Thirteen Atlantic 10 teams will converge on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., next week. All 13 will leave their individual campuses thinking they can win the conference tournament — and rightfully so.
More than once this season, the teams near the bottom of the standings have appeared capable of beating the teams at the top. That happened Thursday when 10th-place Duquesne beat first-place Saint Louis 71-64, handing the Billikens their first conference loss of the season and just their third loss overall.
Making it more impressive, the Dukes did it on the road. The Billikens’ only previous home loss came to undefeated Wichita State, now ranked sixth in the RPI.
For Dayton, which plays at Saint Louis at 9 p.m. Wednesday, maybe it’s a bad thing Saint Louis lost because it will now be desperate for a victory to stay on top of the A-10 and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Or maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe Duquesne — and also Virginia Commonwealth, which beat Saint Louis 67-56 on Saturday — provided a blueprint on how to beat the Billikens.
The Flyers lost their A-10 opener to Saint Louis, 67-59, on Jan. 11.
“I thought we did a good job keeping Jordair Jett out of the lane,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. “I thought we did a good job of not allowing them to shoot around the basket and forced them to shoot jump shots. We were fortunate enough they struggled from outside (4 of 23).
“I thought we beat them to a lot of 50-50 balls and rebounded the ball offensively very well. It took us a while — and it always does when you play Saint Louis teams — to figure out what would work offensively. Our ability to keep playing and just trust each other really helped us on the offensive side of the ball.”
The Billikens have now lost two straight after winning 19 games, but they weren’t as dominant in that winning streak as you might think. They have eight wins in A-10 play by seven points or less and won three games by two points or less against Rhode Island, La Salle and George Mason, three teams in the bottom half of the standings.
“Obviously, we had a rough week last week,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. “Duquesne outplayed us here in Saint Louis. Both teams, Duquesne and VCU, beat us on the boards. We turned the ball over too many times. We had empty possessions or were giving extra possessions to the opponents. We really weren’t able to overcome those two things.”
Perfect season: Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli can appreciate what Wichita State has done more than anyone. The Shockers (31-0) are the first team to complete an undefeated regular season in Division I since the Hawks went 27-0 in 2003-04.
“It’s a phenomenal accomplishment,” Martelli said. “I think they’re accomplishment today is totally different than ours was 10 years ago. Here’s my reasons: Twitter, texting, blogs. We didn’t have to deal with all that. We dealt with a lot, but it was more media and fan interest. They’re dealing with it 24 hours a day. All they’ve done, whoever they’ve put in front of them, they’ve beaten them every single time.”
RPI update: Dayton moved from 56th to 49th in the official RPI released by the NCAA on Monday.
Other teams ranked in the top 100 from the A-10 include: No. 13 Massachusetts, No. 15 Virginia Commonwealth, No. 17 Saint Louis, No. 31 George Washington, No. 34 Saint Joseph’s, No. 63 Richmond and No. 88 La Salle.
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