No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn: A10 Conference Tournament Preview

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Who doesn’t like a good Beastie Boys reference?

Welcome to the first guest post here at NH Brackets.  I’m sure everyone who reads this is as excited as I am for the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament starting this week.  You’re not?  You don’t think the conference is all that good because they aren’t considered a “major” conference just because they don’t have any football powers?  You think it’s dumb that conferences like the A10 and the Big10 and the Pac10 don’t have 10 teams and haven’t had for years? Well, I’m here as the resident Atlantic 10 enthusiast to change your mind – at least about watching the conference tournament because the name thing bugs the hell out of me.  Or at least to encourage you to give this conference tournament a shot because it should be pretty wild.

Let’s get right to it with the A10 Tournament Bracket.

http://http://www.atlantic10.com/fls/31600/pdfs/2015_MBB_Bracket.pdf?CONTENT_ID=980985&DB_OEM_ID=31600

Sorry, I couldn’t find one to just paste in here that would work.

As has been the case for the conferences entire existence, the A10 is very much a conference of “haves” and “have nots.”  I’m not going to waste much time here talking about George Mason (well done Paul Hewitt), Fordham (an argument for relegation if ever there was one), or SLU (young, but it’s inexcusable for a program this well funded and recently successful to be so bad).  The rest of the conference at least has a puncher’s chance at winning so I’ll break them down individually.

Teams With No Realistic Chance of Winning But Could Pull an Upset or Two

We’re jumping straight to the second round here because the first round features the 3 teams above I said I wasn’t going to talk about.

Duquesne (11-18 Overall Record / 6-12 Conference Record / RPI: 223)

They probably should be in the group of teams I said I wouldn’t talk about, but they have been known to jump up and bite a team or two.  In the past month they took down George Washington and Dayton – two far better teams – but both of those games were at home.  They have generally been playing better since they ended a 6-game losing streak at the end of January, but their roll-over-and-die performance in their last game against Davidson (surrendered 107 points at home) suggests they may just want their death march of a season to end.  Frankly, the only reason they’re here is because as long as they take care of business against a dreadful SLU team in the first round they get to play George Washington in the second round.  I don’t think they’ll get GW twice this year, but it’s at least possible.  I’d give them a 5% chance of pulling this upset.  If they pull off that one they get Rhode Island, a team that only managed to beat the Dukes by 1 earlier this year.  This is all extremely unlikely, but I don’t think it’s impossible.

St. Joe’s (13-17 Overall Record / 7-11 Conference Record / RPI: 173)

Let’s get one thing straight – the St. Joe’s Hawk mascot that never stops flapping its wings during games – is the most annoying tradition in college basketball.  More annoying that all those Duke fans jumping around.  More annoying than refs blowing the block/charge call 7 times per game.  Even more perplexing is that the stupid Hawk even stands around the team’s huddles during time outs.  I can’t recall any other mascot taking part in the actual on-court activities of a team.  Apparently I’m in the extreme minority here, but this thing just has to stop.

As for the team…meh?  They’re more dangerous than their record would suggest, but I’m not sure I’m seeing a dark horse run in this team.  They beat Davidson, Rhode Island, and UMass since January 31 and they very nearly won at Dayton which went undefeated at home this year.  But they also inexplicably lost to Fordham and SLU in that stretch.  They play St. Bonnaventure in the second round, which is a pretty rough draw for them because they dropped both of their games to them, albeit one in overtime.  If they manage to beat the Bonnies they’ll get Dayton, which is a decent matchup for them because of their superior size.  Although I can see a path for this team winning both of those games, they have been far too inconsistent to believe this will actually happen.

La Salle (16-15 Overall Record / 8-10 Conference Record / RPI: 100)

That RPI number is far higher than I thought it would be.  Like St. Joe’s, La Salle got a tough draw in a UMass team that is actually pretty good and a team they have lost to twice this year already.  Somehow, despite losing their previous 4 games, they managed to beat Dayton in their last game of the season and if they can find a way to play defense like they did in the first half of that game, I could see them beating UMass in the first round.  That’s not too crazy given that they’ve held their last 3 opponents to under 60 points.  If they beat UMass they’ll get Davidson which would be an intriguing offense-defense matchup.  If you’re going to knock off Davidson you have to make them struggle offensively and La Salle could conceivably do that.  Again, I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but it’s not insane.

Bum Slayers Who Won’t Last Long

UMass (17-14 Overall Record / 10-8 Conference Record / RPI: 73)

There’s a real chance UMass will lose to La Salle, which is why they’re here.  The other reason they’re here is because their season has been a complete teeter-totter and they’re currently on the ground.  UMass started off the season strong, winning 5 out of 6 before then dropping 5 out of 6.  Once conference play started they alternated wins and losses for the first month before running off 6 wins in a row, although most of those wins were against the wretched refuse of the conference.  Now?  They’ve dropped 5 out of 6 with the only win being against Fordham which is basically a bye for a competent team anyway.  Those 5 opponents?  Rhode Island, VCU, St. Joe’s, Richmond, and George Washington.  I smell a bum slayer here.  Even if they beat La Salle they’re not getting by Davidson so I wouldn’t look for too much out of these guys.

St. Bonnaventure (17-12 Overall Record / 10-8 Conference Record / RPI: 115)

Further proof you just have to be competent to win 10 conference games in the A10.  They did manage to win by a point at Davidson and beat VCU in back-to-back games in early February, but those are the only two wins on their schedule that are even remotely impressive.  They’ll probably beat St. Joe’s in the first round, but then they’ll run into Dayton in the which has comfortably handled them twice.  It’s not impossible that they’ll win that game, but it’s far more likely that UD racks up another double-figure win.

