Following a regular season unlike any other, the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball season is about to see the finish line. 

The COVID-19 pandemic created a roadblock for many teams over the past few months. Between stoppages, cancellations and long hotel stays, keeping with a consistent routine was challenging for all of the 14 member institutions. Despite this, a number of teams are making a strong case to take home the conference tournament title. 

The tournament favorite is top-ranked St. Bonaventure University. Although they are without any seniors on the roster, the Bonies finished with the best record in the regular season, going 13-4 overall and 11-4 in conference play. Junior Kyle Lofton has stood out this year, leading his team in both points (14.8) and assists (5.4).

Second-ranked Virginia Commonwealth University has also put themselves in a great position going into the tournament, finishing the season with 10 conference wins and a 17-6 overall record. Bones Hyland has been the star of the show for the Rams, averaging nearly 20 points per game. However, his health is something to monitor throughout tournament play, following a foot sprain suffered late in the season against George Mason. 

Other teams to watch out for are third and fourth-ranked Davidson (12-7, 7-4) and Saint Louis (13-5, 6-4) respectively. Both teams have built up a lot of momentum going in, each winning six out of their last eight games. For the Billikens, senior Jordan Goodwin leads the way while averaging a double-double (14.6 points, 10.2 rebounds). The Wildcats have relied heavily on their offense, finishing the season with four players in double digits. Senior Kellen Grady finished as the team’s scoring leader with an average of 16.8 points per game.

For the University of Rhode Island Rams, the regular season did not live up to expectations. The 10th-seed Rams finished the season at 10-14 and lost six of their last seven games, while program great Fatts Russell played with a number of injuries throughout. Despite this, the senior only missed two games and led the team with 15 points per game. Senior Jeremy Sheppard also contributed with 11.3 points while junior Antwan Walker led with 6.5 rebounds.

URI Head Coach David Cox said on Tuesday that the team is excited to have a “clean slate” after a tough sequence to end the year. He added that the team made good progress down the stretch despite the results.

“I think that this group of guys has gone through a lot throughout the season, and it’s made them stronger as a group,” Coach Cox said. “We just have not been able to show that in a 40-minute basketball game.”

The Rams are set to play #7 Dayton (13-8, 9-7) Thursday afternoon in the second round of the tournament. The Flyers finished their regular season with an upset win over regular season champion St. Bonaventure Monday night, 55-52. Last season’s A-10 darlings are led by senior Jalen Crutcher (18.8 PPG), with three other players also averaging double-digit points. 

Both teams last met on Feb. 16, with the Rams coming back and winning in a memorable double-overtime thriller on senior night, 91-89. Russell put in a vintage performance, ending the night with 20 points and seven assists in his last ever game at the Ryan Center. 

Unfortunately, the Rams will be missing a key piece this time around. Sheppard will not play against the Flyers, Cox announced Tuesday. Sheppard left early in the regular season finale against Duquesne with an apparent ankle/foot injury.

Tip-off is set for Thursday at 3:30 p.m. on NBCSN. The winner will go on to face #2 VCU in the quarterfinal round on Friday.