Welcome to March Madness. Wednesday afternoon at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the march to the “Final Four” of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament begins for the Atlantic -10 Conference. And there is a good chance that Dayton University could reach the Final Four at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta Georgia.
One thing is certain, Dayton is favored to win the tournament and move on. And unless an upset occurs, which happens in March, that should be the plan. The Flyers, 2020 Atlantic 10 Regular Season Champion and No. 3 ranked team in the nation, will be the No. 1 seed.
With all 14 conference teams that qualify in the conference tournament it’s Dayton that stands out. They have it all with the offense, defense, and have been ranked in the Top 10 AP poll all season.
They have been here in the past and they know how to play in Brooklyn. They have won two conference championships at Barclays which propelled the Flyers to advance to the “Elite 8” of the NCAA Tournament in 2013-14.
The Flyers registered a league-tying 18 wins and secured only the fourth unblemished conference record (18-0) in A-10 history. After their season finale. Dayton locked up their third regular season title in the last five years at home against Davidson and received one of four double byes in the A-10 Championship.
It will be difficult to stop the offense. Obi Toppin improved his chances of winning the national player of the year award after scoring 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds in the regular season finale.
Toppin, a forward was named the Atlantic 10 Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Year while his coach Anthony Grant was voted A-10 Coach of the Year by opposing coaches. Toppin, averaged 20 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, while shooting 63.3 percent from the field, which ranks fifth nationally.
Dayton shot 72.3 percent (34 of 47), the second-best percentage in school history. It tied the A-10 field-goal percentage record set by Duquesne (34 of 47, 72.3) against St. Bonaventure on Feb. 23, 1991.
In addition to Dayton, second-seeded Richmond (14-4), No. 3 Rhode Island (13-5) and No. 4 Saint Louis (12-6) earned byes into the quarterfinal round of the championship. Dayton plays at noon on Friday, followed by Saint Louis at 2:30 pm. Richmond opens the evening session at 6:00 pm and Rhode Island will play in the last quarterfinal at 8:30 pm.
Seeds five through 10 earn byes into the second round and will play Thursday on NBCSN. St. Bonaventure (11-7) is seeded fifth and will play the winner of No. 12 George Mason (5-13) and No. 13 Saint Joseph’s (2-16) at 2:30 pm Thursday.
Mason and the Hawks will meet Wednesday in the first round at 1:00 pm on ESPN+. Saint Joseph’s earned the 13 seed by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker with Fordham.
Fordham, the local team in the tournament, would need to pull the upset. After another dismal season, the Rams will play the second game. The game between the Colonials and Rams will tip off at 3:30 pm on Wednesday on ESPN+.
After a season ending 65-61 loss to George Mason Saturday afternoon up at Rose Hill the Rams finished last again the Atlantic 10 Conference. It was another dismal season for the Rams, 8-22 overall, 2-16 in the conference.
Erten Gazi scored a career-high 22 points and had six rebounds for Fordham, Antwon Portley added 11 points, and Joel Soriano had 10 rebounds and three blocks for Fordham in the season finale.
“We’re excited to head into Brooklyn on Wednesday to open the Atlantic 10 Championship,’ said coach Jeff Neubauer. “ It’s a new season and we have to get ready to play our best basketball of the year. We have been playing better lately and I hope that translates into a good performance at the Barclays Center.”
But the Rams are not expected to advance to the championship final set for Sunday, March 15. They do have the distinction of leading the conference in scoring defense, among the top 10 leaders in the NCAA.
And the last four games the Rams got production from Josh Colon and Joel Soriano. Soriano, the freshman forward has come off the bench and got the late season starts. He recorded 14 points and 15 rebounds to carry Fordham to a 63-52 win over George Washington last Wednesday night, breaking the Rams’ 10-game losing streak.
Colon, the junior guard, got better in the last five games and scored a career high 17 points against GW.
The Rams had a private practice the past two days as their campus up at Rose Hill in the Bronx has been closed due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus.
Other players to watch during the next few days could make an impact. Joining Toppin and Gilyard on the All-Conference First Team were Jalen Crutcher (Dayton), Fatts Russell (Rhode Island), Kyle Lofton (St. Bonaventure) and Jordan Goodwin (Saint Louis).
The All-Conference second team consisted of Kellan Grady (Davidson), Marcus Weathers (Duquesne), Blake Francis (Richmond), Grant Golden (Richmond), Hasahn French (Saint Louis) and Mitchell. Jon Axel Gudmundsson (Davidson), Trey Landers (Dayton), Jeff Dowtin (Rhode Island), Osun Osunniyi (St. Bonaventure), Ryan Daly (Saint Joseph’s) and Perkins made up the All-Conference Third Team.
The 2020 Championship begins Wednesday with two first-round games that will be streamed on ESPN+. Thursday features four second-round games and the quarterfinals are Friday. Thursday’s and Friday’s games will be carried by NBCSN. Semifinals begin Saturday at 1:00 pm on CBS Sports Network and the Championship final is Sunday at 1:00 pm on CBS Sports. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com.
Let the Madness begin in Brooklyn.
Comment: Ring786@aol.com Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso