March Madness is just getting started as the college basketball season shifts to the conference tournaments. Titles will be won, NCAA Tournament spots will be clinched or lost all over the country. Here’s what to watch in the Atlantic 10.
ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
Final: Sunday in Brooklyn (CBS)
First-round games (All Thursday):
No. 8 Richmond vs. No. 9 Charlotte
No. 5 Butler vs. No. 12 Dayton
No. 7 Xavier vs. No. 10 St. Joseph’s
No. 6 Massachusetts vs. No. 11 George Washington
Byes to the quarterfinals
No. 1 Saint Louis
No. 2 VCU
No. 3 Temple
No. 4 La Salle
Full Bracket: (.pdf)
Other conference tournament previews:
ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC
THE FAVORITE: Saint Louis
The Billikens finished the season on a tear, winning 12 of their last 13. Along the way, Saint Louis comfortably defeated the second seed (VCU) and fourth (La Salle) seed in the field and defeated the fifth seed (Butler) on the road. Dwayne Evans has been the key, averaging 16.5 points and 8.9 rebounds in the final 13 games.
DARK HORSE: Xavier
A big roll of the dice to pick Xavier to win in a tournament setting. The Musketeers have the players (Semaj Christon, Travis Taylor) and have defeated good teams (Memphis on Feb. 26 and top-seeded Saint Louis on March 6). But Xavier also hasn’t won consecutive games since defeating Duquesne and Fordham, two of the bottom three teams in the A-10, in early February. During Xavier’s late stretch, the Musketeers let games slip away against VCU, UMass and Butler. They’ll have to figure out how to play more consistently in a hurry.
ATHLON’S PICK: VCU
The Rams’ swarming defense will be tough to break in a tournament setting. Be sure to track the turnover numbers. The Rams are undefeated when forcing 15 or more turnovers and winless when forcing fewer than 15.
Related: Top Buzzer Beaters for 2012-13 (so far)
NCAA TOURNAMENT LOCKS:
Butler, Saint Louis, VCU
After winning its final seven games, Temple is a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament. The Owls lost to Duquesne, St. Bonaventure and Canisius early this season, but may have played their way in with a win over VCU in the regular season finale. The worst case scenario would be a loss to No. 11 George Washington in the A-10 Tournament opener, but the Colonials would first have to upset UMass. Even if that happens, it’s tough to see Temple missing the field unless there’s a numbers crunch for at-large bids.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard much from La Salle, the No. 4 seed in the A-10 Tournament. Since defeating Butler and VCU in back-to-back games in January, the Explorers are 0-3 against the top three seeds in the A-10. Meanwhile, La Salle’s RPI and strength of schedule took a hit with four games against teams that didn’t even make the A-10 field. The Explorers’ RPI and strength of schedule numbers are marginal, so La Salle will rest easier if the Explorers defeat No. 5 seed Butler in the quarterfinals. If La Salle faces No. 12 seed Dayton and loses, the situation will be dicey.