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The Atlantic-10 went through a roller-coaster regular season in which it went from having six projected bids to the NCAA Tournament to a potential cap at three. There was also a great race for first-place in the standings between Xavier, Temple and Richmond, with the Musketeers and Owls finishing tied at 14-2, and the Spiders ending up one game back. Saint Louis was a second-half spoiler and went 11-5, while Rhode Island and Charlotte finished 9-7. Dayton was 8-8. It should be a great conference tournament, with much to be gained from several teams in the league.
Favorites: Xavier and Temple tied for first-place and head into the conference tournament as the co-favorites. The Musketeers had a great second half of the season after going just 6-4 in their first 10 games. They finished the season by winning seven in a row and 17 of their last 20. They’re an extremely efficient offensive team with the ability to score in and out. Jordan Crawford is a big-time scorer who can get hot, while Terrell Holloway is a solid point guard. Jason Love has become a go-to option in the paint. Temple is in line for a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament, as the Owls lost just five games all season. They are a tremendous defensive group that controls the glass and defends opponents closely. Temple has given up more than 70 points just four times all season. The Owls are led offensively by the backcourt of Ryan Brooks and Juan Fernandez, two guys who can create their own shot and also knock down threes. Lavoy Allen averages a double-double in the paint.
Contender: Richmond fell a game short of first-place in the standings, as the Spiders lost a double-overtime contest to Xavier on February 28. Because of their defense, though, they are certainly a threat to win the auto bid. They guard both the two and three tightly, and force turnovers very well. Offensively, they are led by the explosive backcourt of quick point guard Kevin Anderson and scoring guard David Gonzalvez. When they are getting points from secondary options, they’re tough to beat.
Sleeper: There are several bubble teams in need of a great showing in the conference tournament in order to get a bid, including Saint Louis, Charlotte and Rhode Island. However, the team with the best chance of winning the automatic bid could be Dayton. The Flyers were the preseason favorite, but faltered late in the season, losing five of their last seven games to finish 8-8. They’re an excellent defensive team that pressures teams into turnovers and rushed shots. Forwards Chris Wright and Chris Johnson are the primary offensive options.
Prediction: This conference tournament could be one of the best in the country. The top three teams are very close together, and the second tier of teams also has plenty of contenders for the title. Despite that, I think it will come down to the top two teams in the conference, Temple and Xavier. Both teams have excellent guard play, as well as balance down low. I think the difference, though, will be Temple’s defense. The Owls lock down opponents at that end of the floor, and will limit Jordan Crawford. Temple will win the auto bid.