Atlantic 10 postseason time is upon us, and 14 teams start their battle yesterdayÂ for the right to an automatic bid and the right to represent the conference at the NCAA Tournament. St. Bonaventure shocked the country when they took the A-10 in 2012, and most recently St. Joseph’s and Langston Galloway upended VCU in the Finals last season. As with any other conference, anything can happen. Here we will examine why each squad, from the bottom to the top, can win and lose in Brooklyn this week.
No. 14 seed – Saint Louis
Why they will win:Â Quite frankly, there is very little to like about Saint Louis. They have very few positives after their fall from grace upon Jordair Jett’s graduation, but there are some bright spots. Austin McBroom and Marcus Bartley both rank inside the top-7 for 3-point field goal percentage and Ash Yacoubou and Milik Yarbrough combine for 20 points per game. Perhaps the most important factor going in their favor, though, is that no one expects them to succeed. The upset potential is high considering they have turned in numerous poor performances this season. They also allow approximately 10 fewer points per game than their first-round opponent, Duquesne.
Why they won’t win:Â They score fewer than 60 points per game on average and are outscored by 6.6 points per game, both good for last in the Atlantic 10. Their couple of good 3-point shooters and the combination of Yacoubou and Yarbrough will not be enough to power past George Washington, which posts the best field goal percentage defense in the league, let alone anyone else.
No. 13 seed – George Mason
Why they will win:Â Shevon Thompson makes the Patriots a very dangerous team. He averages a double-double with 12.8 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-11 center also rejects 1.1 shots every contest, and receives a little help from the four other players averaging at least eight points per game. They have only won nine games, but with help from Thompson they find themselves in the top-6 in offense rebounding, defensive rebounding and rebounding margin. George Mason is tops in the conference in offensive rebounds a game with more than 12, so if they set up second-chance opportunities they can find themselves pulling off major upsets.
Why they won’t win:Â Thompson cannot do it alone. No one else on the team averages more than five rebounds per game, and they are last in the conference in assists. No Patriot registers more than three dimes per contest, and only two average 2.5 or more. Allowing the Jamaica native to shoulder the entire load of George Mason’s postseason run, notably pulling down all of the rebounds, simply will not cut it.
No. 12 seed – Fordham
Why they will win:Â This Fordham squad is very much so like a different Rams team of last year as they shows shades of Rhode Island from 2013-14. E.C. Matthews, like Eric Paschall, was a scoring machine and was honored as Rookie of the Year and the Rams lost double-digit games by eight or fewer points during last year’s campaign. Fordham lost seven games by eight or fewer points this year, which could have swung their record into a middle-of-the-pack seed in the conference. Paschall leads the team with 16.5 points per game and Sengfelder is third with 11.4, while Mandell Thomas and Jon Severe combine for nearly 20 as well. Thomas is the eldest of the four in his junior season. Â Not to mention their 72.6 percent from the charity stripe is good for first in the A-10. Watch out for this team in the future, but for now they can reel in some upsets.
Why they won’t win:Â Youth will be Fordham’s best friend and its worst enemy as the team continues to grow. In late-game situations, they may not be able to hold up against seasoned teams like VCU who have been in high-pressure situations before. Additionally, they have the second-worst field goal percentage (.414) and field goal percentage defense (.445) in the conference. Fordham also boasts the worst turnover margin in the A-10, too, at -2.14. Considering VCU is No. 1 in that category, do not look for Fordham to advance very far.
No. 11 seed – Duquesne
Why they will win:Â Almost silently, Duquesne can score quite a bit. Davidson averages more than 80 points per game and VCU posts 72.3 points per game, two teams that are considered potential favorites to capture the championship. However, the Dukes are tied with the Rams for second in scoring in the A-10. In 14 games this year they scored at least 75 points and see contributions from across the board. Derrick Colter and Micah Mason average 13.2 and 12.2 points per game respectively, while four other players contribute at least seven points a game. Jeremiah Jones is close on the outside with 6.9 points per contest, so that nearly makes seven players chipping in seven points a game. Coming in at fifth-best overall in the A-10 and second-best from beyond the arc behind Davidson, the Dukes can engage their opponents in shootouts and come out on top.
Why they won’t win:Â Duquesne pours in the points, but their opponents actually outscore them. The Dukes are last in the Atlantic 10 in scoring defense, letting up 75 points per game, and third-worst in field goal percentage defense at .439. While they also have four players shooting at least 33 percent from 3-point land, they are bottom of the conference in defending those very same shots. Opponents convert 38.2 percent of their attempts from downtown. Defense is at a premium for Duquesne, and that will not cut it when they would have to face the Colonials (sixth in field goal percentage, best in defending it) and then Rhode Island (third in field goal percentage, second-best in defending it).
