Atlantic 10 Tournament Preview: Will Rhode Island Bounce Back?
© Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
The Atlantic 10 Tournament will tip off with two first-round games at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., in what looks to be a two-bid league after St. Bonaventure’s recent surge.
Rhode Island dominated the Atlantic 10 until mid-February when it lost one of the best games of the year in front of raucous Reilly Center crowd at St. Bonaventure. The Rams then proceeded to struggle at La Salle in a game they pulled out in overtime. After a 25-point romp over Dayton at home, the Rams dropped their final two games of the regular season. One of those losses was a baffling 30-point humiliation at the hands of St. Joseph’s on senior night in Kingston. The other was a stunning loss at Davidson in a game the Rams led by seven with less than two minutes left. Can the Rams recover in D.C. and cut down the nets, or is there a potential bid thief lurking?
Let’s dive into the bracket to find out if there is any potential futures value. I will end this article with ATS predictions for both Atlantic 10 first-round matchups.
2018 Atlantic 10 Tournament Overview
Dates: March 7-11
Location: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.
Defending Champion: Rhode Island
Notable Injuries: St. Bonaventure forward Josh Ayeni (suspended), Dayton forward Xeyrius Williams (out)
All 14 league members participate in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, with the top four seeds (Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, Davidson, St. Joseph’s) receiving double byes into the quarterfinals Friday. The 10-14 seeds will face off in what are essentially play-in games today for the right to play in the first round Thursday.
Who Should Win
Rhode Island +155
While the top-seeded Rams struggled to close out the season, they’re still the team to beat. Danny Hurley’s guard corps is deep and talented, led by bulldozer Jared Terrell, who is surrounded by hyper-efficient point guard Jeff Dowtin, burgeoning frosh Fatts Russell, veteran EC Matthews and Jarvis Garrett. URI doesn’t have a lot of frontcourt depth, but Cyril Langevine has emerged as a force around the rim on both ends. He’s also improved tremendously defending in pick-and-rolls. However, forward Stanley Robinson’s outstanding and versatile defense does mask some of those deficiencies. With its impressive backcourt, URI extends pressure full-court defensively. The Rams also excel in ball screen defense.
URI’s path to the title game begins with the winner of the 8-9 game between VCU and Dayton. Neither poses a real threat to spring the upset. VCU coach Mike Rhoades continues to press, but he should probably stop, as teams continue to shred the VCU’s pressure. Plus, you can’t really press URI’s 4-out lineup.
VCU will first have to get past Dayton and former head coach Anthony Grant. The Flyers memorably dropped 106 on the Rams, but VCU returned the favor with an OT win at the Stu (after blowing a late 17-point lead). On paper, it doesn’t make sense that Dayton’s offense shredded VCU, as the young Flyer backcourt turns it over at the league’s highest rate. Dayton also allowed the 10th-highest FG% at the rim nationally, per hoop-math.com. With VCU’s press and the league’s best post player in Justin Tillman, VCU should have excelled on both ends, but Dayton mitigated those advantages by hitting an absurd 31-of-67 from 3. Dayton, however, is just 2-12 in road/neutral games.
If Not Rhode Island, Then…
Davidson +288 or St. Bonaventure +335
The No. 2 seed Bonnies are the league’s hottest team, having won 12 straight. Thanks to the emergence of 6-foot-6 forward LaDarien Griffin as a rebounder and rim protector, coach Mark Schmidt can effectively utilize his super-small lineup. The Bonnies were already difficult to defend thanks to the lethal backcourt of Jay Adams and Matt Mobley, but Griffin has emerged as a much better roll option in the pick-and-roll than suspended forward Josh Ayeni. They are still very susceptible to legit frontcourts, but their half of the bracket doesn’t have a dominant rim scorer.
Having said that, star forward Peyton Aldridge and No. 3 seed Davidson do sit in the bottom of the bracket. I think everyone would appreciate a rubber match between the Bonnies and Wildcats in the semifinals after the 117-113 triple OT thriller last week.
Davidson’s outstanding scissor-cut motion offense is phenomenal (as always) under legendary coach Bob McKillop, who added outstanding freshman guard Kellan Grady to the mix. Grady gives McKillop an off-the-dribble creator alongside matchup nightmare Aldridge and point guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson.
