Analysis | NCAA men’s tournament bracketology: VCU has no margin for error in A-10


Tuesday was a night for VCU to savor. It won its fifth in a row, clinching the Atlantic 10 regular season tournament with a game to spare. Its 79-67 defeat of Saint Louis completed a season sweep of the Billikens, who were supposed to flirt with top-25 status this winter. And it added to its ample trophy collection just hours before March arrived.

The Rams (23-7, 14-3) have a lot to celebrate. But they’ll need to win three games in four days starting Thursday in Brooklyn if they want to be happy on Selection Sunday.

Such is life in this year’s A-10. Its teams usually find a way to coax two or three NCAA tournament invitations. This year, the league is staring at one-bid status for the first time since 2005.

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Only two of the 15 teams in the A-10 rank in the top 100 of the NCAA’s NET ranking system entering Friday: No. 66 VCU and No. 73 Dayton. Only three more (No. 103 Saint Louis, No. 109 Duquesne and No. 133 George Mason) rank in the top 135.

Teams earn Quadrant 1 victories with triumphs over top-30 teams at home, top-50 teams on a neutral floor and top-75 foes on the road. The range for Quadrant 2 victories is Nos. 31-75 at home, Nos. 51-100 in a neutral setting and Nos. 76-135 on the road.

Combine those two sets of numbers and what’s left? Not many opportunities to earn remotely valuable victories over the last two months. It turned out the only Quad 1 chances in the A-10 since league play started were when teams visited Dayton and VCU. The league-leading Rams played just two Quad 1 games (losing at Memphis and winning at Dayton) and are 2-4 in Quad 2 chances. It’s just not an at-large résumé.

There are myriad causes. The league’s top teams didn’t do enough out of conference. VCU owns an elite defense and a shaky offense. Saint Louis can score but struggles to stop good teams. Dayton, the league favorite, dealt with significant injury issues and has dealt with inconsistency

Six of the other 12 teams have new coaches, though Fordham’s Keith Urgo and George Washington’s Chris Caputo have their teams pretty much maxing out. League newcomer Loyola Chicago, a Final Four team in 2018, had a rough transition year and sits at the bottom of the standings.

Add it up, and it just is not a banner year in the Atlantic 10. It should make for a wild week of basketball at Barclays Center. But there won’t be any margin for error for anyone who wants to make the NCAA tournament, even the team that rightfully was thrilled to check a regular season title off its to-do list this week.

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Last four included: Auburn, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Wisconsin

First four on the outside: Penn State, Michigan, Utah State, Oklahoma State

Next four on the outside: Arizona State, College of Charleston, New Mexico, Clemson

Conference call: Big Ten (9), SEC (8), Big 12 (7), ACC (6), Big East (5), Mountain West (3), Pac-12 (3), American Athletic (2), West Coast (2)

Bracket projection: South vs. West; Midwest vs. East

Howard clinched its first outright conference regular season title since 1987 with its 87-67 thrashing of Norfolk State on Thursday. The Bison will aim for their first NCAA berth since 1992 as the top seed in next week’s MEAC tournament. … Even with Tuesday’s loss at Boise State, San Diego State’s profile looks pretty much the same: Some good victories, a great road record and no bad losses. …

Every win puts Big East regular season champion Marquette a step closer to locking in a trip to either Columbus or Des Moines for the first weekend. With Kansas and Kansas State thriving, an assignment in the Buckeye State makes the most sense. … Florida Atlantic hung 103 points on Rice in its penultimate regular season game. The Owls should be good to go as a potential at-large pick if they win at Louisiana Tech on Saturday.

Wisconsin just won’t go away, even with a second consecutive loss. Somebody has to get that last spot in the field, and the Badgers (16-13) own a 6-7 record in Quadrant 1 games and a top-50 placement in the results-based metrics on the NCAA team sheets. It’s enough to overcome a lackluster NET ranking (77th). … Mississippi State could really use a victory at Vanderbilt to close out the regular season. It would bolster the Bulldogs a bit heading into the SEC tournament and hurt the surging Commodores, who have won seven of eight. …

It was a bad idea for Rutgers to lose at Minnesota but not one that will knock the Scarlet Knights out of the tournament. But it left another mark on a profile that now features four Quadrant 3 losses, and it knocks Rutgers down a line on this projection. … UCLA has won nine in a row heading into its regular season finale against Arizona. There is certainly a credible case for the Bruins as a No. 1 seed.

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Xavier gets back up to the No. 4 line after its midweek defeat of Providence. Souley Boum and the Musketeers probably can’t land any better than a No. 3 seed at this point, but they’re in much better shape than the fluid scrum of teams sitting on the Nos. 6-8 lines. … West Virginia is 5-12 in Quadrant 1 games and 17-13 overall, which means there is basically not a bad loss on its ledger. Oh, and the Mountaineers sit in the top 35 of all six team sheet metrics. Doesn’t seem like a team destined for Dayton. …

It’s been a good week for Iowa, which followed up its frantic overtime defeat of Michigan State with a 90-68 pummeling of Indiana on the road. … Kennesaw State will play for its first NCAA tournament berth at the Division I level when it plays host to Liberty in the Atlantic Sun title game Sunday. The Owls (25-8) are just three years removed from going 1-28 and have won as many games this season as the last four combined.

Boise State did itself some good by knocking off San Diego State this week. The Broncos are 3-3 in Quadrant 1 games and 7-2 in Quad 2 games. With a trip to Utah State and then the Mountain West tournament remaining, they should be in good shape for an at-large nod. … It’s not a typo: Auburn is flirting with a trip to Dayton. And if the Tigers lose to Tennessee and then in their SEC tournament opener, their bland profile might do them in. The best thing going for Bruce Pearl’s team is a spot in the top 40 in all six team sheet metrics. …

Pretty simple deal for North Carolina: Beat Duke at home Saturday, and there will be less work to do in the ACC tournament. Maybe a lot less if next week is super-chalky elsewhere. … A March mantra: Bracket luck is real. The month’s first beneficiary might be Colgate, which doesn’t really need the help. If the Raiders beat Army on Sunday, they’ll face the No. 6 seed (Lafayette) or the No. 7 seed (American) in the Patriot League final.

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