No. 10 seed – St. Joseph’s
Why they will win – The Hawks don’t score very much (62.1 points per game), are the worst team in the Atlantic 10 in free throw percentage (61.1 percent) and have the worst field goal percentage, too (40.9 percentage). However, the reigning conference champions can overcome these hurdles and reclaim their title if A-10 First-Teamer DeAndre’ Bembry is on his game. Co-Rookie of the Year last season and scoring champion during the 2014-15 campaign with 17.9 points per game, Bembry is top-10 in rebounding (7), assists (9), steals (2) and first overall in minutes played with 38.6. As long as Bembry is on the court, the Hawks will have a chance to win. Isaiah Miles contributes 10.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as well to complement Bembry. It may seem obvious to say their two best players, as long as they stay in the game, can carry them to a repeat. However, since the Hawks are mostly middle-of-the-road to bottom-3 in terms of statistics they will rely on sensational performances from their studs to carry them past the likes of Dayton or URI.
Why they won’t win – I pretty much laid the groundwork for why they will not win the conference tournament in the first paragraph. When Bembry is not on the court, the Hawks truly struggle to score. It became evident in their latest game against Rhode Island. It does not help that his main helper, Miles, has fouled out 10 times this year, including that 78-68 loss to the Rams to close out their regular season. Simply enough, if Bembry gets into foul trouble and he comes off the court (1) Miles cannot carry the load by himself and (2) there is no one who can fill the void. The fact that Bembry and Miles have combined to attempt nearly 45 percent of the team’s total field goals this season is extremely telling. St. Bonaventure shoots better than 70 percent from the free throw line, too, so they can take advantage of especially Miles’ penchant to foul.
No. 9 seed – La Salle
Why they will win:Â Right behind Bembry in the scoring category is La Salle’s Jordan Price. Price pours in 17.3 points per game and shoots 80.1 percent from the free throw line, converting 125 of 156 attempts. In fact, La Salle is the only school in the A-10 to boast players in the top-5 for scoring and for rebounding. Steve Zack’s 8.9 boards per game puts him tied for fourth with Fordham’s Ryan Rhoomes. As their last game of the season, a 55-53 victory against Dayton, proves, their fifth-ranked scoring defense can survive when Price, Zack and Jerrell Wright are all clicking. If Zack and Wright stay active on the boards, with some bench contributions from Amar Stukes, La Salle can run past more than just UMass and red-hot Davidson. And, of course, Price just has to be Price.
Why they won’t win:Â Aside from the Billikens, on their side of the bracket, they score the fewest points per game (62.7) and rank 12th in the conference. Playing Richmond in the semifinals could save them in this scenario, as they are only separated by three points of offense. A matchup with top-offense Davidson and then a date with third-ranked VCU, though, could prove to be too much for the La Salle offense to counter. They boast the third-best field goal percentage defense in the A-10, but having to run the gauntlet of at least Davidson and potentially VCU or Richmond can put too much pressure on a lackluster offense to respond. La Salle can still fight if Price, Zack and Wright all do not produce an overwhelming amount each game, but they will need every ounce of their energy to win the A-10. That can be a tall order against first-round opponent UMass, never mind beyond.
No. 8 seed – Massachusetts
Why they will win:Â Since Jan. 29, it has been a tale of two different six-game streaks. From that day’s 66-64 win over Dayton to their Valentine’s Day triumph over Duquesne, the Minutemen pulled off a six-game winning streak and saw them tied for first place in the conference at 16-9 overall. However, since their Feb. 18 loss to Rhode Island at the Thomas M. Ryan Center, Massachusetts has slipped into the middle of the Atlantic 10 as they dropped five of their final six. The Minutemen have to shore up their defense. They have such a wide arsenal of weapons that a few are bound to get going when others are off. In that game against Rhode Island, Cady Lalanne and Maxie Esho barely had an offensive impact but Donte Clark, Derrick Gordon and Jabarie Hinds each had at least 14 points. Defense is where they must shift their focus for the tournament. Over their winning streak, they allowed 63 points per game. While losing five of their last six, that average increased to just more than 75. Four players hit double-digits against VCU on Feb. 21, while Clark was limited by foul trouble. If they get back to stymieing opponents on the defensive end, their multitude of scorers can do quite a bit of damage and win it all.
Why they won’t win:Â The Minutemen backed into the Atlantic 10 Tournament and their defense has shown few signs of improving, unless one wants to count their 56-53 loss to Richmond. Overall, though, while advancing past weak-scoring La Salle is a possibility, this defense is no match for Davidson in its current state. UMass also cannot matchup with the Wildcats from beyond the arc, and few teams really can. They can take advantage of Davidson’s low field goal percentage defense on the inside, but in terms of guarding the perimeter the Wildcats are one of the best. Their .291 posting is five percent better than UMass, and with the Minutemen weak from downtown as it is, it looks like better luck next year.
No. 7 seed – St. Bonaventure
Why they will win:Â St. Bonaventure’s entire starting lineup averages in double digits. Youssou Ndoye is one of two players, along with GMU’s Thompson, who averages a double-double on the year (11.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg) and is second with 73 blocks. Jaylen Adams has 10 points per game but dishes out 4.5 assists every contest, too. Dion Wright averaged 13.1 points per game with 6.9 rebounds, while leading scorer Marcus Posley puts in 16.5 a night. Luckily the team does not get into much foul trouble, as only Ndoye and Adams have fouled out at least three times, because their starters are their engine. The Bonnies have also been one of the better road/neutral teams in the conference, going a combined 9-6 away from the Reilly Center. If their five headliners can stay on the court, the Bonnies can sneak their way into the semifinals.
Why they won’t win:Â The Bonnies’ bench is virtually non-existent. Denzel Gregg and Iakeem Alston are the leading scorers off the bench and they only contribute 3.9 and 2.4 points per game respectively. Chris Dees has played in 29 games but only manages 1.1 points per contest. St. Bonaventure boasts one of the worst supporting casts in the conference and depth is going to be a major issue going forward. They can get past St. Joseph’s, which has issues of its own filling the void of its best, but moving past Dayton can be a tough task for a team that cannot afford to take its starters off the court. Darrell Davis has chipped in 4.7 points off the bench in 30 games for the Flyers while others average between two and three points. If it comes down to a bench battle, the Bonnies will lose about every time.
No. 6 seed Â – George Washington
Why they will win:Â Recently I was talking with a friend of mine, WRIU Sports Director Tom Porter, and he was previewing the tournament for someone else’s blog. One of the questions he had to answer was “Which team seeded fifth or lower do you fear the most?” I believe the Colonials fit the bill perfectly, because VCU at No. 5 is too easy an answer. George Washington began the year 17-4 before running into a conference buzz saw. They lost seven of nine games spanning from a 24-point loss to VCU on Jan. 27 to an eight-point defeat at the hands of Richmond on Feb. 21. Their scoring defense is one of the best in the A-10, and as I have said they post the best field goal percentage defense at .400. Over the course of their last 11 games (3-8), the Colonials have allowed three more points per game and scored three points fewer on average. GW’s formula to win here is similar to the Bonnies’. Four of their five starters average in double digits, with Patricio Garino’s 12.3 leading the way, and they receive valuable points from Yuta Watanabe, who has come off the bench for 25 games and put up 7.1 a game. Overall their shooting percentage needs to be more consistent. They have the highest rebounding margin in the conference (+4.3), but have seen their field goal percentage dip well below their .445 average to as low as 29 percent. The Colonials have won three of their last four and have all the pieces for a good tournament run. Do not be surprised if they make it.
Why they won’t win:Â The Colonials do not dish out the ball very often (their 11.7 assists per game rank second-to-last) and steals are few are far between with only 5.6 per game (11th in the conference). Their turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio are both in the bottom-5. Giving the ball up against Rhode Island, should GW move past Duquesne/Saint Louis, can be extremely costly. The Rams post a top-5 turnover margin and they average more steals than George Washington. In big games, like their latest tilt with Davidson, the Colonials lost the turnover battle by nine. Earlier this year, they committed four more turnovers than the Wildcats in a defeat. Against Richmond, another top team, they were at a -8 in the margin. They allow far too many turnovers to get past staunch defensive teams like Rhode Island.
