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.

Bubble Banter: Kansas State, Virginia Tech add crucial wins to help overcome poor schedules

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Monday night.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

KANSAS STATE (RPI: 55, KenPom: 37, NBC seed: Play-in): The Wildcats went and added two — potentially three — Quadrant 1 wins in their last three games, beating Oklahoma and TCU at home last week before picking off Baylor (currently 76th in the RPI, but I’d guess they’re top 75 to end the year) on Monday night. A home loss to Tulsa (RPI 112) is going to stick out, as will a non-conference SOS that ranks 344th. Those two things means that the Wildcats have a very small margin for error, but with the way they are playing, I think that they’ll do enough to get in with a seed that seems too low for them.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: , KenPom: 54, NBC seed: Out): The Hokies did quite a bit to change their NCAA tournament chances on Monday by knocking off North Carolina at home. It’s easily the best win on their résumé, and given that their only other Quadrant 1 win came on a neutral against a Washington team ranked 50th in the RPI, it is easily their most important win. A Nov. 16th loss to Saint Louis (RPI 147) looks really bad, but VT still has Miami twice, Duke twice, Virginia, Louisville and Clemson left on their schedule. Those are all potential top 20 wins. They’ll need them to overcome a non-conference schedule that ranked 319th.

TEXAS (RPI: 42, KenPom: 43, NBC seed: 9): The Longhorns did what they needed to do against Iowa State at home, picking up a win to help shake off the whooping they took at West Virginia on Saturday. Believe it or not, but Texas currently has four Quadrant 1 wins to their name without anything worse than a high Quadrant 2 loss — at Baylor, at Oklahoma State, Gonzaga on a neutral, Michigan at home.

LOSERS

MARYLAND (RPI: 47, KenPom: 38, NBC seed: Next four out): The Terps picked up their worst loss of the season, falling at Indiana. In a year where Mark Turgeon’s club has already lost Justin Jackson and where it seems like they suffer a new injury just about every week, a tournament berth seems increasingly unlikely. Their next two games are at home against Michigan State and at Purdue. They might beed to win both.

NEBRASKA (RPI: 64, KenPom: 67, NBC seed: Out): The Cornhuskers missed out on a golden opportunity to add a marquee win to their résumé as they lost by five at Ohio State, a top 15 team in the RPI. The Cornhuskers currently do not have a Quadrant 1 win to their name — their best win comes at home against Michigan — and the only chance they’ll have to add one the rest of the regular season comes at Minnesota, who could very well drop off that level. There are only two teams left on Nebraska’s schedule that are in the top 100 of the RPI.

BAYLOR (RPI: 76, KenPom: 39, NBC seed: First four out): Baylor lost at home to Kansas State on Monday night. They’re now lost six of eight to start Big 12 play and their next two games are at Florida and at Oklahoma, both of which would be marquee wins the Bears currently lack.

VIDEO: Kenrich Williams posterizes West Virginia

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I am not sure what was more impressive tonight, Kenrich Williams going for 14 boards and six assists against No. 7 West Virginia, the fact that he played the point for them against that press … or this dunk:

It was the dunk.

Definitely.

Alex Robinson leads TCU past No. 7 West Virginia

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You’d be forgiven if you thought that TCU’s season was done and dusted when starting point guard Jaylen Fisher went down with a knee injury that will cost him the rest of the season.

Fisher was the team’s third-leading scorer at 12.3 points and ranked second in assists. He was shooting 43.9 percent from the floor. More importantly, he was backcourt defensive presence that doesn’t exist elsewhere on the TCU roster.

When the Horned Frogs lost Fisher, they were coming off of their second loss to Oklahoma in the span of two weeks and their fourth loss in the first five games of league play. With two games against both West Virginia and Texas Tech, and a trip to Allen Fieldhouse, left on their schedule, this had all the warning signs of a season in danger of sliding into oblivion.

On Monday night, in TCU’s third game without Fisher, Jame Dixon’s club put together their best performance of the season. They held No. 7 West Virginia to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor and led by as many as 20 points in an 82-73 win in Fort Worth, a win that puts an entirely knew feel on where this season can and will go.

The biggest reason for that may be Alex Robinson.

A 6-foot-1 hometown kid and a redshirt junior that transferred into the program from Texas A&M, Robinson has seemingly always been overlooked in this TCU program. Part of that is because he’s not a great scorer or shooter. Part of that is because he isn’t really a defender. And part of is, frankly, is because he never quite got his chance.

