Instant Reaction (…a day later): VCU’s 2014 A-10 schedule pairings
The Atlantic 10 released the 2014-15 schedule pairings for the newly expanded 18-game schedule on Thursday and fans around the league have begun their analysis of their path to glory for this upcoming season. Let us do the same.
This home schedule should look very familiar to Ram fans as it was essentially VCU’s home slate in our inaugural season two years ago with the exception of some teams (and recently added ones) who have entered that mix due to the home-and-home pairings.
The Rams knocked off all of Dayton, UMass, GW, Richmond and Saint Joseph’s two seasons ago, and in home-and-homes last year did the same against GW, Richmond and Saint Louis, also beating George Mason in the only meeting between the two this past season. The only team on this list with an A-10 victory over the Rams at the Siegel Center was La Salle. That Explorer team eventually played their way from the First 4 to the Sweet 16 that season, but fell back to Earth last year with the loss of one player, leading scorer Ramone Galloway. La Salle will lose three of their top guards so will be a very different team from the one that defeated VCU two seasons ago. And that’s a solid theme for VCU’s home schedule. The names are sexy, but the programs themselves are doing some serious rebuilding. La Salle, Saint Joseph’s and Saint Louis in particular will look nothing like the teams who visited the Siegel Center over the past two seasons, and could be three of the schools that experiences the largest drops in success from last season to this upcoming one. Two of the tougher home games for the Rams will most likely come from both Dayton and UMass, two teams that, like VCU, have some key losses but return the majority of their production. If the Rams can defeat both they will have a head-to-head tie-breaker against two programs I expect to compete for first round A-10 tournament byes come March. Two of the other marquee contests will come against Richmond and GW, who will both be dangerous next season but as with this past year, are both very beatable at the Siegel Center (average margin of victory over the two: 14 points).
The beauty of VCU’s schedule this season is in getting both UMass and Dayton in Richmond without return games, the black and gold have a very manageable road schedule plus a home court advantage toward earning head-to-head tie-breakers against two of the teams expected to compete for the league title. All of VCU’s four conference losses came on the road last season but were all to teams ranked in the top five of the conference and by an average margin of defeat of just six points, three games of which (SLU, Saint Joseph’s and UMass) came down to the wire. Outside of the home-and-homes, in particular a tough roadie at George Washington, none of VCU’s away games are against teams who will be expected to finish in the top three or four of the conference. That’s not to say that VCU will have a cakewalk, as the Rams visit Saint Louis’ Chafetz Arena where they have yet to win as an Atlantic 10 team, have two rivalry games at both Richmond and George Mason, travel to Olean, NY in what’s a tough St. Bonaventure home court advantage, head to Davidson to play a team coming off a 20-win season and take on a Rhode Island team that many expect will rise toward the top of the league next year. But make no mistake, VCU may very well find themselves the Vegas favorite in every Atlantic 10 game they play this season, perhaps with the exception of another trip to DC to take on GW.
Overall, the Rams combination of talent and favorable schedule should make them the favorite to win their first-ever Atlantic 10 regular season title in 2015. VCU will need to take care of business in the non-conference and make sure they do win those games however, as VCU’s A-10 road slate may not provide enough quality road win opportunities to make much of an impression on the NCAA tournament selection committee.