With the Atlantic 10 tournament taking place in Brooklyn in six days, it got me thinking, what type of conference championship are we looking at?
First, let’s talk favorites in Brooklyn. This year while the Atlantic 10 has only one true at large bid in Virginia Commonwealth University, the Rams are still a very beatable one seed in Brooklyn. It should be ultra competitive at the top, but VCU is the going in as the favorite to win the tournament. VCU boasts a record of 24-6 and is 15-2 in conference play. They are one of the best defensive teams in the country and stay true to their trademarked, “Havoc” style of play.
The Davidson Wildcats and Dayton Flyers are definitely in that upper echelon as well, but missteps by both teams down the stretch led to their large hopes being all but over. The Wildcats losing on the road to La Salle was a surprise and a mistake that will hurt them come Selection Sunday. For Dayton, a tough home loss to Rhode Island in overtime is a bad break as well for their at large bid. Both teams will still be scary teams to go against in Brooklyn. Davidson boasts talented guard play and shooting across the board and is led by Stars Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmunsson. Dayton is a bit more contrasting of a style, running their offense through low post offensive stars in Redshirt Senior Josh Cunningham and newcomer Redshirt Freshman Obi Toppin, who is almost a lock for conference Rookie of the Year.
While I wouldn’t call the Saint Bonaventure Bonnies a true favorite, they can not be called a sleeper either. The Bonnies struggled through their non-conference slate, but have been red hot in conference play. SBU is currently in the last double bye position as the four seed and on a six-game win streak. As long as they have Coach Mark Schmidt patrolling their sidelines, they’ll always be a threat in Atlantic 10 play. The defensive intensity of the Bonnies has been a huge reason for their great play. Courtney Stockard has played great for SBU, and they hold opposing teams to 64.2 points per game.
Rhode Island has quickly become a team to watch out for in the Barclays Center. Currently riding a three-game winning streak, including an impressive road upset of Dayton and a gutsy overtime win on the road against Saint Joe’s, the Rams find themselves in a likely eight seed for the championship. Fatts Russell has hit his stride at the right time with back to back monster performances in both of those wins as well. Including a mind-numbing 41-point performance against SJU. Cyril Langevine is averaging above a double-double and played himself into Atlantic 10 First Team consideration. Jeff Dowtin has had a terrific year as well and is arguably the best point guard in the entire league. The detriment to URI is a lack of depth, and shooting inconsistencies/woes throughout the year. If Rhody continues to play with the confidence they’ve found over their last three, they will absolutely be a dark horse team to win it all and go back to the NCAA tournament for a third straight year.
Duquesne, Saint Louis and George Mason join Rhode Island as Dark Horses to win this tournament. All four of these teams are similar in that they’ve had up and down years, but also have the talent to compete and beat the best teams in the conference this year. The Billikens have wins over fellow sleepers George Mason and Rhode Island and also split their season series with Dayton. Duquesne may be more of a sleeper than most, as the Dukes currently do not have a win against the top four in the conference. They have played them competitively though, with only a four-point loss in their lone matchup against Davidson, a six-point loss in their lone matchup against VCU, and a four-point loss to Dayton in the first of two matchups against the Flyers. (Their last coming Saturday, March 9.) George Mason has two wins against the top four against Dayton and St. Bonaventure, but after a blowout loss to VCU where they were only able to muster 36 points at home, it is tough to buy stock into a deep Patriot run.
For the rest of the league, I guess they can be called longshots? But personally, I don’t see any of the bottom four playing on the first day of the tournament making a shocking run. The entire bottom six really from La Salle to Fordham is most likely looking at either first or second-day exits from postseason play. If you’re a fan of Atlantic 10 basketball buckle up. Brooklyn is gonna be a heck of a fun time.