Written by: Ryan Cunningham
After a down year in the conference, the Atlantic 10 ended up getting three bids to the NCAA tournament. Rhode Island earned an at-large bid after losing to Davidson in the A-10 tournament final. They got a #7 seed and will face the #10 seed Oklahoma. St. Bonaventure also received an at-large bid. They got an #11 seed and will face #11 seed UCLA in the first round in Dayton. Davidson got the automatic bid after beating URI in dramatic fashion in the finals. They got a #12 seed and will face #5 Kentucky on Thursday night in Boise.
Early in the conference season, Rhode Island looked like the only team that would make the NCAA tournament. Davidson was 5-6 heading into conference play and St. Bonaventure started the conference season 2-4. The Bonnies went on to win 12 in a row putting them back in the conversation. Despite losing to Davidson in the conference semifinals, their resume was good enough for the committee to squeak them into the last four in. Davidson entered the conference tournament hot and ended up beating Rhode Island by one to earn the automatic bid, thus giving the A-10 three bids. Let’s take a closer look at the matchups.
3/13: #11 St. Bonaventure vs #11 UCLA 9:10PM on TruTV
The Bonnies will face off against the Bruins of UCLA on Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio. This game is the back end of a double-header of the first four games. This is St. Bona’s first tournament appearance since 2012, and second under Mark Schmidt. They come into this game winners of 13 of their last 14. That only loss comes to Davidson in the semifinals of the A-10 tournament, as stated above. They haven’t been playing too well, especially late in their last two games so they are looking to get a fresh start in the big dance. UCLA is coming into this game with an overall record of 21-11 and a conference record of 11-7. The Bruins lost to Arizona in overtime in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament. So they are coming into the dance determined for a win. Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday are two players the Bonnies need to stop in order to win this game. But if Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley get hot, Bonaventure is unbeatable. This should be a good one. I would tune in.
3/15: #10 Oklahoma vs #7 Rhode Island 12:15PM on CBS
Rhode Island will have to find a way to stop Trae Young in order to move onto the round of 32. The Rams are coming into this game right off a tough loss to Davidson in the A-10 final. They have struggled in their last five games ever since they clinched the outright regular season championship. They’ve lost three of them and won two of them by an average of six points against VCU and St. Joe’s. Oklahoma comes into this game losing their first game in the Big 12 tournament by 11 to Oklahoma State. They finished 8-10 in conference play, losing 8 of their last 10. I think Rhode Island’s guards will be able to stop Trae Young in this one. Jared Terrell and Jeff Dowtin have such quick feet and are so long that they will give him big problems. If Young tries to do everything himself and not get his teammates involved, which he did all year, they will lose. Look for Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger to stress that.
3/15: #12 Davidson vs #5 Kentucky 7:10PM on CBS
Davidson is coming into this one hot off an Atlantic 10 tournament championship. They entered the A-10 tournament with tons of momentum after a number of fantastic performances and it carried over. They face off against a Kentucky team who is also playing very well. Kentucky is coming off a win over Tennessee to take home the SEC tournament championship. They have won seven of their last eight. This is large in part due to Kevin Knox, who finished the year averaging 15.6 PPG. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, another freshman, averaged 13.9 PPG. Kentucky’s length and athleticism is something that Davidson will need to overcome. Something Kentucky will have to overcome is Davidson’s movement on offense. Can their young guys keep up with Davidson’s screens and cuts? We will find out Thursday night.