McKillop also famously went to a 2-3 zone this year after his team simply couldn’t get stops in man-to-man. Davidson responded by winning eight of its final 10 games. In a potential semifinal meeting, SBU will once again have its hands full against the hyper-efficient Aldridge, who averaged 35 points in the two meetings. Davidson’s motion simply shredded the Bonnies’ modified pack-line scheme at will. The Wildcats, however, had trouble defending the Bonnies in pick-and-roll.
We are a long way from that hypothetical semifinal, as the Bonnies will first have to defeat the winner of No. 7 seed Richmond and No. 10 seed Duquesne. The Bonnies had a bit of trouble with Duquesne, as coach Keith Dambrot immediately turned the Dukes into a hard-nosed pick-and-roll defense that blitzes ball screens.
However, I doubt Duquesne gets by the Spiders. Duquesne plays extremely hard, but the book/tape was out on the Dukes in the second half of the A10 season. (Duquesne has lost seven of its last eight.) The lone regular-season meeting between the Spiders and Dukes went to OT after Richmond nearly blew at 16-point lead on the road. Generally speaking, the Spiders’ matchup zone makes life difficult for Duquesne’s spread pick-and-roll offense. Richmond coach Chris Mooney’s Princeton motion offense also negates the strength of Duquesne’s defense. Richmond has turned its season around after Mooney “survived” a rumored midseason firing.
Davidson, meanwhile, will face the winner of No. 6 seed St. Louis and No. 11 George Washington/14 Fordham. SLU had an awful year off the court and a mostly forgettable season on it. I won’t get into the specifics, but two key players never stepped foot on the court and star freshman Jordan Goodwin eventually got suspended for the season.
SLU doesn’t have the depth or offense to make any sort of run, but the Billikens’ defense can disrupt opposing offenses. SLU gave Davidson’s motion offense issues with its ability to clog up the lane and contest on the perimeter. Thanks to 6-foot-9 freshman forward Hasahn French, the Bills play the best interior defense in the league. Javon Bess is also a long, versatile, disruptive force on the perimeter. A rematch with the league’s best overall defender in GW’s Yuta Watanabe would be a rock fight.
St. Joseph’s +1325
Phil Martelli’s Hawks earned the No. 4 seed despite enduring another season marred by injuries. The Hawks play a style that lends itself to success in a tournament setting. They play a sagging man/zone that forces teams to beat them with jumpers. (That’s a dicey prospect for teams on an unfamiliar floor with unfamiliar sight lines.) The Hawks also draw a lot of contact between guards Shavar Newkirk and James Demery. They also never turn the ball over and don’t allow many offensive putbacks. To recap, St. Joe’s …
- Doesn’t allow extra possessions.
- Can manufacture points at the free-throw line.
- Puts opposing offenses at the stripe at the lowest rate in the league.
The Hawks have a somewhat tough pod, though, as No. 5 seed George Mason swept them in the regular season (albeit on two buzzer-beaters). GMU is a hard team to figure out, though. It is incredibly small with no depth, and only Fordham has a worse efficiency margin in the A10. GMU actually won four games at the buzzer this year. (Guard Ian Boyd incredibly had three IN A ROW!) It also lost games to the four worst teams in the league.
Mason has one of the league’s best point guards in Otis Livingston, but No. 12 seed La Salle is a bad matchup for the Pats. Six-foot-10 center Tony Washington and versatile 6-foot-7 guard BJ Johnson will exploit GMU’s lack of effective height.
As for a potential matchup if No. 13 seed UMass beats La Salle: George Mason just defeated the Minutemen in OT for the second time this season, but UMass didn’t have uber-scorer Luwane Pipkins for the most recent meeting. Pipkins will return from a concussion, but coach Matt McCall’s bench has essentially been reduced to nothing. Back-to-backs on less than 24 hours of rest doesn’t sound like a recipe for success for the Minutemen. UMass defeated La Salle at home in OT (after coming back from 21 down) when the Explorers didn’t have BJ Johnson. La Salle did get its revenge in the rematch, even without point guard Pookie Powell. At full strength, La Salle should win the rubber match today.
Wednesday ATS Picks
La Salle -5
George Washington -6.5
A10 Final Prediction
Rhode Island over Davidson
Photo credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports