Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 22nd, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Breaking Down the Non-Conference Season

As KenPom’s eighth-ranked conference, the Atlantic 10 is securely in the top 25 percent of Division I basketball, well above the next conference (the WCC) and at the head of the Basketball-First group of conferences that typically expect at least two NCAA Tournament bids every season. The A-10 has drawn at least three bids every season since 2007 and this year should be no different. The non-conference composite record again shows that the league is capable of competing with the elite conferences while dominating (to varying degrees) the other 24.

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(Note: The conference is 4-0 versus non-Division I teams. No conference members have games scheduled with teams from the Big West, the Mountain West, the Summit and the WAC).

The conference’s overall winning percentage sits at 68 percent going into the Christmas break, with its splits reflected by the level of the competition. The A-10 has a winning record against five of the top seven conferences, but poor showings against the ACC (3-10) and Big East (2-6) account for most of the losses against the elite leagues. The Colonial Athletic (6-6) and the Missouri Valley (2-4) conferences account for 10 of the 11 losses to its peer conferences. And the conference won 90 percent of its games scheduled with the bottom nine leagues, but the OVC strangely enough accounts for two of those three losses. While a solid finish to the non-conference season will help and the Selection Committee has emphasized that conference comparisons are not part of its selection calculus, the league’s overall record should help A-10 members when conference play resumes in January.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 17th, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Is the Atlantic 10 Fading?

Did Feast Week foretell a conference-wide stumble? After compiling a 36-10 (0.783) record through the season’s first 10 days, Atlantic 10 teams cooled off to a still solid 21-10 (0.677) record during the height of the early season invitational tournament events. Rolling into Finals Week (an academic, not an ESPN-inspired, reference), the conference’s December results of 29-19 (0.604) show another decline. The best win in December so far — Dayton‘s 72-67 win at Vanderbilt on December 9 — stands nearly alone among the consensus top seven conferences (AAC, ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC). This month’s games have established that the A-10’s better squads are better than the top seven’s stragglers — George Washington has beaten Penn State (Big Ten) and Rutgers (Big Ten); Fordham demolished St. John’s (Big East); and there have been a number of near-misses. The sheer number of double-figure losses are numerous and troubling for those contemplating four or more bids come March, however. December losses that the Selection Committee may have trouble ignoring should those teams find themselves on the bubble include Richmond’s loss at Florida (12/1), Massachusetts’ loss to Mississippi on a neutral court (12/5), and Davidson’s big loss to North Carolina (12/6).

Mike Lonergan

Mike Lonergan and George Washington have been the class of the A-10 so far. (USA TODAY Sports)

Their Season So Far

Five of the conference’s better postseason prospects …

  • George Washington (#21 AP, 9-1) — The conference’s first team in a Top 25 poll this season (the Colonials are #22 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll) gained some national press when they knocked off ACC preseason favorite Virginia, 73-68, in their second game back on November 13. A five-point loss to #23 Cincinnati in the Barclays Center Classic championship finals remains their only blemish. The Colonials’ resume is heavily sprinkled with teams from the top seven conferences –Tennessee (SEC), Seton Hall (Big East), Penn State, Rutgers (Big Ten) and South Florida (AAC) — all wins. Virginia and Cincinnati are favored to hear the call come Selection Sunday; Tennessee and Seton Hall may find themselves in the conversation by the end of February. With St. Peter’s (NEC) and two more lower division top eight conference teams (Central Florida — AAC and DePaul — Big East) still to play, coach Mike Lonergan’s squad should start their conference slate with a 12-1 record … and a target on their back.

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Balanced Offensive Attack Driving George Washington’s Success

Posted by Chris Stone on December 3rd, 2015

The George Washington non-conference revenge tour continued last night with the Colonials’ 72-64 victory over Seton Hall, as defeats to the Pirates along with Virginia and Penn State in the 2014-15 season still linger in head coach Mike Lonergan’s mind. “Last year we played Penn State, Seton Hall, Rutgers, and Virginia all on the road, and I told the guys before the game, you know, we’ve got a chance to get them all back.” After being picked to finished fourth in the Atlantic 10 in the preseason, Lonergan’s club has stormed out of the gates. George Washington now sits at a healthy 7-1 with wins over power conference teams such as Tennessee and Seton Hall along with a major resume-building upset over Virginia.

