As the regular season ends and conference tournaments begin, the Atlantic 10 is still as relevant as they have been all season. Temple has quietly remained a ranked team, while teams like Rhode Island and Richmond have made a lot of noise over the last few weeks.
With non-conference wins over Louisville, Florida, Villanova and Oklahoma State among others, the Atlantic 10 has the potential to be the ultimate dark horse conference once we arrive at the field of 65.
But before that day arrives, there are a few burning issues that need to be addressed. Without further ado, these are 10 things you need to know about the upcoming A-10 tournament.
Temple, Xavier and Richmond are the elite teams of this year’s Atlantic-10. With the former two sharing the conference regular season title at 14-2 and Richmond only a game back, these are consistent teams that will make the field of 65 regardless of how the conference tournament plays out.
The Temple Owls are a no-brainer. They played a tough non-conference schedule, being blown out by Kansas, losing by only one to Georgetown and impressively beating both Virginia Tech and Villanova by 11 and 10 points, respectively.
As the No. 16 team in the country, the Owls have three players who average double-digit points per game, and forward Lavoy Allen manages a double-double per game, putting up 11.7 points and 10.8 boards.
Xavier very quietly put up a great regular season. They took their lumps against Kansas State and lost heartbreakers to Butler, Baylor and Wake Forest, but beating crosstown rival Cincinnati and SEC power Florida is enough to pad their strong showing in the A-10 for an at-large tournament bid (provided another team wins the A-10 tournament).
Richmond is another team most people haven’t taken notice of this season. Wins against Missouri, Old Dominion and Florida without any really bad non-conference losses makes Richmond look especially impressive. The Spiders defended their home court well, only losing to Charlotte in Virginia’s capital city during the A-10 season.
I think three teams need serious help if they want to work their way into the Big Dance. First of all is Rhode Island.
The Rams looked like a sure thing until recently. Quite a few columnists were picking them as Atlantic-10 conference favorites. But with a recent slump, the Rams are slipping gradually off the bubble.
I still believe Rhode Island is a very talented team, but if they want to make it into the field of 65, I think they need to make it to the conference finals. Nothing else will prove to the selection committee that this recent dropoff was a fluke.
The St Louis Billikens also need some help to get in. This is a team that hasn’t received any hype whatsoever this season, and I guarantee most of America doesn’t even know this team is in the Atlantic 10, much less Division I.
St Louis doesn’t get any respect. They’ve very quietly won 21 games as well as only losing two games by more than 10 points: at Xavier and at Temple.
Yet for a team that’s in fourth place in the Atlantic 10, they haven’t so much as been mentioned as a bubble team or a team that should be in the NCAA tournament. The Billikens need to win games in the tournament to get some attention from the media and selection committee.
Like it or not, teams that don't appear on TV and don’t get any media attention, no matter how good they are, usually miss out on the Big Dance and have to settle for the NIT. St Louis needs to win and do it in style if they want to get their bid.
Charlotte has received plenty of attention this year for their upsets of Temple and Louisville, but they need to reach the conference finals to make up for only winning one out of their last seven games, and even then, it might not be enough. The 49ers may need to win the entire tournament and gain the automatic bid if they want to be in the field of 65.
Year in and year out, my alma mater leaves me scratching my head when it comes time for postseason play.
The 49ers started off the season impressively, winning nine of their first 10 games, and not against weak opponents. During that stretch, Charlotte pounded old C-USA rival Louisville on the road, as well as going to Rock Hill, SC and beating Winthrop (winner of the Big South’s automatic NCAA bid) by 10 points.
Then Old Dominion happened. Specifically, an 81-48 destruction at the hands of the Monarchs.
From that point on, Charlotte became a .500 team, and a rather streaky one at that. As of February 6, the 49ers were on a seven-game winning streak, including double-digit wins over Richmond and Temple.
However, after that victory at Fordham to extend the streak to seven, the 49ers lost six of their final seven games, taking time to smack St Joseph’s around halfway through.
I really don’t get it. Charlotte was 8-1 in the conference and was all but a lock to win the conference regular-season title and the automatic bid. After falling into a hideous slump that came out of nowhere, Charlotte isn’t even on the bubble anymore, according to ESPN bracketologists. The 49ers are now part of the next four out.
Inconsistency killed the 49ers. NIT, here they come.
Can anyone wrap their head around why ESPN has Dayton as one of their first four teams out?
Sure, they have non-conference wins over Georgia Tech and Old Dominion, but they only went .500 in their own conference. Seriously, an 8-8 team that dropped five of their last seven games and you have them on the bubble?
You could maybe make a case for them if they had gone undefeated against the best in the conference. Let’s see how that panned out. They played Xavier twice this year, winning at home and losing on the road. The Flyers also didn’t beat Temple, Richmond or Rhode Island.
