Atlantic 10 Tournament preview

WE'RE MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO: Stopping by one of the nearby racebooks between sessions to check out the action from Gulfstream Park. Semi-seriously, just some competitive hoops. Trying to make sense of this bracket is like trying to make sense of the regular season. There was a three-way tie for second and four-way tie for fifth. The regular-season champion had four losses. Should be a few games decided late where good luck or bad can change everything in an instant.

TEAM ON THE RISE: La Salle was playing its best basketball at the finish. No player in the league is playing better at the moment than Rodney Green. The Explorers just came from behind to win at Saint Louis Saturday night. The same matchup opens the tournament.

TEAM ON THE DECLINE: Since upsetting Xavier, Charlotte has lost four of five. Its only win was against Fordham, which really does not count. This team is more talented than its record, but injuries and inconsistency put them 11th in the standings when they were picked fifth

WORTH NOTING: This is the third year the tournament has been at Boardwalk Hall. It has not been announced where next year’s tournament will be. The finalists are Dayton, Cincinnati, Springfield (Mass.), Pittsburgh and Atlantic City. Sadly, no Philadelphia on the list.

DARK HORSE TO WIN IT ALL: Richmond. Chris Mooney’s team has won five of six. The Spiders beat Xavier on Saturday. Richmond is playing faster now that Mooney has amassed more talent. Having to win four games in four days obviously plays against them, but this is a dangerous team.

TEAM THAT NEEDS HELP TO MAKE THE NCAAS: All of them except Dayton and Xavier. Rhode Island and Temple might have been in play for an at large until late-season home losses to Massachusetts and La Salle respectively. The rest of them have been playing for conference seeding in recent weeks.

BEST PLAYER: Ahmad Nivins (Saint Joseph’s) led the league in scoring (tie with Temple’s Dionte Christmas), rebounding and field goal percentage despite constant double and sometimes triple teams. He was named Player of the Year by the coaches. Athletic artistry would be the best way to describe his game.

BEST SHOOTER: Rhode Island’s Jimmy Baron just set the league record with 345 made treys. This season, he made 102 and shot 45.3 percent. If he is in the gym, he is in range. He nearly beat Duke at Cameron with his quick release until the striped shirts remembered who was supposed to win.

BEST DEFENDER: Tony Gaffney (Massachusetts) led the league in blocks (113) and was second in steals (59). The frontline of the Minutemen defense is not particularly strong which puts all kinds on Gaffney as he mans the back line.

DON'T FOUL THESE GUYS: Kevin Lisch (Saint Louis) shot 82.9 percent and made 107 free throws. Duquesne’s Aaron Jackson, a wonderful all-around talent, shot 81.2 percent and made 134 foul shots.

ULTIMATE TITLE GAME: Temple-Rhode Island. With all due respect to Xavier and Dayton, they are already in the NCAA. The league would like this final as it would give them a third NCAA team. And this game would have the potential to be high scoring and quite entertaining with shooters like Baron and Christmas firing from deep and enough athletes around the basket to make it a game played in all places.

THE PICK: I liked Temple last year and the Owls got home. Without Mark Tyndale and Chris Clark scoring and leading, I don’t think this team is quite as ready as that one. I also don’t think this field is as good as last year’s. If Lavoy Allen can put together three strong games and Dionte Christmas can shoot a decent percentage from deep, I like the Owls. Juan Fernandez is going to be a very good player on North Broad. If he had been there all season, the Owls might be in play for an at large. Slowly, Fernandez’s talents are starting to emerge. If he is locked in for three games, the Owls will have even a bigger chance.