Favorites: The field is wide open but Saint Louis (24-6, 13-3) is the top seed after winning its first regular season league title of any kind since 1971. The next four seeds are: VCU (24-7, 12-4), Temple (23-8, 11-5), La Salle (21-8, 11-5) and Butler (24-7, 11-5) and all of them are looking to enhance their NCAA resumes.
Xavier: The Musketeers (17-13, 9-7) are the No. 7 seed and open up against No. 10 St. Joseph’s (17-12, 8-8) on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
Head-to-head: St. Joseph’s won 59-49 on Jan. 26 in Philadelphia.
At stake: The winner advances to play against No. 2 seed VCU in the quarterfinals on Friday. The only way either team is getting to the NCAA tournament is by winning the A-10’s automatic bid. Xavier (RPI 78) is just 2-3 in its last five games but those wins were against nationally-ranked Memphis and Saint Louis and the losses were all by five points or less against VCU, Massachusetts and at Butler. St. Joe’s (RPI 86) has lost its last five games away from home by an average of 13 points. The NIT is a possibility for both teams if they don’t win the A-10 tournament.
Outlook: Xavier’s record might not reflect it but it brings plenty of confidence into this tournament with its recent run of games. Freshman guard Semaj Christon – the A-10’s Freshman of the Year – has scored in double figures in 18 straight games, including 20 points each the past two games against Saint Louis and Butler and is just 27 points shy of surpassing Byron Larkin’s freshman scoring record of 492 points. Sophomore point guard Dee Davis has returned from a head injury suffered against VCU and senior forward Travis Taylor was named the A-10’s Most Improved Player this week after averaging 11.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game this season. The Hawks counter with four players who are scoring in double figures, led by senior Carl Jones (Garfield Heights) and his 14.1-point average. Xavier is No. 2 in the A-10 in scoring defense (62.6) while St. Joe’s is No. 3 (63.6).
Dayton: The Flyers (17-13, 7-9) are the 12th seed and open up against No. 5 Butler on Thursday at 2:30 p.m.
Head-to-head: Butler won 79-73 on Jan. 12 at Dayton
At stake: The winner advances to take on No. 4 seed La Salle in the quarterfinals on Friday. The Flyers (RPI 110) have won four of their last six games but are a puzzling team away from UD Arena, including losses at Rhode Island and George Washington in the past few weeks. Butler (RPI 21) has wins over Indiana and Gonzaga this season and is pretty comfortable with its spot in the NCAA field but with recent losses against VCU and Saint Louis it doesn’t wants to head there going in the right direction.
Outlook: Senior guard Kevin Dillard keys UD, averaging 15.3 points and 4.6 assists per game, but the Flyers will have to find a way to match Butler’s all-around attack led by first-team A-10 selection Rotnei Clarke. Clarke had 17 of his 21 points in the second half of Saturday’s 67-62 win against Xavier to close out the regular season. Dayton would be better served to try and up the game’s tempo but when the Flyers do that they can’t forget the defensive end of the court.