Push your chips to the center of the table. Its time for the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals in Atlantic City.
Temple, La Salle and Saint Josephs are three of the eight teams who will make the short trip to Boardwalk Hall starting Friday to face off for a conference championship and an automatic NCAA berth.
The tournament holds a little bit of extra meaning not only because it shifts to Brooklyn next year, but also because this is the second-to-last A-10 tourney for Temple before the Owls bolt for the Big East (see story). Its also a vital one for St. Joes and La Salle if either team hopes to make the NCAA tournament.
Which Philly team are you betting on to win big in A.C.? Heres a breakdown of all three squads.
La Salle Explorers
How they got here: Beat Richmond, 80-72, in first round
Quarterfinal opponent: No. 2 Saint Louis (24-6), Friday, 6:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Looking ahead: A win over St. Louis would put the Explorers in the semifinals Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against No. 3 Xavier, No. 6 Dayton or No. 11 George Washington.
Theyll go on a deep run if Ramon Galloway emerges as one of the top players in Atlantic City. Its no secret La Salle began to falter in February when Galloway slumped. Its also no secret how much better the Explorers are when the explosive transfer from South Carolina plays at his best. In the Explorers first-round win against Richmond, Galloway sniffed a triple-double with 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. If hes on his game and meshes well with fellow guards Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills and Earl Pettis, La Salle has a backcourt that matches up with any other in the league.
Theyll leave Atlantic City early if They cant control the pace against a Saint Louis team that excels on defense and likes to slow it down on offense. The Billikens are dominant inside with 6-foot-6 Brian Conklin (13.9 ppg) and 6-foot-8 Cody Ellis (10.8 ppg) leading the way, which could present a matchup problem for the Explorers and their four-guard lineup.
Prediction: The Explorers will have an advantage in that theyre traveling nearly 1,000 less miles to get to Atlantic City than Saint Louis. But the Billikens are ranked 12th in the nation in the Pomeroy ratings, one indicator of just how good Rick Majerus team is. La Salle will keep it close but expect a quarterfinal exit for the Explorers.
Saint Josephs Hawks
How they got here: Beat Charlotte, 80-64, in first round
Quarterfinal opponent: No. 4 St. Bonaventure (17-11), Friday, 2:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Looking ahead: A St. Joes win would likely set up a semifinal rematch with top-seeded Temple on Saturday at noon with a berth in Sundays 1 p.m. final on the line.
Theyll go on a deep run if They get strong efforts across the board from their five all-league players guards Carl Jones and Langston Galloway and forwards C.J. Aiken, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic. In their first-round rout of Charlotte, all five hit double figures. If the Hawks keep that up, theyll be hard to beat.
Theyll leave Atlantic City early if Andrew Nicholson goes off for the Bonnies. The 2,000-point scorer has the ability to take over games inside, and if hes able to do that, the quarterfinal matchup will tilt in St. Bonaventures favor.
Prediction: Last season, St. Joes barely snuck into the A-10 tournament and then reeled off three straight wins to make a surprising run to the semifinals. With another year of experience under their belt, the battle-tested Hawks will beat St. Bonnies, upset Temple just as they did two weeks ago and then, with an NCAA berth at stake, take home the title. Yes, Im picking St. Joes as the tourneys surprise winner.
How they got here: Earned a first-round bye after winning its first outright regular-season title in 22 years
Quarterfinal opponent: UMass (21-10), Friday, noon, CBS Sports Network
Looking ahead: With a win, the Owls would face the St. Joes-St. Bonnies winner in a Saturday semifinal game at 1 p.m.
Theyll go on a deep run if Micheal Eric has a big tourney. Everyone knows how good the Juan Fernandez-Ramone Moore-Khalif Wyatt backcourt is, but when Eric is dominant inside, theres no team in the league better than the Owls.
Theyll leave Atlantic City early if Chaz Williams gets loose. The tiny UMass guard ran all over the Liacouras Center floor last Wednesday, finishing with 26 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds while keying a frenetic pace. Temple coach Fran Dunphy admitted his team was fortunate to escape with an OT win over UMass last week but they might need more than luck to beat the Minutemen again.
Prediction: Temple captured three straight tourney titles from 2008-10 before falling to Richmond in last years semifinals. The top-seeded Owls are obviously one of the favorites to reclaim the A-10 crown this season but without an NCAA tournament bid on the line, and with tough matchups looming against UMass and possibly St. Joes, I dont think they will.
Email Dave Zeitlin at email@example.com.