The Atlantic 10’s automatic bid isn’t going to be the only NCAA tournament berth on the line at the Barclays Center this week, as there are a quartet of teams that are still looking to solidify an at-large berth into the Big Dance. St. Louis, Butler and VCU are all sitting pretty right now, but what about Temple, La Salle, UMass and Xavier?
Temple and La Salle will both likely get a bid with a win in their first game. La Salle will likely play Butler in the 4-5 game while Temple gets the winner of UMass and George Washington. If UMass can get past GW and Temple and lose to VCU in the semifinals, they might be able to get an at-large bid. Xavier would probably have to beat St. Joseph’s, VCU and Temple and get to the finals to feel comfortable about their at-large standing.
But based on the way that the Atlantic 10 played out this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if any — or all — of that happened.
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Where: Barclays Center (Brooklyn)
When: March 14-17
Final: March 17th, 1:00 p.m. ET CBS
Favorite: St. Louis
In what was a largely competitive and balanced Atlantic 10 conference throughout much of the season, the Billikens did everything they could to stake their claim to being conference title favorites late in the year. they blew out Butler, VCU and La Salle in St. Louis. They knocked off the Bulldogs in Hinkle. Outside of a head-scratching, overtime loss to Rhode Island at home, the Billikens were dominant once they got Kwamain Mitchell back from his foot injury.
The Billikens are a veteran group that excel on the defensive end of the floor and execute offensively, but what makes their season so special is that they are playing for more than just a league title. As you certainly know by now, their head coach, Jim Crews, got the job when Rick Majerus had to leave with heart issues that eventually ended his life in December. That’s who they are playing for.
And if they lose?: Temple
I’m buying Fran Dunphy’s club. I love Khalif Wyatt — there may not be a player with more moxie in the country, and I’m not sure there are five players that I would want taking a big shot over Wyatt. They have versatile big men, particularly Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, and they can defend. The problem with the Owls is that they are one of those teams that seem to play to the level of their opponent. I can see them winning the A-10 title and I can see them losing to UMass in their first game.
Other contenders: VCU is the No. 2 seed and another team quite capable of making a run through the A-10 tournament. The Rams, as you know, play an aggressive style of pressing defense that can be a nightmare for teams with issues handling the ball. La Salle is the No. 4 seed and a team with a sensational perimeter attack, but I’m not sure they can get by No. 5 Butler, let alone No. 1 St. Louis. And clearly, Butler is going to be a contender in every tournament that they are involved in.
Keep an eye on the Musketeers. Chris Mack’s club has a really good back court and some athletic big men that are starting to playing better. They’ve beaten some quality teams this season, and if they didn’t blow a 17 point second half lead to VCU at home and if they won at Butler in a close game to close out the regular season, they’d be on the tournament bubble.
Deeper sleeper: St. Joseph’s
The Hawks did not have a very good year, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a team that has talent all over their lineup. They are big and athletic up front and they have a pair of really talented guards in their back court. Can they put it all together for four days in Brooklyn?
– Chaz Williams, UMass: The Minutemen are one of the more entertaining teams in the conference to watch, as they play uptempo and like to pressure the ball. Williams, a 5-foot-9 dynamo that is as productive and creative as anyone, is the sparkplug.
– Ramon Galloway, La Salle: He looks awkward when he’s dribbling and shooting the ball, but Galloway can flat-out score. The South Carolina transfer has as much raw ability as anyone guard in the league.
– Juvonte Reddic, VCU: VCU’s pressuring defense and back court contingent of “Wild Dogs” get all the attention, but Reddic’s presence inside is a big reason the Rams finished second in the conference.
CBT Prediction: This is going to be one of the wilder league tournaments. I like Temple taking out Butler behind 35 points from Khalif Wyatt in the final.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.