Joe McDonald picked up George Washington's offense against Seton Hall. (GW Athletics/Mitchell Layton)

Joe McDonald picked up George Washington’s offense against Seton Hall. (GW Athletics/Mitchell Layton)

Although the Colonials put two players, Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen, on the preseason all-Atlantic 10 second team, it’s been a balanced offensive attack that has driven their success. Coming into Wednesday’s contest, three players were averaging double figures — Garino, Larsen, and Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh. Garino is a lanky swingman who has shown an improved three-point shot, while Larsen is a bruising big man who does most of his work in the paint. Cavanaugh, though, is the team’s most versatile scoring option. At 6’9″, he spends most of his time operating down low with Larsen, but after connecting on two of his four three-point attempts against the Pirates, the junior is now also shooting 35 percent from behind the arc. His ability to space the floor is an important component of an offense that often operates late in the shot clock (GW ranks 280th in offensive possession length, according to KenPom) when isolations become routine.

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Off to a Hot Start, Cincinnati’s Improved Offense the Key

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 2nd, 2015

Going into the season, Cincinnati wasn’t getting a whole lot of respect. Despite being picked to finish third in the American by the league’s coaches, Mick Cronin thought his team was better than that. Fast forward a month and the Bearcats are out to a blazing hot 7-0 start, including two solid wins against Nebraska and George Washington in last week’s Barclays Center Classic. Led by a new-look offense, Cincinnati takes on a tough Butler team tonight at home. Let’s take a quick look at what has made Cincinnati look more like a contender than a sleeper through the first two-plus weeks of the young season.

•The UC-UConn rivalry benefits from the mutual respect between Cronin and Ollie (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

A lot of pundits felt Cincinnati would stagnate this season but Mick Cronin has his squad pointing up so far. (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

Elite Defense

Defense is a staple of Cronin’s Cincinnati teams. The Bearcats have had a top 50 defense in each of the last six seasons, and Cincinnati is off to its best defensive start under Cronin ever, ranking third nationally and allowing more than 70 points only once thus far (Western Carolina). Let’s take a look at the team’s most recent performance in a 61-56 victory over George Washington. Two statistics stand out — the Colonials’ three-point and two-point field goal percentages. The Bearcats held GW to a miserable 29 percent shooting on two-point attempts, and it was only by virtue of 50 percent shooting beyond the arc that the Colonials stayed in the game. This shows that Cincinnati will muck things up inside the paint in an effort to prevent any easy baskets, even if by doing so the Bearcats give up some open threes in the process. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 1st, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Feast Week Feedback

With St. Bonaventure’s 77-73 win over Canisius last Tuesday, the Atlantic 10 pushed its non-conference record to 44-11, pushing its winning percentage over 80 percent for the second time this season. Senior guard Marcus Posley scored 37 points, including the two free throws that broke the tie that put the Bonnies up for good. So started Feast Week, but unfortunately momentum stalled as A-10 teams tallied a good but not spectacular 21-10 record in games spanning the Thanksgiving Holiday. Still, the league’s composite record on Monday, November 30, is 58-20 (0.774) — terrific by any measure. Should the conference keep up this pace through December, the Atlantic 10 should have at least six NCAA Tournament candidates with several others drawing attention for other postseason tournaments.

The big-time effort that Marcus Posley produced was just one of many standout performances from A-10 players during Feast Week. (AP)

The big-time effort that Marcus Posley produced was just one of many standout performances from A-10 players during Feast Week. (AP)

Seven conference teams (highlighted in the table in yellow below) participated in tournaments that concluded last week. Four of those teams (Dayton, George Washington, Massachusetts and Rhode Island) finished second. Richmond finished third, losing its semifinal game but beating star-studded California in the third place game. Duquesne placed fifth in the Gulf Coast Showcase, dropping its first game to Pepperdine but salvaging wins versus Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Western Kentucky. Like most of these Feast Week tournaments, the Brooklyn Hoops Classic relied on preliminary rounds played on campuses, usually prior to the semifinal and final rounds. The tournament field was held to five teams and they played a round-robin with a single round played at two “tournament site” locations. St. Louis beat three of the participating schools — North Florida, St. Francis-Brooklyn and Hartford. They also lost to Louisville by 20 points at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

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Nine Games to Catch This Week

The party is on as eight Atlantic 10 teams will face eight elite conference opponents (and a Missouri Valley Conference power in Northern Iowa) over the next seven days. Elite conference opponents represent 33 percent of the composite non-conference schedule, which is at the high end of the range for the past several seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on November 24th, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the Rush the Court correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. 

