A-10 grabs five bids to the Big Dance

Coming into this school year, the Butler men’s basketball team likely knew the Atlantic 10 Conference would feature a significant increase in competition from the Horizon League.

This has been confirmed by the appearance of five A-10 teams in this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket.

Some outside of Indianapolis may be wondering how the four A-10 squads that aren’t Butler made it to the Big Dance.

Here’s our breakdown of how those teams managed to secure bids into the tournament.

SAINT LOUIS BILLIKENS (27-6, 13-3 A-10) MIDWEST NO. 4 SEED

The Billikens rode an emotional wave, caused by the death of former coach Rick Majerus in December, to an A-10 regular season title, an A-10 tournament championship victory and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Saint Louis started its season 3-3 before winning 24 of its next 27 games—the first of those wins coming the day after Majerus’ death.

The Billikens stampeded through their conference schedule and the A-10 tournament, dispatching Butler three times and VCU twice.

Credit has to be given to interim head coach Jim Crews, who has obviously motivated the men to jump into high gear after a slow start.

The Billikens know how to score when necessary, but they’ve truly thrived on strong defense. The squad was the only team in the A-10 to hold opponents to less than 60 points per game (58.1).

Junior forward Dwayne Evans, with 13.7 points per game, leads a cast of five Billikens who each averages more than nine points per contest. Evans is also the sixth-best rebounder in the A-10, averaging nearly eight per game.

Saint Louis has proven it can frustrate most any opponent by forcing poor shots from outside the paint. This was a key reason Butler didn’t hit the 60-point mark against the Billikens last week.

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH RAMS (26-8, 12-4 A-10) SOUTH NO. 5 SEED

VCU turned many heads during the 2011 tournament by advancing to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

The Rams had to win a play-in game to even earn that seed.

This season, it is unlikely the Rams are sneaking up on anyone.

Shaka Smart’s group finished the season with 26 victories against eight losses. Only one of those losses came to a team outside the tournament field (Richmond).

There were two key reasons the Rams were successful prior to the tournament: strong offensive output and the ability to force turnovers.
VCU has four players who average more than 10 points per game. Sophomore guard Treveon Graham leads the charge with 15.5 points per game.

Senior guard Troy Daniels has contributed a league-leading 118 3-point baskets to VCU’s offense.

The squad scores more than 77 points per game. In short, it will be a force to reckon with for tournament opponents on the offensive end.

The Rams also have two players in the top three of the A-10’s steals list. Forcing turnovers is a big reason for VCU’s success on defense and just as big a reason the team earned a No. 5 seed in the tournament.

TEMPLE OWLS (23-9, 11-5 A-10) EAST NO. 9 SEED

One of four teams in Butler’s part of the bracket that the Bulldogs have faced this season, Temple rode a hot finish to a No. 9 seed.

The Owls ripped off seven consecutive victories before falling to Massachusetts in the A-10 tournament.

Wins over then-No. 3 Syracuse, Saint Louis and Villanova, as well as a close loss to Kansas, helped bolster Temple’s tournament résumé.

Senior guard Khalif Wyatt has been tearing opponents apart offensively. He averages just shy of 20 points per game, tops in the A-10.

He sits in the top 15 of four individual statistical categories within the A-10.

Senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and sophomore forward Anthony Lee will grab a decent number of rebounds per game too.

A key Owl who has stayed out of the spotlight most of the season is senior guard Scootie Randall. But he could be key to any run Temple makes in the tournament.

Randall will be a go-to player for Temple’s offense. He averages 11.8 points per game and the most minutes per contest of all the Owls.

Temple can get scoring from a couple different sources, but they usually need Wyatt and either Hollis-Jefferson or Lee to play well to succeed.

LA SALLE EXPLORERS (21-9, 11-5 A-10) WEST NO. 13* SEED

*La Salle must win a play-in game to earn the seed.

The Explorers snuck into the tournament bracket thanks to some key wins both in and outside A-10 play.

La Salle topped tournament entrants Villanova and Iona, as well as Butler and VCU in back-to-back contests.

A 13-2 home record factored into much of La Salle’s success, but it had just one game on a neutral court this season. The team’s road and neutral court records combined are a not-so-sterling eight wins versus seven losses.

The Explorers have numerous players who can produce a lot of points.

Senior guard Ramon Galloway and junior guard Tyreek Duren both average more than 15 points per game.

This team is capable of pulling out quality wins, but the roster doesn’t have much tournament experience and is capable of being shut down offensively.

In spite of this, an opponent cannot simply defeat La Salle by limiting top scorer Galloway. Butler held Galloway to six points during a regular season game and still lost.

Defensively, La Salle allows 66 points per game. Where the Explorers have really succeeded on defense is the area beyond the arc, as opponents are shooting less than 30 percent from 3-point range.

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