The 2012 Atlantic Ten tournament begins tomorrow evening with the campus site games. The winners of these games will head to Atlantic City for the tournament proper, which will begin on Friday and run through the championship game on Selection Sunday. The final dash towards the Atlantic Ten's automatic bid begins with these four games.
(9) Duquesne (16-14, 7-9) @ (8) UMass (20-10, 9-7)
Winner plays: (1) Temple
Duquesne got the better of UMass in an 80-69 victory at Duquesne in January. Look for this game to be similarly high scoring, as the Minutemen look to push the pace at home. Duquesne's defensive weaknesses (defending the glass, keeping teams out of the paint) aren't in areas that UMass is very well positioned to exploit, and the Dukes' defense is best in the conference at forcing turnovers, which is an area in which UMass struggles. On the other end, the Dukes take good care of the ball but can't shoot, and UMass' defensive EFG% is third in the conference. I think this game will be decided in the full court; if UMass can keep Duquesne from forcing a high number of turnovers, the Minutemen will win.
(10) Richmond (16-15, 7-9) @ (7) La Salle (20-11, 9-7)
Winner plays: (2) Saint Louis
These teams played once this year as well, with Richmond knocking off visiting La Salle 78-76 on February 8th. Derrick Williams won the day for the Spiders by putting up 22 and 11 on 6-11 from the floor. On Richmond's offensive end, the two teams' respective strengths and weaknesses mesh. The Spiders are bad at rebounding and La Salle is bad at defending the glass. La Salle forces a lot of TO, but Richmond is very good at protecting the ball. Richmond loves to shoot the three, La Salle rarely allows opponents to get good looks from deep. On the other end, neither team is very good at rebounding. La Salle's EFG% of 52.7% comes thanks in large part to their 41.1% mark from deep, but Richmond only allows 25% of opponents' FGA to come from behind the arc and only allows opponents to shoot 31.3% from there. The Spiders allow opponents to shoot 50% from inside the arc; look for La Salle to try to exploit that. Chances are this game will come down to who can find a way to get - and convert - good looks from deep.
Winner plays: (3) Xavier
The Flyers and their fans have to be licking their chops at this matchup. These teams played on March 3rd (i.e., three days before they'll play again) and UD destroyed GW 75-59 behind a 10-16 barrage from deep. It's doubtful that Dayton will shoot that well again, but they are a consistent threat from deep, and GW is 12th in the conference in three-point percentage defense. Dayton also led the league in offensive rebound percentage, an area in which GW's defense struggled. On the other end, GW looks to get the ball inside, shooting 49% from inside the arc and taking only 23% of their shots from deep. UD's defense is susceptible to interior scoring (teams shot 49% from inside the arc against them in conference play), and GW should also be able to get a decent amount of offensive boards. Unless Dayton goes stone cold from deep, though, it's tough to see a way the Colonials get past them here.
(12) Charlotte (13-16, 5-11) @ (5) St. Joseph's (19-12, 9-7)
Winner plays: (4) St. Bonaventure
All the way back in the first week of January, St. Joseph's hosted Charlotte. The Hawks lost that game 57-52, thanks in large part to being forced in 15 turnovers and a -8 rebounding margin. Half of that performance on Charlotte's part may even be repeatable, as the 49ers are second in the conference in steals and St. Joe's allows steals on 10% of their own possessions. The numbers point to the fact that Charlotte's rebounding performance was more of a fluke. Offensively, the 49ers are one of the worst shooting teams in the conference and second-worst at avoiding TO. St. Joe's defense is the worst in the A-10 at forcing TO, but their opponents' EFG% is 46%, which is second-best in the A-10. On the other end, St. Joseph's is very effective inside (51.5% on two-point attempts) and Charlotte has real trouble stopping interior scoring. Look for the Hawks to pound the post; it's doubtful that Charlotte can beat them again without another cavalcade of turnovers.
For what it's worth, I like St. Joe's, Richmond, Dayton, and UMass. Here are some A-10 conference tournament-related links for your viewing pleasure.
Qtrs Semis Final Champ3 Xavier 100 55.4 16.5 7.7
As you can see, Ken Pomeroy doesn't fancy Xavier's hopes of winning it all, giving them a 7.7% chance of taking home the automatic bid. He does give them a 17% chance of picking up the two wins that most people agree will get Xavier securely onto the right side of the bubble. Of course, it all starts with the expected matchup against Dayton on Friday, which is a huge must-win for X.
Best Possible Title Game
Temple vs. Xavier. Why? Mostly to vary this up (picking No. 1 vs. No. 2 gets old), but also because Xavier is a fascinating bubble team. The Musketeers currently find themselves in Chris Dobbertean's play-in game, but it is difficult to tell how the committee thinks of them because of the losing streak that followed their brawl versus Cincinnati (and the subsequent suspensions). XU lost five of six in late-December, won four in a row, then consistently took alternating steps forward and backwards throughout January and February. They did not lose to anybody badly in conference play, but they also didn't beat anybody better than St. Bonaventure, and a trip to the finals could give them a much more solid case for tourney inclusion.
Like many people across the internet, SBN's Bill Connelly is not in love with Xavier's at large chances. He does show them some love in his look at the potentially most exciting title game though, which isn't nothing.
Joe Lunardi chat wrap:
Ben (Circleville, OH): How many wins in the A-10 tourney does Xavier need to lock up a tourney bid?
Lunardi: Two (Dayton/GW and Saint Louis) should do it. I'm not sure they win one, though.