Dwayne Evans

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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.

Saint Louis now 6-0 on the road, 15-2 overall with win at Dayton

Dwayne Evans
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For all the talk about UMass and VCU this season, might the Atlantic 10 title still run through St. Louis?

It certainly looked like it on Saturday afternoon, as the Billikens went into Dayton and smacked around the Flyers, winning 67-59 in a game that where Jim Crews’ club had a double-digit lead for much of the second half.

Dwayne Evans was fantastic as usual, finishing with 22 points and nine boards on 9-for-11 shooting from the floor. Jordair Jett added 12 points and five assists while Austin McBroom chipped in with 17 off the bench, but as always, the story of this game was on the defensive end of the floor.

Dayton shot 30.6% from the floor. Devin Oliver, Dayton’s second-leading scorer, was 0-for-12 from the field and didn’t score a single points.

You see, there isn’t a team in the country as good as Saint Louis at taking teams out of what they want to do offensively. They don’t bring full-court pressure and they’re not really the kind of a defense that will trap you to death, but they are disciplined, they rotate extremely well and they know how to play to the scouting report.

That’s part of the reason the Billikens are so tough on the road. They will win games even when they don’t play well offensively. That’s why they are a nation’s best 6-0 on the road this season.

Still haven’t sold you on the Billikens yet? How about this: they are now 15-2 on the season with their only losses coming against Wisconsin and Wichita State, two teams that have yet to lose to anyone this season.

St. Louis can play.

Mike McCall’s buzzer-beater lifts Saint Louis over Valparaiso (VIDEO)

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With 3.8 second left, Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans tossed his inbounds pass to Rob Loe, who drove to the bucket, but his lefty layup was blocked. The Valparaiso defense had its heads turned, allowing Mike McCall Jr. to slip past on the box out, and tipped in the game-winner as the Billikens escaped with a 67-65 road win over Valpo on Saturday.

Saint Louis never trailed on Saturday, but in the second half the Crusaders erased a 12-point deficit. Valpo dug itself in a first half hole, committing 13 turnovers through the first 20 minutes.

Exciting finish aside, was Saturday a concern for Saint Louis?

A week ago, the Billikens held a seven-point edge against No. 12 Wichita State while Shockers guard Ron Baker sat on the bench with foul trouble. When Baker went back in, the Shockers took the lead with 9-0 run, as Cleanthony Early woke up after a 1-for-8 start. Saint Louis had several opportunities to tie or take the lead, but missed all three 3-point tries and missed half its free throws in the final 90 seconds.

(Watch Askia Booker’s buzzer-beater in Colorado’s win over Kansas on Saturday)

Credit to Valparaiso for clawing back into the game. The Crusaders trailed by nine with under six to play, but a 53-31 edge on the glass, which included 20 offensive boards, helped Valpo tie the game at 65 with five seconds to go off a LaVonte Dority layup. Saint Louis had multiple chances to put the game out of reach, but could not convert.

“We had a couple offensive lapses, but our defense was good,” Evans said after the game according to Tom Timmerman of the St. Louis Dispatch. “Rebounding got the best of us. But down the stretch, we made the plays we needed to make, so I’ll take it.”

Despite giving up more offensive rebounds in the second half than they pulled down in the entire game, the Billikens were able to take advantage of the biggest second-chance bucket of the night with McCall’s heroics.

After another quality test, Saint Louis — the defending champion in the Atlantic 10 — improves to 8-2. The Billikens host Wofford next Saturday before welcoming an experienced Indiana State team to Chaifetz Arena on Dec. 18 for yet another non-conference challenge.

2013-2014 Season Preview: Atlantic 10: VCU’s Havoc to top the new-look league

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The Atlantic 10 was not immune to conference realignment, as five teams have moved either in or out of the conference this season with a sixth team (Davidson) joining the A-10 for 2014-2015. The conference lost Butler after its one-year stint, as well as Charlotte, Temple and Xavier. For all the losses the conference still fields VCU — a top-25 team to start the season — and several teams that have expectations of going to the NCAA tournament, including La Salle, Saint Louis and UMass. The conference has a lot of momentum following a year that saw all five bids advance, and despite the losses of four programs, the Atlantic 10 has another promising season on the horizon.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

IN: George Mason
OUT: Butler, Charlotte, Temple, Xavier

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW:

1. Despite the losses, the league is still strong: The conference is down, but not out after losing two of the five teams that secured NCAA tournament bids last season. If you take the four departing schools out the equation, the Atlantic 10 still had five teams that finished in the RPI top 100 last season, and that’s before you take into account the expected improvement of Rhode Island, Dayton and George Washington.

