The Atlantic Ten tournament proper gets underway this afternoon and it appears to be as wide open as anytime in the league’s history. The league features 3-4 surefire NCAA tournament teams, several clubs with the ability to make a deep run and a venue that looks and feels like a gaudy nightclub in the wrong part of town. What more could you ask for?
Let’s just dive in with our pants on and forget our cellphone and wallet is in our pockets.
VCU, St. Bonaventure and George Washington enter the tournament with some work to do. The Colonials clearly need to get to the final to feel like they even have a shot (so they should probably win the whole damn thing to erase all doubt) and VCU and the Bonnies likely need at least one win to get on the right side of the bubble for good. VCU would seem to have the easiest path, as the Rams face an under-performing UMass team in their first matchup. The Bonnies probably end up facing off against Davidson in their opener and that is certainly not a guaranteed win by any means.
With the media in a heightened state of arousal over Wichita State, Monmouth and Valparaiso, Mark Schmidt’s team needs at least one win to ease some of the pressure off of them. GW obviously has the toughest road, but can certainly rack up some RPI friendly wins in the process. The Colonials will face St. Joseph’s in their second contest and will hope to see Dayton in the semis – a close loss to VCU or Bonaventure would make things interesting come Sunday.
In the end, I don’t see the Committee rewarding the A10 with 5 bids even if everything plays out as advantageously as it can for the conference. The fix is in, expect to see a Wichita or Monmouth take what could have been the league’s fifth bid if GW somehow gets to the finals (it would be extremely intriguing to see what would happen if George Washington would somehow win the title game).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend sometime discussing the Flyers on the nation’s leading Dayton basketball blog. The LOWD Twitterverse has come to a consensus — UD can’t be considered the league’s bully until they start acting like one (leading the conference in off-the-court headlines and harassing strangers online, while a good start, just isn’t enough). The Flyers haven’t won the league tournament in over a decade, and that title has a tinge of inequity as it was played out on Dayton’s home floor. With the Kendall Pollard injury situation in a constant state of flux and Dayton’s late-season inconsistency, it’s hard to imagine the Flyers can turn in three consecutive winning performances. UD will have to have Charles Cooke in form and not shoot themselves in the foot at the charity stripe. Scoochie Smith cannot be relied upon to average 25 points a game in Brooklyn, who else will step up and contribute offensively?
Another issue is the optimal result for the Flyers. If UD bows out early, it may not be the worst thing in the world. It assuredly gives Pollard more time to rest and probably wouldn’t matter that much as far as NCAA tournament seeding is concerned — I’d imagine Dayton would wind up somewhere between a 7-9 seed, which as we all know isn’t the greatest place to be slotted. However, if Archie’s crew can make a run to the final and come out on top, it seems quite likely that the Flyers could snag at least a six seed. It appears that UD is caught in an impasse of sorts, stuck on a disadvantageous seed line unless they can take home the crown. So, in a sense, it’s championship or bust for Dayton. Which, honestly, is how it should be.
If you want a sleeper team for the A10 tournament, and I can’t imagine you do, look no further than Jack Gibbs and the Davidson Wildcats. Gibbs is capable of dropping 40 on any night and the Cats have more than a few players capable of knocking down shots from the perimeter. Davidson’s potential path to the finals is littered with teams that don’t put an onus on shutting you down defensively. VCU would be the biggest challenge from a style perspective as the Rams emphasize defending the arc. Regardless, if there is one team outside the top four with the ability to piece together four straight wins, it’s probably Bob McKillop’s squad.
The Barclay’s Center will not miss the Atlantic Ten conference, of that we can be assured. Last season’s championship game between VCU and Dayton was played in front of a paltry audience of approximately 7,500 patrons. The A10, which ranked tenth in overall attendance a year ago, was certainly not expected to fill up the seats in Brooklyn — the conference was basically in the right place at the right time and it was an amiable agreement between the two parties. The ACC takes over for the A10 the next two seasons, with the mid-major league scheduled to return in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
From an attendance point of view, Bernie McGlade would more than likely prefer to see a VCU/Dayton rematch this Sunday. If it’s not a Flyers-Rams matchup, the management of the Barclays Center may be kicking itself for not opting to host the annual New York Rattlesnake Roundup.
In a league where three of the top four seeds tied based on their records, it should come to no surprise that the Atlantic Ten tournament is fairly wide open. Below is a table showing the percentage chance of each team to win based upon TeamRankings.com, Ken Pom and current Betting Markets adjusted for the vigorish. No matter which of these lenses you view the tournament through, no team has more than a one in three chance in securing an auto bid.
All three of these measures have a pretty consistent view of the Flyers. Across the board it would appear that Dayton has just above a one in six chance of taking home the crown. This holds true for most other teams as well, as there are only a few outliers. Team Rankings gives VCU a little more credit than most, while the biggest discrepancy is KenPom’s take on St. Joe’s. Considering St. Joe’s was 1-3 against the other three teams with byes, I’m not entirely sure why Pom’s ranking and log5 analysis are so high on the Hawks.
These numbers also pretty clearly lay out into tiers the advantage of receiving a bye or double-bye. Obviously, the skill level of the team drops as you move down the list, but the added game also severely skews the chances of these teams winning the A10’s auto-bid.
