By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS:
Site: Barclays Center (17,732) -- Brooklyn, New York.
Dates: Wednesday, March 12 through Sunday, March 16. Television: A-10 Network,
CBSSN (Semifinals), ESPN (Championship game). Annual: 38th. Defending
Champion: Saint Louis
The 38th Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament gets underway on
Wednesday, as the 13 teams from the league battle it out in order to decide
the conference champion and recipient of the league's automatic bid to the
For the second straight season the Saint Louis Billikens are the team to beat
in this tournament, entering the event as the top seed after claiming their
second straight regular-season title with a 13-3 league ledger. The Billikens
won a school-record 19 straight games at one point this season, but dropped
three straight before righting the ship with a 64-62 win in the final seconds
against UMass in the regular-season finale.
There was not only a tight race at the very top of the A-10 this season, but
throughout the league. VCU finished second with a mark of 12-4, while George
Washington and Saint Joseph's tied for third at 11-5, although the Colonials
won the only head-to-head meeting between the two and grabbed the third seed.
The Hawks had to settle for the fourth seed, but that still gives them a bye
to the quarterfinals along with the Billikens, Rams and Colonials.
Also in a tie at the end of the year were UMass and Dayton, who each went 10-6
in conference action. By virtue of an 86-79 victory on March 1 over the
Minutemen, the Flyers have secured the fifth seed, while the Minutemen are
left at the sixth spot.
Filling out the rest of the field are Richmond (7), La Salle (8), St.
Bonaventure (9), Duquesne (10), Rhode Island (11), George Mason (12) and
Only two teams play in the first round, with 12th-seed George Mason and 13th-
seed Fordham whittling the field down by one on Wednesday.
The Patriots had been a fixture in the CAA, and an important one at that,
before making the move to the A-10 this season. After winning at least 22
games in five of their final six seasons in the CAA, they failed to recapture
that success in 2014, going just 11-19 overall and 5-12 in conference play.
Obviously George Mason has never won an A-10 tournament title, but it last
ended on top of a league tourney in 2008 when it claimed the CAA trophy as the
third seed. Despite the efforts of backcourt duo Sherrod Wright (15.8 ppg) and
Bryon Allen (15.2 ppg), the Patriots were a weak offensive bunch this season,
netting just 69.6 ppg.
Fordham is more familiar with the A-10, but that familiarity hasn't done much
over the years. The Rams have never won this tourney and are just 4-13 overall
in the event. It is no surprise considering they have had a losing record in
all but one of the last 22 seasons. Fordham is 9-20 overall and 2-14 in league
play, both the worst marks in the conference, although it did beat George
Mason 76-70 in the lone meeting between the two squads. A victory in the first
round would give it 10 wins for just the second time in the last six
campaigns. Defense is the weak
point for the Rams, who allow 78.1 ppg on 46.1 percent shooting, wiping away
the efforts of potent scorers Branden Frazier (18 ppg) and Jon Severe (17.6
The winner of the matchup between George Mason and Fordham moves on to face
The Flyers suffered a four-game losing streak at the end of January, but that
is in rear-view window now, as they enter the postseason with wins in nine of
their last 10 games. The long string of success at the end of the year pushed
Dayton to 22-9 overall and 10-6 in conference. The always-consistent Flyers,
who have piled up 20 wins in six of the last seven seasons, are shooting for
their second A-10 Tournament title, with the first coming in 2003. Jordan
Sibert (12.6 ppg), Devin Oliver (12 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Dyshawn Pierre (11 ppg,
5.7 rpg) head up the effort for Dayton, which is netting 73.2 ppg on 46.2
percent shooting, but doesn't attack the glass particularly well, ranking 11th
in the league in rebounding (35.2 rpg).
There are three other second-round pairings. No. 8 La Salle faces ninth-seeded
St. Bonaventure, seventh-seeded Richmond takes on 10th-seeded Duquesne, and
No. 11 seed Rhode Island challenges sixth-seeded UMass.
