Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament Preview

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The Atlantic-10 Conference featured a very exciting conference race, despite Xavier never falling more than a half-game out of the league race. The Musketeers won the title by one game, with three teams tying for second place behind them: Dayton, Rhode Island and Temple. A quartet of teams finished at 9-7 and Saint Louis was 8-8. This is going to be a very interesting conference tournament, with several teams at the top capable of winning it and a glut of teams in the middle looking to play spoiler.

Favorite: Xavier hit some bumps in the road on the way to an A-10 championship, even losing to Richmond in the last game of the season, but the Musketeers remain the team to beat heading into the tournament. As most Xavier teams are, this year’s version is very balanced, with three guys averaging between 10.2 and 13.8 points, and another five putting up between 5.6 and 7.2 points per game. B.J. Raymond can really shoot, while C.J. Anderson is a tough match-up. Derrick Brown is an athletic freak who can finish with the best of them. Point guard has been a question mark.

Contenders: Dayton is the next team in line for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament out of this conference and has shown the ability to knock off Xavier, beating the Musketeers by 13 earlier this season. Chris Wright is one of the more athletic and talented forwards in the league and Marcus Johnson can shoot the ball well from three. London Warren is a quick point guard who can distribute and defend. Rhode Island won 10 of its final 12 games, but lost to Massachusetts at home in the final game of the season to put its at-large hopes in peril. Jimmy Baron is an outstanding three-point shooter, while Keith Cothran can score in a variety of ways. Up front, Kahiem Seawright is an efficient scorer down low who can crash the boards, and Delroy James is also a double-figure scorer. Temple bounced back from a two-game losing streak in late February to forge a tie for second. Dionte Christmas is one of the best shooters and scorers in the country, while Lavoy Allen is a double-double threat every night down low. Ryan Brooks is a good three-point shooter who provides balance for the Owls.

Sleeper: Massachusetts was expected to be one of the better teams in the Atlantic-10 heading into the season, but the Minutemen have struggled for much of the year. However, they apparently get up for big games, as they own wins over Kansas, Dayton, Rhode Island, Temple and a two-point loss to Xavier. Ricky Harris is a big-time scorer, while Chris Lowe is a very good distributing point guard. Tony Gaffney averages a double-double and is a fantastic shot-blocker.

Prediction: There is a lot at stake in Atlantic City this week. Xavier is a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but the Musketeers want a top-four seed. Dayton needs a win to cement an at-large bid, while Rhode Island and Temple need to get to at least the championship game – and might need to win it. Temple has a tough road, as Saint Joseph’s has plenty of talent and is its likely opponent in the quarterfinals. The easiest road might be Dayton, as Rhode Island will have to go against either Duquesne or UMass. Xavier should get to the finals, and will face a battle-tested URI team. Can Baron shoot the Rams to the Big Dance? Doubtful – Xavier’s experience and balance will be the difference as the Musketeers get the auto bid.

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