Atlantic 10 Tournament Preview: Saint Louis-VCU rematch in Brooklyn?

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A season ago, the Atlantic 10 earned five bids on Selection Sunday. Those handful of teams all won at least one NCAA tournament game in 2013. Conference realignment stripped two of those teams from the league — Butler to the Big East and Temple to the American — but the A10 could actually get more teams bound for the tournament in 2014.

Despite losing the likes of Butler, Temple and Xavier while also seeing La Salle — which reached the Sweet 16 — struggle this season, the latest bracketology projections has the Atlantic 10 with six bids. Saint Louis and VCU have been strong as expected. UMass has been up-and-down but are bound for the tournament for the first time since 1998. George Washington, picked 10th in the preseason, finished third in the conference standings. Dayton still remains on right side of the bubble, possibly being the league’s sixth tournament-bound program.

We’ll find out by Sunday, the final day of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, if that becomes a reality.

Saint Louis, the regular season and reigning tournament champion, is the top seed, earning a double-bye along with VCU, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s as those three teams round out the top four seeds. Eyeing a run will be the Minutemen, Flyers and even Richmond, though that would require four wins in four days.

The Atlantic 10 should have one of the nation’s most entertaining tournaments, made more appealing by its setting: the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 12-16

*First round and quarterfinals can be seen on NBC Sports Network

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn

Final: March 16, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Favorite: Saint Louis

The Billikens won 19 straight games after losing to undefeated Wichita State, but stumbled late in the season losing three straight. Saint Louis avoided a completely disastrous end to the regular season as Jordair Jett’s last-second layup helped the Billikens escape with a 64-62 win in Amherst over UMass, giving them the top seed. Saint Louis has an experienced club, which faced adversity through the years, led by Jett and Dwayne Evans.

And if they lose?: VCU

The Rams were the preseason favorite and started the year ranked in the top 10. VCU has won four straight to close out the season, including a win over Saint Louis a week after a narrow loss to the same team. Havoc has the league’s most efficient defense and is third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic combine for 28 points and 15 rebounds per game.

Other Contenders:

  • George Washington: The Colonials have certainly been a surprise this season. GW’s A10 tournament hopes improve if Kethan Savage, the team’s second leading scorer who has missed the past 12 games, can get back on the floor. Four of the Colonials’ five conference losses came with Savage, averaging 13.4 points per game, on the sideline.
  • Saint Joseph’s: Phil Martelli has four guys scoring in double figures. The Hawks can shoot the rock, the top 3-point shooting team in the Atlantic 10 at 38 percent.

Sleeper: UMass

Chaz Williams might be the best player in the entire conference. The Minutemen have some head-scratching conference losses, but they were the last team to beat VCU. UMass is the top scoring offense in the conference, but the loss to Saint Louis on Sunday kept the Minutemen from a double-bye. If they want to cut down the nets they’ll now need four wins in as many days.

Deeper Sleeper: Dayton

The Flyers are barely in the projected tournament field. In fact they could be getting a home game in the First Four. Dayton came on as an early surprise with an upset with over Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational. That was followed by a late-game collapse against Baylor the next day. In the last five weeks, Dayton has topped George Washington, UMass and Saint Louis. The Flyers have the ability to string together several upsets with this week, possessing one of the league’s top 3-point shooting teams and the A10’s most efficient defenses.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • Jordair Jett, Saint LouisNot sure if enough people know about the Saint Louis guard. Jett is averaging 13.4 points and 4.7 assists per game. He’s also come up with some big plays in crucial moments for the Billikens.
  • Mo Creek, George Washington: The Indiana transfer is a huge reason why the Colonials are poised for their first tournament appearance since 2007. He’s averaging 14.6 points per game.
  • Langston Galloway, St. Joseph’s: One of the conference’s top scoring options at 17.0 points per game. He logs a lot of minutes (35.7) for the Hawks.
  • Jordan Sibert and Devin Oliver, Dayton: The impact transfer and senior forward are the two leading scorers for Dayton, better than 12 a game for both. These two can shake up the A10 bracket this week.

CBT Prediction: VCU over Saint Louis

Best Atlantic 10 Tournament Memory:

Best moment? That’s a stretch. Craziest moment? That’s a definite.

Last season in the Atlantic 10 first round, Richmond led by three with 5.9 second left. The Spiders lost by five to Charlotte. The 49ers hit eight free throws in the final 4.7 seconds.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.