UMass opens the door for an A-10 bid thief

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The quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament kicked off in exciting fashion on Friday afternoon as eight-seed UMass upset conference champion Temple 77-71.

The Minutemen got 20 points and 10 assists from point guard Chaz Williams while Jesse Morgan added 21 points as their defense forced 22 Temple turnovers. The No. 21 Owls are not known for their defense this season, which makes the fact that they were able to make this a game with those 22 turnovers while allowing UMass to hit six of their first seven threes in overtime fairly impressive.

The biggest news, however, is that all of a sudden St. Louis has become the most popular team in the country.

Temple is going to be in the NCAA Tournament. St. Louis will be as well, and with the Owls now watching the rest of Championship Week from their dorm rooms, the Billikens have become the bubble’s hope to save a bid.

As it currently stands, UMass will be playing the winner of St. Joseph’s and St. Bonaventure for the right to make an appear in the Atlantic 10 final. Neither UMass nor the Bonnies have a shot of making it to the dance without the automatic bid while St. Joe’s might need to make the final now that they won’t have a chance to play Temple.

On the other side of the bracket, assuming that St. Louis beats La Salle in the first round, the winner of the Xavier-Dayton quarterfinal will have a shot to lock up a bid to the NCAA Tournament with a win over the Billikens. Do the math and, well, a St. Louis run to the A-10 Tournament title would do a lot to give teams like Drexel and Washington and Seton Hall a shot at an at-large bid.

As far as UMass in concerned, keep an eye on this team. Williams has been sensational all season long as the Minutemen’s playmaker offensively, but their defense is what sparks this group. They press, they force turnovers and they love to play in the open court. I try to refrain from calling teams difficult to prepare for in a tournament setting — especially when you are league foes — but the up-and-down style that UMass plays will make them a difficult matchup for tired legs.

I’m not too concerned about Temple. We knew this group was susceptible to ball pressure. There is a reason they are going to end up being somewhere around a six or seven seed and not a top four seed.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.