As we creep closer and closer to March Madness, I’ll be giving you all a peek at the tournament outlook for some of the bigger conferences in college basketball. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Atlantic 10, which is hoping to put as many as five teams in this year’s tourney.
Top Team: Dayton Flyers
Archie Miller has his Dayton Flyers overachieving yet again. This might be the best team that you know nothing about this season. The Flyers are 21-3 on the season, which includes an 11-1 mark in the A-10. Their lone conference loss was a head-scratching 61-57 loss at La Salle. That game remains La Salle’s only conference win this season. This Dayton team has a very, very good resume otherwise, which includes wins over Alabama, Monmouth, Arkansas, Vanderbilt (road), George Washington, and a neutral site victory over Iowa, the Flyers’ best win of the season. Barring an epic collapse, Dayton should be safely in the tournament, and they project as a 4-6 seed. They will be the favorites to win the A-10 Tournament in Brooklyn.
St. Joseph’s – The Hawks are currently tied for 2nd in the A-10 with a 10-2 conference mark. Overall, Phil Martelli’s team is 21-4, and they don’t really have a bad loss. Their four losses were to Florida on a neutral floor, and to Villanova, VCU and St. Bonaventure at home. The biggest plus for the Hawks is their 8-0 mark on the road, 11-1 away from home altogether. They are led by NBA prospect DeAndre Bembry, and if this team gets into the tournament, they’ll be a threat to advance to at least the second weekend. Most experts project them as a 10-11 seed right now.
VCU – The Rams won their first nine conference games before suffering back-to-back losses to George Washington and Massachusetts. The GW loss isn’t devastating, but the UMass loss is a little questionable. VCU is one of the best defensive teams in the nation, and that could carry them to a tournament run. They are a fringe tournament team at the moment, but they have a few big games left that could enhance their at-large profile, and they will definitely have a chance to win the A-10 Tournament.
St. Bonaventure – The Bonnies are currently 4th in the A-10 at 9-3, 17-6 overall. They don’t have any huge wins this season, but they have gotten themselves into the Bubble with recent wins at St. Joseph’s and versus George Washington. They gave Dayton and VCU tough battles as well, but ultimately came up short in those games. They are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country, and they are 2nd in the nation in free throw shooting, which could help them win a close tourney game.
George Washington – The Colonials have struggled a little bit in A-10 play after a great start to the season in non-conference play which saw them score victories over Tennessee, Seton Hall and a 73-68 home win over the Virginia Cavaliers, possibly the best win of any team in the A-10 this year. That win is keeping GW on the Bubble, as they have a couple bad losses, a non-conference loss to DePaul and a 3-point defeat in conference play at the hands of the Saint Louis Billikens. Some experts have GW in the tourney field right now, some have them out. They’re a true Bubble team.
Those are the five teams that have a legitimate shot to make the Big Dance as an at-large team out of the Atlantic 10. The conference does have a few more teams that are definitely capable of making a run and winning the A-10 Tournament. Bob McKillop’s Davidson Wildcats have underwhelmed this year, but they have one of the best scorers in the country in guard Jack Gibbs, and he could propel them to an A-10 title. The Richmond Spiders are just 14-10 on the year, but they boast one of the most efficient offenses in the country, and they have wins this year over California, Northern Iowa and George Washington, so they are a team that I could see making a run to a conference title.
Players to Watch:
St. Joseph’s G/F DeAndre Bembry – Bembry, a 6-6 junior from Charlotte, is almost without question the best player in the Atlantic 10 this season. He has scored in double figures in every game this season for the Hawks, and he averages 16.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. NBA scouts have their eyes on Bembry, and he’s a guy who could become a household name in March.
Dayton G/F Dyshawn Pierre – Pierre is a 6-6 senior from Ontario, and the biggest thing he brings to this Dayton team is experience. He missed the first 11 games of the season, but in 13 games this year, he is averaging 13.7 points and 7.3 rebounds. James Madison transfer Charles Cooke has taken over some of the scoring load, but Pierre has played in seven NCAA Tournament games in his Dayton career, averaging just under 13 points in those games. That experience will be crucial to the Flyers making another deep run this year.
VCU G Melvin Johnson – Speaking of experience, Johnson, a 6-4 guard from the Bronx, has been a contributor for the Rams since the day he stepped on campus. Four years later, and Johnson is the unquestionable leader of this VCU team, averaging a team-leading 18.1 points a game, while also shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range. Johnson has played in three NCAA Tournament games in his career, and head coach Will Wade will look for Johnson to lead the Rams to another tourney bid.
Biggest Games Remaining:
Dayton @ St. Joseph’s
Wednesday February 17, 6:00 pm CBS Sports Network
This will be the only meeting between the Flyers and the Hawks this year, and if St. Joe’s can get the win, they will tie Dayton for the A-10 lead. These are two likely tournament teams, and a potential preview of the Atlantic 10 championship game. These teams will be heavily in the mix come March, so this will be a nice little appetizer.
VCU @ George Washington
Saturday February 27, 12:30 pm NBC Sports Network
George Washington handed VCU their first A-10 loss of the season in Richmond last weekend, coming away with a 72-69 victory. VCU will head to the Nation’s Capital looking for a little revenge. At this point in the season, these teams will be jockeying for position on the Bubble, so this should be an exciting match-up.
VCU @ Dayton
Saturday March 5, 8:00 pm CBS Sports Network
On the last day of the A-10 regular season, arguably the two best teams in the conference will do battle in Dayton, possibly with the Flyers playing for the Atlantic 10 regular season title. This will be the first meeting between these two teams since last season’s A-10 Championship game. VCU won that game 71-65, capping off a run which saw them win four games in four days en route to a league title. Dayton would love to end the regular season by getting some revenge on the Rams.
New Bracketology is on-tap for tomorrow, and after Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas, there will be a new #1 overall team. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day everybody, make sure to spoil your significant others and spread the love!