CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 18: Dante Jackson #25 of the Xavier Musketeers reacts after a play in the first half against the Marquette Golden Eagles during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena on March 18, 2011, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
The 2012 A10 basketball tournament tips off on Tuesday with two NCAA Tournament locks (St. Louis, Temple) and two others looking to secure a bid (Dayton, Xavier).
What, Who, When
The Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament takes place March 6 and March 9-11, first on campus locations, then at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
The A10 utilizes the typical 12-team bracket. The top four teams get byes to the March 9 quarterfinals in Atlantic City, while the bottom eight teams face off on March 6 at the home of the higher seed.
Tuesday: No. 9 Duquesne at No. 8 UMass, No. 12 Charlotte at No. 5 St. Joseph's, No. 10 Richmond at No. 7 La Salle, No. 11 George Washington at No. 6 Dayton.
Friday: No. 1 Temple vs. Duquesne/UMass, No. 4 St. Bonaventure vs. Charlotte/St. Joe's, No. 2 St. Louis vs. Richmond/La Salle, No. 3 Xavier vs. Dayton/GWU.
Who The Numbers Like
St. Louis. Ken Pomeroy's projections say Rick Majerus' Billikens are the overwhelming favorite, with a 44.1 percent chance of taking home the conference's automatic bid. Temple has a 19.9 percent chance, and everybody else is under nine percent. George Washington has a 0.07 percent chance; so do not put money on the 10-20 Colonials. SLU ranks a staggering 12th overall in Pomeroy's rankings, 37th on offense (powered by great ball control and decent shooting) and 11th on defense (they force both bad shots and turnovers and they rebound well). They are certainly capable of slip-ups -- in December, they lost to Loyola Marymount after whipping the likes of Washington and Oklahoma; just a week and a half ago, they fell at 7-24 Rhode Island -- but despite that, they are the the most consistently sound team in the A10.
Who The Eyeballs Like
Temple. The Owls won the conference title by a game on the power of their 72-67 road win over SLU on Jan. 11. Temple began conference play 1-2 with losses to Dayton (at home) and Richmond (away), but they have won 13 of 14 since. They are far from invincible -- they were taken to overtime by both La Salle and UMass in the last two weeks, and they suffered a 10-point loss at St. Joseph's. But they shot incredibly well (56.6 percent) against a great SLU defense the first time around -- Khalif Wyatt scored 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting -- and head-to-head matchups do make an impression.
St. Bonaventure. Mark Schmidt's Bonnies won five of seven to finish the season, sneaking out a first-round bye over teams like St. Joseph's and Dayton. They lost back-to-back games at St. Louis (86-62) and UMass (76-67) to start February, but have looked mostly solid ever since, dominating teams they should dominate (average winning margin over Duquesne, Rhode Island, Fordham and Charlotte: 20.8 points), took out St. Joe's in double-overtime, and lost a narrow battle to Temple, 76-70. They have risen from 107th in Pomeroy's rankings on Jan. 21 to 61st now, and now is a pretty good time to be playing your best ball.
Best Possible Title Game
Temple vs. Xavier. Why? Mostly to vary this up (picking No. 1 vs. No. 2 gets old), but also because Xavier is a fascinating bubble team. The Musketeers currently find themselves in Chris Dobbertean's play-in game, but it is difficult to tell how the committee thinks of them because of the losing streak that followed their brawl versus Cincinnati (and the subsequent suspensions). XU lost five of six in late-December, won four in a row, then consistently took alternating steps forward and backwards throughout January and February. They did not lose to anybody badly in conference play, but they also didn't beat anybody better than St. Bonaventure, and a trip to the finals could give them a much more solid case for tourney inclusion.
Who Might/Will Get In Anyway
Temple. Dobbertean gave the 24-6 Owls a four seed on Monday morning, primarily because of wins over Duke and other mid-major darlings Wichita State and St. Louis. Losses to Bowling Green and Richmond might prevent them from nabbing a top four seed when all is said and done, but there is no question that the Owls are a guaranteed at-large team.
