O26 Resume Review: Bubble Watch Edition

Posted by Adam Stillman on February 19th, 2014

We are less than a month from Selection Sunday. The bubble picture is as unsettled as ever. So what better time to do a complete O26 resume review? Instead of reviewing teams that helped and hurt their profiles this past week, however, let’s take a look at all the legitimate at-large candidates among the O26 conferences.

Atlantic 10

  • Locks: Saint Louis
  • Should be in: Massachusetts, VCU
  • Work to do: George Washington, Richmond, Saint Joseph’s, Dayton

There is no way SLU (23-2) misses at this point. The Billikens are ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 1964, boast a #11 RPI and hold a three-game advantage in the loss column over VCU, Saint Joseph’s and Richmond with six games to play. The Atlantic 10 as a whole looks like a safe bet for four bids, and it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see the league get six teams into the NCAA Tournament this season.

Seven Atlantic 10 teams have legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes.

Seven Atlantic 10 teams have legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes.

  • Massachusetts (20-5, #19 RPI). The Minutemen are still in pretty good position to make the NCAA Tournament. Sure, a home loss to cellar-dwelling George Mason last week looks awful, but strong wins against New Mexico, Providence, BYU and LSU in the non-conference slate make this a solid overall profile. Home games with VCU and SLU, as well as a road tilt at Dayton, highlight the remaining schedule.
  • VCU (20-6, #23 RPI). All in all, not a bad week for the Rams. VCU took care of business at home against George Washington before falling 64-62 at SLU. A win there might have bumped the Rams up into the lock category, but they stay here for now. The early season win at Virginia continues to look better and better as the Cavaliers are on fire. VCU travels to UMass on Friday and hosts SLU on March 1.
  • George Washington (20-6, #37 RPI). George Washington rebounded Tuesday night after a rough week where the Colonials were walloped by 17 points at VCU before falling by six to UMass at home. Those were two huge opportunities for GW to cement its place in the field of 68. Then the Colonials topped fellow bubble-dweller Richmond on Tuesday, thus taking a step closer to the field. George Washington can pretty much count itself in with a win at Saint Louis this weekend. The Colonials still can hang their hats on a great neutral-court win against Creighton way back on December 1. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Weekly Awards: Wyoming, Billy Baron, Brian Wardle & George Mason…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2014

We are officially less than one month from Selection Sunday (hooray!), so standout performances (and dreadful upsets) are now more impactful than ever on conference races and NCAA Tournament aspirations. Let’s pass out some awards to the best of the best from the O26 last week.

O26 Team of the Week

Highlighted by the upset over San Diego State, Wyoming had a stellar week. (Jeremy Martin/AP)

Highlighted by the upset over San Diego State, Wyoming had a stellar week. (Jeremy Martin/AP)

Wyoming. The Pokes began the week with their biggest home win since joining the Mountain West in 1999, and ended it with their greatest defensive effort in that same span. On Tuesday night, Wyoming notched its first victory over a top-five team in Arena Auditorium in 16 years by defeating San Diego State, 68-82, to end the Aztecs’ 20-game winning streak and prompt a well-deserved rushing of the court. Not only did the Cowboys out-shoot, out-defend and out-energize Steve Fisher’s club, but they did so with style, eschewing open jumps shots (their offense is predicated on burning the shot clock and finding the best look possible) in favor of wide open dunks, time after time down the floor. At one point, as they opened up a double-figure lead midway through the second half, the team was exuding such high-flying swagger and cool confidence that it became hard to tell if you were watching  this year’s Wyoming club or last year’s Florida Gulf Coast. And when SDSU made a late charge to pull within four at the under-one minute mark, in a moment where it seemed the league powerhouse was going to exert its will, Nathan Sobey went ahead and threw down a transition slam — what else? — to bury the Aztecs for good. The last time Wyoming knocked off a team that highly ranked, the year was 1998, the opponent was Rick Majerus-led Utah, and the Cowboys’ head coach was… Larry Shyatt. The first time around.

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Richmond Misses Prime Opportunity to Bolster Its Tourney Resume

Posted by Lathan Wells on February 19th, 2014

The Atlantic 10 is a league that holds major NCAA Tournament implications in the upcoming weeks. As many as five teams could emerge from this conference, which boasts a solid RPI representation among its top squads and has held its own in the non-conference slate. As the season winds down to its final few weeks, intra-conference match-ups between the league’s bubble teams become that much more important. Richmond , for one, missed out on a key opportunity to stake its claim into NCAA Tournament inclusion on Tuesday night, and the lack of diverse scoring options that led to the Spiders’ 73-65 loss to George Washington may well relegate them to a spot on the outside looking in come tourney time.

