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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

VIDEO: Fordham tops VCU at the horn in OT

Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP
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Down 12 at halftime, VCU needed a second-half comeback to force overtime at Fordham.

There was nothing VCU could do to counteract Fordham’s game-winner.

Antwoine Anderson’s jumper as time expired in overtime gave Fordham a 69-67 victory Wednesday night.

After winning eight-straight games, VCU has now dropped back-to-back games with a loss to Davidson coming last weekend. The loss will likely bring up the same questions that were there after a less-than-steallar non-conference showing for VCU, given Fordham had lost 10 of 12 coming into the night.

POSTERIZED: VCU’s Deriante Jenkins with a Dunk of the Year nominee

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VCU has a fight on their hands with Princeton making the trip I-95 down to Richmond – the Rams were down double-digits in the first half – but they made a run.

Part of the reason they made that run?

Freshman De’riante Jenkins lighting up a poor Princeton defender with this vicious poster.

Here’s another angle of it (we’ll update this with better video when it comes available):

VCU-Virginia series exactly what college hoops needs

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Virginia and VCU are getting together to do something cool.

Play each other at their own gyms.

The two schools have scheduled a home-and-home series for 2017 and 2018, it was announced Wednesday.

“Coach (Tony) Bennett was excited about the possibility,” VCU coach Will Wade told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “and we were certainly excited about it. It’s a game that made sense for both sides.”

Frankly, it’s a game that makes sense for college basketball, at large, even if it is one of the rarest occurrences for a high-major to visit a mid-major, even one of the Rams’ caliber. Given the growing popularity of neutral-site games, financial necessities of playing home non-conference games and, sometimes, a general lack of competitive spirit (to be fair the high-majors certainly have more to lose than gain), these types of games just rarely happen and it has helped in one way to make November a rather dull month of college hoops.

People have been clamoring for a Kansas-Wichita State matchup that Bill Self he has no interest in scheduling. Iowa and Iowa State used to play in-state rivals Northern Iowa and Drake on their home courts every other year, but they now the schools play an antiseptic doubleheader on a neutral site in the center of the state. There’s no parade of high majors visiting schools from the MAC, WAC or CUSA, even if there might be regional or national interest. Matchups against blue bloods is great, but giving someone a chance to play Cinderella outside of March and on its home gym is appealing, too.

It’s just very hard to get a high-major program to leave its gym for anything short of an NBA arena or a made-for-TV attraction.

“You don’t get that often, where a team of that caliber comes to your home court,” Wade said. “They’re a top-10 program in the country right now in terms of the last three or four years.

“Make no mistake, they wouldn’t be doing this if our program wasn’t very good and they didn’t get some benefit out of it as well.”

Give Virginia and Bennett a ton of credit here for agreeing to head to VCU next year and then get the return game in 2018. The Cavaliers, who have risen to ACC and national prominence under Bennett, didn’t have to schedule this game, especially given they already did a home-and-home with VCU in 2013 and 2014. Bennett hasn’t been shy about aggressive scheduling with trips to George Washington (a loss), James Madison and Green Bay (another loss) in recent years, plus a host of trips to face other high-majors.

Virginia and VCU will certainly be games worth watching, not just because of the caliber of programs on the court, but because it’ll have the intimacy and intensity of a college campus, which is one of the things that can make college basketball stand out, something the sport definitely needs in November.

Gilmore leaving VCU

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Sophomore forward Michael Gilmore is transferring from VCU, the school announced Tuesday.

Gilmore started 18 games and appeared in 55 total for the Rams, but never carved out more than a marginal role, averaging 11.5 minutes per game as a sophomore after 6.3 his freshman season. He averaged 3.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game this past year as he saw his role dwindle down the stretch for the Rams.

His departure will take away some interior depth for VCU, but coach Will Wade will still be returning the bulk of the team that tested eventual Final Four participant Oklahoma in the Round of 32 a month ago.

