As the regular season winds down, the Atlantic 10 conference hierarchy is becoming clearer while March approaches. There is separation between teams that are locks for the big dance, bubble teams and the bottom feeders who are playing for pride.
VCU is in second place in the A-10 and still has a slim shot at the regular season title. The Rams have not won a regular season championship in five seasons under head coach Shaka Smart. It will be a difficult task, and the Rams will need considerable help from several conference foes if they are to contend for the A-10 title.
In addition to competing for the regular season crown, teams are battling for seeding in the conference tournament, which will take place in Brooklyn, N.Y. between March 12-16. The top four teams in the standings receive a first-round bye, meaning they only have to win three games to take home the trophy and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Here is a look at how the top of the league looks heading down the stretch:
Saint Louis University
The Billikens have established themselves as a clear favorite in the A-10 as they have yet to lose a game in conference play. Riding a 17-game win streak, Saint Louis is ranked No. 12 in the country, with its only losses coming against No. 4 Wichita State University and No. 21 University of Wisconsin. The defending conference champion, Saint Louis features five starting seniors and has the poise and experience to win close games. Senior forward Dwayne Evans (14.5 PPG) and senior guard Jordair Jett (13.2) lead the way for the Billikens offensively. On defense, SLU only allows 58.8 points per game, which is the eighth-best average in the nation. With Saturday’s loss at Saint Louis, the Rams will need to defend their home court against the Billikens on March 1 to have any shot at the regular season A-10 crown.
VCU (8-3, 20-6)
The Rams are in the midst of their toughest stretch of the season. The stint started with a game at Saint Joseph’s University on Saturday, Feb. 8 and was followed by a home contest against George Washington University on Feb. 12. VCU dropped two of those three conference matchups, and will need to rebound this coming Friday at the University of Massachusetts before traveling to Fordham University in late February and hosting the Billikens on March 1.
The Rams were ranked as high as No. 10 in November, but lost two of three games in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament to fall from the top-25. VCU has recovered since, reeling off 10 games in an 11-game span from late December to early February, but the Rams will likely need to win out if they have any hopes of claiming the regular season title.
George Washington University (7-4, 19-6)
The Colonials showed what a dangerous team they can be in the first meeting between VCU in the nation’s capital. However, since that game, their second leading scorer Kethan Savage fractured his foot. His prognosis was a six-eight week recovery period when he got injured in late January. GW looked nothing like the team that dominated VCU the recent rematch at the Siegel Center. The Rams led by as many as 21 and cruised to a 17-point win. The Colonials will have to rely on a pair of transfers, Maurice Creek (Indiana University) and Isaiah Armwood (Villanova University) to get an NCAA bid. Creek and Armwood are GW’s second and third-leading scorers, respectively.
Impressive Colonial victories includ No. 18 Creighton University in December and GW is near the top of a tough A-10 conference, which weighs in their favor as they seek an at-large tournament bid into the big dance.
Saint Joseph’s University
Saint Joe’s is somewhat of a surprising contender in the A-10 one season after finishing ninth in the conference. The Hawks suffered losses to inter-city rivals Temple University and Villanova before conference play started, but have been solid in A-10 play thus far. Senior guard Langston Galloway leads head coach Phil Martelli’s team with 16.6 PPG. He is part of a strong backcourt that only turned the ball over 12 times against VCU, which leads the nation with nearly 19 takeaways per contest. The Hawks lack an impressive non-conference win, so they need to continue to succeed against a stacked A-10 conference in order to be strongly considered for an at-large bid come March.
University of Richmond
The guard duo of Cedrick Lindsey and Kendall Anthony combined for 52 of Richmond’s 70 points in the game against VCU in early February. However, Lindsay is now out for the season with a knee injury. This is a huge blow for the Spiders, whose role players must step up if Richmond has any chance to stay afloat the top of a competitive conference. Richmond needs some big wins in the final weeks of the regular season to feel good about its NCAA tournament chances as opposing teams will undoubtedly direct much of their defensive attention around Anthony down the stretch.
University of Massachusetts (7-4, 20-5)
The Minutemen had a tremendous 16-1 start to their season and were ranked as highly as No. 13 in the Associated Press poll in the season’s opening months. However, U.Mass. has lost four of its last eight games and has fallen outside the top-25. Despite this tough stretch, they are still expected to make the NCAA tournament because of an impressive top-20 RPI standing. The Minutemen are led by A-10 player of the year candidate Chaz Williams, who averages 15.7 points and 7.4 assists per game.