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March Madness 2017 Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Atlantic 10 Player of the Year: T.J. Cline, Richmond

The 6-foot-9 senior forward was not only one of the most efficient players in the conference, he was the only player in the Atlantic 10 to rank top-5 in (18.6 PPG), rebounds (8.1 RPG) and assists (5.7 APG). He had a triple-double — 34 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists — against Duquesne and then recorded another one — 19 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists — in his final game at Richmond.

Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year: Archie Miller, Dayton

Last year, Dayton was in a three-way tie for first place. This season, the Flyers won it outright with a 15-3 conference record. Miller had to balance early-season injuries to Kendall Pollard and transfer Josh Cunningham, which shortended his frontline. Following a loss to VCU, which finished in second place, the Flyers went on a nine-game winning streak, capped with a win at home against the Rams.

First-Team All-Atlantic 10

  • T.J. Cline, Richmond
  • Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure: The senior guard was second in the conference in scoring at 20.8 points, and led the A10 in assists and 6.6 dimes per game.
  • Charles Cooke, Dayton: Also an all-defense selection by the A10 coaches, Cooke led the Flyers in scoring at 16.5 points per game to go along with his 5.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists a night.
  • Jack Gibbs, Davidson: The conference’s leading scorer at 22.0 points per game. The repeat selection registered a handful of 30-point games.
  • Marquise Moore, George Mason: At 6-foot-2, the senior guard averaged a double-double — 17.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game — leading the A10 in rebounding at 6-foot-2. He was instrumental in an eight-win turnaround for the Patriots.

Second Team All-Atlantic 10:

  • Peyton Aldridge, Davidson,
  • Tyler Cavanaugh, George Washington
  • JeQuan Lewis, VCU
  • Hassan Martin, Rhode Island
  • Scoochie Smith, Dayton

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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It’s been three years since the Atlantic 10 set a conference record by sending six teams to the NCAA Tournament. For the third straight year, the league is set to send half that amount, at best.

Rhode Island entered the season in the preseason top-25, but will likely remain on the bubble unless it makes it to Sunday’s tournament title game. Dayton won the league outright after overcoming early season injuries on the frontline. The Flyers are safe, as is VCU, who finished second to Dayton in the A10 standings this season.

The A10 wasn’t as strong as in previous seasons, but it could result in an eventful week in Pittsburgh. Will Dayton and VCU face off in a rubber match? Will Rhode Island secure its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1999? Or is there a bid stealer ready to make a run?

The Bracket

When: March 8-13

Where: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh

Final: Sunday, March 13 12:30 p.m.

Favorite: Dayton

The Flyers topped the league for the second straight season; this time outright. After dealing with injuries early in the season, which played a role in a loss in a marquee home game against Saint Mary’s, followed by an upset loss to Nebraska, putting them on the wrong side of the Wooden Legacy bracket. However, Dayton enters Pittsburgh as winners of nine of its last 10. That span includes a win at Rhode Island and avenging a loss to VCU. Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke and Kendall Pollard lead an experienced team with the league’s best offense, matched with a solid defense.

And if they lose?: VCU

The Rams finished second in the A10 and owns a win over Dayton. Like the Flyers, VCU has an experienced group led by seniors JeQuan Lewis and Mo-Alie Cox. Both meetings were decided by single digits. In both games, the Rams frontline, anchored by Cox and Justin Tillman, gave Dayton’s front court fits.

Will Wade (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Rhode Island: The Rams enter this year as the conference favorite. They certainly have the talent, and perhaps a sense of urgency kicks in as the Rams are still one the bubble.
  • Richmond: Led by A10 Player of the Year T.J. Cline, the Spiders head to Pittsburgh as winners of four in a row. However, Richmond is 0-2 against VCU this season, a team it could potential face in the semifinals.

Sleeper: St. Bonaventure

With Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, the Bonnies have two guards who can really light it up. While they finished the regular season 6-4, they did give both VCU and Dayton a tough test during meetings last month.

