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"How badly do you want to win?" Quick thoughts on Atlantic 10 Teams in Postseason Play

Updated: Mar 20


On Sunday Afternoon in Brooklyn, the Duquesne Dukes took down the VCU Rams 57-51 to clinch the 2024 Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship, clinching their first auto-bid in the NCAA Tournament since 1977. That year, Duquesne won the first ever Atlantic 10 Tournament with a 57-54 win over the Villanova Wildcats. 


Entering the week as the 6-seed, Duquesne won a historic tournament that saw all 4 Top seeds fail to make it to the weekend. With 2 A-10 Teams in the NCAA Tournament, and 4 in the NIT, what can we take away from the final three games of the Atlantic 10 Championship in order to better contextualize any potential postseason runs?



The Dukes are ready to make (one final?) splash

Dukes head coach Keith Dambrot took control of the Duquesne program in 2017, ending his tenure with the Akron Zips after 13 years and 3 MAC Tournament Titles. Leaving a job in his home state to take over the Dukes was not an easy decision for Dambrot, which he recalled in Sunday’s post game press conference. While grappling with the decision, Dambrot kept it simple when discussing the move with Duquesne Athletic Director Dave Harper.


“My main question was; how badly do you want to win?” Dambrot recounted. “Because I really wasn’t going to leave my hometown, where I had a pretty good situation, if they didn’t really want to win.”


Harper obviously made his vision clear, as Dambrot was officially announced the 17th Dukes head coach on March 30th, 2017. Dambrot also cited his father, Sid, who was a member of the Dukes varsity team from 1951-1954, as an influence on his decision. Despite a few bumps in the road along the way, including a 6-24 record in 2021-22, Duquesne enters the 2024 NCAA Tournament in their second consecutive 20-win year. 


“My son [Robby Dambrot] transferred to Pitt [in 2017 as well] so I figured ‘what the hell?’ We might as well all come,” Dambrot added with a laugh.


According to Duquesne athletics, Duquesne Basketball’s 24 wins this season match the 1953-54 Dukes for the most in program history. The 24th win for this year’s Dukes came in stunning fashion against VCU at the Barclays Center, a game in which the eventual 2024 Champs led for 38 minutes and 39 seconds. After VCU scored the opening bucket on a Christian Fermin hook shot, Duquesne would open their own scoring with a 10-0 run and never look back.


Despite a regular season in which the Dukes lost their first 5 Atlantic 10 games, senior guard Jimmy Clark III explained that he and his teammates entered Brooklyn with a renewed sense of intensity.


“It was definitely a different approach [for us] coming into this tournament,” Clark said. “I feel like it was just a more lock-in approach, and we knew exactly what we needed to do from a defensive standpoint. I felt like the coaches preached that to us [while] preparing for this tournament and all throughout this tournament. When we focused on that, I feel like that’s why the outcome was different.”


Despite just 9 points against VCU, Clark recorded 4 steals against the Rams. In 4 tournament games, Clark averaged 15.8 points per game en route to a spot on the 2024 Atlantic 10 All-Championship team. Senior guard Dae Dae Grant, who averaged 16.2 ppg in Brooklyn, was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.


Earning an 11-seed and a matchup against 6-seeded Nevada in the NCAA Tournament, the Dukes prepare to make what is now officially the final tournament run for Coach Dambrot. In a press conference on Monday, Dambrot announced that he will retire from coaching following the conclusion of this year’s NCAA Tournament. Heading into the NCAA Tournament, Dambrot's record stands at 528 wins and 304 losses.



VCU can compete in the NIT, but their guards must stay poised

Following the loss to Duquesne, VCU head coach Ryan Odom did not shy away from making a case for his team to play in a postseason tournament. Leaving the tournament with a 22-13 record, the Rams were a serious contender in their first season with a new head coach. According to Coach Odom, the quick success for this team despite the leadership change and despite several injuries are what makes VCU worthy of an NIT.


“It would be a shame for it to end right now, because they [VCU players] have more to give,” Odom said. “They want to play more…if we’re given the chance to do that in the NIT, then we’ll compete for another championship--because that’s what VCU does.”


VCU stayed poised against Duquesne, especially in the second half. Through the Dukes stifling defense, the Rams were able to rattle off a few late runs and get within a point in the final 2 minutes of the game. However, Duquesne’s total defensive shut down of Rams guards Max Shulga and Sean Bairstow was a key point of the Dukes’ win. Shulga and Bairstow scored a combined 8 points in the game.


“They [Duquesne] were physical with him [Shulga],” Odom said. “They knocked some balls loose where he was by them. [Jimmy] Clark is really good at that. It was almost as if he said: I’m going to let you so I can try to get it from behind. That happened multiple times.”


Despite a tough game from the field, Shulga averaged 12 ppg in Brooklyn en route to an All-Championship selection.


In the opening round of the NIT, the Rams face top-seeded Villanova. A top-10 team in the Atlantic 10 both offensively and defensively, the Rams can make a run, but guards like Max Shulga will have to adjust to any teams running a defensive bully-ball.


St. Joe’s proves that it’s never too late to turn things around

Despite the 66-60 loss to VCU in the semifinals, the St. Joe’s Hawks still felt like they had more left to prove. After a 9-9 finish in regular season conference play, the Hawks took down George Mason and Richmond in the tournament to clinch their first 20-win season since 2015-2016. The Hawks just made it over the mark thanks to massive tournament performances from guards Erik Reynolds, Lynn Greer, and Cameron Brown. Reynolds, who scored 30 in a Quarterfinal win over Richmond, averaged 19 points over 3 tournament games.


Following the loss, Hawks forward Rasheer Fleming made it clear that St. Joe’s would accept an NIT bid if provided the opportunity.


“I’m not really sure how that works, but if there’s a chance, then I definitely think we have the right to be there.”


Hawks head coach Billy Lange echoed Fleming’s sentiment, providing more detail on how the Hawks’ resume could help them get an invite. Within their non-conference schedule, Lange cited wins over Villanova and Princeton, as well as a 96-88 OT loss to Kentucky as quality Hawks performances. In conference play, Lange reiterated the fact that St. Joe’s took down top-seeded Richmond in the Quarterfinals. 


Outside of their resume, Lange also emphasized his simple desire to keep coaching this current Hawks roster.


“To me, it’s about the whole, the globalness of the season and, I think, the direction of the program,” Lange said. “I want to keep coaching. I want to keep developing. I want to keep teaching. I coached in the NBA, so I’ve coached into June. I don’t really know what to do [in the spring]. I don’t golf. I can’t get to the beach until August. My wife doesn’t like to go away with me [on vacation], so I don’t really have a whole lot to do.”


Luckily for Lange and his Hawks, St. Joe’s earned a spot in the 2024 NIT, taking on Seton Hall in the opening round of the tournament.


For more thoughts on St. Joe's, check out my video with Aaron Bracy of Big5Hoops.com where we break down the Hawks ahead of Saturday's semifinal!



 

A-10 teams in action this week


NIT

Tuesday, March 19th

Virginia Tech 74, Richmond 58


Wednesday, March 20th

7 PM-Saint Joe's vs. Seton Hall

7 PM-Loyola Chicago vs. Bradley

9 PM-VCU vs. Villanova


NCAA Tournament

Thursday, March 21st

12:40 PM-Duquesne vs. BYU

4:30 PM-Nevada vs. Dayton







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