First thing tomorrow morning I depart for Brooklyn, NY in a packed car full of some of my best friends en route to my favorite trip of the year. Our annual pilgrimage to the Big Apple combines my love of college basketball, good times with friends and tons of free food via the wonderful folks at the Atlantic 10 conference and Barclays Center.
If you’ve never made the trip I can’t begin to describe how much fun it is. I can however preview this year’s field and the road VCU must take on a path to their first ever Atlantic 10 title.
GAME 1 – VCU v MASON/FORDHAM (2:30PM Thursday)
VCU’s first opponent will have a quick turnaround playing some 18 hours after a Wednesday night contest to open the tournament. The Rams are 3-0 against the two possible opponents, having defeated Fordham by 17 points earlier this season (pre-Bri injury), then sweeping George Mason, winning by an average margin of victory of 11.5 points per game, both games however were close down the stretch. Fordham knocked the Patriots out of last year’s tournament in a similar play-in game and won at George Mason earlier this season, 80-68. Despite that fact Fordham remains a 2-point underdog in their own city when the two teams tip it up tonight.
GAME 2 – VCU v RICHMOND (2:30PM Friday)
If VCU can survive what would be a major upset on Thursday night, the Rams would advance to take on Richmond in hopes of breaking a two-game losing streak to the Spiders. VCU dropped a disappointing home contest to Richmond then rallied from 16 points down at the Robins Center, almost snatching victory from the hands of defeat before quickly handing it right back. Richmond is a terrible matchup for VCU as the Spiders rank third in A-10 play at shooting the ball and are 15th nationally in turnover offense. That said, the Rams nearly knocked off Richmond in an away game despite shooting an abysmal 32.8% from the field including 15.8% from distance. I can tell you from personal experience (last year, reverse scenario) that it is incredibly scary having to beat a team for the third time in a row, but this time when it matters most. Richmond’s two regular season wins were nice for Spider fans but that joy vanishes if the Spiders season is ended (technically NIT games would await) by a team they’ve already beaten twice.
GAME 3 – VCU v WINNER of DAVIDSON v LA SALLE/UMASS (2:30PM Saturday)
VCU would be riding a three-game winning streak by this point and would need every bit of that momentum to get past a Davidson team that absolutely obliterated the Rams on March 5 (by 27 points, the Rams’ worst loss under head coach Shaka Smart). HOWEVA’, this is March, so don’t be shocked if one of either La Salle or UMass are able to use their size advantage over Davidson to deliver an early A-10 tourney surprise. That said, Davidson is a big favorite to get to this point so assuming the Rams are able to make it this far they would need a defensive effort similar to the one they displayed when they beat the Cats by six points earlier this season (held the Cats to 37.3% shooting and 35.7% from deep). Like Richmond, Davidson isn’t the best matchup for the Rams. The Wildcats have the fourth most prolific scoring offense in the country and are the third best team nationally at not turning the ball over. Where teams can hurt the Cats is in attacking the paint. VCU however has not really done that, having a tendency to depend on the three-ball despite the Rams inability to be very effective from range (33.2% from deep ranks 218th nationally).
GAME 4 – ATLANTIC 10 CHAMPIONSHIP (1PM Sunday)
It’s strange to think VCU is a longshot to make it to this point after being the unanimous preseason No.1 (well, technically they aren’t, they are the No.3 favorite in the conference to win it all), but the path the Rams must traverse to get to Sunday with those matchup issues against Richmond and Davidson would make just getting here a major victory. If the Rams do, watch out. VCU has much better matchups on the other side of the bracket and would most likely be favored to win it by this point. VCU’s depth would also help in absorbing the minutes played over a four-day period whereas previous Rams teams might not have been able to handle that amount of action.
KENPOM ODDS OF ADVANCING
SHOTS MUST FALL
Make no mistake, a new and improved better shooting version of VCU must show up in Brooklyn or it could be a quick and disappointing trip for Ram fans. VCU lost three of their last four contests and allowed George Mason to hang around in a senior night game at the Stu despite turning over the Patriots 24 times (Mason was within 6 points with under three minutes to play). The Rams shot 36.2% from the field over that stretch including an ice-cold 21.3% from three-point range. VCU’s trip through Brooklyn could consist of four games against those exact four teams (although Fordham is leading Mason by six at the half at the time of this blog post).