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Thoughts on the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship

It will be a battle of the Rams on Sunday afternoon as VCU and Rhode Island go head-to-head in the championship game of the A-10 Tournament. How did each team get there? Rhode Island blew past St. Bonaventure and Davidson behind red-hot shooting and stifling defense. The VCU Rams fought through tough games with George Mason and Richmond and used their inside game, as well as a loud crowd, to advance to the finals. This game will be an absolute battle between two teams hungry for an A-10 Championship title.

Rhode Island will be playing with a little extra motivation

Sure, it’s important to VCU to win this game tomorrow, but in essence, it means so much more for Rhode Island. The Rams are right on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, and if they don’t get the auto-bid, they’e going to be very nervous on Sunday night waiting to hear their names called on the Selection Show. VCU and Dayton are both NCAA Tournament teams, but Rhode Island hasn’t quite yet convinced the nation it belongs. Joe Lunardi of ESPN moved the Rams into the field yesterday, and Bracket Matrix has them in as well, so this team could still get the bid without a win over VCU, but I’m sure the Rams would rather be safe than sorry and take the title.

Welcome to the battle of the big men

Will Wade said it Saturday, and it’s held true throughout the A-10 Tournament: big bodies are the key to success in March. Both Rhode Island and VCU have plenty of those. The Rams up north have Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson who absolutely ran over Davidson in the semifinal matchup. The Wildcats didn’t have an answer for either the first two times these teams played, and that held true on Saturday as well. Martin had 16 points on 8/14 shooting in the semifinals. There are few players that can match up with him in the post.

Luckily for VCU, they may have those few players who actually can match up with him in the post. Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman are two of the better defenders and post players in the league, and they’ll be hoping to shut down Rhode Island’s big men. Last time these two teams met, Hassan Martin had 17 points and 18 rebounds. VCU absolutely cannot let that happen again if it wants a chance at taking down Rhode Island. The Rams weren’t tough enough when they visited Kingston, and if they don’t play as tough as possible, they’re not going to be able to take down Rhode Island. Though Rhode Island showed off its three point shooting ability, its real threat is in the paint, and that’s exactly where VCU has to be looking in order to stop the Rams.

On the other hand, Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman were difficult to deny on Saturday night against Richmond. Ali-Cox had 15 points and 9 rebounds while Tillman had 11 points and 14 rebounds. Those two can absolutely annihilate opposing teams down low. Those two big bodies can be some of the most lethal players in the league, and Rhode Island, though it’s typically one of the best in the A-10 in the paint, is going to have its work cut out for it down low. At the end of the day, this game is going to come down to whoever is tougher in the post. Whichever pair of big men plays tougher and wants it more is going to lead its team to the A-10 title.

Is Rhode Island going to stay as hot as it did yesterday?

My guess is no. The Rams hit 9/12 three pointers in the first half against Davidson, which is unheard of from a team that shoots 33.8% from deep. I don’t expect the Rams to stay as hot as they were, but if they do, they’ll be that much harder to stop. Guard play presents another interesting challenge for both of these teams, as the Rams on both sides of the ball have playmakers at the top of the key. JeQuan Lewis and company will have the challenge of going up against E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell. These two teams match up very well against one another, and I think this is one of the most exciting matchups we could have asked for in the A-10 Tournament finals. This is going to be a gritty game featuring two teams that might not score 60 points on Sunday. At the end of the day, both sides are going to come away with bruises and burns, but one side will be hoisting a trophy.

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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 ...