The Best Kept Secret in Division I

Counting the four games played Monday night, the Atlantic 10 conference has compiled a 40-11 (0.784) record against their opponents through the first two weeks of the season. Every conference schedules its share of cupcakes and the A-10 is no exception, as nearly 38 percent of the slate — with a 15-0 record in those games — comes from conferences ranked in the lower third of Division I and Division II basketball. Versus the seven elite conferences and the A-10’s four fellow basketball-first conferences, league teams have played 25 percent of their schedule and compiled a 10-6 (0.625) record. Results are particularly impressive versus the SEC (2-0), ACC (3-3) and the Big 12 (1-0) Conferences. Distracted by the plethora of upsets, the World Wide Leader gave George Washington’s 73-68 win over then #6 Virginia a little less than a full news cycle before moving on to other upsets.

The Atlantic 10 has started the season off well so far. This week gets a lot tougher for Dan Hurley and Rhode Island - as well as the rest of the A10. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The Atlantic 10 has started the season off well so far. This week gets a lot tougher for Dan Hurley and Rhode Island – as well as the rest of the A-10. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Lacking an early season tournament win — Virginia Commonwealth, the conference flagship since Shaka Smart brought the Rams into the league in 2012-13, took two close losses, the first to Duke by eight points and the second to Wisconsin by one point. Saint Joseph’s split its Hall of Fame slate last weekend, dropping a semifinal game to Florida on Saturday before bouncing back versus Old Dominion in the consolation game Sunday. Dave Paulsen took his George Mason squad to the finals of the Charleston Classic, beating Mississippi and Oklahoma State before losing in the finals, 83-66, to #12 Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joseph Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on November 19th, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the Rush the Court correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. 

Impressions From the First Week

Mike Lonergan and George Washington picked up one of the bigger wins the A-10 has garnered in recent memory last week.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Mike Lonergan and George Washington picked up one of the bigger wins the A-10 has garnered in recent memory last week. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

  • Best Win For a ProgramGeorge Washington over #6 Virginia. As one of the tip-off games for ESPN’s annual Marathon of Hoops, the George Washington’s win guaranteed that the Colonials — and by association the entire conference — had a full day’s worth of free national publicity. At the very least expect head coach Mike Lonergan’s program to gather a few well deserved votes in next week’s national polls. The Colonials have 27 or so more games to play before Selection Sunday, but if their frontcourt complement of Kevin Larsen, Tyler Cavanaugh and Yuta Wantanabe, along with all-purpose wing Pat Garino, can dominate opponents as well as they did the Cavaliers, expect this squad to be in the thick of the conference race and very much a part of the NCAA conversation. Should Virginia regain its RPI footing, the bonus will extend to the Colonials, and by association, everyone they play on their A-10 slate.
  • Best Win For the ConferenceTie. Davidson over Central Florida and Dayton over Alabama. True, most computer systems rate the Knights and Tide in the mid-100’s and a consensus of previews project them to finish somewhere in the middle third of their respective conferences, but these programs are both in conferences with higher national profiles than the Atlantic 10, which means these wins can only help the league’s overall profile. Dayton’s win over Alabama by 32 points may prove to be a bold statement about the relative health of the Flyers’ program in the absence of Dyshawn Pierre. Along with George Washington, expect both of these teams to be in the hunt for conference honors.

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George Washington’s Huge Win Poised to Catapult Program Forward

Posted by Chris Stone on November 17th, 2015

It started before the ball had even been tipped last night at the Smith Center in Washington, DC. George Washington students rang out in chants proclaiming their opponent, Virginia, as “overrated.” It’s always weird when fans look to minimize an opponent rather than build them up to make their team look as strong as possible in victory, but that’s a discussion for another time. And certainly the Colonials’ coaches and players didn’t see it that way.

George Washington court storm

George Washington Students RTC After Their Team’s 73-68 Win over Virginia Monday night.