No. 5 seed – Virginia Commonwealth
Why they will win:Â VCU is no stranger to high-pressure situations. They have appeared in the NCAA Tournament four consecutive years (about to be five). The last time Richmond, their quarterfinals opponent should they advance that far, went dancing was 2011 when they took home the Atlantic 10 Championship. Shaka Smart has taken the Rams to an elite level during his tenure, and it says something when 22-9 is an off season. Treveon Graham has taken on a stronger role since steals-leader Briante Weber tore his ACL on Jan. 31. Graham leads VCU with 16.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, while also shooting 37.6 percent from downtown. JeQuan Lewis, despite turning the ball over more than anyone else on the Rams, is their active leader in steals with 48 now that Weber is lost for the year. Mo Alie-Cox contributes seven points and 5.5 boards a game, while blocking 64 shots along the way. They score quite often and have about a seven-point margin between themselves and their opponents on average. VCU is a sleeper while not being one at the same time, especially with a +6.32 turnover margin.
Why they won’t win:Â Losing the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year for three consecutive seasons (including this one) will really hurt. Including the game in which Weber’s season ended, VCU has limped to the finish line with a 5-6 record. The only semi-quality win since that time was a 78-72 home win over Massachusetts, and the Rams lost all four games against Richmond, Dayton and Davidson combined. Their final road game, an 82-55 beating at the hands of the Wildcats, proved to be an exclamation point and perhaps a wake-up call. VCU broke their three-game skid with a Senior Day win over George Mason, 71-60, to head into the tournament with a little momentum. However, they will not win on account of more than just Weber’s absence. Graham missed a little time with an ankle injury, which he aggravated month ago, and if he is not at 100 percent VCU has no shot.Â Compounding their ailments, the Rams rank 12th in the conference in free throw shooting and sport the worst rebounding defense in the A-10. They can slip by Richmond (worst in rebounding margin) in the quarterfinals, but a date with Davidson (fourth in rebounding offense, seventh in rebounding margin) in the semifinals would most likely be were their conference championship hopes come to an end.
No. 4 seed – Richmond
Why they will win:Â Watch out for the Spiders, because they are my pick to reach to A-10 Finals from their portion of the bracket. All the chatter is about Davidson because they have won nine straight games, and rightfully so. However, Richmond is silently boasting the second-longest winning streak in the conference at six. During the streak they have allowed teams to eclipse 60 points only once, and that came in a 67-63 double-overtime victory over VCU (and the Rams only had 52 at the end of regulation). The Spiders were 13-12 before they reeled off six straight, losing on the road to George Mason, 71-67, in overtime on Feb. 14 in a game that did not help their bubble chances very much. Now sitting at 19-12 (12-6 A-10), though, the Spiders are in position to make an enormous push for the postseason. Behind their second-ranked scoring defense, Sixth Man of the Year ShawnDre’ Jones and the superb play of Kendall Anthony, it would not be a surprise to see any team get caught in their web.
Why they won’t win:Â The Spiders don’t exactly crash the boards. As previously mentioned, Richmond is last in rebounding margin with opponents pulling down 5.5 more than they do every game. They mostly spread the wealth with Terry Allen leading the way at 6.4 per game, followed by Alonzo Nelson-Ododa at 5.2, but they only take down 29.1 boards per game. Their bottom-5 rebounding defense doesn’t help either. Also, they were able to take down VCU twice this season, but trying to defeat Smart a third time could be the charm for the Rams. Richmond also averages 65.3 points per game, good for ninth in the conference, so defense is the key to their success. If VCU puts up their regular 72 points per game, a postseason run may not be in the cards for the Spiders
No. 3 seed – Rhode Island
Why they will win:Â When the Rams play their best basketball, there are very few teams that can beat them. Rhode Island posts some of the best defensive numbers in the conference, holding opponents to 59.4 points and 31.8 rebounds per game while averaging 5.5 blocks, all first in the A-10. Rhode Island defends the arc better than any conference team and is second in field goal percentage defense. The Rams are tied for fifth with 6.7 steals per game and are fifth with a +1.34 turnover margin, too. A-10 Second-Teamers E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, who leads the conference in field goal percentage (.640), are the main catalysts for their success. Matthews’ 16.6 points per game lead the team, while Martin blocks three shots with 11.9 points and 7.7 rebounds. Thea Rams are also rife with x-factors. Jarvis Garrett and T.J. Buchanan each have more than 70 assists this season and freshman Jared Terrell leads the team and is one of the best in the conference in steals with 42. Rhode Island on their A-game is the team to beat in the A-10.
