Assessing the Atlantic 10’s NCAA Tournament Chances

Posted by Joe Dzuback on March 16th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

The chances for six bids, a record high for the Atlantic 10, are strong. The source for the seeds is the Bracket Matrix (a consensus of approximately 100 bloggers/bracketologists).

St. Joe's Made Quite the Run This Weekend (credit: Mid-Majority)

St. Joe’s Made Quite the Run This Weekend (credit: Mid-Majority)

Virginia Commonwealth (#6 seed)  — For the Rams, who have had problems generating offense from the half-court all season, turnovers leading to fast breaks and transition threes are especially important. Virginia Commonwealth’s HAVOC approach to defense is designed to generate turnovers through aggressive pressure and quick traps. HAVOC defense values turnovers and the scoring opportunities they create over shot defense. The key to negating the Rams’ strategy is to grow old and patient. Lineups that feature upperclassmen, especially in the ball-handling positions, can break the press on most possessions and make the Rams pay with easy baskets. A turnover or two should not rattle the backcourt and cause hasty, turnover-inducing decisions like the ones that plagued George Washington in the Atlantic 10 semifinals on Saturday. thrives in a hurry-up offense and defense that values turnovers over shot defense. Break the Rams’ press and avoid the half-court traps, unlike George Washington’s guard Joe McDonald Saturday, and the opponent should have a clean look at the basket. He and freshman point guard Miguel Cartagena threw two passes away with under four minutes to play and the Colonials down nine. “You can see it in their eyes… in their body language… when they are rattled,” a scout observed. Smart’s squad is the A-10’s best bet for a deep run this NCAA Tournament. While they have their flaws, they also have an experienced coach who will get them ready to play.

Saint Louis (#6 seed) — VCU may get most of the “defense” ink, but St. Louis has compiled the most impressive defensive resume in the conference… up until two weeks ago, holding opponents to 0.93 points per possession, good for #8 in Division I, according to Ken Pomeroy. The defense is vintage Rick Majerus — stifling shot defense (especially out to the three-point line) that values defensive rebounds, limited fouls and a hand in the face over turnovers. Their late February/early March slump could be anticipated because the Bills’ had a string of small point margins through much of their 12-0 start to conference play. Their 1-3 close has hurt their projected seeding and possibly their confidence. While Austin McBroom and Mike McCall are decent from beyond the arc, they are specialists. Opposing defenses know if McBroom or McCall (or forward Rob Loe) has the ball, the shot will come from the outside and anyone else will drive the lane or pass into the low post. Jordair Jett, the A-10 Player of the Year, has proven to be able to create his own shot, but everyone else needs a setup or set play to score. The Bills will have to find a third/fourth option on offense to take a deep run.

Saint Joseph’s (#9 seed) — By virtue of its weekend run, it looks as if the Hawks will earn at least a #9 seed when the field is announced later today, a testament to the conference’s strength. The Hawks assembled a lackluster 10-4 non-conference record, but brightened their prospects considerably with an 11-5 league mark that included wins over Dayton (twice), VCU and Massachusetts. The regular season-ending loss to La Salle sent head coach Phil Martelli’s squad back to the wrong side of the bubble, but a conference tournament championship have put that notion to rest and guaranteed a placement in the field. Langston Galloway has sloughed off his slump and Halil Kanasevic has emerged as a leader and reliable low post presence. This is an offense-first team, quite different from the Martelli teams of the past three seasons. If Galloway stays hot and DeAndre Bembry (co A-10 Freshman of the Year) can contribute at both ends, the Hawks can see the second weekend.

George Washington (#8 seed) — Mike Lonergan’s teams have won 10/13/24 games in each of his three seasons at Foggy Bottom. The program has developed a sophisticated repotoire of defenses combined with a balanced offense that can look to Isaiah Armwood and Kevin Larsen for points in the paint and Kethan Savage, Maurice Creek (and Patricio Garino & Nemanja Mekic, when either is on) out to the three-point line. While Armwood, Mekic and Creek are seniors, none have NCAA postseason experience. Savage, the most consistent mid-range/outside scorer this season, broke his foot in late January. Though the prognosis was 4-6 weeks, Savage appeared for a single possession Saturday in the Colonials’ loss to Virginia Commonwealth before heading to the sidelines complaining of pain. Savage might be available for the Dance, but how effective will he be?

Massachusetts (#7 seed) — Derek Kellogg’s squad started red-hot, assembling a 17-1 resume that included a win over Big East Tournament Champion Providence and a 3-0 start to conference play. Since beating Elon in mid-January however, the Minutemen have gone 8-8 through their loss to George Washington in the A-10 quarterfinals last Thursday. An inconsistent Raphael Putney and — if Thursday night’s quarterfinal game versus Rhode Island is an accurate measure — baffling on-the-court decision-making might be obstacles to a deep NCAA run. With less than two minutes to play and holding a five-point lead, three UMass players sent Rams’ starters to the line with fouls. Putney clanked a Chaz Williams outlet alley-oop into the second row with 14 seconds left and a six-point lead that left a few observes scratching their heads as Rhode Island had cut the lead several times already.

Dayton (#11 seed) — The Flyers won 12 non-conference games, but started the conference season with a horrific 1-5 slide. A 9-1 close to the conference and a win last Thursday should put them in the NCAA (or earn them a high NIT seed). Archie Miller’s squad had the best offense in A-10 play, but what Dayton took offensively, they nearly gave back defensively. The principle culprits included shot defense (everywhere), but worse, a tendency to foul on nearly one-in-two field goal attempts. Against better free throw shooting teams (i.e., Saint Louis). By Pomeroy’s reckoning (fouls per 40 minutes), four Flyers (senior center Matt Kavanaugh, sophomore forward Devon Scott, freshman forward Kendall Pollard, and freshman Kyle Davis) would not see the end of any game they started. Davis is close to fouling out twice per 40 minutes. How they will handle the pressure is another question — only Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert has NCAA experience. While this is not Miller’s best regular season — his first season was a 23-10 effort with Brian Gregory’s roster — it might be the one that earns him his first NCAA bid. If Dayton draws a first round seed they will likely get to play at home, a huge advantage.

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