For Gilmore, he’ll likely have plenty of suitors despite the pedestrian numbers he posted over the last two years as 6-foot-10 forwards who have shown the ability to space the floor don’t hit the transfer market with great regularity.He was a consensus four-star recruit in the Class of 2014.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Semifinals in Charleston, New York and San Juan

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 16 Utah vs. Miami, 7:00 pm. (ESPNU)

The second semifinal at the Puerto Rico Tipoff could be the best game of the day in college basketball, as a ranked Utah team will look to get past a Miami squad that has the look of a dark horse in the ACC. The key for the Runnin’ Utes, not only Friday but moving forward, will be to find that offensive option who can take over the “end of shot clock” role Delon Wright filled his last two seasons. Lorenzo Bonam played well against Texas Tech, but he’ll have a tough matchup opposite Angel Rodriguez.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 5 Duke vs. VCU, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

The Blue Devils are back in action after falling to No. 2 Kentucky at the Champions Classic, this time taking on a VCU team that will pressure full-court. VCU’s “Havoc” could cause problems for a Duke team whose point guard situation has yet to be sorted out. As for the Rams, they’ll have to figure out a way to keep Amile Jerrferson and Marshall Plumlee off the boards after both putting together solid possessions late.

SIX THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. Xavier hits the road for the first time this season, taking on No. 24 Michigan in Ann Arbor (9:00 p.m., BTN) as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Zak Irvin’s back in the lineup for the Wolverines, and with all of their pieces available Michigan is a team to keep an eye on in the Big Ten. But the same goes for Xavier in the Big East, as Jalen Reynolds and company should contend.

2. No. 2 Kentucky is back in action, hosting Wright State (8:00 p.m., SEC Network) three days after beating No. 5 Duke at the Champions Classic. The expectation is that the Wildcats will take care of business comfortably, especially with the Raiders arriving in Lexington as losers of two straight games. If the young Wildcats can put this one away early, that would speak to the team’s ability to move forward from a big win and focus on the task at hand.

3. Speaking of moving on from big wins, No. 3 Maryland hosts Rider in a game that could be trickier than some expect if Teddy Okereafor gets going for the Broncs. Okereafor’s gotten off to a slow start for the expected MAAC contenders, and he’s a key piece for this team on the perimeter. As for the Terps, their versatile and talented roster continuing to mesh with an eye towards bigger goals as the season wears on is what should be watched for in this contest.

4. The Paradise Jam begins today, with four games being played on the US Virgin Islands. The best matchup could be Hofstra taking on Florida State (3:30 p.m., CBSSN), with both teams possessing explosive backcourt rotations. The Pride are led by Juan’ya Green, Brian Bernardi and Ameen Tanksley, and Leonard Hamilton will counter with a deep rotation led by Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley. The Seminoles, who are the better defensive team of the two, have the talent needed to contend in the ACC. An impressive weekend at the Paradise Jam could help them gain some attention nationally.

5. No. 22 Butler looks to continue its offensive fireworks in San Juan as they take on Temple in the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Tipoff (1:00 p.m., ESPN2). Tyler Lewis has been outstanding at the point, setting up the Bulldogs for a host of quality scoring opportunities whether in the half court or out in transition. The Owls don’t lack for talent themselves with senior forward Jaylen Bond leading the way, and the return of stretch forward Obi Enechionyia helped them in a big way against Minnesota.

6. A shorthanded Georgetown squad looks to avoid its first-ever 0-3 start, as they take on Wisconsin at the 2K Classic in New York City (5:00 p.m., ESPN2). Paul White missed the first two games with a hip injury and Tre Campbell didn’t make the trip due to illness, with the latter’s absence leaving the Hoyas with just two available scholarship guards. Now those two (D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and L.J. Peak) are very good, but they’ll have their hands full with a Wisconsin perimeter attack led by Bronson Koenig.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • Long Beach State vs. No. 6 Virginia (Charleston Classic), 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • East Tennessee State at No. 11 Villanova, 7:00 p.m. (FS2)
  • Arkansas-Pine Bluff at No. 13 Michigan State, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • McNeese State at No. 8 Oklahoma, 8:00 p.m.
  • Jackson State at No. 20 Baylor, 8:00 p.m.
  • Savannah State at No. 25 Oregon, 11:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)
  • East Carolina at No. 15 California, 11:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Ohio vs. Tulsa (Paradise Jam), 1:00 p.m.
  • George Mason vs. Oklahoma State (Charleston Classic), 1:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • Murray State at Georgia, 7:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
  • Columbia at Northwestern, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3)