February 28, 2023
What to watch for at the Atlantic 10 Tournament
UMass looks to run it back while Rhode Island looks for its first A-10 tournament win under Tammi Reiss
The Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Tournament tips off bigger than ever on Wednesday afternoon, with all fifteen teams traveling to Wilmington, DE, for the second year in a row.
The first three rounds will be televised on ESPN+; the semifinals will be on CBS Sports Network and the championship game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
The full bracket and schedule can be found below:
Here are five storylines to watch for:
UMass looks to run it back
After winning its first A-10 championship last season as a 3-seed, UMass returned its core and are looking to repeat. The unanimous preseason pick fell to Rhode Island in early January and Saint Louis in the final week of the regular season but finished 14-2 as co-conference champions. Due to tiebreakers, the Minutewomen earned the top seed. UMass’ 14 A-10 wins are the most in program history and the team enters the conference tournament with a record of 24-5, the most regular-season wins in program history.
Prior to the start of the season head coach Tory Verdi told The Next he didn’t want UMass to be a “one-hit wonder” and, ahead of the tournament, is excited about the opportunity to win another championship.
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“It’s the culmination of everything that we’ve been working for. Here it is. I mean this is the end, our journey’s coming to an end, how is it going to be played out?” He told reporters on Feb. 28. “…It’s like a final exam. It’s like they prepared for everything and now it’s the test. And I just want to enjoy it. I want to see them enjoy it. I want to enjoy the process and hopefully, we’re cutting down the nets at the end of the day.”
The team has immense A-10 tournament experience, with its top-7 players making up the “Savage 7” that made a run to the championship game as a 7-seed in 2021.
This season, six Minutewomen are averaging at least seven points per game and four players average at least 34 minutes per game. Despite the tight rotation and minute distribution, UMass leads the conference in points per game (76.0 per game). This season will be the last tournament run for graduate students Sam Breen and Destiney Philoxy, who have played a total of 209 games in a UMass uniform.
The Minutewomen are scheduled to play the winner of La Salle and George Mason on March 3 at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN+.
Rhode Island looks for first A-10 tournament win under Tammi Reiss
A win against Dayton on Feb. 25 (the team’s first win over the Flyers since 2004) pushed the Rams to 23 wins, 14 in conference play and 13 at home, all program records. Rhode Island’s 23-5 overall record and 14-2 in the A-10 was enough to earn the team a share of the regular season championship and the second overall seed. The team’s two losses came to UMass and Fordham, one in each of the final two weeks of the regular season.
Despite a 29-16 record in the A-10 under head coach Tammi Reiss’ first three seasons (including 23-6 from 2020-22), the Rams have not won a conference tournament game since 2016.
Though this season’s team looks different than seasons past, Rhode Island continued to allow the fewest points per game in the conference and improved its 3-point shooting. Throughout the season, Reiss noted how last season, the championship was the focus and it hurt the team and this season, the Rams are taking it one day at a time.
Rhode Island is scheduled to take on the winner of George Washington and Duquesne/Loyola Chicago at 5 p.m. ET on March 3 on ESPN+.
Fordham quietly rose to the top, again
After finishing sixth in the conference last season, its lowest since 2016, the Rams finished fourth this season under interim head coach Candice Green. Green was named interim head coach on July 8 and, prior to the start of the season, told The Next she was excited about the opportunity after serving as an assistant coach for three seasons.
“I mean this group is just so much fun to be around — all the buzzwords that you can think of — family, dedicated, accountable, etc. — this group has it,” she said in October. “Losing in the [quarterfinals] last year hurt us all deeply. We have six seniors [and] grads with one more chance at this thing. And being honest I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of this year in terms of myself [and the] staff as well. We’re all working with this quiet desperation to do everything we can to accomplish our goals.”
While there are still question marks about what’s next for the Fordham coaching staff, this team has already etched its name in the program record book as it finished the regular season third in scoring average (72.6 points), fourth in made 3-pointers (226), fifth in points (2,104), fifth in field goals (816) and fifth in steals (264) in program history.
The Rams have not made it to the semifinals since 2020, losing to UMass in the quarterfinals the last two seasons, and are looking to win an A-10 championship for the third time and first since 2019. Offensive efficiency will be key for Fordham, who are 10-2 when shooting at least 45% from the floor and 8-1 when shooting at least 40% from three.
Fordham is scheduled to play the winner of Richmond and Dayton/VCU on March 3 at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
George Mason looks to make some noise, again
Last season George Mason won a game as the 14-seed, the first last-seeded team to win a conference tournament game since No. 12 seed Rhode Island upset No. 5 seed George Washington in 2009. The Patriots enter this conference tournament looking to make some noise again.
Mason, just two seasons removed from a winless conference season, were picked to finish 14th in the preseason poll, but finished 9th, the team’s best finish since 2018-2019 when the team finished 7th. The team finished strong, on a three-game win streak, including wins over Fordham and Saint Joseph’s, who both entered the game in the top-4 in the standings.
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“I think that’s the feeling you want going into the tournament that you can play with anyone and we’ve known that all season,” head coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis said in a post-game press conference after the team’s Feb. 22 win over Saint Joseph’s. “Having URI here on the ropes, really showed this team early on that we can compete with anyone. So to have that type of momentum going into the tournament, it’s exactly where we want to be, poised to do some great things in Wilmington.”
Mason has two players averaging at least 10 points per game for the first time since the 2018-2019 season and have had as many as five players scoring in double figures in a game. The team’s offense is the most balanced it has been in years and paired with a defense that has caused issues for even top teams in the A-10 once again makes Mason a threat to make some noise in the tournament.
The Patriots were the only team not to play on Feb. 25, giving the team a full seven days to rest before the conference tournament starts, and Blair-Lewis’ plan for that period of time is simple.
“Give their bodies a chance to recoup and rehab which is going to be as important as getting their minds ready,” she said on Feb. 22. “And going up there to take care of business the same way we did all season. It’s just one game at a time and it’s really [a] one-game season at a time.”
Mason is scheduled to play La Salle on March 2 at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN+.
Saint Louis exceeded expectations
Saint Louis was picked to finish 12th in the preseason poll in Rebecca Tillett’s first season at the helm. Despite early struggles and a 4-11 record in nonconference games and a 1-3 start to conference play, the Billikens finished 3rd in the standings with a 10-6 conference record.
Prior to the start of the season, Tillett told The Next she wants her team to compete for championships and was excited to see how soon it would be possible.
“I think you’re going to see a group that is going to be spending the year figuring out how to play smart and tough,” she said in October. “And I think keep watching us, what you see in the beginning, we hope you’re going to see just tremendous growth over the course of the season and being able to make really smart plays and really tough plays.”
After an injury-riddled season last year, the Billikens had three players start all 31 games and four total play in every game. The team is last in points allowed in the conference, with their opponents averaging 70.5 points per game. The defense will be critical for Saint Louis’ success in the tournament, the team is 10-2 when holding their opponents to 65 points or fewer.
In addition, Brooke Flowers, who was named A-10 Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row on Feb. 28, recorded more blocks than every other team in the conference except for Duquesne and more blocks per game (3.9) than all but 72 schools in the country.
Overall, the team also set single-season program records for both blocks (169) and steals (297) this season.
The Billikens head to Wilmington, having won eight of their last nine games, including wins over UMass and Fordham, two of the other top-four teams.
Saint Louis is scheduled to play the winner of Saint Joseph’s and Davidson/St. Bonaventure at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+.