Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sizing up the Atlantic 10 tournament

We're fielding questions about the Atlantic 10 tournament. But don't expect to find out which team is going to win it all. You see, the trick to doing this type of story is to only raise questions for which you already know the answer. And since we have no idea who will ultimately cut down the nets, we ain't posing that question.

With that out of the way, here's what we have a better read on:

Will multiple Atlantic 10 teams advance to the NCAA Tournament?

At this point, it seems unlikely. The A-10 sent three teams to the NCAA in seven of the last 10 years and has had at least two in 22 of the 23 seasons since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1994 (2001-02 was the exception). But this year, the resumes of A-10 teams are light on quality wins and pockmarked with damaging defeats. The A-10's conference RPI is 12th; a year ago, when the league had three NCAA teams, the A-10 ranked eighth. The loser of a final featuring Dayton (RPI 45) and George Washington (47) could enter the at-large discussion. Barring that, though, this looks like the rare year the Atlantic 10 is a one-bid league.

Didn't this tournament already begin?

Yes, the Atlantic 10 christened a new format and the 32-event Division I conference tournament season Saturday and Sunday with six first round games; while top seeds Dayton and George Washington rested, seeds 3-8 hosted seeds 9-14. The home teams went 6-for-6, so the top eight seeds are still in play as the event settles in at the Richmond Coliseum. We're not sure how much tournament buzz this new format generated, and none of the games drew particularly well (Fordham had the high attendance at 890 and four the games played out before crowds of less than 575). Collectively, however, 3,652 fans took in first-round action of the league tournament. And since the home teams all won, most of them went home happy.

What's next in the tournament?

Friday's quarterfinal matchups:

No. 8 VCU (16-14, RPI 140) vs. No. 1 Dayton (19-9, RPI 45), 11 a.m.
     - More on this game below.

No. 4 Saint Louis (23-7, RPI 104) vs. No. 5 Fordham (21-10, RPI 117), 2 p.m.
     - Fordham lost by 24 at Saint Louis in the lone regular season meeting. Game was played before more than 6,000 Billikens fans. Not sure how many of them are traveling to Richmond.

No. 2 George Washington (20-8, RPI 47) vs. No. 7 Duquesne (16-14, RPI 137), 4:30 p.m.
     - These two teams met in the 2016 A-10 final (GW won 63-60). Not sure what to make of this year's two-game set - George Washington won by 35 at Duquesne and Duquesne won by 10 at George Washington.

No. 3 St. Joseph's (16-13, RPI 108) vs. No. 6 La Salle (17-12, RPI 166), 7 p.m.
     - Third matchup for these longtime Big 5 rivals. The Hawks swept both previous meetings and are 44-10 lifetime against the Explorers.

For a complete rundown of the event, visit the A-10's tournament page.

What are VCU's chances?

The eighth-seeded Rams' roller-coaster season is currently on an upswing as Sunday's 72-64 decision over No. 9 Richmond was their third straight win. But their challenge ahead is daunting, and not just because Dayton is the top seed. When the teams met in the regular season, Dayton's superior size inside canceled out the Rams' preferred style of attacking the rim. VCU shot a season-low 26.7 percent and lost by 20 at home. The Rams will almost certainly shoot better in Wednesday's rematch. Also, many of these players were on the VCU team that won at Dayton in January, 2016. In short, anything's possible, particularly in a win-or-go-home situation for a team with six seniors. Make no mistake, though - this is in no way a good matchup for VCU.

Who are the players to watch?

Rather than take our word for it, check out the All-Atlantic 10 teams and major award winners released Tuesday. And while they're no longer involved in these proceedings, special shoutouts to Richmond's Janelle Hubbard, who is now a three-time All-Atlantic 10 honoree, George Mason's Kara Wright, a third-team All-A-10 pick, George Mason all-rookie team selection Jacy Bolton and Richmond freshman all-rookie league forward Jaide Hinds-Clarke.

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