City Sports Report

Bracket Bedlam Brewing in Brooklyn: Atlantic 10 Tournament Preview

Shaka-Smart

By Jamison Hackelman

Potential Bracket Bedlam Brewing in Brooklyn: A Preview of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament and Why You Need to Pay Attention

2015-Atlantic-10-Tournament-bracket-590x900

Forgive the alliteration, its use was merely intended to bring your attention to a handful of former mid-majors looking to wreck your NCAA Tournament bracket.

Quick History Lesson:

2006: George Mason the first mid-major team to make the Final Four.

2007: “Is This The Dagger?” VCU upsets Duke in the first round.

2008: Davidson and Pre-Potential MVP Stephen Curry lights up everyone but Kansas.

2011: VCU, victorious in the inaugural “Final Four In” play-in game for a #11 seed, makes it to the Final Four; the first team to win 5 games en route (Richmond makes it to the Sweet 16).

2014: Dayton makes it past Ohio State, Syracuse, and Stanford to advance to the Elite Eight.

That marks five different years seemingly nameless schools wrecked America’s brackets, and thanks to a few years of conference deck shuffling, they are now all in the same boat.

The Atlantic 10 has always had someone with their foot in the door. Xavier, before they bolted, were a perennial disruption. St. Joe’s had a couple years of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West magic to bring more notoriety to the conference, and long before the Big East began raiding them of their storied institutions, programs like Villanova, Rutgers, and West Virginia also played a serious role in the A10’s rich history even though those are all distant memories at this point.

This season the NCAA Tournament finds itself faced with a nice bundle of some of the most historically disruptive NCAA Tournament teams in one conference. While collectively the A10 only boasts a 7th ranked RPI, there’s still a lot of noise to be made leading up to Selection Sunday.

Favored to Win:

Davidson, But Really, Who Knows?

In its first season as a member of the A10, Davidson came out on top as both the regular season champion, and the only A10 team to end the regular season in the AP Top 25 while both Dayton and VCU, who had held spots in the rankings at different times in the season, fell out.

But the Wildcats’ conference play this season didn’t exactly inspire confidence. They split their series with both VCU and Richmond, and won their only matchups with Dayton and Rhode Island. Davidson would do well to handle their business in the Quarterfinals decisively because trouble will surely find them in the Semis with either Richmond or VCU ready to get out of the bubble and solidify their spots in the NCAA Tournament.

Games to Watch:

The All-But-In Tourney Teams: VCU, Davidson, Dayton

Davidson appears to be the only solid lock for the NCAA, and VCU, despite being the #5 seed in the tournament, should also be a lock with quality wins over bigger name teams like Oregon, #11 Northern Illinois, Cincinnati, and Belmont (who just recently punched their own ticket out of the Ohio Valley Conference with a win over then #25 Murray State). But they’re kind of slipping. They are without Briante Weber, and they have struggled to find productivity elsewhere going 5-5 since his injury against Richmond.

Both the Wildcats and the Rams should feel like locks, but it’s imperative that they make a pretty decent showing in the tournament, especially VCU who definitely needs to advance to the quarterfinals- and maybe even beyond that -to solidify their suddenly tenuous spot.

The same applies to Dayton. Their last game, a close loss to lowly La Salle, shouldn’t turn too many heads unless of course they decide to lose to either St. Joe’s or St. Bonaventure. Losing doesn’t look great, particularly in post-season tournaments. The Flyers have last year’s incredible success as a kind of reference at the very bottom of their resume, but the way their season has ended, losing two of their last five to teams like La Salle and Duquesne, doesn’t do much to help their case when the three teams they did win against are either tucked tightly inside very fragile bubbles, Rhode Island and VCU, or non-factors in post-season play, George Mason.

 

Long Shot, Super Fragile Bubble Teams That Are Here To Haunt Your Dreams: Richmond, Rhode Island, George Washington

Richmond is a short miracle away from making the NCAA. Again, the real problem with the Atlantic 10, outside of VCU, is the lack in strength of schedule apart from conference play. In fairness, Richmond did schedule NC State, Wake Forest, and UNI this year, but they came up short. However, they are the only A10 team to beat VCU twice this year, and they have a shot at doing so a third time with a possible matchup in the Quarterfinals. But they have to win that. They also probably have to beat Davidson, make it to the finals, and win/barely lose to Dayton and not anyone less than.

Rhode Island, despite being the #3 seed in this chaos, needs a miracle. They didn’t play well against Kansas. They beat a Nebraska team who was ranked at the time, but in that time the Cornhuskers have lost to teams like Incarnate Word, gone 5-13 in conference play, and locked its own players out of the locker room, so that once nice-looking victory is more of a, “Thank God You Didn’t Lose To The Kids Getting Locked Out of The Locker Room” game than it is relevant.  They are a casualty of their own conference schedule as well. They got only one shot at VCU, Richmond, Dayton, and Davidson, playing all but Dayton closely. They will look to play spoiler in the tournament, and E.C. Matthews will likely relish the opportunity. Don’t overlook them, especially if he can somehow lead them to the Big Dance.

Again, with George Washington, the scenario is win-all, or at least make it to the championship and lose to VCU or Davidson. Their main advantage over the miracle required of Rhode Island and Richmond is that they beat someone. They beat Wichita State, and that’s not to be overlooked.

 

Reminder:

With the exception of Dayton and Richmond, none of those previously listed historic Cinderellas were part of the Atlantic 10 when they made their runs. Not George Mason. Not VCU. Not Davidson.

Also, many of those past destroyers of dreams won’t even get an invitation to the dance. Saint Louis, who’s been to the tournament the past three seasons without ever cracking the Sweet 16 will need to win every game to get in, and the same goes for George Mason who hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since their Final Four run almost a decade ago.

The important idea to remember here is that the most dangerous bubble teams; those sketchy 8-12 seeds that manage to ruin your Elite Eight before you make it to the round of 32, you won’t find them coming from the Big 10, Big 12, SEC, or even ACC. It’s not even Wichita State or Butler that you really need to worry about. This year’s bracket busters should come from the Atlantic 10 because basketball gods are vindictive and conniving. They are without remorse; never giving caution to tradition or the “Nobody Believes in Us Anymore” tribal chants of the storied institutions who have since fallen out of favor. They have converged upon one conference, and whoever survives the Atlantic 10 Tournament and advances to the NCAA, well, good luck.

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