Atlantic 10 Tournament: Semifinal Saturday Review

Posted by Joe Dzuback on March 15th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent at the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Brooklyn this weekend. He filed this report after Saturday’s semifinal action.

No Bid Thieves Among Us

With four opponents and three NCAA-bound teams left in the field, the chances for an NIT-bound team to play on Saturday were a given. Which team that would be, however, was not decided until Rhode Island crushed George Washington in the evening quarterfinal session on Friday night. Rhody’s burgeoning bid steal attempt ended at the hands of Dayton on Saturday in a game that was not decided until there were 20 seconds left. Davidson, unsteady in its A-10 Tournament debut in the quarterfinals, was saved by a Jake Gibbs drive and bucket in a one-point win on Friday before falling to Virginia Commonwealth in the semifinals on Saturday. That means Dayton and VCU will meet today (1:00 PM ET) to determine which team will take the Atlantic 10’s automatic bid. Of the three widely-recognized NCAA-bound teams, Dayton and VCU seem to be securely on the #8/#9 seed lines. Only Davidson appears in slight danger, located on the #10 or #11 lines depending on whose bracket you consider.

Archie Miller Once Again Has Dayton Peaking in March (USA Today Images)

Archie Miller Once Again Has Dayton Peaking in March (USA Today Images)

Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley made the obligatory argument for an NCAA bid after his team’s loss. The Rams have the 10th-best defensive efficiency in Division I basketball, no losing streak longer than two games, a 20+ win season, etc. All are legitimate points, but he failed to mention Rhody’s RPI (#60), a strength of schedule ranking of #161, an 0-6 record versus top 50 teams and a 3-2 record versus teams ranked between #100 and #200. In the end, Hurley tacitly acknowledged that his Rams were a bit short: “If that’s [the NIT] where we end up landing we will be thrilled with that.” Expect the Rams along with conference-mates Richmond and George Washington to have at least one home game when the NIT field is announced on Sunday night. All three NIT-bound teams are projected as squarely on the #4 seed line or higher, making them very secure in that field. Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg removed his team from consideration for a CIT/CBI bid, leaving St. Bonaventure, the remaining unclaimed team with a winning conference and overall record, waiting for a phone call Sunday night.

A Man’s Reach Should Exceed His Grasp

With those words Davidson coach Bob McKillop ended the press conference after his top-seeded Wildcats lost to #5 seed Virginia Commonwealth by 20 points on Saturday. “I can’t talk about other conferences, but that is a first in the Atlantic 10…” a conference official offered as the assembled media exited the interview room. Indeed. As clearly disappointed as Davidson’s head coach appeared, he nevertheless recognized how a different conference affiliation would affect Davidson’s postseason prospects. “The first thing is you’re on a stage that is incredible… this [the A-10 Tournament] is a Broadway stage… I think it elevates your energy; it inspires you. It tests you; it gives your players an experience they will remember forever.” When asked about how membership in the Atlantic 10 might help his Wildcats take an NCAA bid, McKillop responded, “A year ago at this point we lost in the semifinals [of the SoCon Tournament] to Western Carolina. We had a magnificent season that went to the NIT. There is no more heartbreaking feeling than that. The Atlantic 10 has given us a new birth.” Welcome to the A-10, coach.

For Virginia Commonwealth, the semifinal game against Davidson represented an impressive display on both ends of the floor, the type of outing that a coach welcomes at this point of the season. Down by 10 points eight minutes into the first half, head coach Shaka Smart’s Rams launched into a 38-12 blitz that left Davidson dazed and confused. VCU will play in its third consecutive Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship game today, a feat equaled only by Temple (and unequaled generally given that VCU has only been in the A-10 for three seasons). Denied twice before, the Rams can sense the championship is well within their reach. But can they grasp it today?

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