The Atlantic 10 Conference has been one odd, yet exciting conference to watch this season. At the top you have Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, and Davidson, followed by a middle class that’s been its deepest in years. A total of nine teams, tournament seeded 4-12, finished with conference records three games apart from each other. Finally, we have small lower class with UMass and Fordham, who’s 2018 season will be remembered by long losing streaks. With a middle class this deep, we’re entering a weekend of unpredictability. That’s what makes March the best basketball month of the year. Below, five Atlantic 10 analysts break down the 2018 Atlantic 10 Tournament. The participants are:
Alec Walt, Schmidt Talking (@Schmidt_Talking)
Kyle Allan, Schmidt Talking (@Schmidt_Talking)
Ian Nolan, Bona Blog (@BonaBlog)
Grant Labedz, A10 Talk (@A10Talk)
Dave Ascoli, Rhody Rampage (@RhodyRampage)
1.) Which team exceeded your expectations in conference play?
Walt: The team that exceeded my expectations in conference play was Richmond. I ranked Richmond as the worst team in the Atlantic 10 after their abysmal 2-10 non-conference record. They turned it around with a 9-9 conference record and landed the no. 5 seed in the conference tournament. Even though the Spiders finished losing five of seven, they improved their overall ranking more than any other team in the conference.
Allan: I would say that George Mason was a team that exceeded my expectation in Atlantic 10 play. Even though their record doesn’t show it, but they’ve had some very solid wins in conference play. They won at VCU and pulled off two crazy game-winning jumpers to beat St. Joe’s. They’re a fun team to watch.
Nolan: Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks lost Lamarr Kimble and Charlie Brown for the season and still earned a bye in D.C. The Hawks lost five games in the middle of the season and it looked like they were done but rebounded very well and won six of their last seven games including a 30 point trashing of URI on the road. They were going to be a top three or four team with those guys and still managed to finish there despite the less than ideal 15-15 record.
Labedz: Tough question because there were 3 or 4 teams that surprised me at different points in the season. Due to recency bias, I’ll say George Mason almost grabbing the 4 seed in D.C. Richmond and Duquesne were impressive for parts as well.
Ascoli: It seems weird to say a team that finished in the bottom third of the conference “exceeded expectations”, but I’ll say Duquesne here. The Dukes were expected to be the league’s punching bag this year, but they more than held their own en route to a 7-11 finish. If you told me before the year started that they’d notch seven A-10 wins, I would have said you were crazy.
2.) Which team was the biggest disappointment in conference play?
Walt: The biggest disappointment in conference play was UMass. UMass looked like a conference sleeper in the non-conference after big wins over Providence and Georgia. But once conference play started, UMass wasn’t so lucky. They finished the season losers in 11 of the last 13 and 13th in the conference. No Atlantic 10 team had a larger drop off in the last two months than the Minutemen.
Allan: It has to be UMass. When the Bonnies played them the first game of conference play, I was seeing a team that could score a lot of points but it ended up being a one-man show for them with Pipkins. I thought they would’ve been between the 5-7 seed going into the conference tournament. Certainly not second to last.
Nolan: There’s really not one team that jumps out at me as being really disappointing but I’ll say La Salle. Given they have a roster with guys like seniors BJ Johnson, Tony Washington, Amar Stukes and junior Pookie Powell they should have been better than 7-11.
Labedz: Massachusetts for sure. The Minutemen were at the top of my list, but injuries plagued this team all season, and considering the limitations, you can’t blame Matt McCall for not being able to get any major wins in conference play.
Ascoli: It’s gotta be a tie between VCU and Dayton, right? I know those teams weren’t being predicted to win the league or make the NCAA Tournament, but those are the two gold standards in the A-10 in my view. To see them slip as far as they did is a little shocking. And some of the scores in their losses… not great. As those two teams go, so goes the A-10, so it makes sense that it was a down year overall for the league.
3.) Who’s the biggest sleeper to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament?
Walt: The biggest sleeper in the Atlantic 10 Tournament is George Mason. George Mason finished conference play as one of the top middle-class team in the Atlantic 10. They won five of their final seven games with wins over St. Josephs and VCU during that stretch. With the expectation of a St. Joseph’s vs. George Mason quarterfinal matchup, I believe George Mason will win. It will basically be a home game for them. The Capitol One Arena is roughly 40 minutes from campus.
Allan: Sleeper would have to be St Joe’s just because they know how to play Rhode Island and if they were to match up with them on Saturday, that’d be a gritty game. Davidson scares me as a Bonnies fan, but I believe this Bonaventure team is just gelling so well right now that they’ll be tough to stop.
Nolan: I won’t pick any of the teams with a double bye to be fair so outside of those clubs I suppose I’ll take…VCU? The Rams have enough talent, and the crowd support to win a few games in D.C. this weekend. They certainly have some warts, but Justin Tillman and Jonathan Williams are good seniors (Tillman is a great senior) and so it wouldn’t shock me if they played.
Labedz: Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks were picked to finish at the top of the league, but due to injuries, they took a step back. But now, SJU is coming off a 30 point rout at Rhode Island, and I think this team is primed to make a run in D.C.
Ascoli: I’m not even sure you can call Davidson a sleeper at this point, but they’re really the only team I can see winning it outside of Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure. Everyone is expecting a Rhody vs Bonnies title game, but the Wildcats are more than capable of throwing a wrench into the mix by beating both of those teams and cutting down the nets. Those three teams are a tier above the field – I don’t think you can reasonably make a case for anyone else winning it all.
4.) Which two teams will make the Atlantic 10 Tournament final and who will take home the trophy?
Walt: The two teams that will make it to the Atlantic 10 Tournament final is Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure with St. Bonaventure taking home the trophy. Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure are well above the rest of the Atlantic 10, but one team is currently playing better basketball. St. Bonaventure closed the season out as winners in the last 12 games while Rhode Island lost three of the last five. In those five games, Rhode Island shot 24.6 percent from three. With the offensive struggles for Rhode Island and the defensive improvement from St. Bonaventure, I give St. Bonaventure the upper hand in the tournament final.
Allan: I think it’s going to be the 1v2 with Rhode Island vs. St. Bonaventure. The final is going to be a close game but the difference this time around could be Jaylen Adams scoring a lot easier than last time vs. the Rams. That will be key.
Nolan: I will go with Rhode Island and Davidson. I think that URI may be showing some signs of weakness here down the stretch but don’t trust anyone on that side of the bracket to beat them after the rest up all week. They’re still the best team in the league when they play their game. As much as I’d love to pick the Bonnies I think Davidson will knock them off in a rematch of last week’s thriller. Bona has won for so long now it seems they’re due to have a close one go against them…hoping it’s in DC and not in the NCAA first round. Still, a Friday win should be more than enough to get Bona into the field of 68.
Ascoli: Not exactly a bold take, but I’m taking URI over Bona in the final. Rhody has been stumbling over the past week after clinching the top seed, but they’ve been too good for too long this year to pick against them. The bet is they’ll get back on track once they touch down in DC. As for the Bonnies, they’re white hot. Davidson could give them trouble in the semifinals, and that most definitely has the potential to be the best game of the entire tournament. But I like Bonaventure there, and I like Rhode Island’s veteran team to win a close one in the title game and repeat as champs.