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Atlantic 10 tournament preview

Rob Brandenberg of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams reacts

Rob Brandenberg of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams reacts after a basket late in the first half against the George Washington Colonials during the Semifinals of the 2014 Atlantic 10 Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 15, 2014. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Mike Lawrie

What a difference one year makes.

When the Atlantic 10 tournament last took over Barclays Center, Saint Louis held the top seed, St. Joseph's was the underdog that ran the table for the title and Rhode Island was the lowest seed (No. 11) to avoid playing in the opening round.

Now? SLU went 11-20 (3-15 A-10) to finish 14th out of 14 teams in the regular season, St. Joe's (13-17, 7-11) has a tough road ahead and third-seeded URI has a real shot.

Oh, and this year's top tournament seed, Davidson, wasn't even in the A-10 last season. (The Wildcats won the Southern Conference regular season title in each of the past three seasons.)

Expecting the unexpected in Brooklyn starting tomorrow would be wise, but here are some teams to watch as the A-10 settles which school gets the conference's automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament.

1. Davidson (23-6, 14-4)

The Wildcats returned to the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2008 -- when Stephen Curry was leading the way -- after blowing out VCU and Duquesne last week. An offensive juggernaut, the team is riding a nine-game winning streak and is ranked 24th nationally. It's also fourth in the nation in scoring (80.6 points per game) thanks to the contributions of guards Tyler Kalinoski (16.9), Jack Gibbs (16.0), Brian Sullivan (13.1) and Jordan Barham (11.7). All four can hit the 3-ball, so there's more to worry about if one or two aren't finding their range.

Hot-shooting teams like this were built for tournament time. Davidson will be a popular pick to win a few games in the Big Dance next week.

2. Dayton (23-7, 13-5)

Earlier in the season, the Flyers spent a little time in the top 25 before Davidson crushed them, 77-60, on Jan. 20. Jordan Silbert (16.6 ppg) carries much of the load on offense for a slow-it-down squad that defies its nickname.

Dayton's status as a team to watch out for took a hit over the weekend when it lost, 55-53, to La Salle (the tournament's No. 9 seed). That defeat came two weeks after 11th-seeded Duquesne's 83-73 upset of the Flyers. Maybe they'd be better off playing one of the favorites instead of the winner of (7) St. Bonaventure vs. (10) St. Joe's.

3. Rhode Island (21-8, 13-5)

The Rams, one of the few A-10 teams to knock off a ranked non-conference opponent this season (then-No. 22 Nebraska on Nov. 22), haven't punched their tournament ticket since the turn of the millennium. But things are different now under coach Dan Hurley, the son of legendary St. Anthony High School (Jersey City) coach and Hall of Famer Bob Hurley.

Staten Island product Hassan Martin (11.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is a sturdy sophomore forward who's a constant double-double threat. In a 59-47 win against La Salle on Jan. 22, Martin fell one rebound shy of a triple-double (14 points, nine boards, a season-high 10 blocks).

5. VCU (22-9, 12-6)

If not for Richmond, these Rams -- not to be confused with URI -- could have been among the favorites. But an 0-2 record against the Spiders (19-12, 12-6) meant losing a tiebreaker for the tournament's No. 4 seed. Worse: A VCU win on Thursday ensures a third battle against, yes, Richmond.

Despite losing three of its past four, VCU should not be counted out. This is the same team that emerged with a 93-87 double-overtime victory over Northern Iowa -- currently the No. 10 team in the country -- on Dec. 13. A team capable of such feats can't be counted out.


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