Atlantic 10 Tournament preview

Posted: March 12, 2010

We're most looking forward to: Seeing how many NCAA-worthy teams this conference really has. Temple, Richmond and Xavier are clearly in. Can Dayton, Saint Louis or Rhode Island make a run that convinces the selection committee that one or more of them deserve a spot in the field?

Team on the rise: Saint Louis. The Billikens do not have any juniors or seniors. Yet, Rick Majerus' team won eight of its last 10. They survived a week in Philadelphia after getting caught in the February blizzard. They won at Dayton, Massachusetts, La Salle and Saint Joseph's. Their only two losses during this stretch were to the co-champs, Temple (by six) and Xavier (by two).

Team on the decline: Rhode Island won every close game for most of the season. Just when they were on the cusp of the NCAA, the Rams lost five of seven before beating St. Joe's in the first round on Tuesday. They probably overachieved to get so close to a bid, but reality has intervened.

Worth noting: There are a number of worthy national Coach of the Year candidates - Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Steve Alford (New Mexico), John Calipari (Kentucky) and Brad Stevens (Butler) among others. I recently filled out my basketball writers' ballot. I voted for Temple's Fran Dunphy.

To me, the best coaches look at their personnel and then play a style that best fits their talents. Nobody did that any better this season than Dunphy. The Owls' strengths are basketball IQ and defense. And that is exactly how they won all those games.

Sunday's final will be on CBS. Tomorrow's semifinals can only be seen on CBS College Sports TV. That is part of the pay sports tier on Comcast.

Dark horse to win it all: I really don't see one. St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt has done a terrific job reviving a dead program, but just getting by Temple today is going to be a really tall order. Massachusetts needed two upsets just to get here. Can't imagine them getting by Richmond tonight. Dayton, which has serious trouble winning outside Ohio, is probably going to have to beat Xavier, Richmond and Temple to win it. The Flyers have the talent, but I just don't see them pulling off that trifecta.

Team that needs help to make the NCAAs: Dayton needs to win a game or two and hope that all the favorites win the conference tournaments. The Flyers are still alive because the at-large field is so weak.

Best player: Kevin Anderson (Richmond) was named Player of the Year for a reason. Nobody can guard him. He makes big shots. He is fearless. And he helps his team win.

Best shooter: Juan Fernandez (Temple) is 63-for-141 (44.7 percent) from the arc. He came advertised as Pepe Sanchez with a jump shot. Well, he doesn't play at all like Pepe, but he can really shoot.

Best defender: Lavoy Allen (Temple). Duquesne's Damian Saunders had a terrific season and was named Defensive Player of the Year. He led the league in blocks and steals, but his team was in the middle of the pack in defensive stats. Temple's team led the league in the significant defensive stats. And Allen was the reason. He is always in the right spot. You can't judge him by his numbers. You can judge him by his team's defensive numbers and their record.

Don't foul this guy: Terrell Holloway (Xavier). He shot 118-for-139 (84.9 percent) from the foul line.

Ultimate title game: Temple against Richmond. It would give the Owls a chance to avenge one of their two league losses. It would also be a matchup of two Philly guys, each of whom went to high school here. And there is also this. Richmond's Chris Mooney played at Princeton. Temple's Fran Dunphy coached at Penn.

The dreaded pick: I like Temple. The Owls are pretty much equal with Xavier and Richmond, but the No. 1 seed got the much better draw. Richmond, Xavier and Dayton are all on the other side of the draw. And the times of the games could really help Temple. The Owls play at noon today. They will be out of the gym before 3 p.m. Richmond won't be leaving until around midnight.

If the seeds hold, Temple will be playing Saint Louis tomorrow about 23 hours after its game concludes. Richmond will have to play Xavier 16 hours after its game ends. That is a huge edge. Xavier will have to beat archrival Dayton and almost certainly Richmond to get to the final. Not easy.

There is also the fact that Temple has won the last two tournaments. Experience counts. Winning experience counts even more. Dunphy had never been a head coach in a conference tournament until he came to Temple. It took him one season to figure it out. Now, he goes for the threepeat. *

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