During the postgame press conference, senior Patricio Garino made it clear that, even though he believes that his team is on the level of a national power like Virginia, he has all of the respect in the world for the Cavaliers. The Colonials certainly looked it in their huge 73-68 victory, a win that already puts Mike Lonergan‘s squad in great position to earn an NCAA Tournament berth next March. Garino, a lanky 6’6″ forward who was successful in playing the four against the Cavaliers’ larger defenders, scored 18 points on the night. Junior Tyler Cavanaugh , also with 18 points, got the chance to prove he could play with the ACC’s elite after transferring out of the conference (Wake Forest) in July 2014. Read the rest of this entry »

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Other 26 Previews: Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Joseph Dzuback on November 12th, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

As the Carousal Turns

After two quiet offseasons, three Atlantic 10 programs filled head coaching vacancies last spring. This matched the turnover rate from the 2012 offseason, the highest in over a decade. Two programs, Fordham and George Mason, released their veteran coaches, Tom Pecora (14 years, the last five on Rose Hill) and Paul Hewitt (18 years, the last four at GMU) respectively, in an effort to change the trajectories of their programs. Meanwhile, Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart left of his own accord for Austin to take the reins of the Longhorns’ program after Rick Barnes’ resignation. Changing their historic pattern of looking exclusively in the metropolitan New York coaching pool, Fordham athletic director Ed Roach turned westward and after a brief (and unsuccessful) courtship of Robert Morris’ Andy Toole, hired Eastern Kentucky head coach Jeff Neubauer. Neubauer, a collegiate point guard and 1993 graduate of La Salle, is no stranger to Northeastern basketball. Neubauer took his Colonials to five postseason tournaments (including two NCAA tournament appearances) during his 10-year tenure at Eastern Kentucky.

Former Bucknell head man Dave Paulsen is just one of many new coaches in the A10 this season. Paulsen will look to lead George Mason to a postseason berth. (The Daily Item)

Former Bucknell head man Dave Paulsen is just one of many new coaches in the A10 this season. Paulsen will look to lead George Mason to a postseason berth. (The Daily Item)

George Mason athletic director Brad Edwards hired Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen after a two-week search. Paulsen, a veteran head coach of 21 years, brings a 134-94 Division I record (highlighted by two NIT and two NCAA appearances) to a Patriots’ program that sorely misses the days of Jim Larranaga. Virginia Commonwealth athletic director Ed McLaughlin’s task was to find, in Smart’s successor, someone who would continue the momentum that the rising star head coach had established. His candidate pool came down to several former Smart assistants, and Tennessee-Chattanooga’s two-year head coach Wade Wilson fit the bill. Wilson’s variation of Smart’s HAVOC system (called CHAOS) carried the Mocs to two second place finishes in Southern Conference play (27-7) and a 40-25 overall record.

Predicted Order of Finish

Season previews have consistently identified three or four squads as the strongest contenders to earn the regular season title (and winning the conference tournament title, taking the NCAA automatic bid), but the conference-wide averages for returning points and minutes (above 70 percent in both cases) suggest that this season will not feature a dominant leader like from 2004-08. Expect another two or three team dogfight like the more recent conference seasons. It’ll be worth brushing up on the tie-breaker rules again this season. Projected conference record are shown in parenthesis; Atlantic 10 coaches poll rankings are shown in squared [] brackets. Read the rest of this entry »

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Atlantic 10 Postseason Previews

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on March 17th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vbtnblog.

Sunday, Sunday

As expected, the Atlantic 10 sent six teams to the postseason: three to the NCAA Tournament — Davidson, Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth — the other three to the NIT — George Washington, Richmond and Rhode Island. VCU benefited the most, not just with the championship and accompanying automatic bid, but in seemingly finding some of the answers that Shaka Smart has been searching for much of the season.

Archie Miller might be the most important returnee of the entire A10 conference. (AP)

Will the home court advantage give a slightly tired Dayton team the boost it needs? (AP)

NCAA Bound

Dayton head coach Archie Miller was reluctant to admit that the cumulative effect of a 33-game schedule may have played a role in his Flyers’ blowout loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship game on Sunday. “These guys, they have battled hard all year so it’s kind of hard to say we are finally tired. I don’t think we played tired.” He later tacitly acknowledged that sophomore point guard Scoochie Smith, who carried a good deal of the offensive burden through Dayton’s three-game run in Brooklyn, may have been feeling it. “He may be the one guy I look and say from a legs perspective he had some really good looks and was short on all of them, so hopefully we get Scoochie back.” The Selection Committee essentially said to the Flyers, “You get to open the Tournament at home! On three days rest” — a classic good news/bad news punch line. Their opponent, Boise State, will traverse a time zone to make the game. Smith, along with consistent play-makers Kendall Pollard and senior Jordan Sibert, should win this game, and after another two-day layoff and a bus ride to Columbus, will face #6 Providence, another uptempo team with a short bench. Read the rest of this entry »

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Atlantic 10 Tournament: Second Round Review

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on March 13th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Making Their Case

The forecasters say three conference teams — Davidson, Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth — are comfortably in the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68. Meanwhile three other teams — George Washington, Rhode Island and Richmond — are projected as a #4 seed or higher in the NIT. In an ironic twist all too common for the Atlantic 10, the #1 seed in the conference tournament, Davidson, holds the lowest projected NCAA seed (#11) while the highest projected NCAA seed, Virginia Commonwealth (#8), fell to fifth in the conference race. While the projected NIT contingent are all comfortably “in,” none appear on anyone’s NCAA “First Four” or “Next Four Out” lists. Short of a win on Sunday, the destination for those three teams will not change.

