A-10 tournament preview: Rhode Island favorite despite late slump

Dayton will play top-seeded Rams if it beats VCU

The Dayton Flyers have played in the Atlantic 10 tournament 22 times. They have enjoyed one happy ending: a championship in 2003 at UD Arena.

Brian Gregory never won an A-10 tournament. Neither did Archie Miller, who led the Flyers to the championship game once in six years.

The Miller era featured more sorrow than joy in the A-10 tournament, whether the games took place in Atlantic City, Brooklyn or Pittsburgh. There was the Langston Galloway push-off in 2014 — the St. Joseph’s star hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute — that ended Dayton’s hopes in the quarterfinals. There was another loss to St. Joseph’s in 2016, this time in the semifinals, when Dayton had the No. 1 seed and then a second straight stumble as the top seed in 2017 when Davidson’s Jack Gibbs engineered an upset of Dayton in the quarterfinals.

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Ten of the 14 current teams in the A-10 have won the tournament at one point, and Dayton is the only one of the group to have not won the championship outside its own arena. Seven teams have claimed the title since Dayton last did. In short, Dayton will not only have to overcome recent history — a 14-16 finish in the regular season that included only one road win in conference play — but ancient history to win four games in four days this week at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

No. 9 seed Dayton opens the tournament at noon Thursday with a second-round game against No. 8 Virginia Commonwealth (17-14).

“At the end of the day, nobody wants us to win,” Dayton sophomore guard Trey Landers said. “They don’t expect us to win. It is what it is. You just focus on what you have. It’s just us. We’re not worried about nothing else.”

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While Dayton has only a 1 percent chance of winning the A-10 tournament, according to KenPom.com, anything could happen this weekend. It’s been that kind of year in the league. Here’s a rundown of the tournament, which starts Wednesday with No. 12 seed La Salle (13-18) playing No. 13 Massachusetts (12-19) at 6 p.m. and No. 11 George Washington (14-17) playing No. 14 Fordham (9-21) at 8:30 p.m.

Favorite: Top-seeded Rhode Island (23-6) looked almost invincible for most of the conference schedule. Then it lost three of its last five games. Two of the defeats came on the road at St. Bonaventure and Davidson. Everyone struggles on the road. Those could be excused. However, a 78-48 loss at home to St. Joseph's on Senior Night raised doubts about just how big of a favorite the Rams should be in this tournament.

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Dark horse: VCU has played in five straight championship games, winning one in 2015 against Dayton, so don't count it out. This is not the same VCU, of course. It enters the tournament having lost four of its last six games.

Streaks on the line: VCU has made seven straight NCAA tournament. Dayton has earned at-large berths the last four seasons. Neither team will hear their names called on Selection Sunday unless they win the championship Sunday.

Fun fact: Beware of the No. 4 seed, which has won the tournament three times in the last four years. St. Joseph's (15-15) is the No. 4 seed. It was also the No. 4 seed in 2014 and 2016. It beat Virginia Commonwealth in the championship each year. Rhode Island won the title as the No. 4 seed last season.

Hottest team: No. 2 seed St. Bonaventure (24-6) takes a 12-game winning streak into the tournament. They are playing to secure a NCAA tournament berth. A loss in the quarterfinals Friday to No. 7 seed Richmond (11-19) or No. 10 Duquesne (16-15) could lead to some anxious moments on Selection Sunday.

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Player to watch: No. 3 seed Davidson (18-11), in its fifth season in the conference, could win the tournament for the first time because it has Peyton Aldridge. He's the A-10's leading scorer (21.3 points per game), and with 20 points in this tournament, he would move into the top 10 in career scoring in the A-10. He has 2,087.

Upset potential: La Salle or Massachusetts will have a chance to knock off No. 5 seed George Mason (15-16), which has to be the league's luckiest team, in the second round Thursday. The Patriots won three games in a row in the final two weeks on buzzer-beaters by Ian Boyd. George Mason beat UMass twice in overtime in the regular season.


A-10 second round: Dayton vs. VCU, noon, NBC Sports Network, FM 95.7, AM 1290

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