Atlantic Ten tournament begins Thursday

Coach Fran Dunphy's Temple team enters the tournament with a seven-game winning streak. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Coach Fran Dunphy's Temple team enters the tournament with a seven-game winning streak. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Posted: March 14, 2013

College basketball purists consider March the greatest month of the year. With the regular season ending, there's plenty of excitement - or better yet, madness - surrounding the tournaments.

But the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament, which has left Atlantic City and begins Thursday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, could be both exciting and sad for longtime fans.

There's the anticipation because this could be the league's best tournament ever, with newcomers No. 25 Virginia Commonwealth and Butler involved.

But things could also be awkward because the league won't be the same after Sunday's championship game. With conference realignment being the latest trend in college sports, the A-10 is breaking apart.

Temple will become a member of the league known now as the Big East. Charlotte is moving to Conference USA. Butler and Xavier are expected to join the Catholic Seven in a league that will retain the Big East name when it breaks away July 1. St. Louis, Dayton, and Richmond are also possibilities to link up with the new Big East.

But before any of that happens, the current top 12 teams will come together for the final time to play in a wide-open tournament.

Temple coach Fran Dunphy said that trying to win the tournament - not leaving the conference - is foremost on his mind.

"I think once the whole year is over, you will reflect back and see that Temple had such an important role in the Atlantic Ten for all those years," said Dunphy, whose squad is the tournament's third seed. "And the Atlantic Ten had a lot to do with Temple's success.

"There's some bittersweetness with us leaving the conference because it has been good for both."

While the Owls (23-8) have a seven-game winning streak, St. Louis is favored to win the tournament.

The 16th-ranked Billikens (24-6) are the tournament's top-seeded team after claiming the program's first outright A-10 regular-season title. All this comes three months after the death of coach Rick Majerus, 64, who had been awaiting a heart transplant.

Interim coach Jim Crews has extended Majerus' winning ways. As a result, he is the A-10 and Sporting News national coach of the year.

Since suffering consecutive losses to Temple and Rhode Island, St. Louis has won 12 of 13 games. Opponents have struggled against the Billikens defense, which is holding teams to a conference-best 58.4 points per game.

Second seed Virginia Commonwealth (24-7), Temple, fourth seed La Salle (21-8), fifth seed Butler (24-7), and sixth seed Massachusetts (19-10) are considered contenders.

Seventh seed Xavier (17-13) is the dark horse. The Musketeers' last two victories were against St. Louis and 20th-ranked Memphis. They will face 10th-seeded St. Joseph's in the first round.

"It's going to be a matter of who is playing on a high level, particularly on the defensive end," VCU coach Shaka Smart said.


Atlantic Ten Tournament

When: Thursday through Sunday.

Where: Barclays Center, New York.

TV: NBC Sports Network (Thursday), the Comcast Network (Friday), Comcast Sportsnet (Friday), CBS Sports Network (Saturday), CBS3 (Sunday).

City Six: St. Joseph's is the 10th seed and meets No. 7 Xavier Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the first round. Temple is the No. 3 seed and has a first-round bye. The Owls will face the winner of No. 6 seed Massachusetts and No. 11 seed George Washington in Friday's 9 p.m. quarterfinal. La Salle is the No. 4 seed and has a first-round bye. The Explorers face the winner of No. 5 seed Butler vs. No. 11 Dayton in Friday's 2:30 p.m. quarterfinal. The other quarterfinals are Thursday at noon and 6:30 p.m. The semifinals are Saturday (1:30 and 4 p.m.), and the final is Sunday (1 p.m.)

First round: Richmond vs. Charlotte, noon; Butler vs. Dayton, 2:30 p.m.; Xavier vs. St. Joseph's, 6:30 p.m.; UMass vs. George Washington, 9 p.m.

- Keith Pompey


Contact Keith Pompey at kpompey@phillynews.com Follow on Twitter @pompeysgridlock.

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