Jordair Jett

AP

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.

Jordair Jett tops Chaz Williams, UMass with last-second layup (VIDEO)

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With time winding down, Jordair Jett beat Derrick Gordon off the dribble with a quick first step and laid in the go ahead bucket with only three ticks remaining. Chaz Williams raced the ball up the floor, but his 35-footer clanked off the front iron as No. 17 Saint Louis held on to a 64-62 win on Sunday afternoon.

The Billikens won the Atlantic 10 outright with the last-second victory.

Saint Louis was less than six minutes away from losing its fourth straight game after previously winning 19 in a row.

After struggling from three for the majority of the game, Mike McCall Jr. hit the team’s second 3-pointer, making it a one-possession game at 56-54, with under five minutes to play. Saint Louis would later tie the score with a Dwayne Evans bucket.

With 90 seconds left, it became a one-on-one showcase with Jordair Jett and Chaz Williams, both of whom have a strong case for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Jett tied the score with a pair of free throws. Williams wasted little time and scored in the lane on the ensuing possession.

Jett countered with a lay-in of his own. UMass had several looks to take the lead back, but came up empty-handed as Saint Louis had the ball with a one-second differential between shot clock and game clock.

Micah Mason, Jerry Jones lead Duquesne to upset win over No. 10 Saint Louis (VIDEO)

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Having won 19 straight games No. 10 Saint Louis was well on its way to clinching a second consecutive Atlantic 10 regular season title, as they held a three-game lead on Saint Joseph’s entering Thursday’s home game against Duquesne. With a game at VCU on Saturday afternoon, the concern was that although Jim Crews’ rotation is full of veterans they could be caught looking ahead to that showdown.

Whether or not the Billikens were caught looking past the Dukes is up for debate, but either way Duquesne guard Micah Mason took advantage of the opportunity. Mason scored 22 points and dished out three assists to lead Jim Ferry’s team to the 71-64 upset win at Chaifetz Arena. Duquesne shot 55.6% from the field in the second half and received 24 points from its bench (19 from Jerry Jones) against Saint Louis, which didn’t look like the group that built a commanding lead in the Atlantic 10.

The Billikens have successfully navigated the perimeter shooting issues for much of this season, but that wasn’t the case against Duquesne as they shot 4-for-23 from beyond the arc. That SLU, which entered the game ranked eighth in the Atlantic 10 in three-point percentage (33.2%), would go through tough stretches shooting the basketball doesn’t come as a surprise although they have shot the ball better in conference play.

What did come as a surprise were the 16 turnovers committed by a team that ranks third in the conference in turnover margin and second in assist-to-turnover ratio. Nine of those turnovers were committed by seniors Jordair Jett (five) and Dwayne Evans II (four), and as a team the Billikens didn’t exhibit to sound decision-making that has factored into their climb up the national polls.

Saint Louis didn’t play its best basketball on Thursday night but it’s important to keep the result in perspective, as they still hold a two-game lead in the Atlantic 10 with three to play. Things can potentially get tighter with a loss at VCU, but the Billikens have won the last three meetings between the two programs. In order to beat the Rams again, Saint Louis will need to make perimeter shots at a higher clip than they did against Duquesne.

No. 10 Saint Louis beats George Mason in OT…again (VIDEO)

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No. 10 Saint Louis has been the class of the Atlantic 10 this season, but for some reason the George Mason Patriots have given them a hard time. The Patriots took the Billikens to overtime in the first meeting before falling in St. Louis, and the same thing happened on Wednesday night in Fairfax. SLU won 89-85 in overtime, with a Jordair Jett free throw with nine tenths of a second remaining forcing the extra session.

All five starters scored in double figures for the Billikens with Jett finishing the game with 25 points, while Sherrod Wright scored 34 to lead the way for George Mason. Paul Hewitt’s Patriots scored 42 points in the paint, but the 23 points Saint Louis was able to score off of 14 George Mason turnovers eventually caught up to the home team. SLU’s now won 18 straight games, extending the longest such streak in school history, and they remain three games up in the loss column atop the Atlantic 10.

At this stage in the season the Billikens find themselves not only looking to win the Atlantic 10, but also in the race to earn a high seed in the NCAA tournament. And with the Scottrade Center in St. Louis hosting games on the first weekend, a hot finish to the season could result in the Billikens having the benefit of opening the NCAA tournament in their home city.

No. 12 Saint Louis wins 17th straight, establishes greater separation in Atlantic 10 race

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Boxing gifted the sports world the saying “styles make fights,” and that adage fit Saturday’s game between VCU and No. 12 Saint Louis quite well. VCU, through the use of its “HAVOC” system, would look to ramp up the tempo while the home standing Billikens would prefer to play in the half court. Possession-wise the game would favor the Rams, with each team getting 73 possessions on the afternoon.

But what happened within those possessions worked to Saint Louis’ advantage, and the end result was a 64-62 Billiken victory at Chaifetz Arena. Despite turning the ball over 17 times Jim Crews’ team broke even in points off turnovers (14 points apiece), and they limited the Rams to just four fast-break points while scoring 12 themselves. Those factors, along with VCU shooting just 38.5% from the field, contributed to Saint Louis extending its win streak to 17 games.

But just as important as the win streak, the longest in school history, is that the Billikens extended their lead in the Atlantic 10 to three games in the loss column with six contests left to be played.

VCU’s leading scorer, Treveon Graham, did score 16 points but he needed 19 shots (making six) in doing so and as a team the Rams made just two of their 16 attempts from beyond the arc. VCU entered Saturday’s game shooting better than 35% and scoring 30% of its points on three-pointers, but given how well SLU has defended the shot it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the Rams struggled in this area. To VCU’s credit they still had a chance to win late, going on a 9-0 run to tie the game at 53 with 2:17 to go.

But the Billikens responded, as they’ve done all season, going on a 7-0 run to regain control of the game. Head coach Jim Crews, who deserves more publicity than he’s received when it comes to national Coach of the Year honors, has a group of veterans who simply make winning plays. Last week at La Salle it was Jordair Jett and this week it was Dwayne Evans II (21 points, ten rebounds) and Rob Loe, with the latter knocking down a critical three-pointer with 37 seconds remaining.

SLU doesn’t win “pretty,” and their foul shooting (16-for-27) left the door open for VCU, but it’s all about the result for a group that knows how to win games. And that’s a trait that makes Saint Louis capable of making a run come March.

Jordair Jett leads No. 13 Saint Louis to 16th consecutive victory (VIDEO)

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After winning 28 games and the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament titles a season ago, No. 13 Saint Louis had two personnel losses to account for. Gone were two of their three double-digit scorers in Cody Ellis and Kwamain Mitchell, and those certainly aren’t departures to be glossed over. However the Billikens did return four of their top six scorers, led by forward Dwayne Evans Jr., and for that reason Jim Crews’ team was expected to once again be right in the middle of the Atlantic 10 title race.

Evans (as he did last season) is leading Saint Louis in scoring, but if there’s a key play to be made late the ball will most likely be in the hands of fellow senior Jordair Jett. And against La Salle that was the case with Jett using a flat ball screen at the top of the key to get to the basket, finishing with four seconds remaining to give the Billikens the 65-63 win. Saint Louis has now win 16 straight games, establishing a new school record.

Jett finished the game with a season-high 25 points to go along with four assists, connecting on nine of his 14 shots from the field and shooting 7-for-9 from the foul line. And he epitomizes this Saint Louis team: not much flash, but certainly not lacking for results either. Saint Louis shot just 2-for-13 from beyond the arc against La Salle but they were able to make plays inside, scoring 42 of their 65 points in the paint.

La Salle was slightly better in this category, scoring 44 points in the paint with Jerrell Wright (21 points, eight rebounds) and Steve Zack (15 points, 13 rebounds) both being productive interior options, and the Explorers remained in the game throughout for that very reason. But guards Tyreek Duren (14 points) and Tyrone Garland (six points) combined to shoot just 7-for 21 from the field, with Saint Louis’ perimeter defense forcing challenged looks for much of the afternoon. And in the end, it was Jett who proved to be the difference-maker.

Saint Louis is off to the best start in school history, and their win streak is also a program best with SLU’s last defeat coming against No. 4 Wichita State back in December. With their ability to defend Saint Louis has the potential to be a tough out come March, and when the chips are down they’ve got a player in Jett makes all the right decisions.