The Explorers came crashing back to Earth after their stunning run to the
Sweet 16 last year. An inconsistent follow-up campaign finished with La Salle
in possession of a 15-15 split of its overall schedule and a 7-9 mark against
the rest of the A-10. Although they made it to the Big Dance in 2013, the
Explorers were ousted in the first round of the A-10 Tournament, keeping them
from making any type of move toward their first-ever A-10 crown. In fact, La
Salle hasn't even made it out of the second round since 2002, and has never
gotten to the championship game. Tyreek Duren (15.2 ppg), Jerrell Wright (12.9
ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Tyrone Garland (13 ppg) were all important contributors to
the NCAA Tournament team and they hope to recapture the magic.
Two years ago, the Bonnies stunned the conference as they captured their first
ever A-10 Tournament title. St. Bonaventure did not do a particularly good job
defending the crown, failing to even qualify for the tournament last year.
Aside from the 2012 season, the Bonnies have been stuck in a rut. They have
had at least 15 wins in five of the last six years, but only once had more
than 16. They could add to that total with a win against the Explorers, with
whom they split the season series. Matthew Wright (16.7 ppg) and Charlon Kloof
(11.5 ppg) will need to be at their best to do so and improve upon the team's
16-14 overall mark, which includes a 6-10 league ledger.
Richmond (18-13, 8-8) comes limping into the tournament as the seventh seed.
The Spiders were once considered one of the strongest squads in the A-10, a
conference clearly on the rise, but they collapsed down the stretch. A 60-58
loss to Dayton in the regular-season finale was the fourth straight to end the
season and puts their chances of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA
Tournament, should they fail to win the A-10, perilously low. Richmond's best
bet now is to capture the conference crown, something it has only done once
before (2011). The Spiders were really walking a thin line for most of the
season, with a scoring margin of +1.7 as they net just 66.7 ppg. Losing
leading scorer Cedrick Lindsay (18.3 ppg, 4 apg) to injury in early February
didn't help matters, but Kendall Anthony (16 ppg) is still healthy.
Duquesne will oppose Richmond, a team it lost to 75-58 in the only regular-
season meeting. Head coach Jim Ferry made some strides in his second season at
the helm, as the Dukes improved on an 8-22 campaign in 2013 with a 13-16
ledger this year. That includes a 5-11 mark against A-10 competition, which,
while not a great record, did include a 71-64 upset of regular-season champion
Saint Louis in the final weeks of the season. Duquesne has won the conference
tournament before, but that came way back in 1977, giving the Dukes the
longest stretch between conference titles among teams that have captured the
crown at least once. Ovie Soko (18.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg) will lead the way as the
Dukes start the incredible challenge of ending that drought as a 10-seed.
With Temple exiting the A-10 for the AAC this season, UMass became the
winningest current program in the conference. The Minutemen have claimed a
conference-best five league titles, with Saint Joseph's and George Washington
each tied for the second-most with two. However, those league crowns were
picked up in a five-year stretch from 1991-96, when John Calipari was the head
coach and Marcus Camby was still making plays. This year, the Minutemen went
23-7, giving them at least 21 wins in the last three seasons. However, this
was the first since 1999 that they earned a spot in the national rankings,
rising as high as 13th. Electric point guard Chaz Williams (15.8 ppg, 7.1
apg), who leads the A-10 in assists, has been the primary force behind the
Minutemen's league-leading offensive showing (76.4 ppg).
Like Duquesne's Jim Ferry, Dan Hurley has made improvements for Rhode Island
in his second season in charge. The Rams are just 14-17 overall entering the
postseason, but that is quite a step up considering they had 15 wins combined
over the previous two seasons. None of those 14 wins, or the five they gained
in conference play, came against UMass, which topped the Rams twice. However,
those two victories each came by five points or less. Rhode Island will now be
tasked with finding a way to win, not just stay close with the Minutemen, that
is if its is to make a run at its second A-10 title, the first of which came
back in 1999. Xavier Munford (16.7 ppg) may rival Williams as a scorer, but
the Rams as a whole are not nearly the offensive force that UMass is, netting
just 68 ppg.
