Image: Atlantic 10
This afternoon, the first two games of the 2022 Atlantic 10 Championship will tip off in Washington DC. 14 teams, in a conference that's really seen it's up and downs this year, will all challenge for that automatic big to the Big Dance. What is the current outlook of the A-10 this year, and how could that change this week?
Here are the four biggest questions that A-10 fans should be asking heading into this year's conference championship.
Is Davidson all they're cracked up to be?
With a Regular Season Championship in the books, as well as the 2022 Player and Coach of the Year, Davidson has pretty much clinched their spot in the NCAA Tournament. Winning the 2022 A-10 Tournament would the cherry on top of an already delicious and tourney worthy sundae, and this Wildcats team sure has the talent to do it. If you want to know just how scary this Davidson team is, Luka Brajkovic, who just won Atlantic 10 Player of the year averaging 14.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, and 2.5 apg, is just the third best scorer on this team. Usually defined by the amount of hot hands on the roster, this year's Davidson team is full of excellent scorers with a lot of experience in this conference. Hyunjung Lee has really developed into an elite playmaker, and Michigan State transfer Foster Loyer has made a huge impact on this team and the conference in just one season with the Wildcats. With Davidson's two biggest challengers on the other side of the bracket, the Wildcats are poised to make a very impressive run in the 2022 tourney.
Can Dayton and VCU control their own destiny?
Speaking of those two teams, both Dayton and VCU have been teed up as the two major heels to Davidson's heroic run in 2022. As two of the three teams to have beaten Davidson in conference play (along with Rhody. Go figure), a potential rematch should prove very challenging for the Wildcats, and potentially give one of these teams a chance a stealing the auto-bid. However, they'll first have to get through each other in a potential Saturday semifinal matchup.
For Dayton to push through, we'll have to see the right Flyers offense hit the floor. With such an inexperienced lineup, Dayton has had plenty of stellar performances (see: win over Kansas), mixed in with a few hiccups that pretty much sank their at-large ship in non-conference play (see: loss to Lowell). Their defense has definitely improved enough over the season to make up for it, and freshman DaRon Holmes making the All-Conference Defensive team is a pretty obvious testament to that.
However, they'll likely have to get through the second best defense in this conference in VCU if they want to continue their exciting run. Trailing Dayton by just two tenths of a point for the least amount of points allowed per game, VCU has perfected the defensive scheme that Mike Rhoades has been developing for a few years now at this program. To back up this defensive effort, players like Vince Williams and Ace Baldwin have put up consistently big numbers all season.
What of the other three byes?
Even with all this talent in the top three seeds, there are still plenty of teams in this conference that could make a deep run, yet were held back in the regular season for various different reasons. For St. Bonaventure, the reigning tournament champs, it looks like they're finally starting to figure out their bench situation. After winning eight of their last nine heading into the tourney, Conference DPOY Osun Osunniyi and company should be poised to make one final run with this experienced core group.
Another team filled with some new and emerging stars, the Saint Louis Billikens rebounded from the preseason of Javonte Perkins with a litany of talent. Yuri Collins, Jordan Nesbitt, and Francis Okoro form the backbone of a SLU team that lead the conference in scoring. Their defense hasn't really been there all year, and a Thursday entry means that they'll enter the later rounds with some tired legs. That being said, I think the Billikens can really make a push if their offense is firing at all cylinders.
Like the Bonnies, the sixth seed Richmond Spiders are on a swan song run. Guys like Grant Golden and Jacob Gilyard will look to make an a final impression in their last year of college eligibility, while Tyler Burton will look for any solid performance that can improve his NBA draft stock. Despite maybe some slightly different goals, this team works so well with each other, playing efficient, unselfish, defensive basketball that has and can still hang with nearly any team around the country.
Who's playing for props?
As we move further down the bracket, we find several teams that are a bit too far out of the title conversation, but have enough in the tank to make a big statement about where there programs are at in terms of development.
On Wednesday, it's hard to find a team in the pillow fight that has much of a chance of making it past Day 2. URI, La Salle, and Duquesne are all programs that have kinda begun to stagnate under their current head coaches, so it will be interesting to see how these games affect the future destinations of these guys, as well as any players that might want to put on a show before heading into the transfer portal.
On Thursday, look for Fordham, Mason, and GW as the teams to make a statement in the early rounds. As I've mentioned before, the game between Fordham and Mason back in late February was the first round of what could become a huge head coaching rivalry between Kyle Neptune and Kim English, and now we'll get an early glimpse of how that matchup will look in the postseason as well. As for GW, Joe Bamisile and James Bishop may have saved Jamion Christian's tenure with the Colonials with the numbers they've put up this season, so it will be interesting to see how they do against UMass.
No matter who you're rooting for in the Atlantic 10, there's a reason to be watching this year's tournament. A league full of twists and turns, just when you think the A-10 is completely set, shenanigans are bound to ensue.