Atlantic 10 Tournament Preview
Once again, the preseason polls proved as a poor indicator of how this season would play out in the A-10. Picked fourth in the preseason, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies handled a schedule inhibited by cancellations and postponements to earn their first ever outright A-10 regular season championship. The Bonnies were consistent throughout and will look to solidify their spot in the bracket starting on Friday afternoon.
The Bonnies are one of several A-10 teams living on the bubble right now, though they may feel more comfortable than VCU, Saint Louis and Richmond, who are all fighting for their postseason dreams. The “Might Atlantic 10 Conference” has been notorious for spoilers and bid-stealers, making it one of the more entertaining conference tournaments during champ week. Despite the change in venue for this season, there should be no shortage of excitement in this year’s tournament.
The regular season champions out of the conference, the Bonnies boast one of the most balanced attacks in the conference. All five starters can carry the scoring load on any given night, most notably junior guard Kyle Lofton who facilitates, scores and defends for the brown and white. Bona is an excellent defensive team, leading the conference in defensive field goal percentage and pose a top three-point defense as well. A loss to Dayton is not an ideal close to the season, but the Bonnies are still dangerous.
Before the injury to star guard Na’Shon “Bones” Hyland, the VCU Rams were rolling, having just beaten St. Bonaventure and Richmond. Losing Hyland takes away a lot of scoring, which the Rams have not really shown they can compensate for. Regardless, coach Mike Rhoades has a squad to be reckoned with, especially on the defensive end. VCU likes to run, and they force this on their opponents by picking up full-court and completely denying the first pass. Adrian Baldwin headlines a defensive unit that leads the conference in blocks and steals per game. Because of the scheduling of the bracket, VCU will play the quarterfinal at home, and if they advance, the semifinal is also a home game for the Rams. The Rams can win this tournament, if they have Hyland on the floor.
Covid arguably hurt the Billikens the most out of any team in the A-10. SLU had a couple of solid wins against power five programs, but a month-long pause left the Billikens rusty as they suffered some resume killing losses. Saint Louis will be dangerous because Travis Ford’s team will be desperate, and they have the talent to advance in this tournament. Javonte Perkins is a fantastic lead court with deep range; his counterpart is Jordan Goodwin who is averaging a double-double this season. Hason French anchors a frontcourt leading the conference in several rebounding categories. The Billikens earned the four seed on the last night of the season, and they will look to carry the momentum into the conference tournament.
The preseason favorite in the conference, Richmond made headlines early this season when they dominated Kentucky at Rupp Arena. The Spiders have faded since and now sit at the fringe of the bubble and likely need the auto-bid to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Chris Mooney has two guards capable of leading the Spiders through this tournament though, the first being Jacob Gilyard. Gilyard only stands at 5’9’’, but he is a pest defensively who leads the nation in steals. Blake Francis is the other of the two, a southpaw who leads the Spiders in scoring. Experience is a key for the Spiders, though the road won’t be easy, as they start with a scrappy Duquesne team on Thursday, will have to go through St. Bonaventure and likely Saint Louis before thinking about the championship game.
On paper, Davidson has the makings of a spoiler this March. Davidson is not in any projections to make the tournament, but they can hang with and beat the top teams in the A-10. As per usual, the Wildcats have a great offense, led by preseason all-conference guard Kellan Grady. Grady had a cold week to finish the regular season, but his shooting stroke is still lethal. Hyunjung Lee, who is the second leading scorer, shoots nearly 44% from three and presents a difficult matchup for most guards as he stands at 6’7’’. If the players around Grady and Lee get hot, the Wildcats could be able to steal a bid on selection Sunday.
Dayton won the A-10 regular season last year and would have likely taken the tournament and a one seed with it if the pandemic never happened. The Flyers lost a lot from last year’s squad, but Jalen Crutcher remains. The Flyers embarrassed Saint Louis a few weeks back, and spoiled St. Bonaventure’s regular season home finale as well. Behind Crutcher, the Flyers have a shot to make a run, and if they do, they would be playing for a bid on their home floor.
UMass spent a good deal of time out because of Covid and took advantage of a schedule consisting of matchups mostly against bottom tier teams in the conference. Sophomore Tre Mitchell is extremely talented, and he gives the Minutemen a fighting chance in every matchup. A lack of experience playing quality opponents this season could hinder their ability to advance in Richmond.
I believe three teams deserve to get into the tournament out of this conference (St. Bonaventure, VCU and Saint Louis). In most projections though, that is not the case and Saint Louis seems to be the odd one out. When the Billikens are clicking, they are hard to stop. The Billikens have a combination of momentum, but also need to play desperate to secure their spot. Saint Louis will win the auto-bid and go dancing for the second consecutive time.