by Dan Gardella
Following a two year absence as the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) took center stage in Brooklyn, the Atlantic 10 (A-10) Conference tournament returns to Barclays Center this week. With the bracket locked in place, here are some initial thoughts and breakdown of this year’s tournament.
The Talk of the Town:
VCU enters Brooklyn as the top seed in the tournament after a 16-2 record in conference play. The Rams, who are 25-6 overall still have an outside chance to make the big dance if they were to get upset in the tournament. The resume, which boast includes wins against successful mid-major programs such as Hofstra, Temple, Iona, along with a road win against Texas. VCU enters as the hottest team in the conference, winning their last 12 games after beginning conference play 4-2. With that being said, it is worth noting that the top seed in the tournament has not won the title since 2013, when St. Louis did so.
Davidson, Dayton, and St. Bonaventure enter as the following three seeds, earning a double-bye to the quarterfinals. Each one of these teams, on paper, have what it takes to upend VCU on a neutral court and steal a bid in the big dance. Davidson, who finished the season 14-4 in A-10 play have four players that average double figures, highlighted by Jon Axel Gudmundsson and Kellan Grady, who each average over 17 point per game. The Flyers tested themselves early in the season, travelling to the Bahamas in the Battle 4 Atlantis, beating Butler before falling to Virginia and Oklahoma while there. They took the tough non-conference schedule and finished the season 13-5. Lastly, St. Bonaventure, the other team from the conference who made the NCAA Tournament last season round out the top dogs in the A-10. The Bonnies faced off with Buffalo and Syracuse in their non-conference slate and went 12-6 in conference play. They hope to use their experience from last year to make it back to the tournament.
For every top seed, there are some teams that have the pieces to pull off an upset. Here are some teams to put your money on to stun the top teams.
A lot of hype was taken away from the Rams when Dan Hurley took off for UConn. That does not mean that the players themselves still can’t make March a memorable month. They have two players in Jeff Dowtin (15.3) and Cyril Langevine (14.6 PPG) who have been a part of two NCAA Tournament teams. Other than those two, this year’s Rams team is fairly young. Sophomore Fatts Russell (14.6 PPG) and freshman Tyrese Martin (7.9 PPG) follow the two upperclassmen leaders in production. Eighth seeded Rhode Island faces ninth seed La Salle in the second round. The winner of that gets VCU. With a mix of experience and youthful talent, the Rams are on team to keep your eye on.
Yes, the team that Rhode Island will face in the second round is another team I’d look out for. After beginning the season 0-10, the Explorers managed to salvage a bad start to the season with an 8-10 conference play mark. La Salle has had their fair share of players that are solid players in the A-10 in the past. This year, Pookie Powell is that man. He has seven games of 20 points or more this season. The Explorers will have a chance if the guys around them can contribute consistently along with Powell taking over.
I will throw the Patriots into this category simply because they have not gotten the attention that the other top seeds have. This could be that they do not have the luxury of a double-bye and have to face the winner of UMass and George Washington in the second round. They finished the season 11-7 in A-10 play to earn the fifth seed, only missing out on a double-bye by a single game. George Mason would get St. Bonaventure in the quarterfinals with a win, a team they split their two meetings with. Don’t be surprised if they sneak into the semifinals.
It Takes Two To Dance:
For years, the Atlantic 10 has sent multiple teams the NCAA Tournament. This year, most bracketologists see just one team from the conference dancing (VCU). The best case for a possibility at a two-bid year is if other top teams in Davidson or Dayton steal the bid and hope VCU and claim an at large bid.
Players to Watch In Brooklyn:
Charlie Brown Jr. (St. Joseph):
Come on. Did you not think with a name like that I wouldn’t tell you to keep an eye out for Brown Jr. He leads the entire conference in scoring average as a sophomore (18.8 PPG). His Hawks are the tenth seed in Brooklyn but everyone knows that play elevates when a lot is on the line. I see St. Joseph advancing to the quarterfinals and giving Davidson a run for their money in the quarterfinals behind their sophomore star.
Obadiah Toppin (Dayton):
Toppin, who is only a freshman for the Flyers, averages 14.4 points per game in just over 26 minutes per game. What’s more impressive is that he does it on about nine shots per night. He is second in the conference with a 67% shooting clip. It will be interesting to see if head coach Anthony Grant gives him a little more run in the A-10 tournament as he has emerged as one of the most consistent scorers on the team. He also averages 5.6 rebounds per game. Dayton will need to win the tournament to see the NCAA Tournament so all bets are off.
Grant Golden and Jacob Pipkins (Richmond)
If there is a team that has an opening round game that can make a deep run into the tournament, it’s the Spiders. Behind Golden and Pipkins, who are two of the top five scorers in the conference and combine to average 34 points a game provide a 1-2 punch that is hard to stop. The 6’10 Golden and 5’9 Pipkins provide inside and outside play for the Spiders, who play last place Fordham on Wednesday would get St. Louis and Dayton if they were to make it that far.
Follow Dan Gardella (@GardellaDan) on twitter for up to the minute news and stats from the A-10 Tournament from Brooklyn this week