The only way Dayton makes the NCAA tournament is by winning the Atlantic 10’s automatic bid. They’ll probably beat GW in the first round, but Xavier will take care of business in the second, dropping Dayton to a mid- to low-seed in the NIT.
Derrio Green is Charlotte’s X-factor. To put it nicely, he’s inconsistent.
Don’t let the 13.4 points per game average fool you. In Charlotte’s 30 games, 12 times he only scored in single digits. The first game of the season against UNC Asheville, he went 0-for-6 from the field and didn’t so much as attempt a free throw. He twice went 1-for-8 from three-point range, against Winthrop and Dayton.
Yet in some games, he’s been absolute dynamite. In a November win against Yale during the preseason NIT, Green hit six of 11 from long distance. Against Georgia Tech, he hit seven of 15 from downtown, racking up 31 points. And in a road win at UMass, Green hit eight of 16 from another zip code on his way to a season-high 34 points.
In other words, if Green has a poor day, it usually kills Charlotte’s chance at victory, as he is the most competent long-range shooter on the team. Charlotte can win without the deep ball if they establish themselves in the paint, but usually they establish themselves in the paint because extra players have to go on the perimeter to stop Green from running wild.
It’s a vicious cycle. Derrio Green’s performance will have a huge impact on Charlotte’s chances, whether he makes or breaks them.
The sophomore transfer is Xavier’s leading scorer. He is not only a deep threat (hitting 39.9 percent from long-range), but also pulls down nearly five rebounds per game as a guard. He’s an excellent shooter, averaging 45.6 percent from the field and 77.5 percent from the free throw line.
Only Marquette has held Crawford to a single-digit point total this season. In that loss, he scored nine points. In 15 of Xavier’s 30 games this season, he’s scored at least 20 points, putting up a season-high 30 in a double overtime loss to Wake Forest.
What possibly makes him even more dangerous is the fact that Crawford has only committed 46 personal fouls this season, an average of 1.5 per game. Translation: the kid scores a lot of points without getting into foul trouble.
Discipline goes a long way.
For the Atlantic 10 conference, this is Ohio’s equivalent to UNC vs. Duke. These teams hate each other.
Xavier has dominated recently, especially in the postseason, but this year, Xavier won by a narrow margin at home and then got manhandled in Dayton, leading to a regular season split.
I was fortunate to watch that first game, and I was honestly surprised to see Dayton not win. I guess home court advantage matters more than people give it credit for.
If these teams meet in the Atlantic 10 tournament, look for both to go in highly motivated. Xavier will be dying to avenge that 25-point beating, while Dayton will need the win to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive.
With so much on the line for both teams, emotions will be riding high, and this could be one of the best conference tournament games you’ll see this year.
This is another season split that produced two very entertaining games.
During their first meeting, Charlotte walked into Richmond and walked out with a sound 12-point victory. Not a bruising, but enough to tell you they were much better prepared than the Spiders.
The second meeting went the other way, with Richmond pulling out a narrow victory in overtime over a struggling 49er team.
Considering the 49ers are still relatively new to the Atlantic 10, they haven’t established a great conference rival yet. The two schools are only about four hours apart if you take I-85, so the distance factoring in the potential greatness of a third matchup between these teams this season in a conference tournament could be enough to spawn a new rivalry.
Richmond is in, but Charlotte needs this one for both pride and the hopes of staying alive. It should be a nail-biter.
The official bracket is available for viewing on http://Atlantic10.com, so let’s take a look at the matchups and see who will get the automatic qualifying bid for the conference.
St. Bonaventure vs. Duquesne
Considering the winner of this game moves on to play Temple in the second round, the winner of this game is irrelevant, but let’s take a look anyway.
These teams split their season series, each winning at home. However, Duquesne only won their game by one point, while St Bonaventure had a much larger margin of victory: 12 points.
The Bonnies are the host team for this matchup, so they get my pick, especially after winning four of their last five, including a shocker over Rhode Island.
Rhode Island vs. St Joseph’s
These teams only met once during the regular season, in which the Rams smacked the Hawks around by 27. However, after being a sure-fire lock for the tournament, Rhode Island stumbled down the stretch, losing five of their last seven, including embarrassing road losses to St Bonaventure and UMass.
Phil Martelli’s Hawks have been far from impressive this year, one game shy of a 20-loss season. They don’t scare anyone, much less the Rams.
Rhode Island needs to sit down and take today and Monday off to relax. Refocus yourselves. Until those last seven games, you were a team that everyone knew would make the tournament, and a team that some thought could really shake things up.
Don’t let those losses get yourselves down. Suck it up and don’t let a team that Charlotte beat by almost 40 catch you off guard.
Dayton vs. George Washington
The Flyers won by 15 in their regular-season matchup, and I don’t expect this to go much differently.
Let’s keep this short. The Colonials couldn’t even beat Harvard. In fact, they let the Ivy League non-factor beat them by double digits.
GW is nothing more than an afterthought. If Dayton doesn’t beat them, they don’t even deserve to make the NIT.
