and create offense if they want a chance in either of these games. The Billikens really need at least one of them.
Davidson needs to split Wake Forest and North Carolina
The Wildcats lost to Temple by 2 in OT without Kellan Grady. Is that a bad loss? Absolutely not. Was that a game the Wildcats should have won? Absolutely. Davidson had the advantage in overtime and was looking to seal the deal, but Temple buried its threes and made a game-winning dunk on an untimely turnover. Now, I look at 2 of the Wildcats’ final 3 games as crucial contests heading into conference play. Best case? The ‘Cats take Wake Forest and North Carolina on the road and are on the right side of the bubble heading into conference play. Worst case? They lose both and are definitely on the outside looking in. If the Wildcats split (ideally beating UNC), they’re right on the bubble heading into league play. The most likely scenario is a win over the Deacons but a loss to the Tar Heels; although, beating Wake in a true road test may not be that easy. Davidson has 2 crucial tests heading into conference play, and a couple of games would really go a long way.
VCU can’t afford a loss to Wichita St. or Rider
Losing at home to Charleston was less than ideal for VCU. The Rams were already on the outside looking in, and this sets them back further. VCU needs to finish non-conference play with no more than 3 losses. They’ve beat Temple and Texas, but a home loss to Charleston won’t look great at the end of the year. It’s not impossible for the Rams to be an “at-large” consideration by the end of the year, but it’s going to take some big wins between now and March to get there. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many opportunities remaining — just a lot of trap games.
Dayton has to finish non-conference play with no more losses
Dayton missed its big opportunities with Oklahoma and Mississippi St., but the Flyers have a win over Butler and no bad losses. They need to keep it that way; Tulsa is the toughest remaining test, and then the Flyers have to withstand any mid-major that comes into UD Arena. Unless the Flyers win 15 or 16 games in conference play, it’s unlikely they’re a serious at-large consideration heading into March. However, beating these remaining non-conference opponents will be crucial.