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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, March 02, 2024

Small ball but big game

Good things come in small packages. 




While the Atlantic 10 Conference traditionally does not have many teams in the NCAA Tournament field, the teams that do make it tend to play well. 




One only needs to look back at last year to find upstart St. Joseph's, Pa., and Temple to find truth in that statement. 




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The St. Joseph's Red Hawks, led by standout guard Marvin O'Connor, nearly pulled off an upset victory over No. 1 seed Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament West Bracket.  




Temple, on the other hand, came within one game of the Final Four before falling to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. 




Though traditionally the Atlantic 10 has produced quality teams, this year's group has come from a non-traditional set of teams'the Xavier Musketeers, Dayton Flyers and St. Joseph's.  




The Musketeers lead the West Division comfortably with a 9-1 conference record, 17-4 overall. They hold a better record than 16 of the current Top 25 teams in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.  




Granted they have not played the competition that, for instance, the Oklahoma Sooners have, but it seems they are still lacking the national recognition they deserve. 




The Musketeers are led by 6'8\ junior forward David West. West plays as though he owns the basket, averaging a double-double with 18.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per contest.  




Xavier boasts a talented backcourt as well. Sophomore guard Romain Sato and junior guard Lionel Chambers combine for 26.6 points a game, while only turning the ball over a combined 5.1 times per game. 




Following their last loss to Cincinnati Dec. 14, the Musketeers have gone on a tear, winning 12 games in a row, including their first nine conference games to sprint out to the Atlantic 10 lead they are now enjoying. Xavier has games remaining against conference rivals St. Joseph and Temple but seems to be in fine shape to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. 




The Atlantic 10 showcases several equally-matched teams. Xavier has established themselves as the team to beat this year. The teams standing in line to knock them off, however, are competitive. 




While Xavier is atop the West, the Dayton Flyers (6-3, 14-7) are poised to step in if the Musketeers falter. 




The Flyers are quickly becoming the surprise team of the year in the conference. Few expected them to be anywhere near the top of their conference but through solid defense and strong rebounding, they are opening eyes. 




Dayton is led by lightning-quick sophomore guard Ramod Marshall. The 6'2"" floor general out of Charlotte is averaging 13.1 points per game. Marshall is one of three Flyers who are putting up double-digit points a night. 




The East Division of the conference is even tighter. The St. Joseph's Red Hawks lead the conference with a 9-1 conference record, 15-7 overall. 




Winners of the Atlantic 10 Conference last year, the Hawks have put themselves in position to repeat. Led by O'Connor and his team leading 18.7 points per game, St. Joseph's has rebounded from a 6-4 non-conference start to position itself for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. 




The Temple Owls, (7-3, 10-12) are led by legendary Head Coach John Chaney.  




While the team is led by senior guard Lynn Greer and his 22.8 points per game, the team has struggled to find a secondary scorer to complement Greer. The overall record, however, is a bit deceiving as they have played some quality teams in one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation, losing to Top-10 teams Duke, Maryland and Florida.  




In the recent past, Temple has been a mainstay of the NCAA tournament. If it wants to return to the big dance, Temple must win its conference tournament. 




As the season winds down, games start to take on more importance as teams see their post-season hopes either fading away or starting to take shape.  




Historically, it has been difficult for Atlantic 10 teams to get much attention and grab NCAA tournament bids. Chances are, it will be the same this year. However, the ""bubble teams"" of the conference, like St. Joseph's, Dayton, Temple and St. Bonaventure, will be at the forefront of the selection committee's decisions.  




The final stretch will dictate who is going to be throwing a party and who is going to sit in shocked silence Selection Sunday.

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