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Atlantic 10 Basketball: 2024 conference tournament preview and predictions

March represents a new beginning for every college basketball program. This week, each A-10 team will fight to punch their ticket to the Big Dance. Will we be surprised to see which team earns an automatic bid on Sunday?

Mar 9, 2024; Henrico, VA, USA;  A general view of the trophy prior to the Atlantic 10 Conference
Mar 9, 2024; Henrico, VA, USA; A general view of the trophy prior to the Atlantic 10 Conference / Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
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Teams to look out for in the tournament

Teams to Beat: Richmond & Loyola Chicago

If you want to discuss surprises, the Atlantic 10 is the perfect example. The Richmond Spiders were picked 11th, and the Loyola Chicago Ramblers were picked eighth in the preseason poll; however, both finished atop the A-10 standings and were crowned co-regular season champions. This shows you that anything could happen in college basketball, and the Spiders and Ramblers will be the teams to beat in the Atlantic 10 tournament this week.

The Spiders will take the top seed and play the winner of No. 8 George Mason and No. 9 Saint Joseph's. Richmond will have the double-bye and a direct path to the championship game on Sunday, but anything could happen in March. The expectation is that the Spiders take home the Atlantic 10 Championship; however, George Mason could challenge them in the quarterfinals or be tested in the semifinals by a team like Loyola Chicago, UMass, and VCU. It will be interesting to see how far the Spiders go with the core consisting of King, Dji Bailey, Neal Quinn, and Isaiah Bigelow.

On the other hand, Loyola Chicago managed to flip the script entirely after finishing in dead last place just a year ago. They have bounced back tremendously to finish in first place this season. The duo of Desmond Watson and Philip Alston played out perfectly for Drew Valentine this year. The Ramblers also have a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in senior forward Dame Adelekun, who averaged 8.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, and shot 57.4 percent off the bench. The Dartmouth transfer averaged 15.3 minutes per game and was a solid addition to the Ramblers this season. The most impressive thing about Loyola Chicago was their ability to win big games over opponents like Massachusetts, George Mason, and a ranked Dayton team, which allowed them to finish in first place. With Loyola Chicago's talented roster and previous experience playing in March, they will be a team to beat this week in Brooklyn.

Biggest Threat: Dayton

The team that was picked to finish first at the start of this season was the Dayton Flyers. A big reason why they were chosen to finish first was because they had the early Atlantic 10 Player and Defensive Player of the Year candidate returning to Dayton. The Flyers were also coming off an injury-riddled 2022-23 campaign, so there was a lot of hope centered around the Flyers' ability to bounce back and outright win the conference during the regular season, and while that was looking like an actual possibility, road losses to Richmond, VCU, Loyola Chicago, and George Mason prevented them from finishing in first place again, but let's not forget how good Dayton was this season, especially at UD Arena.

The Flyers finished with a perfect 15-0 record at home and were the only A-10 team to reach the AP Top 25 at any point this season. Not only was Holmes II a valuable asset to Anthony Grant's squad, but Nate Santos, Koby Brea, Koby Elvis, and Enoch Cheeks played exceptionally well. One thing that makes Dayton so talented this year is how deep of a team they are. They have three players averaging double figures this season and plenty of talented scorers, so there's no doubt the Dayton Flyers will be the biggest threat in the A-10 tournament.

Dark Horse Team: George Mason

The George Mason Patriots stand out as a dark horse in this year's Atlantic 10 tournament. Although first-year coach Tony Skinn leads them, they have players with a winning mentality. The Patriots have a diverse roster of newcomers and players recruited by the previous regime at George Mason led by Kim English. This roster includes a mix of young, promising players and veterans leaving their mark on the Patriots this year, such as Darius Maddox, Amari Kelly, and Ronald Polite III. Still, George Mason's future with sophomore guard Hall and freshman guard Baraka Okojie is bright.

The Patriots ended their regular season with a 64-46 victory over Richmond, where three players finished in double figures. Still, anytime a team holds the first-place team to 46 points, you have to love what you are seeing defensively. Don't let George Mason's .500 record during conference play prevent you from believing in this squad. This team can match up well against any team in the A-10 and beat any opponent they face on any night. They'll face the ninth-seeded St. Joseph's Hawks on Wednesday at 11:30 am, where I believe they will advance to rematch against Richmond.