Why they won’t win:Â Free throws and 3-point field goal percentage will come back to haunt Rhode Island. They could have easily held off Davidson one month ago, but missing half of their free throws over the course of the game, especially the final few minutes, allowed the Wildcats’ surge. They shoot 65 percent from the charity stripe overall, with Matthews and Terrell being the only shooters above 70 percent. Down the stretch, teams know to foul players like Martin, Biggie Minnis or Earl Watson because they simply cannot get it done from the line. Even starters like Garrett and Gilvydas Biruta fail to convert consistently. T.J. Buchanan (3-for-9) and Matthew Butler (6-for-18) lead the Rams from beyond the arc with a .333 shooting percentage. As far as consistent attempts, though, Matthews is tops at .315 (57-181). Without someone who can hit at a constant rate from the perimeter, Rhode Island could be in for a frustrating tournament. Also, aside from Martin, Biruta and Matthews are the leading rebounders with 4.5 boards, so lack of frontcourt help will hurt the Rams’ chances.
No. 2 seed – Dayton
Why they will win – The Flyers got to the Elite Eight last year and they certainly have the strength to do so again, while picking up the conference championship in the process. Marcus Pollard scored 10 more points per game and posted the third-best field goal percentage (.574) this year en route to capturing the Chris Daniels Most Improved Player Award for the conference. Dyshawn Pierre rips down 8.1 rebounds a game, good for sixth in the conference, and Jordan Sibert is tied with E.C. Matthews for fourth in scoring at 16.6 a contest. They defend and shoot the 3-point shot well, ranking in the top-4 in the A-10 in both, and have four players shooting better than 34 percent from downtown. Darrell Davis leads the conference with a blistering 45.7 percent success rate from 3-point land. They outscore opponents by an average of eight points, just like potential semifinal opponent Rhode Island, but their ability to convert from the perimeter and variety of weapons make them serious threats in Brooklyn and beyond.
Why they won’t win – It will be tough to get past Dayton, but there are flaws in their game. For one, they do not pull down rebounds overly well, grabbing 31.8 per game. The Flyers were one of three A-10 teams (Saint Louis and Richmond) to not pull down at least 1,000 rebounds total on the year, helping them rank in the bottom-4 in rebounding margin (-0.9). Also, nearly 75 percent of their rebounds come on the defensive glass with only 7.3 offensive boards a game, 13th in the conference. Dayton shoots 46.5 percent from the field and rank second in the conference, but should their shots fail them they should not rely on huge offensive rebounds. Both URI and GW average at least four more per game than Dayton does, so taking advantage of these cracks in Dayton’s armor can bring about major upsets.
No. 1 seed – Davidson
Why they will win – The Wildcats have a nine-game winning streak, the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year (Tyler Kalinoski) and Coach of the Year (Bob McKillop). They are the scariest team in the conference, and they have quite a bit more than just one great player and coach. Davidson, as is well known, shoots the lights out from beyond the arc. They are the only squad in the Atlantic 10 that converts more than 40 percent of their attempts from deep and Kalinoski and Jack Gibbs both hit more than 43 percent. Kalinoski ranks third in scoring with 16.9 points per game, and pulls down 5.7 rebounds to go with 1.2 steals and 4.2 assists per game. Gibbs ranks first in the conference with 4.8 dimes and Brian Sullivan’s 3.9 qualifies for fourth. Jordan Barham serves as another lethal weapon, ranking second behind Hassan Martin in field goal percentage at .595. Kalinoski and Sullivan rank No. 1 and 2 in assist/turnover ratio at 2.9 and 2.7 respectively. Despite Barham being their best rebounder with only six per game, the Wildcats rank tied for fourth in the conference in rebounding offense. They can do a plethora of things on the court extraordinarily well and that is why they are the team to beat in the conference. Opponents matching their 80 points-per-game average is the least of their worries, and three of the best 3-point defenders (URI, Dayton and GW) are not on their side of the bracket.
Why they won’t win:Â In their last loss, a 62-61 loss to St. Bonaventure on Feb. 4, Davidson allowed 20 points off turnovers and the Bonnies carried those to a victory. They average fewer than 10 turnovers a game, but when they do give the ball up teams must take advantage more so than against any other opponent. The Wildcats allow upwards of 68 points per game, too, so a solid scoring defense like Rhode Island or Dayton can give them a fight. Keeping Davidson below 70, a hefty task, can lead to their defense being exploited a bit. Also, much like Dayton, they have trouble on the offensive glass, bringing in just more than 10 per game to rank in the bottom half of the conference. Misses do not happen often, especially from beyond the arc, but pulling down defensive rebounds and contesting the 3-point shot (a-la Rhode Island or Richmond on their side of the bracket) can knock the No. 1 seed out of the tournament.