Atlantic 10 Tournament Preview: Hawks-Flyers

On Friday afternoon, two Atlantic 10 teams with NCAA Tournament dreams will meet, as St. Joe's and Dayton meet for the third time of the year. St. Joe's took the first two contests, including a convincing 79-53 win on February 25th at Hagan Arena. Inside, we preview Friday's 2:30 quarterfinal, including best and worst-case scenarios for the Hawks.

Friday's quarterfinal contest between the Hawks and Flyers has implications that go far beyond the Atlantic 10 tournament. The 4-seed Hawks and 5-seed Flyers will square off thanks to Dayton's 87-74 win over Fordham on Thursday afternoon. The Flyers enter at 23-9 (10-6) while the Hawks enter at 21-9 (11-5). Both the Hawks and Flyers are on the right side of the tournament bubble, according to nearly every bracketologist. The question, however, is whether the loser gets bounced off the bubble.

Dayton has won 10 of their last 11 games, with the lone loss being February 25th's loss on Hawk Hill. Dayton has wins over George Washington, Saint Louis, and UMass in that span, and those wins are what propelled the Flyers back into the tournament discussion.

St. Joe's has wins over Dayton both at home and on the road. Now, in order to feel secure on Selection Sunday, they likely need to earn a neutral-court win over Archie Miller's bunch.

Langston Galloway banked in a three at the buzzer on January 29th to give the Hawks a 60-57 road win over Dayton. Then, on February 25th, the Hawks routed the Flyers behind 22 points from senior forward Ron Roberts and a career-high 20 points from junior point guard Chris Wilson.

The Flyers are led by junior guard Jordan Sibert, who averages 12.6 points per game. The Ohio State transfer had 21 points, and six threes, in the first meeting this year between the Hawks and Flyers. At Hagan however, he was limited to just 3 points on 1-8 shooting.

6'7 senior Devin Oliver is Dayton's top frontcourt player, averaging 12 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest. Oliver had 17 points and 11 rebounds in Thursday's critical win over Fordham. At Dayton, Oliver had 16 points and 6 rebounds, and he put up a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds in the match-up on Hawk Hill.

Sophomore Dyahawn Pierre is another Flyer to keep an eye on. The highly skilled 6'6 wing will likely be matched up again with Hawk Co-Rookie of the Year DeAndre Bembry. The Hawks have kept Pierre in check through two contests, limiting him to 7.5 points per, which is below his season average of 11.

On the Hawk side of things, there are five things to keep a close eye on.

Senior forward Halil Kanacevic earned 2nd-team All-Atlantic 10 honors when the awards were released earlier this week. Kanacevic has had a sensational senior campaign. Well, up until this past week, that is. Kanacevic is averaging 10.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game on the year. However, in St. Joe's back-to-back losses to George Washington and La Salle, he is averaging 5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. Just as importantly, he has been plagued by foul trouble. For the Hawks to win a third time against Dayton, Halil will need to stay out of foul trouble and play as he did throughout most of the year.

Foul shooting has been an issue with the Hawks all year long. It hadn't really cost them a game. Until Sunday against La Salle that is. While it didn't explicitly cost the game, the Hawks did shoot 12-22 on the game, missing ten free throws in a game they lost 71-63. The Hawks, in particular Ron Roberts and DeAndre Bembry, will need to shoot it competently from the line on Friday.

A third key on Friday is the play of Langston Galloway. Galloway made 1st-team All-Atlantic 10, and the Louisiana native is averaging 17 points per game this year as a senior. Against Dayton this year, however, Galloway is just 7-18 for an average of 9.5 points. If Galloway is able to get a three or two to go down in the game's opening minutes, it should give Hawk fans a sigh of relief.

DeAndre Bembry has been sensational this year for the Hawks. The 6'6 rookie swingman won Co-Rookie of the Year this past week alongside Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews. In order for the Hawks to notch the biggest win of the year, they will need Bembry to play two complete halves. He has had a tendency of getting off to slow starts, then coming to life in the second. Phil Martelli will need a complete game from his versatile wing, including top-notch defense on Pierre.

Lastly, the Hawks need to play loose, but not careless. In their disastrous loss to La Salle, the Hawks came out loose, but careless, and found themselves in a battle with the Explorers. Down ten at the half, the Hawks played tight in the second half. Although so much is on the line, the Hawks need to play loose, careful basketball. The type that saw them go 17-3 prior to this two-game skid.

It is entirely possible that both Dayton and St. Joe's make the NCAA Tournament. The Hawks have an RPI of 42 and the Flyers check in at 39. Both are respectable, and the loser of tomorrow's game, on a neutral court, should not see their RPI drop by more than a number or two.

All of that being said, in order to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday, the Hawks, and Flyers for that matter, would be best served to escape tomorrow with a win.

Bubble teams Arkansas and Cal lost Thursday, which is a help to both Atlantic 10 squads. Xavier is currently playing Marquette in a bubble game.

For a full recap of this one, come back to Hawk Hill Hardwood post-game. We will also take a look at tournament odds following the final buzzer. It's a momentous 24 hours for the Hawks.

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