Dayton’s Josh Cunningham looks for a shot against Duquesne on Saturday, March 9, 2019, at the Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh. David Jablonski/Staff

Atlantic 10 tournament preview: VCU the favorite, but Dayton is a contender

Top four seeds start play Friday in quarterfinals

IN REVIEW: Best and worst of Dayton’s regular season

Four trips to Brooklyn to the conference tournament in the Miller era netted four victories, including one semifinal appearance and one trip to the championship game, continuing a trend of disappointing performances by the Flyers in conference tournaments. It began long before Miller became coach and continued last March in Anthony Grant’s first season when Dayton lost 77-72 to Virginia Commonwealth in its first game in the second round.

Dayton played in five Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournaments and won once in 1990 at UD Arena. It lost in the first round in its two appearances in the Great Midwest Conference tournament. Dayton has a 24-22 record in the A-10 tournament with one championship in 23 tries (2003 at UD Arena).

That history will follow Dayton until it wins another conference tournament, and as usual around this time of the season, hope grows that this will be the year. The Flyers (21-10) won five of their last six regular-season games and beat La Salle 70-39 and Duquesne 78-67 last week to finish third in the A-10 at 13-5.

“The two wins we got last week were good character wins for us, good momentum builders as you head into the postseason,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said Monday on WHIO Radio’s Anthony Grant Show. “Like we always talk about, this is the best time of the year. When you hit March and that calendar rolls around, you want to be playing your best basketball. I still think we can get better as a team. I feel we haven’t played our best game.”

» A-10 AWARDS: Toppin honored for seventh time

The A-10 tournament begins Wednesday with four games between the bottom four seeds: No. 12 George Washington (8-23, 4-14) vs. No. 13 Massachusetts (11-20, 4-14) at 1 p.m. and No. 11 Richmond (12-19, 6-12) vs. No. 14 Fordham (12-19, 3-15) at 3:30 p.m. No. 3 seed Dayton plays in the quarterfinals at 8:30 p.m. Friday against No. 6 seed Saint Louis (19-12, 10-8), Richmond or Fordham.

Here’s a glance at the field:

Favorite: Virginia Commonwealth (25-6, 12-6) was one of the most underestimated teams in the history of the A-10 preseason poll. It was picked sixth and ran away with the regular-season championship, posting a 16-2 mark and topping second-place Davidson by two games. It will play No. 8 seed Rhode Island (16-14, 9-9) or No. 9 seed La Salle (10-20, 8-10) in the first quarterfinal at noon Friday.

Dark horse: St. Bonaventure (16-15, 12-6) won seven of its last eight games to claim the No. 4 seed. It will play No. 5 seed George Mason (17-14, 11-7), George Washington or Massachusetts in the second quarterfinal at 2:30 p.m. Friday. The Bonnies seek their second tournament title and first since 2012.

Players to watch: Davidson (23-8, 14-4) has the top scoring tandem in the league: Jon Axel Gudmundsson (17.2 points per game) and Kellan Grady (17.1). The Wildcats were the No. 3 seed last season and beat No. 1 seed Rhode Island 58-57 in the championship game at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. They’re the No. 2 seed this season and will play No. 7 seed Duquesne (19-12, 10-8) or No. 10 Saint Joseph’s (13-18, 6-12) in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Friday.

Dayton’s chances: The Flyers have the second-best chance of winning the tournament, according to KenPom.com.

While VCU is the overwhelming favorite with 45.2 percent chance of winning the championship, which takes place at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dayton has better odds (21.8 percent) than Davidson (16.8).

Four other teams have a better than 1 percent chance: St. Bonaventure (4.4); Saint Louis (3.2); George Mason (2.2); and Rhode Island (2.0).

» DUNK TRACKER: List of Toppin’s slams

Hottest team: VCU, which has appeared in the A-10 championship game five times in its first six seasons in the league, takes a 12-game winning streak into the tournament.

Coach under pressure: Richmond’s Chris Mooney’s team finished 12-20 last season and 9-9 in the A-10 and has suffered a similar fate this season. It’s his worst conference record since his second season (4-12 in 2006-07). In February, fans in Richmond paid to put up a billboard along Interstate 95 in Richmond urging the university to fire Mooney.

Upset potential: Rhode Island handed VCU one of its two A-10 losses, 71-65 on Jan. 23. VCU avenged that defeat by beating Rhode Island 76-42 in Richmond on Feb. 19. The teams could meet again Friday.

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