- 'Rhody Rolls... then Reels': After racing out the gates to a flawless 13-0 start in league play, some cracks began to shine through what appeared to be an impenetrable force in the A-10. While the nail-biting loss against a desperate Bonnies team in Olean was no reason to panic, the Rams followed that up with a stinker in Philly and almost dropped their 2nd straight conference tilt to an exceptionally average La Salle team. Fast forward two weeks later to senior night and what should've been a celebratory coronation and cakewalk for the decorated careers of EC Matthews and Jared Terrell against an injury-ridden St. Joes squad quickly spiraled into an inexplicable nightmare. The Rams were boat raced by St. Joe by 30 - re read that again just to ensure it sunk in - and then just 3-days later, Rhody limped across the finish line with their 3rd conference loss at Davidson. Still, their body of work has them currently projected to land on the 7-seed line (per bracketmatrix.com), making the Rams the only safe at-large candidate come Selection Sunday.
- 'Bonnies Timely Turnaround ': After back-to-back road losses against Rhody and Davison - far and away the toughest two games on the A-10 slate this season - the boys from Olean, NY promptly responded. Sure, they took advantage of a relatively soft league schedule down the stretch, but credit should still be given for taking care of business at home in their respective rematches against the Rams and the Wildcats. While the 2-4 start followed by the 12-0 finish is indicative of inconsistency, the adjusted efficiency figure trends depict the Bonnies as one the steadier teams in the conference. For the last month of the season, their overall kenpom rank has fluctuated in a miniscule range of 5 total spots between a high of 63rd and a low of 68th.
- 'Parity Party': 9 of the league's 14 teams were separated by just 4 games in the final standings, including a 4-way tie for 5th at 9-9 (SLU, Richmond, VCU and George Mason) and a 3-way tie for 10th at 7-11 (La Salle, George Washington and Duquesne). What's driving this? One hypothesis is that many programs are in the midst of significant change with either first or 2nd year head coaches trying to lay a foundation for the future, which culminated in convergence in the middle of the standings.
All 14 teams qualify for the behemoth tournament this weekend in D.C. with the bottom-4 seeds tasked with the near-impossible challenge of winning 5 straight games in 5 days.
What to Watch:
- Given that Rhody is a stone cold lock to hear their name called next Sunday and with no other team offering a legitimate at-large case at the moment (Davidson simply has too many bad losses), all eyes will be on the Bonnies this weekend. Mark Schmidt's squad will likely get somewhat of a pass for the atrocious home loss to Niagara way back in November (Jaylen Adams was out of the lineup), but they'll need to win at least one game in D.C. to sleep well on the eve of the selection show next weekend. Assuming they knock off the winner of Richmond and Duquesne in the quarterfinals, a potential showdown with Davidson will be looming in the semis. The Bonnies are currently on the right side of the bubble as it stands today (a 10-seed per bracketmatrix.com's updated projections), but a victory over the Wildcats would add one more Group 2 win to their resume, which would boost them to an 8-4 combined record against Groups 1 & 2 competition.
Who will win:
- St. Bonaventure: I'm extremely torn on what to make of Rhode Island's recent skid - part of me wants to ignore the stretch stumble and chalk it up to simple complacency, but it's hard to look past what's transpired over the last three weeks. While the Rams' offense is by no means reliant on the 3-ball, their recent shooting slump has illuminated the challenge associated with trying to score efficiently with a 4-guard attack without proper floor spacing. I could very well end up looking foolish if Rhody flips the switch back to their mid-season form, but I'm rolling with a relatively safer pick to cut down the nets in D.C. this weekend - and that bet right now would be placed on the Bonnies.
If not them, then...
- Davidson: While a 14-team field on a neutral site will result in a whirlwind of unpredictability, the winner of the potential semifinal showdown between Davidson and St. Bonaventure could likely determine the A-10 tournament champion. Bob McKillop is one of the best Xs and Os game planners in the country and his packline-esque defense is the perfect kryptonite for both Rhody and St. Bonnies, each of whom thrives off continuous dribble penetration.
- Rhode Island: It would be incredibly short-sighted not to say Rhody has a chance to win this thing. Up until a few weeks ago, the Rams were head and shoulders above their A-10 competition - remove the outlier performance to St. Joes and Rhody's only two other conference losses were @ Davidson and @ St. Bonaventure by just a combined 5 points.