Charlotte vs. UMass
Again, this shouldn’t even be close. Charlotte pounded the Minutemen on the road earlier this season, and considering Charlotte gets to host this time, it may just be the boost the 49ers need to get them out of their funk.
UMass may have shocked Rhode Island Saturday, but don’t read too much into that. This is a team that lost to a post-Stephen Curry Davidson, Cornell and UCF, not to mention allowing 100+ to Michigan State.
UMass got lucky over the Rams, but the 49ers won’t be caught looking ahead. Charlotte will down the Minutemen and move on.
St Bonaventure vs. Temple
Like I said, this is irrelevant. Temple gave Villanova their first loss earlier this year, and St Bonny lost by 50…to Mississippi State. They met earlier this season at St Bonaventure, and the Owls won by 18.
These teams are night and day. No analysis is necessary. Nothing has changed. The Owls move on.
Rhode Island vs. St Louis
This might be one of the better games of the entire tournament.
Both teams are trying to fight their way in, but are currently going in opposite directions. Rhode Island is slipping, while St Louis has won eight of their last 10.
The Rams dropped their matchup earlier in the season, but by a mere five points. Not to mention the game was played in St Louis. These teams seem to be of equal skill, and this one is more of a toss-up than anything else.
This game should come down to which team knows how to finish. It doesn’t matter if one team gets on a run halfway through the second half. If the other can take advantage and fight back in the final few minutes, this game can go either way.
In the end, I think the first-round bye hurts St Louis. If Rhode Island does to St Joseph’s what I think they will, their momentum will be too much for the Billikens to handle coming into this game. The Rams should advance in a close one. Don’t be shocked to see overtime.
Dayton vs. Xavier
This is the best rivalry in the conference, and with good reason. They play in the same conference, reside in the same state and are less than 50 miles from each other.
During the season, both teams held their home courts, but Dayton thoroughly embarrassed the Musketeers in their second matchup, winning by 25 over a team that has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen the last two years.
There’s no question: Xavier wants revenge.
While Dayton desperately needs this win to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive, I just don’t see it happening. Xavier hasn’t lost since February 6 in Dayton, and I don’t see it happening this time on a neutral court. This loss ends Dayton’s hopes of a bid to the Big Dance, but could land them in the NIT.
Charlotte vs. Richmond
This will either be a great game or a complete blowout.
Each team won one game against the other this season, but on the road. That’s right: neither team defended their home court. Yet it took overtime to derail the 49ers at Halton Arena on Saturday.
Richmond has been spectacular this year, but I’m concerned they may be looking too far ahead to the big tournament. If that happens, Charlotte needs to capitalize and not give the Spiders an inch.
Given this season’s performance, I’d say the 49ers have the edge. But they need to focus or their tournament chances will end on Friday.
Temple vs. Rhode Island
As much as I want Rhode Island to be the Cinderella team of the Atlantic-10 tournament, it’s not going to happen. They lost both games to Temple this season (68-64 in OT at home, 78-56 in Philadelphia) and I think the St Louis game will have them physically drained, especially having to play the next day.
Temple is just too good right now. They haven’t lost in over a month now, not since falling to Richmond on February 6. Four of the seven wins since have come by double digits. Temple moves on, and Rhode Island is left in limbo until Selection Sunday.
Charlotte vs. Xavier
Charlotte is undefeated this season when holding opponents under 70 points. In their previous two meetings against the Musketeers, Charlotte has allowed at least 80. Considering that statistic, defense will be the name of the game.
The 49ers have a notorious problem of letting their opponent start strong and build up a 10+ point lead in the first half. Granted they’re a second-half team, but that’s an awfully large deficit to try and recover from. If it happens with Xavier a third time, which I expect it will, Charlotte will be NIT-bound.
Finals: Temple vs. Xavier
Both of these teams will be dancing along with 63 others, but having tied for the regular-season title, both of these teams want an outright championship and that automatic bid.
You can expect the third-best conference tournament final you’ll see this year, after Duke vs. Maryland (come on, who else in the ACC is a legitimate contender?) and whoever plays in the Big East finals.
Temple won their regular season matchup 77-72, but I’m not giving them any kind of psychological advantage because of a game that happened before the Super Bowl.
Looking at the stats, Xavier looks like the obvious favorite. They score more points per game, as well as pull down more boards, block more shots, shoot field goals, three-pointers, and free throws better, and steal the ball more often.
However, Temple has more assists and commits fewer fouls per game. Big deal, you might think. What does that tell us?
It tells us Temple works better as a team and has more discipline. Those intangibles are more important than any other stat in my book.
In the end, I think Temple wins in an uncharacteristically low-scoring game. I’m talking about high 40s or low 50s. Not for lack of shooting ability, but because this is a much more psychological game with a lot more on the line.
Look for each team to take full advantage of the shot clock and to draw up more plays rather than exploiting the transition offense.