Cedrick Lindsay's injury has severely depleted Richmond's scoring options (gettyimages(

Cedrick Lindsay’s season-ending injury has severely depleted Richmond’s scoring options. (Getty)

In early February, the Spiders lost two of their starters in rapid succession, with bruising power forward Derrick Williams and starting point guard (and the conference’s third-leading scorer) Cedrick Lindsay lost for the season. Williams left due to personal reasons; Lindsay suffered injuries to both knees in a loss to VCU that effectively ended his collegiate career. In their absence, Richmond had admirably carried a 3-1 record into last night’s game, but those wins had come against three teams from the A-10′s lower half of the standings. The team was leaning exceptionally hard on junior Kendall Anthony, who was playing 36.5 minutes and averaging 25.8 points per game replacing Lindsay at the point. The 5’8″ Anthony — a spark plug off the bench who later became Lindsay’s running mate — was never meant to carry this much of an offensive load. He put up 14 points on Tuesday but he was clearly the focal point of GW’s defense and struggled to find many open looks (5-of-12 FG). Future foes undoubtedly took notice of this effective scheme and will also put it to use to slow down the Spiders.

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O26 Game of the Week: VCU Visits Saint Louis in Defensive Clash

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 12th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Virginia Commonwealth (19-5) at Saint Louis (22-2) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday

This game punctuates what could be a decisive week in the Atlantic 10. If VCU can take down George Washington on Wednesday night, it will claim sole possession of second place and remain just two games back of Saint Louis heading into Saturday. A victory would pull Shaka Smart’s club within a game of the top spot, setting the stage for a crucial rematch on March 1st; a loss would give the Billikens an overwhelming advantage over the rest of the league, nearly guaranteeing a second-straight regular season title. And conference implications aside, this game offers each team—both stingy-defensive units with second-weekend potential—the opportunity to notch a resume-bolstering victory just one month out from Selection Sunday. A lot will be at stake in Chaifetz Arena.

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

If last year was any indication, Saint Louis should have no problem handling VCU and its HAVOC defense, which is predicated on forcing turnovers and scoring points in transition. In their only regular season meeting of 2013, the Billikens—who run a slow-paced, ball-control offense—broke the Rams’ press time after time down the floor, committing just eight turnovers and getting countless easy looks under the basket. In turn, VCU was unable to get anything in the way of transition buckets—a huge problem against a dominant half-court defense adept at taking away the three point shot, the Rams’ next-best scoring method. Saint Louis coasted to a 14-point home victory in that one and validated it a month later in the A-10 Championship game, again staving off VCU’s pressure on its way to claiming the league’s postseason crown.

So, then, what hope could the Rams possibly have this year, on the road against virtually the same team? Well, for starters, the Billikens have been skating on the thin ice in recent weeks. Three of their last five games have been one possession contests in the final minute of regulation, including an overtime home victory over then-winless George Mason. They won all three—part of a current 16-game winning streak—but showed slight vulnerabilities on defense and at times struggled to score. If Saint Louis continues playing with fire, odds say it will eventually get burned. Plus, this season’s Billikens aren’t quite the offensive team they were a year ago (scoring at a modestly lower rate), and VCU is even better on defense. Anytime a middle-of-the-pack offense meets an elite defense, the former is probably going to have trouble at various points in the game. Of course, the same can be said for VCU’s offense and Saint Louis’ defense, but the point remains: the Rams certainly have a chance. And if they do manage to pull one out on the road, the A-10 will become a whole lot more interesting.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 12th, 2014

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.

Looking Behind the Conference Win-Loss Records

The conference win-loss record hints at the overall dimensions of the conference race. Possession-based statistics can provide insight on how any of the teams developed their current standing. The sample is small, anomalies and outliers abound — the conference records and efficiency differences will not “behave” for another two-to-three weeks (if then). By comparing the record, the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions), and their difference (offense – defense), along with the conference strength of schedule, we can understand more precisely where a team stands with respect to the conference race, and their prospects going forward.

