Parity and pressure should make A-10 tournament intense
RALPH D. RUSSO
Mar. 08, 2016
NEW YORK (AP) — The Atlantic 10 turned 40 this season and everybody got a trophy.
Well, not quite, but three teams enter the A-10 tournament at Barclays Center in Brooklyn as regular-season co-champions and the feeling among league coaches is about half the 14-team conference has a legitimate chance to leave New York with a title.
Only top-seeded Dayton seems safely into the NCAA field of 68, so add pressure to the parity and the competition should be intense.
Dayton tied with VCU and St. Bonaventure for first in the A-10 at 14-4 and Saint Joseph's was a game back to lock up the top four seeds and Friday games, avoiding the daunting task of having to win four (or five) games in as many days to win the championship.
"One of the goals going into the season was to try to get one of the top four spots," St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. "That's important if you want to have any chance to win the Atlantic 10. It makes us one of the elite teams in the conference."
The last time a team from outside the top four seeds won the A-10 tournament was 2006, when 10th-seeded Xavier upset the field.
The A-10 has not just survived realignment, but it has remained a multiple-NCAA bid league that challenges the Big East for title of best basketball conference that doesn't play FBS football.
Over the last three seasons, the A-10 has put 14 teams in the NCAA tournament. This season that number is difficult to predict. If upsets abound and Dayton wins out, there is even a shot the A-10 could be a one-bid league.
"We have five teams that feel they have a right to be there," Dayton coach Archie Miller said.
The Flyers are a lock for their third straight NCAA appearance under Miller, but they head to the Big Apple looking for their first tournament title since 2003 and having lost the championship game to VCU last year.
"I don't think you're playing for seeding. I don't think you're safely in. All you're looking to do is win that first game," Miller said.
The Flyers start Friday's quadruple-header against the winner of Thursday's game between No. 8 Fordham and No. 9 Richmond.
Dayton won its final two regular-season games, each by one point, to right itself after losing three of four. Miller expects forward Kendall Pollard to be closer to 100 percent after he missed a chunk of February with a knee injury.
"I don't think we're sharing the ball and we aren't playing fast enough on offense and that affects our defense," Miller said. "This is a chance to reset going to Brooklyn."
Things to know about the A-10 tournament, which starts Wednesday night with two games — No. 12 George Mason against No. 13 Saint Louis and No. 11 Duquesne facing No. 14 La Salle.
CONTENDERS: The Flyers are 11-0 this season when they have a full lineup. Aside from playing without Pollard in February, Miller started the season without Dyshawn Pierre, who was serving a university suspension for allegations of sexual assault of a female student. Charges were not filed in the case and Pierre tried to have the suspension overturned in court.
St. Bonaventure finished the season winning 10 of 11 games, behind one of the best backcourts in the country. Marcus Posley averages 20.7 points and Jaylen Adams brings in 19.3.
"If you have two good guards, you think you can win every game," Schmidt said.
No. 4 seed St. Joseph's is led by the conference player of the year, DeAndre' Bembry.
NEW VCU: When coach Shaka Smart left VCU for Texas, he took his Havoc-style defensive pressure with him.
These second-seeded Rams don't full-court press as much under first-year coach Will Wade, but they still lead the conference in steals (11.2 per game).
"It's a little more controlled. It's a little more halfcourt," Wade said.
ON THE BUBBLE: If the top four seeds can advance to the semifinals, the A-10 should be solid for multiple NCAA bids. But beyond Dayton, all the teams could use at least one more victory. If not two.
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