While we don’t get to see the class of the Atlantic 10 in action until this weekend, we do get four solid matchups in the opening round of the conference tournament. Surprisingly, even the No. 11 and No. 12 seeds have a shot in a middle part of the conference that’s been all over the place during the last leg of the regular season.
The wild card game: No. 8 Massachusetts vs. No. 9 Dayton
By all accounts and predictions, the Minutemen should come out of Tuesday’s first-round matchup against Dayton at home.
Unfortunately for the Minutemen, the conditional tense is a pretty solid way of weighing their 2010-11 season, in which they’ve beaten some solid teams, hung with some very good teams and lost to some bad teams.
The same team that started 7-0 has dropped four straight at two different points during the season. The same team that went to overtime against a ranked Temple team got beat down by an equally good Xavier team by 29. The same team that beat a good Rhode Island team twice also lost to two teams that had no conference wins, one of which was on the last weekend of the season.
Early on in the season, it was easy to label UMass coach Derek Kellogg and his team as a group of young upstarts that was full of spirit and grit and other positive sports clichés. Then, as the Minutemen slumped into conference play on a 1-6 streak, the negative clichés became in vogue.
Then, after another rise and fall in conference play, it became quickly aware that no one had a damn clue how good this team was.
The first reaction would be to label UMass as a team that played up to its competition. Currently the No. 8 seed, the Minutemen are 5-1 against seeds No. 6-10 and 4-0 against seeds No. 6-9. At the same time, UMass was also 0-5 against the top five seeds in the conference, which makes sense.
What makes little sense, though, is the fact that the Minutemen were 2-4 against the bottom four teams in the conference, winning their first two before dropping their last four against those teams.
UMass’ performance is based heavily off of the play of senior guard Anthony Gurley, how it fares in the 3-point shooting game and how their defense plays on a given day. In those factors, the Minutemen are all over the map and all the stats in the world aren’t going to predict which team comes out on Tuesday.
So, to keep it simple, one must look at one spot on the map – the Mullins Center, where the Minutemen beat the Flyers, 55-50, in their first conference game of the year. UMass is 9-7 at home and 6-6 anywhere else. Take the Minutemen at home, it’s the only thing on this team that makes sense.
Fun fact No. 1: UMass allows the lowest overall field goal percentage in the conference (.399), and has the lowest 3-point field goal percentage (.296).
Fun fact No. 2: Dayton has the fewest blocks in the conference. UMass has the fewest assists in the conference.
The glass cannon game: No. 10 La Salle at No. 7 St. Bonaventure
La Salle has the second-ranked offense in the conference along with the worst scoring defense. St. Bonaventure has the conference’s top scorer in A-10 All-Conference First Team forward Andrew Nicholson, who’s averaging 20.5 points per game. He also has the highest field goal percentage.
While not as extreme, the Bonnies also boast a better offense than defense, ranking sixth and 11th, respectively. More importantly, though, when the Bonnies get into a shootout, they get work done.
SBU is 6-0 in games in which its offense score 80 points or higher. Meanwhile, the last five teams that beat the Explorers all scored at least 80 points.
If this game turns into a shootout – and it probably will – look for the Bonnies to come out on top.
Fun fact 3: No more than three weeks after beating Ohio, 112-107, in quadruple overtime, the Bonnies went deep again, beating Charlotte, 92-88, in triple overtime.
The grinder: No. 11 Saint Louis at No. 6 Rhode Island
Saint Louis and La Salle both had six conference wins and bring exponentially different games with them. The team the Rams drew is currently dead last in the conference in scoring defense.
While this matchup reads more like the No. 5 vs. No. 12 game, URI has something to fear in St. Louis – a slow-tempo game that lowers the scoring margin.
This was evident in the Billikens’ last four wins before losing to Xavier to close out the season. In wins against Duquesne, Dayton and Charlotte, both teams combined for under 120 points. The exception to this is SLU’s 90-52 win over Chicago State, which, after extensive research, is in fact a real school. They’re the Cougars.
The Rams are good in a lot of areas, but are not spectacular in any of them, outside of featuring the A-10’s fifth-leading scorer and sixth-leading rebounder, James Delroy. Statistically, they’re about as boring as St. Louis’ style of play. Burn!
URI has been putting away mediocre teams all season, but the last meeting between the two teams ended in a two-point win by the Rams. If there’s going to be an upset, it’ll probably happen here. Saint Louis is one of those miserable teams to watch that will upset a team almost out of spite.
Fun fact 4: Other than the Chicago State game, Saint Louis and its opponents have only combined for over 130 points three times. The Billikens lost all three games.
The surprisingly not lopsided game: No. 12 Saint Joseph’s at No. 5 George Washington.
Until Feb. 5, this game is no contest. The Hawks had dropped their first nine conference matchups before beating UMass on that date. Including that game, Saint Joseph’s has gone a respectable 4-4 to finish the season, including a win over St. Bonaventure.
Going further, when George Washington and Saint Joe’s met earlier this season, the Colonials won 77-71 – not exactly a rout.
All of this, of course, is dancing around the fact the Colonials are much better and playing at home. SJU’s wins over the Bonnies and Minutemen, in addition to the close game against GW, were all at home.
While the Colonials aren’t exactly world-beaters, they’ve gotten this far by winning the games they were supposed to win. GW is 0-5 against the top four seeds in the A-10, but is 10-1 against everyone else, with the loss coming against the Bonnies.
In the first round, though, that’s all a team has to do. Pick: the Colonials, easily.
Fun fact No. 5: Saint Joseph’s is at the bottom of the conference in 3-point shooting defense at .369. George Washington, though, is right behind them in 13th with .367.
No. 1 Xavier, No. 2 Temple, No. 3 Richmond and No. 4 Duquesnse all have a bye for the first round and will be waiting for the winners in the second round of the tournament Friday, March 11 in Atlantic City, N.J. If they advance past the Flyers, the Minutemen will take on the top-ranked Musketeers.
Nick O’Malley is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.