(Compare to our preseason preview here)
Notable Storylines from the season:
1. Dayton Gets It Done – After a tragic offseason (R.I.P. Big Steve McElvene) and some injuries early in the year, the Dayton Flyers persevered to capture an outright conference championship behind the strength of one of college basketball’s most experienced lineups. Scoochie Smith is a terrific floor general, and I continue to think Charles Cooke could succeed in a 3-and-D wing role in the NBA. With a deadly group of shooters and perimeter defenders (not to mention “he’s so hot right now” coach Archie Miller), the Flyers will be a dangerous team in the NCAA Tournament.
2. Mason Makes A Leap – I was way down on this team, but in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have – they had a young backcourt that seemed destined to grow and improve together. Most remarkably, senior guard Marquise Moore – at 6’2, 208 lbs. – averaged 10.5 rebounds per game and had the nation’s 29th-highest defensive rebounding rate. That is absurd! Unsurprisingly, he also led their offense as a bowling ball that took 205 free throws on the year; Mason as a whole is extremely reliant on slashing and getting to the line to score. Their conservative style of defense sometimes allows them to get torched from deep, though.
3. Danny Hurley Bums Me Out – (disclaimer: I will continue to group the Hurley brothers together, maybe unfairly) I rode HARD for the Hurley brothers in the preseason, picking Bobby’s Arizona State team as a sneaky bubble candidate and pegging Dan’s Rams to win the A-10. Both let me down to varying degrees, and Rhode Island may not even make the NCAA Tournament barring a big win in Pittsburgh (over Dayton in the semis?).
4. Dual PGs to No PGs – Long a contender in the A-10 under Phil Martelli, the St. Joseph’s Hawks put together a solid non-conference season led by point guards Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble, notching wins at Princeton and over Loyola (IL) on a neutral court despite losing DeAndre’ Bembry to the NBA Draft. Injuries ate them alive, though, as Newkirk and Kimble each ended up on the shelf for the year, leading to a 4-14 league finish. The Hawk mascot even tore a rotator cuff while repeatedly flapping on the sideline (that’s not actually true). Basically every player of note returns next year, though, including Newkirk and Kimble, so the Hawks may bounce right back up the standings.
After 10 years in pretty awesome venues (6 in Atlantic City, 4 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn), the tournament will now be held at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. If that feels like a massive downgrade, well…it kind of is. The setup is identical to that of the 14-team Big Ten – the top 4 get double-byes to the quarterfinals, seeds 5-10 would have to win four games in four days to take the title, and 11-14 get the (dis)honor of kicking off the tournament with Wednesday night games on the American Sports Network. The final will be a featured event on CBS on Sunday early afternoon.
Best Team(s) and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed(s):
Dayton – 7 seed
VCU – 9 seed
Rhode Island – First Team Out
Above seeds are from bracketmatrix.com; sadly, I have not gotten to update my bracketology mid-week while working and writing these tourney previews. Obviously, bubble teams everywhere will watch this one with interest – a neutral site win over Dayton likely vaults Rhode Island into the field, while a loss before that will leave them on ground shakier than Starkiller Base post-oscillator destruction.
This league is also dangerous in the sense that a non-tournament team could get hot and win, thus stealing a bid from a bubble hopeful. As the bottom half does not have one-seed force Dayton or desperate URI, let’s focus there. Richmond snagged the 3-seed, and they desperately want to avenge a sweep at the hands of 2-seed and crosstown rival VCU. Richmond is an extremely fun team due to being led by an elite 6’9 passer. TJ Cline is 10th in the nation in assist rate (tenth!!!), pretty much unheard of for big men. The development of freshmen wings De’Monte Buckingham and Nick Sherod has also been crucial; their wing athleticism has helped elevate the Spiders’ defense from 192nd last year to 98th this year, per KenPom’s adjusted efficiency rankings. The itsy-bitsy Spiders have also won 4 in a row entering the tournament, so don’t count them out.
One more to mention: the George Washington Colonials. They’re also cooking late in the season, entering on a 5-game winning streak that includes a season-ending thrashing of the league champ Flyers (it wasn’t as close as the final score). George Washington is tough to guard due to their floor-stretching big men Tyler Cavanaugh and Yuta Watanabe, and their amorphous 1-3-1 zone will be tough to prep for on short notice. They’re a talented bunch that had a weird start to the year with the firing of Mike Lonergan – they seem to be gelling at the right time, though.
(12) UMass defeats (13) Saint Joe’s
(11) SLU defeats (14) Duquesne
(9) Davidson defeats (8) La Salle
(5) St. Bonaventure defeats (12) UMass
(7) George Mason defeats (10) Fordham
(6) George Washington defeats (11) SLU – just wait til next year, Bills fans!
(1) Dayton defeats (9) Davidson
(5) St. Bonaventure defeats (4) Rhode Island – see ya Rams
(2) VCU defeats (7) George Mason
(6) George Washington defeats (3) Richmond
(1) Dayton defeats (5) St. Bonaventure
(6) George Washington defeats (2) VCU
(1) Dayton defeats (6) George Washington
The bubble breathes an enormous sigh of relief when Dayton ends the Colonials improbable run, exacting revenge for the late season kick in the ass in Washington D.C. The Flyers climb up to a 6 seed (I think they’d need to beat VCU in the final to get a 5). VCU settles at a 10 as the committee really looks at their blah wins, but once again beats a 7-seed and gives a 2 some serious trouble. Rhode Island misses the field in a major disappointment for that talented of a roster.