Table01140212

The top four (Saint Louis, George Washington, VCU and Massachusetts) and the bottom four (Rhode Island, George Mason, Duquesne and Fordham) are clearly separated from the “middle six”, forming three basic tiers. A paradox or two jump out quickly: Saint Joseph’s -2.7 efficiency difference contradicts the Hawks’ 6-3 conference record as does St. Bonaventure’s +2.5 difference with a 3-6 record. Coach Phil Martelli’s squad suffered through double digit routs (versus Richmond and Saint Louis), while all three of the Bonnies conference wins (Richmond, La Salle and Massachusetts) were by double digits. While Saint Louis, GWU, Massachusetts and VCU are relatively secure in the NCAA field of 68 with seeds ranging from Joe Lunardi’s bracket (#5 seed — Saint Louis to #9 seed George Washington, four bids total), to Jerry Palm’s bracket (#6 seed — Saint Louis to a first round play-in #12 — Richmond, five bids total), to RTC’s Daniel Evans’ bracket (#7 seed — Saint Louis and Massachusetts to #9 seed George Washington, four bids) the consensus is about four+ bids with the mostly upper bracket seeds. Palm’s fifth bid — a right side of the bubble play-in seed for Richmond — hints that the conference could garner more than four bids.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 31st, 2014

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.

Teams on the Rise… Teams on the Slide

Just over 38 percent of the conference schedule is in the books and two teams — Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth — have emerged as the teams to catch. Three other teams – George Mason, Duquesne and Dayton (!) — are falling out of contact with the rest of the conference.

Shaka Smart and company are once again right in the mix for the A10 crown. (AP)

Shaka Smart and company are once again right in the mix for the A10 crown. (AP)

Rising – Teams that are finding their groove

  • Saint Louis — Skeptics who groused that the Billikens’ early conference success came compliments of an easy draw have to pause for reflection after this week. Wins over Dayton, a rallying St. Bonaventure, and most recently Richmond (by 20 points) confirm that the Billikens are unlikely to slip against the conference’s middling teams and will continue to set the pace in the conference race for at least the next two weeks. A good deal of ink has extolled and analyzed Virginia Commonwealth’s HAVOC, but Jim Crews’ smothering defense — ranked #1 nationally by Ken Pomeroy (and a runaway #1 in conference play, over eight points per 100 possessions better than #2 VCU) — that provides the winning edge for the Bills. A combination of consistent two- and three-point field goal defense and strong defensive rebounding has powered Saint Louis’ defense in sharp contrast to VCU’s gambling, steal-oriented, press-and-trap approach that tolerates fouls as a byproduct. Saint Louis by contrast does not foul. Jordair Jett, the Bills’ thick but quick point guard, combines with undersized forward Dwayne Evans to provide the Billikens with an adequate, but hardly prolific, offense. The defense — for now — is enough. Their February 15 date with Virginia Commonwealth, the first of two games they will play with the Rams in the final three weeks of the regular season, is the opening shot in what may well become a three-game set that will be decided in the conference championship game at the Barclays Center. Read the rest of this entry »
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Who Won The Week? A Nebraska Sharpshooter, the Wolverines, & Rick Barnes…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 24th, 2014

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.

WINNER: Ethan Wragge

Creighton’s starting center/three-point assassin/reason why there’s no trees left in Nebraska had a performance for the ages Monday night at Villanova. The Wildcats thought it would be wise to double-team fellow Bluejay Doug McDermott – you know, the best player in college basketball – and left Wragge open. BAD. IDEA. Wragge came out and made his first seven three-pointers as the Jays shot the Wildcats to smithereens in a 96-68 game that was 90-50 before Greg McDermott’s team took its foot off the gas. Wragge wrapped up the game with 27 points on 9-of-14 three-point shooting, and also had the time to dish out three assists without a turnover. Creighton’s team stats from that game are almost as ridiculous as their bearded center’s: 33-of-58 shooting from the field, 21-of-31 from three-point range, 25 assists on the 33 made shots.

Ethan Wragge had a game to remember against Villanova. (AP)

Ethan Wragge had a game to remember against Villanova. (AP)

The Bluejays came into Monday night’s game ranked 13th  in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings and the Wildcats came in second. Because of Creighton’s ludicrous 1.4 points per possession against a team that had only given up more than a point per possession once in 17 games, the two teams flipped spots in the rankings, despite the college basketball season only half over. The difference between Creighton’s top-ranked offensive efficiency and Duke in second is equal to the difference between Duke and 16th-place Oregon. (Back to Wragge for a bit: Let’s just overlook Saturday’s eight-point performance in Creighton’s 81-68 loss versus Providence. He obviously had to save his three-pointers for a bigger game.)

(Related winners: Creighton; Providence, who also beat Butler on Tuesday; Doug McDermott, who still had 23 points despite the double-teams and the performance of Wragge. Related losers: Any voter who thought Creighton wasn’t worth ranking because of neutral-court losses to George Washington and San Diego State, and a road loss to a 14-5 Providence team; Villanova, for which there’s not enough ice left on the north pole to soothe its burns.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 23rd, 2014

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.

