Last year, this would’ve been just another Tuesday in June at VCU Athletics HQ. Instead, the Atlantic 10 (16!) released men’s basketball home and road opponents for each school Tuesday, sending the Twitterverse into a type of frenzy normally reserved for March Madness and Kate Middleton.
In a 16-team league, VCU wasn’t going to get every team on its wish list at home. There’s only 16 games with which to see the league, eight of them on the road. How did the Rams do? In terms of Buzz Factor, pretty good.
The Rams will partner and play home and home with Richmond. That was essentially a given. After that, the only thing anybody cared about was which teams were coming to the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, sponsored by Goody’s, McDonald’s, M&M’s and Nationwide, brought to you by Gatorade?
Here’s who will be visiting: Butler, Dayton, Fordham, George Washington, LaSalle, UMass, Richmond and Saint Joseph’s. That’s a pretty good slate right there. Butler, Dayton, UMass and Saint Joe’s all have varying degrees of name-recognition.
This is my quickie “must-see” meter for VCU’s A-10 home dates:
Team (2011-12 record; RPI)
1-Butler (22-15, 11-7 Horizon; 106): Once Butler announced it was joining the A-10 next season, this has been the game Ram fans wanted at The Stu. The VCU faithful have coveted a revenge shot the Bulldogs since Butler halted the Rams’ stunning Final Four run in Houston in 2011. I’m hoping for national television (are you listening, ESPN?) and a Shakaville tent city outside the arena. Butler has nine of its top 10 scorers returning next season and should be one of the A-10 favorites (along with VCU, of course).
2-Richmond (16-16, 7-9 A-10; 131): Only Old Dominion evokes stronger feelings from VCU fans than Richmond. Despite a distance of just eight miles between campuses, the two schools are vastly different. The Rams dominated the Spiders last season to the tune of a 73-51 win at the Siegel Center, but UR should continue to improve in 2012-13.
3-Massachusetts (25-12, 9-7 A-10; 62): The Minutemen play a style inspired by VCU’s “Havoc” and have stud point guard Chaz Williams (formerly of Hofstra) leading the charge. UMass will be a contender for the A-10 title and from a pure entertainment standpoint, this might be the best conference game of VCU’s season.
4-Saint Joseph’s (20-14, 9-7 A-10; 77): Although their last Elite Eight run was back in 2004, Saint Joseph’s has managed to retain a measure of its marquee status. The Hawks, led by longtime coach Phil Martelli (never dull) remained in the at-large conversation last season before fading into an NIT bid. However, there’s plenty of talent back to vault Saint Joe’s into the mix again.
5-Dayton (20-13, 9-7 A-10; 91): One of the most underrated programs around, Dayton has a rich basketball history and a terrific fan base. Ram fans will remember UD Arena fondly as the launching pad for VCU’s Final Four run. The Flyers were another NIT squad last year and have a terrific guard returning in Kevin Dillard (13.3 ppg, 6.0 apg). Plus, former VCU Coach Anthony Grant went to Dayton, giving the Rams a chance to beat both Grant and his alma mater in 2012-13 (Grant-coached Alabama will visit VCU next season as well).
6-LaSalle (21-13, 9-7 A-10; 95): In recent years, VCU and LaSalle have recently staged preseason, closed door scrimmages, so there’s some familiarity there. The Explorers are also a program on the way up, earning an NIT berth last season.
7-George Washington (10-21, 5-11 A-10; 189): VCU and GW were actually already slated to play in 2012-13, so you were getting this game no matter what. That said, there is some recent history between the two schools. The Rams beat the Colonials in Washington, D.C. in the first round of the CBI in 2009 and then again in the BB&T Classic at the Verizon Center last year. George Washington was down last year, but has been a solid program for some time.
8-Fordham (10-21, 3-13 A-10; 243): Coach Tom Pecora turned heads three years ago when he left moderately successful Hofstra for moribund Fordham. But these days, people are…actually, people are still shaking their heads. The Rams (the Fordham ones) were 10-19 last season, including 3-13 in the A-10, good for last place. Fordham is 17-40 in two seasons with Pecora at the helm. Can he turn it around? The Fordham administration sure thinks so. They just signed Pecora to a contract extension through 2016-17.
Meanwhile, these are VCU’s road match-ups for next season’s league schedule: Charlotte, Temple, Xavier, Duquesne, Rhode Island, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Louis, Richmond.
Would’ve loved to have Temple at the Siegel Center before they leave the A-10 in 2013-14, but you win some, you lose some. Meanwhile, VCU will play all four A-10 NCAA Tournament teams from last season on the road (Xavier, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Louis and Temple). On paper, that looks brutal, but out of that group, only Saint Louis won’t have to replace major pieces next year.
From a fan’s perspective, I’m liking the drivable road trip to Philly for cheesesteaks and hoops. Charlotte and Duquesne are also less than six hours each. Xavier is a haul, but totally worth the 9-10 hour drive every two years. If you can afford the flight, Saint Louis has a great 10,000-seat arena and is considered the A-10 favorite by many. Saint Bonaventure is…I mean…I’m sure Olean, N.Y. is a nice town and all…uh…I’ll get back to you.