The Atlantic 10 has a chance to be one of the more intriguing conference tournaments this week. Throughout the season, it was extremely competitive and no one team really dominated and forced its will on the rest of the league. Even the two teams that didn’t reach the tournament – Fordham and Rhode Island – pulled off wins over Saint Louis, Dayton, Massachusetts and La Salle within the conference this season. Eight of the 12 teams finished on the right side of .500 in league play.
In addition to the high level of competition in Atlantic City this week, there is also a lot on the line in terms of at-large bids. Temple is a lock, Saint Louis is in pretty good shape despite a fairly barren profile, but there are at least three other teams looking for a bid. Xavier has been up and down for the last three months, but the Musketeers are in the mix. Dayton has a strange profile, but the Flyers still have a shot, as does Saint Joseph’s.
Four teams get a bye in the quarterfinals, including a St. Bonaventure team that surprised its way to 10 conference wins. Atlantic City is always fun, but it’s going to take on some extra excitement this week. (Note: The first-round games take place at campus sites.)
No. 8 Massachusetts vs. No. 9 Duquesne: Massachusetts was in the mix for a regular-season title until dropping four of its final six games to end the season. With that said, the Minutemen are difficult to play due to their extremely fast pace and aggressive defense. It will be interesting to see if Duquesne can take care of the ball; we know the Dukes like to run too.
No. 5 Saint Joseph’s vs. No. 12 Charlotte: Saint Joseph’s was making a run at an at-large bid, but the Hawks lost at home to Richmond two weeks ago, and then followed up a win over Temple with a road loss at St. Bonaventure in double overtime. Short of a trip to the title game, and Phil Martelli’s crew might be in the NIT. Charlotte has lost five of its last six games.
No. 6 Dayton vs. No. 11 George Washington: Despite getting little publicity from bracketology types, Dayton is still in the hunt for an at-large bid. The Flyers have wins over Temple, Saint Louis, Alabama, Xavier and Ole Miss, with an 8-7 record against the top 100. However, they also have four sub-100 losses. George Washington has lost nine of its last 11 heading into the tourney.
No. 7 La Salle vs. No. 10 Richmond: La Salle was one of the bigger surprises in the conference this season, getting out to a 6-2 record in the first half of the season. Losses in five of six games in February ended the Explorers’ chance at a regular-season championship, but they are very solid at both ends of the floor. Richmond has won three of four, including wins over Saint Joseph’s and Dayton.
-- Jeff Borzello