It’s been an up and down year for the Atlantic 10, to say the least.
The chances of getting more than two teams into the NCAA Tournament looked very slim after non-conference play. The Rhode Island Rams and the Saint Bonaventure Bonnies looked like the two front-runners to make the Big Dance come March, but even the Bonnies had their doubt.
Davidson finished a tough non-conference schedule under .500 and it was looking like only two, maybe even one team was only going to be dancing after a few weeks into Atlantic 10 play.
The Bonnies were sitting at 2-4, URI was undefeated in conference play and Davidson had gotten off to a hot conference league start but their non-conference resume was virtually non-existent.
Fast forward two months and look at where the A10 now stands.
The Bonnies finished their season 13-1, collecting a top-25 win over Rhode Island and are NCAA Tournament bound. Rhode Island finished the season strong by making a run to the A10 Tournament final, and Davidson walked away winners of the A10 Tournament.
From going to a conference that was going to barely get two teams in, to a conference that now has three, it is a truly remarkable feat for the Atlantic 10 that most analysts thought wouldn’t be possible.
Now, onto the games ahead for all the marbles. It’s a true ‘Game 7’ mindset for these kids and we couldn’t be more excited to bring a preview of the Tournament match-ups, how far these teams can go, and an in-depth look at their respective rosters.
#10 Oklahoma vs. # 7 Rhode Island – Thursday, March 15 (Pittsburgh, PA)
No 2018 NCAA Tournament team received more criticism on Selection Sunday than the Oklahoma Sooners.
They lost nine of their final 12 games and lost to Oklahoma State in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament. When asked why they got into the tournament, the selection committee said their non-conference wins earned them the No. 10 spot.
Now all eyes are on the once-promising Sooners who start tournament play tomorrow against a team looking poised to make a deep tournament run.
The Rhode Island Rams are one of the best mid-major teams in the tournament. They won the Atlantic 10 regular season championship but lost 58-57 to Davidson in the Atlantic 10 Tournament final. Even with that close loss to a bottom-60 RPI team, now 47 after the A10 final, Rhode Island kept their RPI in the top-20.
Rhode Island was able to keep their RPI in the top-20 because they are one of the most consistent and balanced teams in college basketball. They have a dominant backcourt in Jeff Dowtin and Jared Terrell, versatile wings in Stanford Robinson and E.C. Matthews, and much needed size with the 275 pound Andre Berry.
All five of their starters average more than nine points and three rebounds per game. Everyone except Andre Berry, who did not attempt a single three-point shot this year, entered the tournament shooting over 30 percent from three.
What makes Rhode Island great is their seven-man rotation. Jarvis Garrett and Cyril Langevine come off the bench in a co-6th man role. Garrett provides versatility at guard while Langevine tied Robinson for the team lead in rebounds per game.
This seven-man rotation provides Dan Hurley the ability to create small, big, defensive and offensive centered lineups.
Versatility and depth are going to be important when playing Oklahoma. Even though they’ve struggled the last month in a half, Trae Young is still one of the best players in college basketball.
He leads the nation in scoring and assists with 27.4 and 8.8 per game, respectively. If Rhode Island wants to win they need to make Young work. Rhode Island has what it takes to do that.
Rhode Island opponents average 67.9 points per game. That ranked third in the Atlantic 10 and tied for 52nd in the nation with Georgia Tech, Kansas State, and Albany.
Terrell and Robinson are likely to matchup with Young for a majority of tomorrow’s game. They both average over 1.5 steals per game and outweigh Young by at least 20 pounds.
Outside of Young, Christian James and Brady Manek are the only other Sooners averaging over 10 points per game. James and Manek are solid players, but there isn’t enough balance outside of Young to defeat the Rams.
Don’t sleep on the Rams. They are built to win.
Prediction: Rhode Island advances to the Round of 32.
#11 St. Bonaventure vs. #6 Florida – Thursday, March 15 (Dallas, TX)
The St. Bonaventure Bonnies did what Bob Lanier was never able to do, which was take down the powerhouse program of UCLA.
The Bonnies played a stifling and intense defensive game that held Aaron Holiday and the Bruins in check. Holiday finished with 10 turnovers in the game as the Bonnies turned to a zone defense that stymied the Bruins.
#12 Davidson vs. #5 Kentucky – Thursday, March 15 (Boise, ID)
This might be one of the best matchups you’ll see in the first round.
For one, this is the No. 12 vs. No. 5 matchup. More often than not, this draw ends up being a nightmare scenario for the No. 5 seed as virtually every year we see a No. 5 seed go down in this matchup.
Let’s first address the Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky also won their conference tournament like Davidson, with a win over the Tennessee Volunteers. They have been playing stellar defense as of late. In their last three games, they’ve held all opponents under 38% from the field.
That is one hell of a feat for a team that features a lot of underclassmen. Kentucky has, and always will be a disciplined team for how young they are. The Wildcats bring a balanced scoring roster with four players averaging double figures. They also go nine deep into their rotation, so this could be one of the more balanced scoring line-ups that Calipari has had.
Kevin Knox is the player to watch averaging 14.6 points and six rebounds in his last three games.
For Davidson, they’re coming in hot and playing with house money. They enter play with the Co-Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Peyton Aldridge averaging 24.3 points and seven rebounds during last week’s A10 Tournament.
This guy is an absolute stud as he is shooting the lights out all season and especially as of late, going 12-14 in his last fourteen three-point attempts.
Pair that with a freshman, Kellen Grady averaging 18 points per game, and a lineup that has six players averaging 39% or more from three on the season, it’s an upset waiting to happen.
It’s going to come down to execution, and Davidson has done that all season averaging only nine turnovers per game. They force teams to adjust to their half-court motion offense that has been tough to stop all season, and Kentucky could be in for a rude awakening if Davidson gets hot from deep early.
The Davidson Wildcats have a better chance than most think.
Prediction: Davidson moves onto the round of 32.