I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but the Atlantic 10 has become the No. 1 mid-major conference in the country. And unless St. Mary's makes the field out of the WCC then this appears to be the only non-major conference set to receive multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament.
However, all the major conference teams that are on the so-called bubble will have their eyes fixed on this tournament this week. Because while Dayton and VCU, the top two teams in the Atlantic 10 this year, are in great position to win a league title, the fact is that any one of about six teams could go on a run in Pittsburgh and cut down the nets. An upset in the A-10 tournament could lead to a "stolen" bid from the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday.
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The Atlantic 10 men's basketball tournament begins on Wednesday, March 8, at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. Here is Doc's Sports 2017 Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament preview (with projected futures odds in parentheses):
The Favorite: Dayton (+200)
One of the top mid-major teams in the country, Dayton is a team that could do some serious damage over the next several weeks. The core of this Flyers team has won at least one game and played in the NCAA Tournament three straight years. Dayton seniors Charles Cooke, Kendall Pollard, Scoochie Smith and Kyle Davis are as efficient as any quartet in the nation. The Flyers are 9-1 in their last 10 games, and to beat this team you have to drive a stake through their heart. Of Dayton's six losses this year just one came by more than six points. They play in - and win - a lot of close games. And that is a unique and important talent to have this time of the year.
The Contender: VCU (+205)
The Rams coughed up the top spot in the league thanks to back-to-back road losses at Rhode Island and Dayton the last week of the season. But this is still a group that is more than capable of stringing together three wins in a row and cutting down the nets. In fact, VCU has dominated the A-10 tournament in their four seasons since joining the league. The Rams have made the conference championship game all four seasons and won the title in 2015. JeQuan Lewis is one of the best guards in the league and Mo Alie-Cox is a difference maker in the post. VCU will want to press and pressure all game long. And their success this week will come down to how they are shooting from three, where they've been erratic.
The Sleeper: Rhode Island (+260)
The Rams are a team that appears to be peaking at the right time. A tournament-caliber team with a neutral-site win over Cincinnati on the resume, the Rams have won five straight to cap the regular season. Injuries have crippled the Rams each of the past two seasons. But they appear to be 100 percent healthy and ready to rip. Rhode Island was the No. 1 defensive team in a league known for its excellent defense. And if Jarvis Garrett, the starting point guard that they lost for eight games midseason, continues to improve then this team should be able to find enough offense to be a factor. Rhode Island lost both of its meetings with Dayton this year by a combined four points. Add in a two-point loss to the Flyers last year and a four-point loss in the A-10 tournament in 2015 and the Rams simply haven't been able to get over the Dayton hump. They will likely get another shot in the semifinals.
The Spoiler: Davidson (+1500)
The Flyers have been a major disappointment this year, and they are one loss away from falling to .500 on the season. That's almost unthinkable considering they have two of the best players in the league in Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge. Gibbs, maybe the league's best scorer, won't go quietly in his final A-10 tournament. The Wildcats are just 3-6 straight up in their last nine games. But a closer look shows that two of the losses were in overtime to Dayton and Rhode Island, two more losses were on the road at Richmond and VCU, and another loss came against Rhode Island. These guys are dangerous.
Early Round Game To Watch: LaSalle vs. Davidson (Noon, Wednesday, March 9)
This is becoming a force of habit for these two schools, which have met in the A-10 each of the past two seasons. Davidson has won both. The winner of this matchup really could be a dangerous team in this tournament. The No. 1 seed has lost its first game in four of the past six years. LaSalle won the only meeting between these two teams this year. And that win was actually the beginning of the end for the Explorers. LaSalle was 11-5 and 5-1 in the league after they beat Davidson on Jan. 19. They went just 4-9 after that and come into this tournament with negative momentum. Senior Jordan Price is one of the few guards that can go bucket-for-bucket with Gibbs. And I will be surprised if this game doesn't come down to the final two minutes.
2017 Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Predictions: There is always at least one upset in the quarterfinals of this tournament; that's been the standard operating procedure here for the past decade. I don't think that this year will be any different. And I think that both Dayton and Rhode Island should be on Upset Alert on Thursday. However, I actually like Rhode Island to survive and to make the finals. (If they don't beat Dayton; no one is beating Dayton.) This URI group has been a really good team that, for whatever reason, just hasn't been able to get over the hump the past three seasons. This could be their moment. Richmond has the easiest path to the title game. But I don't think that this team is good enough to win it. So in a mild upset I will say that neither of the top two seeds make the finals and I have Rhode Island cutting down the nets.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has a streak of 10 straight winning regular seasons. Robert's $100-per-Unit clients have banked over $8,300 in profit over the last three weeks and took home $16,900 in profit for his clients last year alone. There is no better moneymaker in the nation. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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