Given how close the top of the league finished this year, it’s no surprise that there is no runaway favorite to win in Brooklyn. Obviously anything can happen in what could be as little as a three game tournament for the top seeds, but that advantage clearly indicates the winner is exceedingly likely to come from the Top 4 seeds. The fun part is, it will certainly benefit some (VCU/St. Bonnies) more than others in their ability to clinch a berth in the next tournament.
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George Mason 71, Saint Louis 63. Shevon Thompson is too much of a load for the Billikens to bear. Jim Crews is the most relieved man in America as the SLU season mercifully comes to an end. Mason players dress quietly as their nightmare lives on for one more day.
Duquesne 84, La Salle 69. Micah Mason stays hot, knocking down five threes against the porous Explorer defense. Dr. John ruefully reminds everyone that he will basically be bringing a NBA team into next season. Like the Mason/Saint Louis game, there are no winners here, just tortured souls looking for a sweet release.
Fordham 73, Richmond 69. The Rams win in front of the smallest crowd they have played in front of all season. My man Joseph Chartouny almost messes around and gets a triple-double (15 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists). Chris Mooney personally calls Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski later that afternoon. The conversation ends with both men in tears.
George Washington 68, George Mason 55. After a decent non-conference performance, the Colonials pissed away their season with a subpar A10 record. GW gets an easy win over the Bills and keeps their season alive for at least another day. Can Patrico Garino actually play? No one really knows.
UMass 73, Rhode Island 66. A bit of an upset here as the Minutemen force Rhody’s backcourt into a horrendous shooting performance. Trey Davis goes off for 24 points and Derek Kellogg has dinner at Peter Luger a few hours after the contest. Credit card? Denied.
Davidson 84, Duquesne 81. This game has the opportunity to be the most watchable of all the second-round games. Not a shred of defense will be played and Jack Gibbs and Micah Mason will be launching early and often. Former Dayton recruit Peyton Aldridge nails a three-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Wildcats to the victory. A still photo of Steph Curry gets more camera time than any player on the floor.
Dayton 75, Fordham 69. Kendall Pollard sits out the game against the Rams and the Flyers struggle to find their offensive groove early on. Steve McElvene gets into foul trouble, Dyshawn Pierre is quiet and the Rams refuse to go down without a fight. In the end, it’s too much Scoochie and too much Cooke. Flyers roll on to the semis. Fordham’s positive momentum is just a few months away from implosion.
George Washington 74, St. Joseph’s 72. Martelli’s club comes out sluggish and GW plays like a team with its season precariously in the balance. Tyler Cavanaugh racks up a double-double and Isaiah Miles gets ejected after delivering the People’s Elbow to Yuta Watanabe. Several GW students report the incident as a hate crime.
VCU 79, UMass 62. Hard to imagine the Minutemen winning back-to-back games and the Virginia Rams will be looking to avenge their bizarre loss to UMass back in early February. Kellogg has no idea what to do with Melvin Johnson, or any opposition for that matter, and Will Wade’s club forces over twenty Massachusetts turnovers. Kellogg is forced to admit he is wearing a Dracula wig during the postgame press conference.
St. Bonaventure 75, Davidson 74. The Bonnies need this game like Will Smith’s son (no, I’m not even going to take the time to look it up) will soon need T-cells. Mark Schmidt and Bob McKillop will be a clash of “guys who routinely sit down to pee.” In the end, Jaylen Adams and Marcus Posley are the difference, the Bonnies win and the sleepy town of Olean takes a collective deep breath.
Dayton 63, George Washington 59. A sloppy game throughout, the Flyers edge out GW from the line. Pollard dresses, plays, does next to nothing and we all begin to wonder whether all the fuss is worth it. The names Sam Miller, Ryan Mikesell, Bobby Wehrli and Xeyrius Williams reminds us that it is. Several GW students petition to change the name of their school to “George Washington Carver” (but not our boy Hunter!).
VCU 79, St. Bonaventure 74. This could be the best matchup in the tournament if it comes to fruition. What will probably be considered a de facto play-in game will feature two of the league’s most watchable teams. Justin Tillman grabs 37 rebounds and JeQuan Lewis hits a late three to put the game on ice. Several Bonaventure players are tased as they refuse to board the plane home later that night.
VCU 74, Dayton 68. A rematch from last season, Virginia Commonwealth gets revenge on Dayton for its loss last week and earns its second consecutive A10 tournament title. Charles Cooke can’t get it going and Scoochie doesn’t have enough in the tank to save the Flyers this time. An inspiring entrepreneur sells out of his “2016 Atlantic Ten Tournament Runners-Up” t-shirts outside the arena. “I would have sold a lot more if I thought to print any XXXL’s,” he is quoted as saying.
All-Tournament Team: Melvin Johnson (Most Outstanding Player), Charles Cooke, Jaylen Adams, Tyler Cavanaugh and Mo Alie-Cox.
NCAA Tournament Teams: St. Bonaventure (10 seed), St. Joseph’s (9 seed), VCU (9 seed) and Dayton (7 seed).
Tom Blackburn is a proud U. o' D. alum. He loses faith in humanity one day at a time, but not in you, you seem like you are all kinds of alright. Charter member of the T-Man fanclub.