Jordan Price (#), who scored a game-high 28 points Thursday afternoon against UMass, will likely need to show that type of production again against Davidson. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Jordan Price (#21), who scored a game-high 28 points Thursday afternoon against UMass, will likely need to show that type of production again against Davidson. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

For the nine teams not penciled into either of the premier postseason tournaments, Wednesday and Thursday at the Atlantic 10 Tournament have become the moment of truth. Saint Louis and George Mason did not make it out of Wednesday night. It also ended poorly for a Massachusetts team that came out on the short end of a 77-69 game against La Salle. When asked about a potential CBI or CIT bid, UMass coach Derek Kellogg declined. NIT or bust. For Saint Joseph’s, last year’s tournament champion, the season ended at the hands of St. Bonaventure. With a 13-18 record, Phil Martelli’s Hawks will recuperate on Hawk Hill and plan for next season. The Bonnies must continue to win in order to work their way into the postseason conversation. They could steal an NIT bid if they can gather two more top 100 wins (which they will have to do to advance to the Sunday game). Taking down Dayton and then either George Washington or Rhode Island should do. Having compiled an 0-4 record versus that competition, however, and with star point guard Jaylen Adams sidelined, the odds are good that they will watch the game from the comfort of their dorms in Olean, New York. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 25th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Where They Stand

The conference regular season is two weeks away from finishing. Using possession-based offensive and defensive efficiency differences, three distinct tiers in the Atlantic 10 have emerged. The top five teams (see table below) — Davidson, Dayton, Virginia Commonwealth, Richmond and Rhode Island — have separated themselves from their nine conference-mates by an efficiency margin that will not disappear over the next four games. Richmond and Rhode Island present “Nitty Gritty” profiles that read “NIT” rather than “NCAA,” and Massachusetts, lodged in the middle tier but possessing a winning conference record and an non-conference schedule strength ranked second in the league, will test eyeballs and gut-checks. Those three aside, however, the conference records and efficiency margins are behaving more than in seasons past. This is not the conference that sent six teams to the NCAAs last March, but lacking any clear locks (Virginia Commonwealth might be the only team that could lose out and still draw an at-large invitation) the A-10 has three solid candidates for the NCAA Tournament and three more bubble teams. Reviewing the remaining games indicates that bids for the bubble will most likely come at the expense of the conference’s three strongest candidates.

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These Teams Can Make the NCAA Tournament If…

  • Virginia Commonwealth (21-6, 11-3) — The Rams have to stay healthy and not lose to George Mason (RPI #221). Losing Briante Weber was a blow, but the recent two-game skid happened while senior wing Treveon Graham, coach Shaka Smart’s penultimate go-to guy, was sidelined with a ankle sprain. The three-game bounce back came with Graham in the lineup. In a one possession game when a score is necessary Smart will give Graham the ball and call for a clear out. VCU’s offense and defense took a step back during much of the season, but Graham’s numbers (usually coupled with one from an assortment of complementary parts, especially Mel Johnson and Moe Alie-Cox) have been strong enough to carry the team against most opponents on most nights. With one of the more challenging four games slates remaining (Richmond, Dayton, Davidson and George Mason have a combined conference record of 31-25, 0.554), the priority is to not lose to GMU. A 3-1 finish (24-7, 14-4) is probably optimistic, but anything less would put the Rams into tie-breakers with at least one other conference team. VCU holds the tie-breaker over Rhode Island (the most likely tie), but a loss to Dayton would give the Flyers the tie-breaker and should the loss come to Davidson, the Rams and Wildcats would have to muddle through the next set of tie-breaker rules to determine the #1 seed in Brooklyn. The Rams have been a regular fixture in the conference tournament championship game since joining the conference in 2012, but have yet to win either the regular season (and take the #1 seed in the tournament) or the tournament championship game.

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