Bid Talk: 3? 4? 5!?

Two weeks of conference play has scrambled the conference’s NCAA bid picture. Going into conference play, the Atlantic 10 had five teams in the postseason conversation, increasingly a “normal” situation for the A-10. However, five conference games has shuffled the New Year’s pecking order of Massachusetts, Saint Louis, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton (last eight in). The Minutemen picked up their second loss of the season (58-55 at Richmond) after a couple of close calls (with St. Bonaventure and George Mason), as the Billikens edge closer to UMass in the hearts and minds of bracketologists — if not the poll voters (compliments of a strong opening run).

The Saint Louis faithful is gearing up for another run at post season play. (Saint Louis athletics)

The Saint Louis faithful is gearing up for another run at post season play. (Saint Louis athletics)

With the losses of Temple, Xavier, and Butler to other leagues, more than a few publications predicted a step back for the conference’s overall postseason prospects. At this point the conference offers four candidates that will need consistent conference play to maintain their chances. How many bids can the conference get (maximum), and was the non-conference showing strong enough to boost any of the outlier programs into postseason contention (should any of the front runner fade)? Massachusetts (#13 in the January 20 AP poll; #12 in the USA Today/Coaches poll) and St. Louis (#19 AP, #20 in the USA Today/Coaches) are legitimate “High Fliers” that should contend for the conference title and draw NCAA bids with their consistently solid play. The non-conference resumes for George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton are good enough, but their conference work could move them out of contention. GW is among those “also receiving votes” from voters in both polls. Note that Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin, the RPI and ESPN (the BPI) all rank five conference teams among their top 60 — see the below table of the consensus top eight conference teams below. Read the rest of this entry »

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026 Resume Review: GW, Toledo Up; New Mexico, Harvard & Dayton Down…

Posted by Adam Stillman on January 22nd, 2014

We are less than two months away from the NCAA Tournament and the bubble picture is slowly beginning to take shape. With just 36 at-large bids handed out this year thanks to the addition of the American Athletic Conference, securing one of those precious final spots becomes just a little bit tougher. That certainly could end up haunting an O26 team with its eyes on the prize. Who knows, VCU, a First Four team in 2011, could have been left out of the Big Dance had the AAC existed then. However, with a dearth of traditional one- or two-bid conferences boasting at-large candidates, could that help hopeful teams in the Atlantic 10 or West Coast Conference? Let’s see which O26 squads helped and hurt their resumes in the past week.

Helped

George Washington (15-3). George Washington, one of the best turnaround stories in the nation, saw its RPI jump all the way from #30 to #22 as of Monday night. While victories against VCU (76-66 at home) and St. Bonaventure (79-71 on the road) help, especially considering the former came against another potential bubble team, the Colonials certainly were aided when Creighton lambasted No. 4 Villanova on Monday night thanks to a school and Big East-record 21 three-pointers. George Washington’s neutral-site win in early December against the Bluejays keeps looking better and better. The Colonials own a 3-1 record in the Atlantic 10, with the lone loss coming January 9 at a resurgent La Salle but a rematch with the Explorers (along with George Mason) on the docket over the next week. Real tests come down the road in February, however, as VCU, Massachusetts and Saint Louis all dot the schedule then. The Colonials have the look of an NCAA Tournament team for now, although the loss of second-leading scorer Kethan Savage (13.4 PPG) definitely hurts.

Projected seed for now: #9

Toledo (14-2)

In part thanks to some Juice Brown heroics, Toledo had an excellent week. (BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH)

In part thanks to some Juice Brown heroics, Toledo had an excellent week. (BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH)

It was difficult finding another team to place in this category, but I wanted to find one more considering Saint Louis was the only team I had here last week. I figured Green Bay might have fallen under this umbrella but the Phoenix’s RPI fell from #35 to #41 as of Monday. Louisiana Tech also suffered a loss to Southern Miss, while BYU still has too many losses (seven overall, two in WCC play) with home-and-homes against Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s to come. So that’s where Toledo comes in. Toledo’s RPI jumped from #50 to #37 after a home win against Buffalo and a road win at Akron last week. The Rockets don’t own a marquee win — take your pick for their best victory between Boston College, Sam Houston State, Stony Brook and Akron— but the record sure looks nice. Would 14 more conference wins — thus a 17-1 mark in the Mid-American Conference — combined with a loss in the conference title game be enough to earn Toledo the MAC’s first at-large bid since 1999? Toledo is favored in all but two of its remaining games, according to Ken Pomeroy, with away games at Ohio on February 1 and at Eastern Michigan two weeks later as the projected losses.

