This is no easy task, but I’m going to take a stab at predicting the Atlantic 10 Tournament. I’m never right with these kinds of things, but I like to think I know what I’m talking about before the games actually happen. The A-10 has been odd this year, and while there is, as always, a big jam of capable teams in the middle, there is not one frontrunner who’s destined to win it all in Pittsburgh. Realistically, there are 5 or 6 teams that have a shot at the title. Bear with me and take my predictions with a grain of salt. Or, live by what I say. It’s your move.
#12 Massachusetts vs. #13 Saint Joseph’s
So, 2 of Massachusetts’ 4 wins this season were against Saint Joseph’s, which is quite peculiar. I don’t know if the Minutemen just match up well against the Hawks, but they played them solidly this year. Though the Hawks controlled the boards in both contests, Massachusetts shot the ball much better from the floor and committed fewer turnovers as well. Massachusetts actually ranks top 40 in the nation in 2 point field goal defense, which is why Saint Joseph’s has struggled to score against it. Meanwhile, the Hawks rank worse than 290th in the country in 2 point, 3 point, and free throw percentages. I don’t see enough offense for the Hawks. Massachusetts wins.
#11 Saint Louis vs. #14 Duquesne
Aside from a random 30 point beat down on Massachusetts, Duquesne has proved just how bad it is, losing 13 of its last 14. I hate to break it to the Dukes, but even though they might have a decent fan section showing out (or maybe not), they’re still not going to have much of an advantage in Pittsburgh. This team has tainted freshmen in Isaiah Mike and Mike Lewis, but this has been a season to forget. Saint Louis, on the other hand, has quietly won 2 of its last 3 games and enters the A-10 Tournament with a bit of momentum. Davell Roby has 46 points over his last three games. He seems like he could be the key to Saint Louis doing some damage. I’ll take the Billikens.
#8 La Salle vs. #9 Davidson
Even though La Salle beat Davidson earlier this season, these teams have been moving in different directions ever since. Davidson, though it’s only won 3 of its last 6, has taken both Rhode Island and Dayton to overtime. Jack Gibbs has 85 points in his last 3 games, which is simply incredible. The Wildcats rely heavily on Gibbs and rising junior Peyton Aldridge, but when those two get going, they are very difficult to stop. La Salle proceeded to lose 9 of its last 13 after beating Davidson earlier this season, and after losses to Saint Louis and Massachusetts, it seems this team is running out of gas. I like Davidson to win this one and give Dayton a scare on Friday.
#5 St. Bonaventure vs. #12 Massachusetts
At this point, it seems St. Bonaventure is playing for a bid to the NIT. Sure, the Bonnies could get hot, pull a few upsets, and win the whole thing in Pittsburgh, but it’s obviously not very likely. St. Bonaventure didn’t end up getting the double-bye this year, but the Bonnies didn’t have any bad losses in conference play. That’s why I’m skeptical of Massachusetts’ ability to pull this one off. Despite an abysmal shooting night and getting outrebounded by the Minutemen at home, St. Bonaventure still beat Massachusetts last weekend. If the Bonnies play just slightly better than they did on Saturday, they should have no problem advancing to the next round.
#7 George Mason vs. #10 Fordham
Here is a classic battle of defense. Fordham ranks top 5 nationally in both steal and forced turnover percentage. The Rams have one of the best defenders in the country in Joseph Chartouny, and they’ve held multiple teams under 45 points this season. George Mason, on the other hand, has the 5th best defensive effective field goal percentage in the Atlantic 10 and limits teams to just 32.3% from behind the arc. Rebounding is going to be a major problem for the Rams who won’t have an easy time keeping Marquise Moore off the glass. I don’t think Fordham has anyone who will match up well with him defensively, so I expect George Mason to move on.
#6 George Washington vs. #11 Saint Louis
This is a rematch from last year’s 5/13 game in the A-10 Tournament, and it was also Jim Crews’ last game as the Billikens’ head coach. While Saint Louis has done slightly better this season under Travis Ford, I don’t think they’re good enough to hang with a George Washington team that’s on a 5 game winning streak. Not to mention, the Colonials are coming off an 87-81 win over Dayton where senior Tyler Cavanaugh went for 30 points and knocked down 6/8 three point attempts. Stop him, and maybe SLU has a chance, but I don’t see it.