The Bubble Dwellers: One

  • Rhode Island: The Rams followed up a marquee non-conference win against a ranked Cincinnati team by losing four of their next six. A 21-win season, and a recent win over VCU, could keep URI on the right side of the bubble. However, a one-an-done performance this week could mean a long night on Selection Sunday.

Defining moment of the season: JeQuan Lewis takes a charge on in-bounds pass with 0.4 seconds remaining.

On Feb. 8, George Washington’s Yuta Watanabe hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left in a game against VCU. In lieu of going the length of the court for the next-to-impossible buzzer-beater, JeQuan Lewis drew a charge on Tyler Cavanaugh, sunk two free throws and the Rams left D.C. with the heist of a 54-53 victory. The previous game, a premature court storm by the St. Bonaventure fans, gave VCU a free throw, which helped force overtime.

VCU would have been on the wrong side of the bubble had it not won both those games, especially with Lewis’ quick thinking against the Colonials. Instead, the Rams are all but assured a seventh consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament.

CBT Prediction: Dayton

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.

No. 3 Oregon heading to first Final Four in 78 years

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Oregon, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, made what looked to be a smooth path to Phoenix into a bumpy road. But after 78 years, the Ducks are going back to the Final Four, defeating No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in Elite Eight on Friday night in Kansas City.

Everything went right for the Ducks in the first half. Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the less than three minutes. The Jayhawks were limited in transition. Tyler Dorsey’s two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds gave them a double-digit lead at halftime. Oregon stretched it to as many as 18 in the second. Kansas couldn’t buy a basket from three (a far cry from the 3-point barrage it put on Purdue two nights earlier). When the Jayhawks drove to the basket, it was Jordan Bell (11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks) who either blocked or altered their shots.

However, the Ducks not only left the door open for the Jayhawks, they held it open. Kansas’ comeback attempt was a mix drink that was equal parts KU putting the clamps on defensively, Oregon playing a bit of hero ball, and the Ducks playing not to lose instead of to win. Up six with less than two minutes remaining, Dorsey (27 points) buried a dagger 3-pointer that all but sealed the win — and a spot in next week’s Final Four — for the Ducks.

Oregon will play the winner of the South region, which will either be No. 1 North Carolina or No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.

The slogan of the NCAA Tournament is “The Road to the Final Four”.

Outside of Duke, the runaway preseason favorite, and it’s months-long narrative of “Is Duke back?”, you could make the case there wasn’t a Final Four contender with a journey filled with more ups and downs than Oregon.

Weeks following a season-ending loss to Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, Oregon learned that both Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey would return to school for the next season. In July, Dylan Ennis was granted a sixth-year of eligibility. With Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell returning, and Payton Pritchard joining the program, the Ducks were an easy choice for a preseason Final Four pick.

Brooks’ offseason foot surgery — and the recovery that followed — raised concern about whether or not Oregon could fully reach its preseason potential, entering conference play without a notable win. Brooks’ Pac-12 Player of the Year season put to rest the status of his foot, leading the Ducks to a 16-2 Pac-12 record.

Hours before Oregon was set to battle with Arizona, it was announced that Chris Boucher had torn his ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season. Not only could this have played a role in the team’s seeding by the selection committee, but Boucher offered more than rim protection, as he helped space the floor given his ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter.

After fending off a good fight from Iona, the Ducks looked to be part of a Rhode Island’s magical postseason run. Tyler Dorsey ended that. In the Sweet 16, Oregon was matchup with Michigan, dubbed as the team of destiny. Bell and Dorsey, Oregon’s two tournament stars, stepped up in critical moments once again. Slated as an underdog for the second straight game, Oregon proved its Final Four worth by handing Kansas its worst tournament defeat of the Bill Self era in a regional final game that was played 40 miles away from the KU campus.

“I’m happy for our team,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said following the game. “I’m happy for, as I mentioned, our university and our state. It’s been a long time coming and now we just need to go continue to play well.”

For Oregon, its road to the Final Four has come full circle.