Outside of VCU and Dayton at the top of things, the Atlantic 10 has been wide open this year. What does that mean? Any team could catch fire and win enough games in Pittsburgh to take the Atlantic 10 title. Some are more likely than others, but there’s definitely a legitimate chance that one of the favorites doesn’t take the crown. This might be a bit of a stretch, but here’s a case for each team in the league winning it all in Pittsburgh.
Davidson has one of the best duos in the nation in Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge. Those two can catch fire in a hurry, and if you don’t manage to slow them down, the Wildcats can be tough to beat. Though defense has been somewhat of an issue for this team all year, it hasn’t had too much of a problem putting up points. Davidson will have to rely on three point shooting and big time plays from its leaders if it wants to pull a shocker in Pittsburgh. The Wildcats live and die by the three, and they’re going to have to do much more of the former.
I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. Dayton probably has the best chance of winning the league right now, and the Flyers have been playing really good basketball, at home and on the road, in the last month and a half. Dayton hasn’t won the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship since 2003, but that very well could change this year. Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke, and Kendall Pollard make up a talented trio of scorers and defenders that have been some of the league’s best players. With a healthy lineup and momentum that’s been building over the past few weeks, don’t be shocked if the Flyers win the tourney and clinch the auto-bid this year.
I’m really going to have to make a stretch on this one. I mean, we are playing in Pittsburgh, so maybe Duquesne will have a larger-than-normal crowd when it comes to Atlantic 10 Tournaments. Other than that, I can’t really think of a reason why Duquesne will win the A-10 Tournament. It won’t. Sorry to burst any bubbles.
The Rams have won three in a row in the Atlantic 10 and now have some clear momentum heading into the homestretch. With one of the best defenses in the league, Fordham’s going to be a tricky team to handle in Pittsburgh. The Rams have been great on the road and have some dangerous weapons right now in Antwoine Anderson and Christian Sengfelder. Fordham beating VCU and Rhode Island shows that the Rams are capable of pulling off the kind of upsets it would take to win the A-10 Tournament. Can the Rams get lucky enough to go all the way? Probably not, but this team is certainly going to be one that could pull a surprise or two in Pittsburgh.
George Mason Patriots
Marquise Moore has proven to be one of the most complete players in the conference this year, and he’s got a great supporting cast in Otis Livingston II and Jaire Grayer. Think about this: If the Patriots could’ve just avoided both of their losses against Saint Louis, they’d be 10-5 in the conference, and they’d have a great chance at a double-bye. This team likely doesn’t have the magic to pull out the conference championship in Pittsburgh, but it’s certainly been one of the better teams in conference play throughout the season.
George Washington Colonials
There isn’t much of a case to be made here, but I’ll try. The Colonials are the best 3 point shooting team in conference play, and we all know that it takes a couple of hot shooting nights to pull off upsets in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Tyler Cavanaugh is the type of senior leader that can completely take over a game, and Yuta Watanabe is always due for some athletic plays and big shots here and there. This team is lacking a lot of key pieces, as well as a coach with much, really any, experience, but that doesn’t mean the Colonials couldn’t pull a few upsets. This team was awfully close to beating VCU in the regular season, and with the way things are shaping out in the league, anything can happen in Pittsburgh.
La Salle Explorers
La Salle has one of the most underrated scoring duos in the nation in Jordan Price and B.J. Johnson. When those two get going, as we’ve seen many times this season, the Explorers have notched some good wins in Atlantic 10 play. This team has a great chance of finishing above .500 in league play, which is an enormous step up from last year. While it’d take somewhat of a miracle to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament, the Explorers certainly have one of the deepest teams in the conference. Let’s see if these guys show up to play in March.
I’d say there was a case to be made before the start of conference play, but since then, the world has come crashing down on Massachusetts. The Minutemen have fallen victim to Duquesne, Fordham, and Saint Louis this season. Not good. I guess Donte Clark and DeJon Jarreau have the talent to keep up with most players in the conference, but this team has been poorly coached and hasn’t shown the ability to beat anyone this season. I think we’d all have to take a break from basketball for awhile if Massachusetts won the conference tournament.
Rhode Island Rams
This is very feasible. Rhode Island has the raw talent to win the conference tournament without a doubt. It’s a matter of putting it all together and winning close games. Rhode Island has not done a particularly good job closing out games this season, and time after time, the Rams have let winnable games slip right out of their fingers. I will say that the Rhode Island has done a better job in this regard in the past week; the Rams have taken down George Mason and La Salle on the road, and this team is playing with a sense of urgency. It knows that there’s work to do. That urgency could be the driving force behind a conference tourney championship.
T.J. Cline is a major reason why Richmond could pull out a conference championship. He and ShanwnDre’ Jones can score at a high enough level to give this team a fighting chance. The Spiders should end up getting a double-bye, meaning they’ll have to play one less game to make it to the championship. Richmond’s been one of the best shooting teams in the Atlantic 10 with a 54.9% effective field goal percentage in conference play as well.
St. Bonaventure Bonnies
Jaylen Adams has got game. That’s almost all that needs to be said. He’s the kind of player that could win this league’s conference championship all by himself, and you’d be foolish to think he won’t come to Pittsburgh giving 110% of his effort. This St. Bonaventure team is really well coached, and I think the Bonnies are going to want to avenge an early exit in last year’s Atlantic 10 Tournament. This squad can catch fire in a hurry, and even though Jaylen Adams is the star of the show, you cannot leave Matt Mobley alone by any means either.
Saint Joseph’s Hawks
Well, the Hawks did win the conference championship last year, but things are a lot different now. None of last year’s starters will be on the floor in Pittsburgh, and with a barrage of injuries plaguing this team, it’s going to be tough for Phil Martelli’s squad to do much of anything in March. Sure, it is Phil Martelli and we know he’s capable of doing great things, but that’s not going to be enough to pull off the upset of a lifetime.
Saint Louis Billikens
Saint Louis has outperformed its expectations this year, and even though it’s not likely to win the conference championship at all, it could pull an upset if a team isn’t careful. The Billikens beat George Mason twice this year, and they have some talented underclassmen that play like they’ve got more experience. We all know that next year is Saint Louis’ time to shine, so let’s see if the Billikens go out and leave everything on the court.
VCU could be my pick to win the conference championship based on how well the Rams have been playing. Instead of slouching after a loss to Fordham in the Bronx, the Rams have picked their heads up and rattled off nine straight wins to get back to relevancy. VCU fans travel very well for the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and I wouldn’t expect that to change in this year’s venue: Pittsburgh. VCU historically plays very well under pressure, and I really like the direction that this team has been moving in these last couple of weeks.