And now, with Fisher out, Robinson is not only getting his chance, but he is making the most of it.

TCU is 2-1 in their three games without Fisher, and Robinson has been the star, averaging 12.3 points, 4.7 boards and 10.7 assists. Against West Virginia, one of the nation’s most difficult defenses to deal with, Robinson finished with 17 points, nine assists and seven boards despite barely stepping foot off of the court. He got some help from Kenrich Williams, TCU’s best player, a 6-foot-7 forward that was a high school point guard and did the heavy-lifting when it came to breaking that press.

But that shouldn’t put a damper on how Robinson played on Monday.

And it shouldn’t take away from what he has been able to do with Fisher out.

Suddenly, TCU looks like a team that found themselves on the wrong side of lucky through the first seven games of Big 12 play. They lost five games during that stretch by an average of 3.3 points. Two of those losses came when the Horned Frogs missed game-winning shots at the buzzer.

They were and have been a top 25 team that found out the hard way how tough it is to win close games in this league.

And at this point it is probably fair to say that hasn’t changed despite having a new player running the point.

Monday’s Three Things to Know: TCU, Virginia Tech and Kansas State earn big wins

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1. VIRGINIA TECH EARNED ITS BIGGEST WIN OF THE SEASON

Virginia Tech has been considered by many to be a disappointment this season. The Hokies haven’t beaten anybody notable in the ACC and the non-conference schedule didn’t deliver any signature victories.

Which is why Virginia Tech’s win Monday night over No. 10 North Carolina is so critical.

The Hokies finally have a great win to hang their hat on for the committee. Where has this version of Virginia Tech been all season?

2. TCU ALSO EARNS A SIGNATURE WIN

Entering Monday night, TCU could have rolled over and called it quits on this season.

The Horned Frogs had dropped four of five games by a total of 15 points. Talented sophomore guard Jaylen Fisher was diagnosed with a season-ending injury for TCU.

But TCU stayed strong through some adversity as they pulled off a huge 82-73 Big 12 home win over No. 7 West Virginia. Leading for nearly the entire game, TCU did a great job of slowing down Mountaineer offense as West Virginia struggled to score in the half court.

3. KANSAS STATE PICKED UP THE NIGHT’S BIGGEST BUBBLE WIN

It’s time to start keeping track of the bubble.

With March Madness creeping closer, every night will feature games with big bubble implications. Besides for TCU and Virginia Tech beating top-1o teams, Kansas State beating Baylor for a Big 12 road win was the most important bubble win of the night.

The Wildcats have suddenly won four of their last five — including wins over Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor in their last three games. Not many people are talking about Kansas State in a loaded Big 12 but they’re playing as well as any team in the league right now.

A few more wins like this and the Wildcats could play their way into the Field of 68.

Bates-Diop scores 20 as No. 13 Buckeyes slip past Nebraska

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Keita Bates-Diop scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half and No. 13 Ohio State beat Nebraska 64-59 on Monday night, the fourth victory for the surging Buckeyes in the last eight days.

The back-and-forth game had seven lead changes in the second half. A pair of foul shots by Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. cut Ohio State’s lead to four with 2:19 remaining, but the Cornhuskers couldn’t pull any closer.

Jae’Sean Tate put the Buckeyes (18-4, 9-0 Big Ten) up by six with a layup with 1:02 left, and a pair of foul shots by Kaleb Wesson stretched it to eight. Palmer hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left, but Nebraska ran out of time.

Palmer had a career-high 34 points. Nebraska (14-8, 5-4) was fresh off a 20-point upset of then-No. 23 Michigan on Thursday.

Ohio State surpassed its win total for all of last season. Earlier in the day, it moved from No. 22 to No. 13 in the AP Top 25, its highest position since 2014.

BIG PICTURE

Nebraska: The surprising Cornhuskers knocked off a ranked team last week and are a better squad than last season with Palmer carrying the load, but couldn’t outlast the steady Buckeyes.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes may have been fatigued after a rugged traveling schedule and three straight games on the road. But they found a rhythm in the second half and picked up another critical Big Ten win over a good team.

NEXT UP

Nebraska: At Rutgers on Wednesday.

Ohio State: Hosts Penn State on Thursday.