College Basketball

Atlantic 10 basketball race too close to call

Jack Gibbs (center) should return to Davidson’s lineup soon.
Jack Gibbs (center) should return to Davidson’s lineup soon. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

With six games remaining before the Atlantic 10 tournament, the race for the league’s regular-season title could hardly be closer.

Two games separate the top six teams in the standings. One of those is Davidson (17-6, 8-4), which is alone in fifth place and faces sixth-place George Washington 17-8, 7-5) at the Colonials’ Smith Center on Wednesday.

The Wildcats and Colonials are chasing four teams with 9-3 conference marks: Virginia Commonwealth, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Dayton.

Who’s hot? Rhode Island (17-6, 9-3) has won six of seven and UMass (16-9, 9-3) is on a six-game winning streak. Something will give Wednesday when the Rams and Minutemen play their New England rivalry game in Kingston, R.I.

Who’s not? No. 25 Virginia Commonwealth (19-6, 9-3), the preseason favorite, lost point guard Briante Weber to a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago and has gone 2-3 in his absence. The Rams might have gotten back on track last Saturday with a 79-66 victory at George Washington, which is having its own problems of late. The Colonials have lost four of five.

Player to watch: Davidson continues to stay within hailing distance of first place while playing without leading-scorer Jack Gibbs, who has missed seven games with a knee injury. Gibbs, a sophomore guard who was averaging 15.8 points, 4.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds, was in uniform for last Saturday’s victory at La Salle, but didn’t play. Look for him to return soon, perhaps as early as Wednesday.

NCAA tournament ramifications: The A-10 won’t have six teams invited to the tournament as it did last season. But based on ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, VCU (23rd), Dayton (26th) and Davidson (34th) would receive at-large bids this season. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, in his “bracketology” projections, has Davidson missing the tournament, as one of his “next four out” teams.

Not as tight as Big South: As close as things are in the A-10, they’re not as tight as the Big South, where four teams are within one game of co-leaders High Point and Charleston Southern. The Big South is historically a “one-bid” NCAA tournament league, however, so all the attention there will be focused on the league tournament in Conway, S.C.

Quote: “I would get a headache if I looked at all the permutations. If somebody said Dayton, Davidson or VCU (would win the league) I would argue for any of them. You look at the standings and this is unbelievable.” – Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli

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