2. The league’s best coaches stayed home: Shaka Smart and VCU came to terms on a new contract that keeps him on the Rams’ sideline through 2028. La Salle and Dr. John Giannini reaching an extension as well, and Saint Louis removed Jim Crews’ interim tag. Those are three of the best coaches in the league, which is a good sign for the future of the conference.

3. UMass got their star back: UMass point guard Chaz Williams had a chance to skip his senior year and play in Turkey, though decided to return because of unfinished business both in the classroom and on the court. That’s enormous news for Derek Kellogg, as Williams is one of the best point guards in the country and a huge part of the Minutemen’s attack.

4. Guards. Lots and lots of guards: The back courts in this conference will be great to watch, especially the teams at the top of the league. We know about VCU’s guards and La Salle’s back court is no longer a secret thanks to their Sweet 16 run, and Williams is joined by Western Kentucky transfer Derrick Gordon at UMass this year. Rhode Island, St. Joe’s, Dayton, St. Louis. There’s plenty of back court talent here.

5. The Atlantic 10 has its games on the NBC Sports Network this year: 25 regular season games can be seen on the NBC Sports Network. The full schedule of games can been seen here.

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PRESEASON ATLANTIC 10 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Chaz Williams, UMass

Coming off another productive year, the senior point guard has one more shot at an NCAA tournament. He averaged 15.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game last season as a junior, and this year will have familiar pieces and new weapons to utilize. Cady Lalanne and Raphiael Putney return in the UMass front court and Western Kentucky transfer Derrick Gordon is eligible after sitting out last season. Williams can not only grab player of the year honors, he can also advance UMass to the Big Dance for the first time since 1998.

THE REST OF THE ATLANTIC 10 FIRST TEAM

  • Tyreek Duren, La Salle: Leading the La Salle perimeter attack this season after a junior campaign averaging 14.2 points a game
  • Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis: The senior forward helped the Billikens capture the A10 title with 14.0 points per game and 7.7 rebounds.
  • Juvonte Reddic, VCU: Shaka Smart will look to Reddic to man the VCU frontline. The senior forward shot 57 percent from the field a season ago, grabbing 8.1 rebounds per game.
  • Xavier Munford, Rhode Island: The Rams are looking to make the next step in the rebuilding process and Munford can help in his last season at URI. With Munford is the top scorer returning to the conference this season.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Isaiah Armwood, George Washington
  • Derrick Gordon, UMass
  • Treveon Graham, VCU
  • E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
  • Tyrone Garland, La Salle

BREAKOUT STAR: Tyrone Garland, La Salle

Garland, who transferred into the program from Virginia Tech, was a lightening bolt for John Giannini’s team last season. His “Southwest Philly Floater” is the reason they made it to the second weekend of the Big Dance. But with Ramon Galloway gone and graduated, Garland’s role for the Explorers will have to expand. If they are going to make a push for the A-10 title, Garland will need to have a big season. We expect just that.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Derek Kellogg, UMass

Kellogg is under pressure this season, but he isn’t necessarily on the “hot seat”. Kellogg is now in his sixth season and is still looking to take his alma mater back to the NCAA tournament. UMass was on the wrong side of the bubble this year, but with the returners he has the Minutemen have realistic chances to be one of the 68 teams come March.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … The league lost Butler, Temple and Xavier and still got five teams into the tournament.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: The guard play in the league. Seems like everyone has an all-conference caliber player in their back court.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • November 12th: LSU at UMass
  • November 12th: VCU atVirginia
  • November 26th: Saint Louis at Wisconsin
  • December 1st: Wichita State at Saint Louis
  • December 15th: La Salle at Villanova

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW:  @CDiSano44

PREDICTED FINISH:

1. VCU: Shaka Smart returns Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic, two all-conference caliber players. The Rams a couple pieces in their back court, but there is still plenty of depth on the roster. Point guard play, and the new hand-checking rules, will be the keys to their season.
2. UMass: Five A-10 teams received bids to the tournament last March, but the Minutemen were on the outside looking in. This season UMass has a favorable conference schedule — home games against La Salle, Saint Louis and VCU — which could help them finishing higher in the conference standings.
3. Saint Louis: The Billikens return leading scorer Dwayne Evans, as well as Mike McCall, Jordair Jett and Rob Loe, who were key components to Saint Louis’ top scoring defense in the A-10 a season ago.
4. La Salle: The Explorers made the deepest run in the tournament of any conference team last spring, but lost Ramon Galloway, the team’s leading scorer. Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland return to lead La Salle’s perimeter attack.
5. Richmond: Darien Brothers is gone, but the Spiders have the next three top scorers from a season ago back in the mix this year.
6. Rhode Island: Dan Hurley is still building up that URI program, and this is the season they can make the jump. The Rams add Gilvydas Biruta from Rutgers and have a freshman tandem of Hassan Martin and E.C. Matthews in the lineup this year to go along with Xavier Munford, who poured in 17. 4 a game in 2012-2013.
7. Dayton: Archie Miller’s team should improve even without Kevin Dillard. Matt Kavanaugh returns from suspension and Devin Oliver, Vee Sanford and Dyshawn Pierre all return as starters.
8. St. Joseph’s: Phil Martelli’s team finished 10th in the conference a season ago after being pegged as the preseason favorite. This year, three seniors — Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic — will lead the Hawks.
9. George Mason: The newcomers to the the conference returns a lot of talent from last year’s 22-win team, including Sherrod Wright.
10. George Washington: Eight freshmen or sophomores are on the roster. Isaiah Armwood provides a nice player inside, and Mo Creek joins the team from Indiana.
11. St. Bonaventure: Roster features a lot of newcomers to go along with seniors Charlon Kloof, Matthew Wright and Marquise Simmons and junior Youssou Ndoye, though none of them averaged double figures last year.
12. Fordham: Jon Severe, a three-star recruit and Rivals150 in the Class of 2013, should be fun to watch for Fordham.
13. Duquesne: Jim Ferry is still putting the pieces in to place, but does have Derrick Colter coming back after a strong freshman season in the Dukes’ back court.

Saint Louis beats Butler for third time, looks like Final Four contender in the process

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NEW YORK — After their 72-55 win over Charlotte on Friday, I explained why the Saint Louis Billikens have the look and feel of a team that can make the Final Four.

The Billikens’ 67-56 win over the Butler Bulldogs on Saturday in the Atlantic 10 semifinals only reinforced my beliefs.

Butler has wins this season over the likes of Indiana, Gonzaga and North Carolina. Now consider this: Saint Louis beat Butler not once, not twice, but three times.

Saint Louis has a deep, experience-laden roster. They have guys who excel in a multitude of different areas. They are poised and do not make mistakes. Their season has been driven by and motivated by extenuating circumstances out of their control.

Sure, they will struggle against elite athleticism and physical frontcourts, but that appears to be their only real weaknesses.

“I think St. Louis is one of the best teams in the country,” said Butler coach Brad Stevens prior to the contest. “I don’t care where they’re ranked or where they’ll be seeded. Somebody who hasn’t played against them next week, they’re going to say uh‑oh.”

Stevens offered even more praise for the top-seed following his team’s tough loss.

“I’ve said all year to the people who have listened, and some that don’t, how good they are. They are a legitimate contender to win the whole thing.”

That is high praise from a coach who went to back-to-back National Championship games within his first five seasons as a Division I head coach.

Saint Louis will be a difficult match-up for teams who have not faced them before. They don’t make mistakes, play extremely physical, and run simple yet effective sets designed to control the flow of the game.

“Sometimes, when you don’t know you’re doing, if you don’t make mistakes and don’t turn the ball over, the opponent won’t know what we’re doing either.” Saint Louis head coach Jim Crews quipped following his team’s 14th win in their past 15 games.

Dwayne Evans led the Billikens in scoring for the second consecutive game, finishing with 24 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals.

Butler’s Roosevelt Jones spent much of the game guarding Evans. “He’s probably the most physical player that I have ever played against in my life. I thought that he should have been Player of the Year in the conference.”

But Evans was not the Billikens’ only source of offense. Saint Louis got 13 points from Cody Ellis and nine from both Mike McCall Jr. and Jordair Jett.

Brad Stevens continued in his praise of the Billikens.”The thing I go back to, is Cody Ellis and Jordair Jett are two of their best players. They’re not in the starting lineup. Their starting lineup is really good. So they have depth. They have physicality. They have toughness”

The Billikens trailed by as many as six points in the first half, but took the lead heading into the break on a buzzer-beating lay-up from Rob Loe. The experienced Billikens never trailed in the final 20 minutes.

“We’ve got eight guys that are juniors or seniors, and they’ve invested a lot into the program and invested in each other”, said Crews.

It would be fitting for Saint Louis to make a Final Four run with both VCU and Butler in the Atlantic 10 for the first time. But unlike both VCU and Butler’s Final Four appearances, Saint Louis’ would not come as a surprise.

You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir