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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

CBT Roundtable: College Basketball’s Biggest Disappointments

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Travis Hines: Given the expectations weren’t all that high for the Huskies, consider this one hell of an achievement to find them here. They’ve been that bad while Markelle Fultz has been amazing. You have to start with Fultz’s brilliance to fully understand Washington’s ineptitude. The potential No. 1 draft pick is averaging 22.8 points on 49.7 percent shooting from the floor and 48.7 percent from the 3-point line while also putting up 6.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. Throw in the 2.1 steals and 1.2 blocks, and he’s literally on pace to post numbers that have never been posted in college basketball. As a freshman. That’s just absurd. What else is absurd is that Washington has a guy of Fultz’s caliber performing up to the hype and still somehow sits 4-5 with losses to Yale, TCU (twice), Nevada and Gonzaga, which came in especially embarrassing fashion in a 27-point drubbing on national television.

The “how’ of Washington’s struggles clearly land on the defensive end of the floor, where one coach remarked to our Rob Dauster that “They were so ******* bad on defense. It was like they had never been coached. They had no plan.” So, that’s not good, I don’t think. The Huskies’ season is disappointing on a number of levels, first being it appears that we won’t be watching Fultz in the NCAA tournament, which is a bummer. The second is Lorenzo Romar didn’t need to surround Fultz with McDonald’s All-Americans to have a successful season. Capable dudes (given a defensive plan) would have been enough. And Washington wasn’t able to do that. How disappointing.

Rob Dauster: UConn has been an absolute mess this season. They lost to Wagner and Northeastern at home in their first two games. They barely escaped Loyola Marymount with a win. They went 1-2 in the Maui Invitational, with the one win coming in a closer-than-it-should’ve-been win over Chaminade. If that wasn’t enough, UConn has also been devastated by injury, with two starters – McDonald’s all-american point guard Alterique Gilbert and Terry Larrier, who was their best player at the start of the year – going down with season-ending injuries. This was a team that entered the season with a legitimate case to be considered a top 25 team and is, in all likelihood, going to end the year with a win over a potentially NIT-bound Syracuse team in Madison Square Garden being the highlight of their year.

This is how bad things have gotten for UConn: When I was at the game at MSG, a UConn fan told me that he would consider this season a success “if UConn shows up as a bad loss when they show Syracuse’s NCAA tournament résumé.” For a team that has won two of the last six national titles, that’s quite a fall from grace.

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Terrence Payne: Outside of the major six conferences, the Atlantic 10 is up there as one of the best. The A10 looked like it was on its way to another banner year when the preseason poll included both Rhode Island and Dayton. Currently, both teams find themselves outside the top-25, but more importantly, the conference as a whole finds itself with an underwhelming non-conference résumé. The A-10 is slightly above the American Athletic Conference for seventh place in the Conference RPI rankings, while KenPom rates the A10 as the eighth toughest league.

Rhode Island landed an early-season victory over No. 24 Cincinnati on a neutral floor, but the Rams have lost three out of four, all on the road, to Valparaiso, Providence and Houston. Dayton has been plagued by injuries to Kendall Pollard and transfer Josh Cunningham, which contributed to a 2-2 start. The Flyers have won five straight since, but Dayton could enter conference player with its best out of league win being against Northwestern or New Mexico, neither team pegged to land an at-large bid at this point. And it’s not just the team’s that began the season ranked. VCU, another A-10 power, hasn’t looked up to par, dropping back-to-back games against Illinois and Georgia Tech.

With a few weeks before conference play begins, the A-10 is lacking signature wins. Three years after receiving six bids, an all-time high for the conference, the A-10 is on pace to have, at best, half that amount this upcoming March.

Scott Phillips: It’s tough to call a young, injury-riddled team disappointing, but if Tom Izzo can angrily sit at the end of his own bench in the middle of games then we’re allowed to have such feelings. This Spartans team is 7-4 with single-digit home wins over Florida Gulf Coast, Oral Roberts and Tennessee Tech. Michigan State’s rebounding and free-throw shooting woes have cast serious concerns about their ability to win games early in the Big Ten without Miles Bridges. Of course, I expect Michigan State to make the NCAA tournament – and figure things out quickly – but they better do that before conference play begins.

Rams’ Martin out indefinitely

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Rhode Island’s Hassan Martin is out indefinitely with a quadriceps injury, the school announced Tuesday afternoon.

“The senior forward has begun treatment and rehab with the timetable of a full recovery and return to the court,” the school said in a statement.

Martin, whose absence will begin Tuesday night with the Rams facing Old Dominion, is averaging 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this season while ranking third in the country with 3.9 blocks per game.

He has an injury history after developing a stress fracture in his right knee that cost him the end of the 2016 season.

The Rams will have a difficult time replacing his production, but with an experienced group consisting of Jared Terrell, EC Matthews, Jarvis Garrett and Kuran Iverson, they’ll likely be able to paper over his absence in the short term, though where Martin will be missed most is on the defensive end where his shot blocking is a game-changer.

Rhode Island, who many picked in the preseason to win the Atlantic 10, have dropped two-straight games, losing to Valparaiso and Providence on the road last week. After facing Old Dominion tonight, the Rams have another solid test with a road game against Houston. Following that, the next big date on Rhode Island’s schedule is Jan. 6, when they travel to Dayton.

Providence beats No. 21 Rhode Island 63-60

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley knew the Rams were in for a tough one against Providence, which had won the matchup of cross-state rivals six straight times.

He didn’t see this coming, though.

Kyron Cartwright, who had made four 3-pointers all season, hit four of five from beyond the arc in the first half. The Providence point guard finished with 19 points and eight assists to lead the Friars to a 63-60 victory over No. 21 Rhode Island on Saturday.

“That’s sports, and that’s the type of thing that makes coaches go gray and lose their hair,” Hurley said after his team lost for the third time in four games. “Four 3-pointers in seven games and he made four today – all in the first half.”

Rodney Bullock scored 17 points for the Friars (6-2). Cartwright had 15 in the first half and Jalen Lindsey scored nine of his 13 points in the second, five during a 7-0 run that erased a seven-point deficit.

“My teammates were telling me, `You need to take those shots to open up the defense,”‘ Cartwright said. “(And) we don’t shoot the ball to not make it.”

Hassan Martin had 14 points and 17 rebounds for Rhode Island (5-3), which lost at unranked Valparaiso and Providence a week after falling to No. 1 Duke. E.C. Matthews scored nine points and went 1 for 8 from 3-point range, airballing a 3 with 2 seconds left with a chance for the Rams to tie it.

“Games like this might help us down the stretch,” Martin said. `’So you just tell everybody to keep their head up.”

The Rams led 47-40 with 12:15 left when Cartwright’s arm appeared to catch Christion Thompson in the left eye. Thompson went to the court, flailing his arms in the air looking for a call, but the teams played on until Lindsey hit a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game at 11:00.

Lindsey’s free throws brought the Friars within two points, and Ryan Fazekas scored on a fast-break goaltending call to tie it. From there, there were three more ties and kept the game within one possession until Lindsey hit a fallaway jumper with 43 seconds left to give Providence a 59-55 lead.

“We beat a tournament team today,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said.

POLL IMPLICATONS

It will be difficult for Rhode Island to stay in The Associated Press Top 25 after its stumbles.

Hurley said he isn’t concerned.

The goal at the beginning of the season was to win the Atlantic 10 and play in the NCAA Tournament.

That’s all still in play.

“We expect to have a long and great season. Nothing’s changed for us,” he said. “We lost two tough road games in a long season.”

BULLOCK’S BOUNCE-BACK

Bullock scored a career-high 36 points against New Hampshire on Wednesday, but he missed all three shots from the field in the first half and had only three points on six free throws at the break.

Cooley told him not to worry about the shooting and to try to make something happen with rebounding or defense.

“Somebody coming of a great scoring game like he did there’s going to be a lot of attention on him,” Cooley said. “I thought he showed some definite grit in the second half.”

TIP-INS

Rhode Island: Martin hit all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half. … Martin surpassed the 1,000-point milestone against Valparaiso on Tuesday. … The Rams have lost nine straight to Big East teams.

Providence: The Friars lead the all-time series 73-56, including a buzzer-beating victory last year in Kingston. … They are 1-1 against ranked teams this season, having lost to then-No. 7 Virginia on Nov. 26.

UP NEXT

Rhode Island: Hosts Old Dominion on Tuesday.

Providence: Hosts Brown on Tuesday.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

Valparaiso picks up key non-conference win over No. 21 Rhode Island

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Alec Peters had 27 points, nine boards and a pair of blocks, including on a potential game-tying three, as Valparaiso picked up yet another impressive win, knocking off No. 21 Rhode Island, 65-62.

Peters, who entered the game averaging better than 25 points on the season, is one of the best players in the country, not just at the mid-major level, and what makes this result so significant is that it means the Crusaders are in a really good spot to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Granted, there is a ton of basketball left to be played.

But as of today, Valpo has wins over URI, BYU and Alabama. The Rams figure to contend for the Atlantic 10 title, the Cougars look like a potential tournament team and Alabama plays in the SEC, which means that it should at least be a top 100 win come Selection Sunday. Their only loss? On the road against an Oregon team that you have to figure will end up back in the mix at the top of the Pac-12 come February.

And they still get a chance to swing up at Kentucky in Rupp Arena next week.

I’m not saying that this team is a lock to get an at-large bid, not by any stretch.

But if they beat who they’re supposed to beat, if they take care of business in the Horizon League and falter in their conference tournament, they should find themselves in a really good spot to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

For a team in a mid-major league, that’s really all you can ask.

No. 21 Rhode Island survives Brown’s upset bid

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Rhode Island had its first scare of the season.

The 21st-ranked Rams narrowly defeated Brown, 79-72, on Wednesday evening in a game in which Rhode Island had to sweat until the final moments.

Brown pulled to within five with under 4 minutes to play before Rhode Island answered with a bucket from E.C. Matthews followed by a Jared Terrell steal  and another Matthews layup to gain nine points worth of separation and eventually a victory.

The game being tight is a bit perplexing given the Rams’ stats are pretty solid for the night. They shot 57.7 percent from the field – including 37.5 percent from 3-point range – but they really hurt themselves on the line, going 13 of 22 from the charity stripe. They also didn’t control the boards quite like they have this season with just seven offensive boards while surrendering 10 to Brown.

Jared Terrell was 7 of 11 from the floor to finish with a team-high 18 points while Matthews had 17 and Hassan Martin 12 courtesy of 6 of 7 shooting. Steven Spieth had 21 points for Brown.

Rhode Island is an interesting case study this year as they’re the consensus A-10 pick despite the fact they’re a team that went 17-15 last year and 9-9 in the league. What’s given them the edge, in most eyes, is Matthews, who missed all of last year with an ACL injury.

He certainly looks as though he’s fully recovered, scoring  at least 17 points in all three of the Rams’ games this season and shooting 71.8 percent (!!!) from the floor. So, yeah, he’s pretty good and could be the difference in a conference race.

Still, there’s likely some kinks that need to be worked out as Matthews reintroduces himself to the rest of the Rams, and a night like Wednesday probably shouldn’t be too alarming. But it is a reminder that while Rhode Island is extremely talented, the A-10 is probably going to be hotly contested between the Rams, Dayton and VCU.