Atlantic 10 men's basketball tournament invades Barclays Center
While the Nets take a few days off, the Atlantic 10 men's basketball tournament will keep the Barclays Center warm starting tomorrow. Like the Nets, the A-10's annual event to decide which school gets the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament comes to Brooklyn from New Jersey, having occupied the Atlantic City boardwalk since 2007. Fans and alumni of Fordham University are already familiar with the New York newcomer, but for those unfamiliar with the tournament first won by Duquesne in 1977, here's a primer on the 2013 conference championship bracket.
1. Saint Louis
The 16th-ranked Billikens (24-6, 13-3 A-10) hope to pair their regular season conference title with their first tournament championship. They've played with heavy hearts all year after Rick Majerus, who coached the school from 2007 to 2012, passed away in December, but this year they are more than sentimental favorites; they're the team to beat. Dwayne Evans leads Saint Louis with 12.9 ppg and 7.6 rpg.
2. Virginia Commonwealth
No. 25 VCU, which reached the Final Four two years ago, just joined the conference this year after dominating the Colonial Athletic Association for years. The Rams (24-7, 12-4) made themselves at home right away thanks to Treveon Graham (15.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Juvonte Reddic (14.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg).
Perennial A-10 contenders, the Owls (23-8, 11-5) have their eyes on a 10th and final title before leaving for the Big East (reportedly soon to be the America 12) in July. Guard Khalif Wyatt leads the conference in scoring with 19.9 ppg. A win over VCU in the regular season finale could give Temple a mental edge should the two meet in the semifinals.
4. La Salle
As one of the two longest-tenured A-10 members to not win the tournament - Fordham is the other - the Explorers (21-8, 11-5) will look to make history in Brooklyn. Ramon Galloway carries the conference's second-best scoring average (17.4 ppg) into the tournament. A prior win over Butler won a tiebreaker for the final first-round bye.
This could be the first and last A-10 tournament for the Bulldogs (24-7, 11-5), who reportedly will join the "Catholic 7" in the new Big East this July. Butler climbed as high as No. 9 in the AP poll after beating current No. 1 Gonzaga in January, and also won a December matchup against then-top-ranked Indiana. Leading scorer Rotnei Clarke is a threat from outside (41.7% 3-point shooting).
UMass hasn't been the same since a five-year run of tournament titles in the 1990s under then-coach John Calipari - their last time came in 1996 with junior Marcus Camby leading the way. The Minutemen will turn to Bishop Ford H.S. alumnus Chaz Williams, the conference leader in assists (7.6 apg) and the team's top scorer (15.4), in order to make a run at the title.
One of the most successful programs in the conference may be playing in its final A-10 tournament, and will reportedly follow Butler to the new Big East. The four-time tournament champion Musketeers (17-13, 9-7) boast one of the best frontcourt players in Travis Taylor, who leads the A-10 in rebounding (9.0 rpg).
The Spiders (18-13, 8-8) won this tournament two years ago, back when current leading scorer Darien Brothers (14.6 ppg) was a sophomore. No team in the A-10 made more 3-pointers than Richmond (262). As long as they're on target, the Spiders have a chance to run with anyone.
Although the 49ers (20-10, 8-8) joined the conference just eight years ago, they will return to Conference USA in July. The top rebounding team in the field of 12 had a recent four-game winning streak, but lost its January matchup to first-round opponent Richmond 81-61.
10. Saint Joseph's (Pa.)
It may come as a surprise to some that the Hawks (17-12, 8-8) have not won this tournament since 1997, seven years before going unbeaten in the regular season and locking up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawks hold a 59-49 win over Xavier, their first-round foe.
11. George Washington
Winners of the 2007 tournament, the Colonials (13-16, 7-9) needed an overtime victory over Dayton on Saturday to force their way into the bottom of the bracket despite losing seven of their last 10. A win at UMass indicates what this team littered with skilled rebounders is capable of at its best.
The A-10's best shooting squad (47.4%), the Flyers' (17-13, 7-9) problem isn't hitting shots. It's stopping them. Dayton surrendered 75.1 ppg in their nine conference losses. Leading scorer Kevin Dillard (15.3 ppg) and his squad will need to do better than that if it hopes to win the tournament for the first time since 2003.
Did not qualify
St. Bonaventure (14-15, 7-9), last year's champion, lost a tiebreaker and is stuck on the outside looking in along with Rhode Island (8-21, 3-13), local representative Fordham (7-24, 3-13) and Duquesne (8-22, 1-15).