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Kethan Savage’s Injury Hurts George Washington

Posted by Adam Stillman on January 22nd, 2014

George Washington is in the midst of an outstanding season. The Colonials are certainly one of the best turnaround stories in college basketball, if not at the top of the list. The darlings of the Atlantic 10 are on track to reach their first NCAA Tournament since making three straight appearances from 2005-07. And then the bad news hit. Second-leading scorer Kethan Savage will miss 6-8 weeks with a fractured metatarsal in his left foot, a huge blow to GW’s at-large aspirations.

Kethan Savage's injury hurts George Washington's at-large chances. (Photo courtesy of The GW Hatchet).

Savage’s injury hurts George Washington’s at-large chances. (Credit: GW Hatchet).

Savage, a sophomore guard, has come out of nowhere to help anchor a strong backcourt alongside Indiana transfer Maurice Creek. After tallying just 3.1 points per game in limited action as a freshman, Savage has been a revelation as a sophomore. The 6’3″ Fairfax, Virginia, native has been averaging 13.4 points per game, hitting 52 percent of his field goals, grabbing 4.6 rebounds, dishing 2.7 assists and nabbing two steals per game.

“It’s disappointing for Kethan to have this happen in the middle of his breakout sophomore season, but as a team we’ve dealt with injuries before and have emerged stronger as a unit,” George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan said in a statement. “We’ll look forward to his return to action, but I have every bit of confidence that we’ll overcome Kethan’s absence. In the meantime, this is a great opportunity for all his teammates to step up at this time. That is a mark of a great team. We are all very excited for the rest of the season ahead.”

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 9th, 2014

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.

The Atlantic 10 Versus the World (the rest of Division I actually):

Table01140109

Note: conference teams had no games versus team from the Atlantic Sun, the Sun Belt and the SWAC. Those conferences are not shown in the table.

With conference play starting this week, the Atlantic 10 has only four non-conference games left on the composite schedule. A look at the table shows conference teams have won 70 percent of their games against other Division I teams. While the winning percentage looks good overall, it masks a disappointing 36.5 percent (19-33) mark versus the power conferences (defined here as the five BCS conferences — the ACC, B1G, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — plus the AAC and Big East) that should trouble those fans who anticipate four or more NCAA bids in March. Chances to close that win deficit, with a single power conference game outstanding, are virtually nil. Scheduling nearly 60 percent of its games with opponents from the lower 23 conferences placed a ceiling on the highest ranking the conference could achieve. Several teams such as Massachusetts and George Washington have solid RPIs (Ken Pomeroy would also count St. Louis and Virginia Commonwealth among the “solid showing” group), and should help those considered more “bubble” than “in” over the next month with conference games.

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O26 Resume Review

Posted by Adam Stillman on January 8th, 2014

Now is when all the fun starts. No more guarantee games. Conference play is underway. We can start breaking down resumes in earnest and begin to get a clearer picture of where teams stand nationally. It’s hard to believe that the NCAA Tournament is just over two months away, but let’s take stock of where some of the O26 bubble teams stand and how their resumes stack up right now.

Note: O26 teams that are projected to be safely in the field aren’t included in this resume review. That includes Wichita State, San Diego State, Massachusetts and Gonzaga.

Boise State (11-3)

  • Good wins: Utah
  • Bad losses: None
Boise State Missed an Opportunity at Kentucky

Boise State Missed an Opportunity at Kentucky

Thoughts: Boise State has missed out on its biggest opportunities to secure marquee wins. The Broncos came up just short against Iowa State on Christmas, falling by four at the Diamond Head Classic. A 15-point drubbing at the hands of Kentucky didn’t help either. That home loss to Saint Mary’s is looking worse now with the Gaels struggling. There will be plenty of chances for Boise State in the Mountain West, though, even if the league is somewhat down from last season. There’s no better way than to tip off league play with a date at San Diego State tonight.

  • Projected seed for now: Out

Dayton (12-3)

  • Good wins: Gonzaga, at Ole Miss? California?
  • Bad losses: Illinois State, USC

Thoughts: Dayton is somewhat of an enigma. The Flyers have a really nice win against Gonzaga at the Maui Invitational and fell just a point shy against Baylor in the semifinals of that same tournament. A true road win at Ole Miss isn’t too shabby either. But then you also have to consider an away loss to Illinois State and a home loss to Southern California. The Flyers can open Atlantic 10 play off on the right foot when they host Saint Louis January 11.

  • Projected seed for now: #12

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