College Basketball

VCU looks to repeat as A-10 champion, but must fend off rivals Dayton, St. Bonaventure

Davidson guard Jack Gibbs and the Wildcats open play Thursday in the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y. Davidson will face either Duquesne or LaSalle at 9 p.m.
Davidson guard Jack Gibbs and the Wildcats open play Thursday in the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y. Davidson will face either Duquesne or LaSalle at 9 p.m. TIM COWIE

The stage is set.

After finishing in a three-way tie for first and sharing the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season title, the Dayton, VCU and St. Bonaventure men’s basketball teams have a chance to settle things over these next few days.

The Atlantic 10 tournament returns to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., for a second straight year, and second-seeded VCU has its mind set on repeating last year’s title.

But No. 1-seed Dayton and third-seed St. Bonaventure have grand plans of their own to spoil the Rams’ title defense.

The 14-team tournament tips off Wednesday. On Thursday at 9 p.m., Davidson will play the Duquesne-LaSalle winner.

What’s at stake

The winner will earn an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament’s field of 68 teams.

Favorites

▪ Dayton: The Flyers earned the No. 1 seed by virtue of their combined 2-1 record against VCU and St. Bonaventure, and they feature the conference’s stingiest defense.

▪ VCU: The Rams, who joined the conference in 2012, have made it to the championship game the past three seasons.

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▪ St. Bonaventure: Is as hot as anyone in the A-10, having won five straight and seven of its past nine games.

Don’t be surprised if ...

▪ Saint Joseph’s gets it together and makes a deep run into the weekend. The Hawks won 20 of 23 games before dropping their last two.

▪ Fordham puts a slight scare into Dayton if they meet in the quarterfinals, given the Bronx-based Rams will have a sizable cheering section.

▪ Rhode Island’s Jarvis Garrett hoists the team on his back. The sophomore leads the Rams in assists per game (4.3) and 3-point percentage (43.6), and is second in scoring (12.9 ppg).

Three to watch

▪ Jack Gibbs, G, Davidson: A prolific scorer, the junior’s 24.8 points-per-game average was easily best in the A-10. He’s scored 35 points or more seven times this season.

▪ Marcus Posley, G, St. Bonaventure: The senior posted the highest individual score among Division I men this season, scoring 47 points in a win against St. Joseph’s last week.

▪ Scoochie Smith, G, Dayton: After previously failing to top 20 points in college, the junior did it twice last week, averaging 27.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, five steals and five assists in two games.

Worth mentioning

▪  Gibbs’ three 40-point games this season put him in rare air. Over the past six seasons, only BYU’s Jimmer Fredette (four in 2010-11) recorded more in a single season.

▪ VCU is one of the nation’s best at forcing mistakes, ranking 12th in Division I in turnovers forced at 16 per game. The Rams’ turnover margin of plus-4.2 ranks seventh.

▪ St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams dramatically bolstered his game in his sophomore season, shooting 44.8 percent from 3-point range compared to 32.4 percent last season.

▪ George Washington senior forward Kevin Larson is the school’s all-time leader in games played with 129, surpassing the previous record of 128 set by John Kopriva in 2015.

▪ Few teams have been as banged up as Rhode Island. The Rams’ starters have missed more than 32 percent of the 2015-16 campaign because of injury.

▪ Dayton boasts the best Ratings Percentage Index in the conference, checking in at No. 21.

▪ Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli, who’s in his 21st season, is one win from recording his 400th career victory at the school. Martelli is looking to become the 121st coach in NCAA history to reach 400 wins.

Pairings

Wednesday: No. 12 George Mason vs. No. 13 St. Louis; No. 11 Duquesne vs. No. 14 LaSalle; Thursday: No. 6 Davidson vs. Duquesne-LaSalle winner; No. 8 Fordham vs. No. 9 Richmond; No. 5 George Washington vs. George Mason-St. Louis winner, No. 7 Rhode Island vs. No. 10 Massachusetts; Friday: Quarterfinals; Saturday: Semifinals; Sunday: Championship game.

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