St. Louis. For a while, it looked as if the Billikens might not only get in, but earn a tremendously high seed. The bad loss to UMass tamped their seeding ceiling down a bit, but Dobbertean still has them on the 8-9 line. They are in, no matter what happens this week, but if they want to avoid a Round of 32 matchup with a No. 1 seed, they might want to win out.
Xavier. Even without their immediate post-brawl losses, the Musketeers' tourney case isn't an absolute slam dunk. They did beat Vanderbilt, Purdue and Cincinnati in non-conference play, but their next two best wins (according to Pomeroy rankings) came against St. Bonaventure and St. Joseph's, both at home. They are just 11-11 after their 8-0 start and 6-6 in their last 12, and they might need to take out St. Louis in a potential semifinal matchup to feel good about their chances.
Dayton. It wouldn't be an NCAA Tournament bubble without the Flyers, who seem to always be lingering nearby, on one side or the other. Dobbertean has them six spots away from the right side of the bubble, but their case might be damaged by the fact that their resume looks scarcely different from that of St. Joseph's, a team that nobody thinks is on the bubble, and a team that defeated them by 14 points on Jan. 25. Still, if the Flyers take out George Washington, Xavier and perhaps St. Louis, they might have a chance.
Players To Watch
Brian Conklin, St. Louis. The beefy senior (6'6, 230 pounds) shoots pretty well (53.9 percent from the field), eats up a lot of SLU's possessions, draws fouls, makes his free throws, and, with help from teammate Dwayne Evans, hits the offensive glass with ferocity. St. Louis is an aggressive team on the interior, and Conklin is the primary reason for that. Players like Conklin may not blow you away on the patented eyeball test, but they win you games, and he is a major cog on a team that has improved from 12-19 in 2010-11 to 24-6 this season.
Tu Holloway, Xavier. Perhaps the most well-known player in the conference, Holloway has had an up-and-down senior season. He is capable of incredible efficiency (he scored 24 points on just 12 field goal attempts in the regular season finale against Charlotte), but his shot comes and goes (he shot 7-15 against Temple a few weeks ago and 7-12 against Charlotte, but combined to shoot just 5-17 in two games versus St. Louis), as does his passing. He has dished at least six assists in six of the last 10 games, but he has committed at least four turnovers in four of those. Still, he is incredibly dangerous, and when he is playing well, XU can take out anybody in the A10.
Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, Temple. The undersized Owls can kill you from long range -- they have four players (Wyatt,Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez, Aaron Brown) who have hit at least 39 3-pointers while shooting at least 37.9 percent -- but they can get drowned out underneath at times. They have shown that they don't have to rebound incredibly well to succeed, but if they want to get past, among other teams, St. Bonaventure and St. Louis, they will need Hollis-Jefferson to play well. The junior from Chester, Pa., is only 6'6, 210 pounds, but that qualifies as "big" for TU; he ranks in the nation's Top 500 in both Block Percentage and Steal Percentage, and he is a good rebounder for his size, having grabbed double-digit boards in five games this year. He has picked up the scoring in recent games, too, averaging 10.8 points per game on 55 percent shooting in the last six; he gives Temple a chance to win games even when the outside shots are not falling.
Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure. The 6'9 senior is perhaps the most well-rounded player in the conference and has been for a while -- he has averaged at least 16.4 points, shot at least 56 percent, and grabbed at least seven rebounds per game in each of the last three seasons. He shoots well from both inside (60.7 percent on 2-pointers) and outside (37.5 percent on 3-pointers), he rebounds well (69th in the country in Defensive Rebound Rate), he blocks shots, he draws fouls and he makes his free throws. He gives the Bonnies an interesting matchup advantage against potential semifinal-foe Temple; he scored 19 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked four shots (and, yes, committed six turnovers) the first time the two teams met.
Langston Galloway, St. Joseph's. The 6'2 sophomore has played like a mid-major Marcus Denmon this season; he is deadly from long range (47.5 percent), he takes care of the ball beautifully, and he lets the game come to him, almost to a fault. He ranks 21st in the country in overall offensive efficiency, but he disappears at times; if Phil Martelli's Hawks have any chance of stealing the automatic bid, Galloway might have to force the issue a bit.