For the winner of the La Salle/St. Bonaventure clash, a meeting with No. 1
seed Saint Louis awaits. The Billikens won both the regular season and
tournament titles in the A-10 a season ago, and they have tallied at least 26
wins in each of the last three seasons, all ending with trips to the NCAA
Tournament, assuming they return again this year. Opponents have really
struggled to find offensive success against Saint Louis, which is letting up
only 60.9 ppg on 39.6 percent shooting, ranking among the top-25 in the
country in each category. Jordair Jett (13.8 ppg, 4.7 apg) is a sensational
playmaker with the ball in his hands, as he illustrated with a game-winning
layup in the regular-season finale against UMass. Dwayne Evans (14 ppg, 6.4
rpg) will also be defending his title as tournament MVP from a year ago.
Second-seed VCU will be paired up with whichever team survives between
Richmond and Duquesne. Last year, their first in the A-10, the Rams made it
all the way to the conference title game before being knocked off by Saint
Louis, 62-56. The Rams are looking up at the Billikens once again this season,
as they fell just short of the regular-season title. Still, Shaka Smart's
reign as one of the best head coaches in the mid-major ranks continued as his
Rams are 24-7 entering the postseason, marking the eighth straight campaign
that has ended with at least 24 victories. By now Smart's 'HAVOC' system on
defense is nothing new, but it is still effective, with the Rams collecting
more steals than any team in the country (11.5 spg). Treveon Graham (15.6 ppg)
leads the team on offense, while Briante Weber (9.1 ppg, 3.6 spg) is a
disruptive defender, leading the nation in thefts.
A revived George Washington squad will be awaiting the victor between UMass
and URI. The Colonials won two conference titles in three seasons in 2005 and
2007, but had been going downhill since. They had four losing seasons in the
six years following those championships, but turned the tables this year,
rolling to a 23-7 overall record in the regular season. They won three
straight games to finish off the campaign and are likely a team that will be
in the field of 68 for the NCAA Tournament regardless of how they fair in this
event. While that may be true, it doesn't mean experienced leaders Maurice
Creek (14.6 ppg), Isaiah Armwood (12.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and Kevin Larsen (11.3
ppg) will be content with what the team has already accomplished.
Saint Joseph's, the fourth seed, has to wait for two games to finish before
seeing who it will match up with in the quarterfinals. The winner between
George Mason and Fordham then facing Dayton to determine who plays the Hawks.
Saint Joseph's is tied with George Washington for the second most conference
titles, earning a pair in the 1997 and 1986 seasons. The Hawks have won five
regular season crowns since, but only made one appearance in the championship
game of the tournament in that time. Head coach Phil Martelli has ridden his
starting lineup hard to a 21-9 overall mark, with Langston Galloway (!7 ppg),
Ronald Roberts (14.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg), DeAndre' Bembry (12.2 ppg) and Halil
Kanacevic (10.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg .4 4 apg) the main focus for a team, whose
leading scorer off the bench averages just 3.2 ppg.
Saint Louis and VCU are clearly the favorites in this event, with both being
strong defensive squads with a ton of postseason experience. That doesn't mean
that team's like UMass, George Washington and Saint Joseph's won't be
dangerous, but each has fatal flaws that could be exposed. The Hawks' lack of
depth could be an issue during the grind of a five-day tournament. UMass'
sometimes erratic shooting could be a problem, and the Colonials might have an
older team, but not one with a championship pedigree. In the end, the Rams and
Billikens will decide this tournament, except this time expect VCU to come out
Sports Network Predicted Champion: Virginia Commonwealth