#1 Dayton vs. #9 Davidson
Like I mentioned above, I think Davidson is very capable of giving Dayton a scare in this game. What do I mean by that? I could see the Wildcats come out firing with a barrage of three pointers in the first 20 minutes, take a halftime lead, and then Scoochie Smith and Charles Cooke grind their way back in the second half. That’s essentially what happened in Belk Arena a couple weeks ago, and who’s to say it won’t happen again? This Davidson team is very hit or miss, so Davidson making a run and scaring Dayton is a big “if.” Either way, I think this Flyers team is too consistent to fall to a streaky Davidson squad, but that doesn’t mean you should sleep.
#4 Rhode Island vs. #5 St. Bonaventure
Given St. Bonaventure beating Massachusetts or Saint Joseph’s, this is the A-10 tournament game that I am most looking forward to. Rhode Island is probably one or two wins away from an NCAA Tournament bid, and standing in its way is one of the most talented yet underrated teams in the conference this year. St. Bonaventure’s backcourt matches up very well with that of Rhode Island. Jaylen Adams went for 25 points against the Rams in Kingston earlier this season, and I believe he’s the most talented player on the floor. The Bonnies run into trouble when it comes to Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson in the post, both of whom they had a very difficult time slowing down earlier this year. I’m going to take Rhode Island because of its advantage on the interior and because of the way Hassan Martin has been playing lately, but this could be a great game.
#2 VCU vs. #7 George Mason
VCU has taken care of George Mason twice already this season, and there’s no reason for me to believe that’s going to change. There were times last weekend where the Patriots were knocking on the door and trying to cut their deficit down, but this Rams team is so good at responding and cutting into opponents’ runs. i will say that VCU needs to start hitting its three pointers if it wants a shot at winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament, but I don’t see this game being much of an issue. The Rams should move on to Saturday without much of an issue.
#3 Richmond vs. #6 George Washington
This should be a classic between stud seniors Tyler Cavanagh and T.J. Cline. I mentioned what Cavanaugh did on senior night against Dayton, but maybe you missed what Cline did against Saint Louis. The senior went for 19 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds. He’s been the Spiders’ go-to-guy all season, and I believe he’s, hands down, the most dangerous player on the floor. George Washington definitely has more weapons all-around, and if T.J. Cline suddenly has an off night, his team could be in a lot of trouble. I just don’t see that happening though. As good as George Washington has been, I like the Spiders to move on into the semifinals to face VCU.
#1 Dayton vs. #4 Rhode Island
This is Rhode Island’s chance to clinch an NCAA Tournament bid. If this game ends up happening, it will be absolutely enormous for the Rams. Dayton has taken down Rhode Island twice this season, and despite a very good fight from the Rams both times, the Flyers have prevailed. That could change this time around though, as Rhode Island suddenly has a ton of momentum heading into conference play. I love Rhode Island’s chances at winning this game, but at the end of the day, I believe this is Dayton’s most talented team in years. I like the Flyers to move onto the championship game, but honestly, this is the kind of game that could go either way.
#2 VCU vs. #3 Richmond
There is nothing like a good old rivalry game in Pittsburgh, and that’s exactly what we could see for the third time this season. VCU has been better than Richmond this year, and that’s been evident by the Rams’ season sweep. T.J. Cline wasn’t able to get going as much as he would’ve liked to in those two games, and you have to credit VCU’s defense for that. All in all, I think the Rams’ interior is playing with too much poise and toughness to fall to a team like Richmond that lacks much of a post threat. VCU will move into the championship game on Sunday.
#1 Dayton vs. #2 VCU
It’s time to settle this once and for all. Who’s the better team? Dayton and VCU have faced off twice this season, and both times, the road team has come up just short. Dayton has a season sweep over Rhode Island, but VCU also has its fair share of big wins. At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to whose stars bring it when it matters most. Scoochie Smith and JeQuan Lewis will go head-to-head, and Kendall Pollard will battle down low with Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman. This would be a great final game to witness, and based on an overall resume and a general eye-test I’ve seen all year, I’m going to take the Dayton Flyers as the champions.