Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Down the stretch in the Atlantic 10

Dayton star Andrea Hoover
Atlantic 10
March 5-9, Richmond Coliseum, Richmond, Va.

The frontrunner: Dayton (21-5, 14-1), which moved up one spot to No. 21 in the latest WBCA/USA Today Top 25 poll, has clinched its second straight A-10 regular season title and will be the tournament's top seed. The Flyers have won nine straight and 19 of their last 20 games, and their 26-game home winning streak is tied for the second-longest in Division I (Chattanooga has won 37 straight home games and East Carolina will put its 26-game home streak on the line Wednesday against No. 23 Middle Tennessee State).

The challengers: The top four seeds will begin play in the quarterfinals, and with two games remaining, five teams - St. Bonaventure (21-8, 10-4), George Washington (19-8, 10-4), St. Joseph's (20-7, 9-5), Fordham (20-7, 9-5) and Duquesne (17-10, 9-5) are in serious play for the three remaining slots. VCU (21-7, 9-6) needs to win at Richmond on Wednesday - no easy task - and hope for a train wreck involving the teams ahead of them, while La Salle (12-14, 7-7) will most likely run out of schedule in its bid for a top-four slot. 
   In terms of NCAA at-large potential, both Dayton (11) and St. Joseph's (17) have Top-20 RPIs. No team with an RPI in this range has ever been left out of the NCAAs. Then there's George Washington (18-8, RPI 97). The raw numbers certainly aren't special, but the Colonials are 12-4 with a win over St. Joseph's since transfer forward Jonquel Jones became eligible, with games remaining against St. Bonaventure and Dayton. If GW can win out, pick off a couple more teams in the tournament and then be evaluated on its body of work with Jones, the Colonials may have a case. Obviously the Colonials have a ton of work to do before this is even an issue. But if they do get on a roll, the conference and the team need to make sure the selection committee has this scenario in mind. (P.S. - If GW loses to St. Bonaventure Wednesday, never mind).

The rest of the field: Both Richmond (12-15, 6-8) and Saint Louis (11-17, 6-9) have proven they can compete with the top teams and figure to be tough outs in their first-round matchups. Meanwhile, Rhode Island (7-21, 2-13), George Mason (7-20, 1-13) and UMass (4-24, 1-13) are scrambling to avoid the lone play-in game pitting the No. 12 seed against No. 13.

VCU's prospects: Getting one win in this league is tough enough. Stringing together four in a four-day span - - VCU's likely task at the A-10 tourney - will be an incredible challenge. But consider this: Suppose the Rams win once or twice? And suppose the raucous VCU fans, the ones who have helped the Rams men's team sell out 48 straight games while turning the Siegel Center into one of the most intimidating venues in college basketball, get turned on by the thought of energizing the women's team and show up en masse at the nearby Coliseum? And suppose VCU's next opponent winds up having to deal with not just the Rams, but thousands of Rowdy Rams fans, too.?Who knows if this will happen? But opposing teams had better knock VCU off early, just in case.

Richmond's prospects: The Spiders will enjoy hometown advantage, too, and while "intimate gatherings" is a polite way of describing the team's typical turnout, everyone loves a winner, especially when you don't have to leave town to show support. A season-long cavalcade of injuries sabotaged what might have been a NCAA-caliber season, and the Spiders now need to win their last two and go deep in the tourney just to have a shot at the WNIT. We love how this team has continued to battle, though, so there's no way we're counting them out. 

George Mason's prospects: Even if the Patriots tie Rhode Island for 11th place, the Rams won the head-to-head meeting, so it appears to us the most likely scenario is for the Patriots to wind up in the 12 vs. 13 play-in game. But that may not be the worst thing as it creates a chance for the Patriots to open with a win and establish some tournament momentum. Mason destroyed likely first-round opponent UMass a couple weeks ago for its only conference win.

All-Atlantic 10

A list (which may or may not be in the order we believe they rank) of the players we think are vying for first-team All-Atlantic 10 spots. Note: We focus primarily on conference-only performances as we believe it provides more of an apples-to-apples comparison of the athletes:

Robyn Parks, VCU
Andrea Hoover, Dayton
Erin Rooney, Fordham
Wumi Agunbiade, Duquesne
Jonquel Jones, George Washington
Katie Healy, St. Bonaventure
Ally Malott, Dayton
Erin Shields, St. Joe's
Natasha Cloud, St. Joe's
Amber Deane, Dayton
Alicia Cropper, La Salle

Player of the Year

Obviously we're partial to Parks since we've been focused on her exploits and know how much she means to the Rams. Hoover is an excellent candidate as well, though, and Rooney, Agunbiade and Jones still have two games to burnish their credentials.

All-Freshman team

Another list (which may or may not be in the order we believe they rank) of the players we think are vying for the All-Freshman team10 (based primarily on conference-only performances):

Caira Washington, George Washington
Keira Robinson, VCU
Liv Healy, Richmond
Erin Nelson, Saint Louis
Janelle Hubbard, Richmond
Sadie Stipanovich, Saint Louis
Hannah Schaible, George Washington
Isis Thorpe, VCU
Micahya Owens, La Salle
Celeste Edwards, Dayton

Freshman of the Year

We absolutely love the Richmond and VCU newcomers, but GW's Caira Washington is going to be tough to beat.

Coach of the Year

Dominance is sometimes taken for granted. But it's not easy to go 15-1 in a league as tough as the A-10. If Dayton can pull that off, our vote would go to Jim Jabir. Of course, a lot of folks like to reward the coach who does a lot better than expected. VCU's Marlene Stollings and St. Bonaventure's Jim Crowley both coaxed transformational seasons out of youth-laden rosters. So if this better fits your criteria for coach of the year, take your pick.

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