An eye on Cincinnati
I admit that I'm not the RPI guru that David is, but I will be paying close attention to the Atlantic 10 Tournament when it gets underway Wednesday at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio. Four of Penn's opponents from this season are participating, including three of the Quakers' Big 5 rivals. If they advance, that could have a slight effect on Penn's RPI, or at least how the selection committee sees Penn's non-conference strength of schedule. There's also a chance that another A-10 team, George Washington, could line up against the Red and Blue in the NCAA Tournament.
Three of the first round games include teams Penn played this season: Temple-Rhode Island in the first game at noon, Saint Joseph's-Dayton at 2:30, and Fordham-Richmond in the last game of the day at 8:30. If the Owls beat URI, they would face top seed George Washington in the second round. It would be a big upset if Temple could beat the Colonials, but I somehow would not put it out of the question -- especially because star Colonials center Pops Mensah-Bonsu will miss the A-10 tournament due to a knee injury suffered last month against La Salle.
It would take stellar games from Temple guard Mardy Collins and forward Antywane Robinson, but it could happen. Just ask GW's neighbors in College Park, Md. about that possibility, as the Colonials and Owls both beat the Terrapins this season.
St. Joe's has been on fire of late, and rides a five-game winning streak from Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse into Cincinnati. Then again, those victories came at Rhode Island, Xavier, and Duquesne, and at home against Fordham and Richmond. Except for the trip to Xavier, who won on Hawk Hill earlier in the season, those teams are all cream puffs. Playing Dayton in Ohio won't be easy, as the Flyers will be well-supported in Cincinnati. Still, the Hawks should advance to face Saint Louis in the second round.
Fordham should have no trouble whatsoever with Richmond, considering that the Spiders scored 69 points combined at St. Joe's and Temple this season. The second round will be a different story, though, as the Rams would face La Salle. I said at the beginning of the season that La Salle was my dark horse favorite to make some noise in the A-10, and that they would go to the NIT. I didn't think the Explorers would be good enough to beat Temple and St. Joe's to a first-round bye, though.
Yet here they are, and they have a legitimate shot to make it to the tournament championship game. La Salle would face Charlotte, Xavier or Massachusetts in the semifinals, and while the 49ers and Musketeers would be tough, I think the Explorers could pull off the win. No, I did not mention the Minutemen in the last sentence, and yes, that means I think they have little to no shot of beating Xavier just a few miles from the Musketeers' campus.
GW's Karl Hobbs won A-10 Coach of the Year honors, but La Salle's John Giannini did something truly extraordinary up at 20th and Olney this season. Of course, Steven Smith had a lot to do with that, and he has been rightly rewarded with his second straight A-10 Player of the Year award. Still, a lot of credit goes to the backcourt of Darnell Harris and Tabby Cunningham, as well as the rest of the Explorers.
Having said all of this, I still think GW has too much talent, and that even without Mensah-Bonsu the Colonials will win the tournament. That could make things very interesting for Penn on Selection Sunday, because with a 28-1 record George Washington would probably be a four seed. If Penn is able to get up to the 13-seed line on the S-Curve -- and a win tomorrow against Princeton would go a long way towards making that happen -- the Quakers might just be drawn against the Colonials in the NCAA Tournament.
Among other things, such a matchup would pit current Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky against the school where he was AD before coming back to his alma mater. But on the court, the game would not be as appealing, because I don't think Penn can keep up with GW's high-flying offense for 40 minutes. It would greatly improve Penn's chances of pulling off the upset, though, if Mensah-Bonsu was out.
GW hasn't been playing its best basketball of late, either. In their final regular season home game this past Saturday against Charlotte, the Colonials needed a buzzer-beating tip-in to win the game in overtime. Their other two games after losing Mensah-Bonsu were 11-point wins at Fordham and St. Bonaventure.
All in all, the Atlantic 10 tournament is definitely worth watching for Penn fans. Heck, it's probably the closest the Quakers will come to having a conference tournament of their own, considering how many of their opponents are in it.