Don’t be fooled by Dayton’s t-shirts and net-cutting ceremonies last night, there are in fact not one but THREE regular season champions in this year’s Atlantic 10. The Rams are one of those teams joined by Dayton and St. Bonaventure.
Due to the A-10’s unbalanced schedule the Rams played just two games against the group however, defeating St. Bonaventure at home and falling last night by a point in overtime at Dayton. The Flyers and St. Bonaventure had played twice, splitting the series, giving UD the highest winning percentage against that group (also the most home games against that group), thus Dayton will play in Brooklyn as the No.1 seed, VCU the two, Bona the three.
But don’t let that distract you from the fact this VCU team — a team without Shaka, without Treveon and without Briante Weber — came together to win a VCU record 14 Atlantic 10 conference games and the Rams first regular season title since 2009’s CAA title under Anthony Grant.
That deserves a round of applause even if it’s hard to celebrate after a tough road loss last night.
In losing however VCU have may have positioned themselves for more favorable matchups in Brooklyn.
For starters, one thing last night’s loss did was separate the two Richmond city rivals into opposite sides of the bracket. I have no shame in admitting I am quite happy about that fact.
While there’s no guarantee Richmond survives a hot Fordham team (Fordham has won their last four and five of their last six), the Rams would’ve potentially been paired with their cross-town rival in VCU’s first game, having to win a third consecutive contest against the Spiders to advance. VCU has done it before (2013) but as a law of averages guy, I’m a little happy we don’t have to do it again this year.
Survive that contest and you either get a matchup with most likely Saint Joseph’s or George Washington, two teams that proved to be tough matchups for the black and gold this season, but two teams the Rams ultimately went 2-1 against. Still, the Colonials and Saint Joseph’s have the type of teams (large, balanced) that have given VCU trouble all season long.
What they’ll get instead…
GAME 1 – VCU v RHODE ISLAND/UMASS
VCU will first get to watch what should be a very interesting matchup between the Keany blue Rams and the Minutemen of UMass. The two split their regular season series, Rhode Island losing on the road WITH star player Hassan Martin, then routed UMass Thursday WITHOUT him (go figure). Rhode Island lost NBA hopeful EC Matthews in their first game of the season and just lost Martin, so conventional wisdom would suggest a tough road ahead for URI. But after winning by nine at Dayton in their first game without the services of the 6’7 shot-blocking machine, it’s hard to write off the Rams. UMass on the other hand is a team that struggled all season long but managed to beat VCU in their one game earlier this season. The black and gold would love a rematch with the Minutemen but may not get one if Rhode Island, a team VCU routed earlier this season, takes them out first. Both teams will be led by talented guards but both also head into this tournament with major question marks.
GAME 2 – VCU v ST. BONAVENTURE/DAVIDSON/DUQUESNE/LASALLE
I had to list all of those teams but barring a major surprise run, odds are La Salle will be long gone before the Rams would ever see them. I predict Duquense takes them out on Wednesday before setting up what could be a fun matchup with Davidson Thursday night. The winner of that game would then go on to face a high-scoring St. Bonaventure team in what could be an entertaining 9PM shootout at the Barclays Center. Either way, IF VCU can survive their Thursday matchup, they’ll likely play a team with some form of talented guard combination, be it St. Bonaventure’s Marcus Posley and Jaylen Adams (plus 6’7 Dion Wright), Davidson’s Gibbs, Sullivan, Aldridge trio or Colter and Mason of Duquesne. My gut says Bona would be the opponent as the Bonnies are one of the hottest teams in the conference, having won 10 of their last 11 (the one loss being La Salle surprisingly enough, for confusions sake I suppose) and finishing as A-10 co-champs themselves. VCU went 5-0 this season against that bracket line, defeating Davidson twice, surviving a VERY tough test from St. Bonaventure at the Stu and routing both La Salle (on the road) and Duquesne (at home). It’s a guard-driven line but also one that perhaps lacks the talented beef needed to stop a driven Mo Alie-Cox. All four teams rank in the bottom half of the A-10 in adjusted defensive efficiency as well.
GAME 3 – A-10 CHAMPIONSHIP
The Rams would need to win two to get here and if they do would have appeared in an A-10 title game all four of their seasons in the Atlantic 10 conference. They would also have a chance to repeat as tournament champs but simply making it to this point would be a great accomplishment for VCU.
The biggest downside to last night’s loss was perhaps locking up an NCAA tournament at-large bid. That most likely would have been the case had the Rams picked up a road win at Dayton but with bubble teams dropping all around them are still in decent position to make it back to the tournament, but will need to finish strong (my gut says one A-10 tourny win could be enough, but to be safe, two would be preferred).
Here’s how the leading bracketologist see things playing out for the Rams.
ESPN – IN, 10-seed
CBS – IN, 10-seed
NBC – IN, 11-seed
USA Today – IN, 11-seed, Last Four In team No.1
RAMS SAVING THEIR BULLETS FOR MARCH RUN?
One thing that will need improving for VCU to make a go through any upcoming tournament is the Rams’ shooting, particularly from distance. VCU shot just 25% from deep in last night’s loss at Dayton, a team that has actually struggled to defend the three this season, shot an abysmal 7.1% against Davidson in the game prior and had a recent 22.7% night in the tough loss at George Mason. It’s not completely surprising that the black and gold struggled inside the arc against both Dayton and Mason, two teams that have defended the paint well this season, but overall the Rams offense just hasn’t looked like the team that blazed through the early A-10 season, scoring 80 or more points (90+ twice) in nine of their first 14 A-10 contests as well as three consecutive games leading up to the A-10 season.