Overrated Teams That I Might Regret Picking Against When the Tournament Ends

VCU (22-9 Overall Record / 12-6 Conference Record / RPI: 19)

It’s clear at this point that VCU peaked earlier in the season and their two best players have either been battling ankle injuries or having surgery on their knees lately.  Yes, they have the best RPI in the conference and they’re still one of the most talented teams in the conference, but there’s just something wrong.  There’s no great shame in losing to quality teams like Richmond, Dayton, and Davidson, but they also lost at home to La Salle and at St. Bonnaventure.  Not only are they in a bit of a free-fall, but they got a pretty brutal draw for this tournament.  Since they fell behind Richmond for the 4 seed and the double bye they have to play the “winner” of the tallest midget contest between George Mason and Fordham before advancing to play nemesis Richmond in the third round.  While it would seem to be tough to imagine Richmond knocking off VCU 3 times this season, I think it’s actually pretty likely.  I’ve also been driving the “Richmond is sneaky good” bandwagon since mid-January so I might be a little biased here.  In any event, that’s what I’m picking here. If I’m wrong and they do beat Richmond, then they’ll probably have to beat Davidson which just annihilated them a week ago.  I’m just not seeing them winning this tournament.

Rhode Island (Overall Record 21-8 / Conference Record 13-5 / RPI: 69)

Rhode Island built a very good conference record on the shoulders of its excellent defense.  And its defense is truly excellent having only surrendered 70 points in conference play twice (a loss at Dayton and a win at Richmond).  So why am I picking against them here?  Because they had by far the easiest schedule of any team in the conference, only playing Dayton, Richmond, VCU, George Washington, and Davidson once each.  They only won two of those games (Richmond, GW).  Although they got the easier half of the bracket they’re going to have to beat George Washington (most likely) and then Dayton to get to the final and I’m not picking them to win either of those games.  There’s just something about this team I don’t trust and their defense has been cracking in its past two games (they gave up 75 and 68 points, respectively) so I think this 3 seed is not long for the tournament.

George Washington (20-11 Overall Record / 10-8 Conference Record / RPI: 79)

I think they’ll probably handle the winner of Duquesne and SLU (Duquesne) which would set up the “upset” I’m predicting when they run into Rhode Island.  Unlike Rhode Island, GW had a difficult schedule, having to play Davidson, VCU, and Richmond twice each.  Those games yielded 5 of their 8 conference losses.  They have won 3 of their last 4 against some middling-to-poor competition so they should at least have a little more of their groove back, but this is a talented team that seemed to hit the skids during February.  Outside of an insane buzzer-beater victory over Dayton on February 6 these guys lost 6 straight games from January 27 through February 21.  The more I type the more I realized that my pick of them to advance to the semifinals is probably more than a little dumb so I’ll just stop here.

Favorites and My Championship Pick

Richmond (19-12 Overall Record / 12-6 Conference Record / RPI: 54)

The Spiders are a strong team that was bitten (see what I did there?) by some rough luck in close games early on but has righted the ship lately to the tune of 6 straight wins coming in to the tournament.  They only have a couple of truly quality wins, both of which were over VCU, but this is a respectable road team (they’ve lost a ton of close games on the road to quality teams like Northern Iowa, Dayton, George Washington) that is rolling into the tournament.  The only reason I’m not picking them to glide into the final is because they will have to beat VCU again and Davidson to get there.  If they swapped sides of the bracket with Dayton, I’d be putting them in the final in pen.  I’m not sure they can beat Davidson given the way Davidson is playing right now, but I’d pay good money to watch that game.  My hunch is they’ll beat VCU a third time before dropping a squeaker to Davidson in the semifinals.

Dayton (23-7 Overall Record / 13-5 Conference Record / RPI: 33)

My alma mater.  I’ll try to be as brief as possible here.  They got incredibly lucky with their regular season schedule which would cause me some alarm in a tournament like this but they’re only going to have to beat one other good team in order to get to the final.  They’ll go into match ups against Rhode Island or GW or any dark horse team as favorites and it won’t be until they face one of Richmond, Davidson, or VCU in the final that they will play a team that should give them trouble.  They have been on a weird run lately, going on two 3-game winning streaks before dropping an inexplicable road game (Duquesne, La Salle) immediately after.  Anything less than a trip to the final would be a surprise and disappointment for the Flyers, and I can easily see them knocking off whoever makes the final…but as you might guess, that’s not what I’m picking.

Davidson (23-6 Overall Record / 14-4 Conference Record / RPI: 29)

Talk about a team on a run.  Davidson is one of the best 5 offensive teams in the country and runs a beautiful offense that reminds everyone of how watchable college basketball was not that long ago.  This is an amazing position for a team that nearly every A10 writer predicted would finish at or near the bottom of the conference in the preseason.  Not only have they been winning lately (enter the tournament on a 9 game winning streak) but they have been clobbering people, winning their last 2 by nearly 30 points each.  As already discussed several times, they have the more difficult side of the bracket, but I’m still picking them to come out of it as nobody (except Rhode Island) has shown any ability to stop them for a month now.  If they go cold against Richmond, VCU, or even UMass I suppose they could be upset, but you would be a fool to predict that given the way they have been playing lately.  I’m picking a Davidson-Dayton final with Davidson winning it, which would be a tremendous CBS-televised Selection Sunday showcase for the conference as they’re the two most watchable (read: best offensive) teams in the conference.

Enjoy the best week of college basketball of the year, everyone!

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