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Longtime fan breaks down CAA tournament

One of the biggest perks of running VCURamNation.com has been getting to know many of the folks who make VCU basketball such a joy to be a part of. We’ve interviewed players, met coaches, but more than anything have gotten closer to other fans through the games and our thriving message board community.

One of those fans is an all-time great. Known for his famous “streak”, Rick Childers is the ultimate eye test, in that he hasn’t relied on radio calls or tweets to find out how the Rams are doing. Fact is, if VCU is playing — be it in Cancun, Reno or Raleigh — he is there.

Heading into this year’s CAA tournament we decided to turn to the Childers to gauge his thoughts heading into this season’s clash for the CAA crown, hoping that the seasoned vet (Rick that’s no knock on your age) could calm our nerves as the Rams battle to return to the NCAA tournament.

Childres: “Let me start this by saying I’m a VCU homer. This entire discussion is based upon my opinions as a VCU fan. So sure, my opinions are biased. But being so, I think I try to be more critical of VCU and examine my opinions about other teams with more open eyes. I’m also an analytical person who likes facts. I often say, the numbers are what the numbers are. Simple as that.

I have been hanging around the CAA tournament since before VCU joined the conference. Since VCU joined I have attended every game. Not every VCU game- EVERY GAME. I love the CAA and hope we never leave. I’d like to see us add a few stronger teams. I think that if we play it right as a conference, someday we will be one of the power basketball conferences.

What I have tried to do below is to look at this year in the CAA by looking at the actual numbers and comparing what the reality is as compared to the perception is. See, on the basketball court, perception IS NOT reality. We can perceive a team to good or bad, when in fact they are not. I tend to rely on numbers rather than great players. Tell me how a team did throughout a season and I will bet you that most of the time the trend will continue. Players have good games and bad games. But a good team usually overcomes a single player having a bad game.

This has been a strange year for the CAA in general. Gone are the years where six or seven losses would keep you from playing on Friday. Now, with the unbalanced schedules, teams don’t play everyone twice, and in some cases, some teams got far easier schedules than teams they are competing with for position. So it makes it much harder to judge who is playing good and who is playing not as good. The fact is, the winner will come from one of the top five teams. I don’t think any team out of the top five have a chance to win it all. Even worse, I think there is one team in the top four that has no chance of winning it all. More on who that team is later.

The CAA this year is a conference of have and have-nots. The top three have distinguished themselves by winning against the rest of the conference. The combined records of the top three against the rest of the conference is 41-5. Of those five losses, Georgia State and Delaware account for four and Northeastern the fifth. Nobody other than those three teams have beat any of the top 3.

Which brings us back to the unbalanced schedule.

Take Drexel for example. How good are they actually? Do we really know? Their schedule gave them only three games against the other top four teams. Sure, they won all three, but two of those games were at home, and the third was a team (ODU) that lost four games to the other two (GMU and VCU). Drexel has won 24 of their last 25, but 13 of those games were against teams that have a +200 RPI. Drexel has a strength of schedule of 235. Not stellar at all. But they have beat the teams they played, and beat Cleveland State badly in the Bracketbuster game.

So, should we worry about them? Sure, but in the VCU game at DU we shot poorly from the field (36.2%) and free throws (45%), and lost by six. Right those problems and I would expect a good game, but one in which VCU would prevail. Now we hear they may have problems with a player being suspended. They had a short bench to start with, but this will be the final nail in the coffin. They will win one, then fall Sunday.

This brings us to GMU. They are a gritty and tough team. But from watching them play they seem to lose focus a lot. It also seems like the players argue with each other a lot, and that the coach does not have control of the players at times. I don’t fault him for this. We have seen it here at VCU at times. A new coach comes in and has problems with players who were there before him. You have to question the amount of respect they have for him. How many players did we lose during these types of transitions? I think we may be seeing the same problem up in Fairfax.

Outside of the top three GMU lost to Delaware (there they are again) and Northeastern. But sorry, I question their win again VCU, and the second game they got blown out. In the first game in Fairfax, VCU had the game in hand and went into a delay game. The “let’s kill some clock” game always seems to turn into a “let’s kill the win” game. Usually against a lesser team VCU still pulls it out. But against a good team it does not always work. At GMU, VCU saw a couple good shots go in, and one desperation shot fall to end the game. So what does that say about Mason? Not much in my book. It says we should not let up. And in Richmond just 10 days later, we didn’t and the results are much different. We beat them if we get a chance to play them again.

Now Old Dominion. They are zip and five against the top three. They have a great player in Bazemore, but not much else. With Trian Ilidas going down with an injury, they will struggle. They have a tough match-up with Delaware, should Delaware beat Towson. I’m betting ODU does not make it past Saturday. It took them overtime to beat Delaware the only time they played. And Delaware is a better team now then they were then. If they do get past Delaware, Drexel slides into the final on Monday after a walk through on Sunday. ODU is too short handed, simple as that.

Which brings me to Delaware. They are the great unknown at this point. They started off slow, but really came on strong at the end to finish 5th. Eight wins in a row, but only one against a top tier team. But they get to play Towson in the first game and a short-benched Drexel on Saturday. That, in my book, moves them to Sunday against ODU, who needed overtime to beat them in early January. Delaware is better now, and ODU is worse sans Ilidas. Delaware will play in the final. But as good as they may have become, they will be no match for Havoc 3.0, having to play in their forth game in four days against a very deep VCU.

Not much I can say about VCU most of you don’t already know. At 25-6, we are far ahead of were most of us would have imaged in October. Our 15-3 conference record is remarkable for a team as young as we are, and the future looks bright. The future also starts Saturday. There is not a team in this conference that scares me. This is very different from years when I did not want to play certain teams. Not this year. We are the deepest team in the CAA, bar none. We lead the nation in steals. We play tough defense. And we will be playing what is equivalent of a home game each day. The early losses do not worry me. November was just a time for new players to come together and learn a new system and responsibilities. The rest was an outstanding accomplishment for team that was in a constant learning environment. If we don’t have our worst shooting night in 12 years against GSU in Richmond; make a couple more free throws in Philly; and one desperation shot does not drop in Fairfax, our rebuilding year would have been undefeated after November. Pretty impressive. We will win it all. Period.

The CAA tournament being in Richmond gives us a real advantage. Many VCU fans would travel if it was elsewhere; but let’s be real here…we would not have the student support or the casual fan support if it was moved. Rather than try to defend the decision to keep it here, I simply embrace it. It is here, I did not have a vote, you did not have a vote, so deal with it.

On a final thought, we as VCU fans and residents of the Greater Richmond area have a responsibility to treat those from out of town with respect. When they think of Richmond, their memory will be guided by how they are treated. When you put that VCU gear on you become an ambassador of the University. So if you are tired of VCU fans being called classless, obscene, or obnoxious, then don’t be. Make it your mission to find someone who needs help and help them. Tell them where to go…to eat, to drink, or to just see some sights. Remember that sooner or later the tournament will be moved and that will be you lost in some unfamiliar city.

So enjoy the games. Cheer loud. AND GO VCU!”

You can join Rick and other Ram fans as VCU takes on the winner of the William & Mary versus Northeastern game, Saturday 6PM at the Richmond Coliseum.

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VCU School of the Arts (BFA '07) and Center for Sport Leadership (M.Ed. '10) alumnus, Mat has followed VCU basketball since the Sunbelt days when he'd attend games with his father. Worked as a graduate assistant in the VCU Sports Information Department for the '09-'10 season, but has covered VCU basketball for VCURamNation.com since 2007.