AllinA10-InsideRICHMOND, Va. – It was 17 years ago, on Jan. 4, 1996 in Williamsburg, that VCU defeated William & Mary 70-47 in the Rams’ first Colonial Athletic Association contest in front of 2,868 brave souls. In the years since, the tales of that night have been retold countless times fawned over by…nobody. Six days later, when the Rams hosted George Mason in the school’s first CAA home game, 2,911 enthusiastically “packed” the Richmond Coliseum.

It’s different this time around for VCU.

On Jan. 9, VCU will host Dayton in the first Atlantic 10 Conference game in school history. It’s a game against one of the league’s better teams, but in reality, it’s more than just one game. It’s an event. It signifies a new direction for the VCU Basketball program. When was the last time a conference-opener meant so much to so many VCU people? Maybe the Rams’ first Sun Belt game in 1979, but I doubt it.

While the marriage of VCU and the CAA in 1995 was one of convenience – the Rams had been recently booted out of the Metro Conference – this time VCU is exactly where it wants to be: In a chic, nationally-recognized, basketball-centric conference that is riding a wave of positive momentum.

Since July, when school President Dr. Michael Rao announced the move to the Newport News-based league, coaches, players, fans and even the guys in the concession stands have waited breathlessly to watch VCU measure itself against the Butlers and the Temples and the Xaviers of the world. They’ve aimed to join a basketball universe where a 16-2 conference record is worth more than a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. VCU hasn’t worn white in an NCAA Tournament game since 1985. Don’t think we haven’t noticed.

So now it’s here. VCU’s A-10 schedule will be bookended in March with a farewell to departing Temple, a game televised nationally on CBS. Not CBS Sports Network, not some far-flung Internet arm of CBS, but regular old CBS, right next to NCIS and however many incarnations of CSI still exist. Packed into the middle of all that are a Final Four rematch with Butler, a home date with league preseason favorite Saint Joseph’s, two intra-city rivalry tilts with Richmond and more. It all concludes in March with the A-10 Tournament at the sparkling Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

It’s all new and exciting, but not exciting just because it’s new. When the novelty wears off, people will be happy to find that the A-10 is a terrific conference and great home for VCU.

In its first CAA season, the Rams captured the league crown. Can they do the same in the Atlantic 10?

In their first CAA season, the Rams captured the league crown. Can they do the same in the Atlantic 10?

Below, A-10 schools are listed in the order they were ranked in the league’s preseason coaches poll. Teams are displayed with their records, RPI and Ken Pomeroy ranking. The purpose of this graphic is to illustrate the depth of the A-10. There are nine Atlantic 10 schools listed in Ken Pomeroy’s top 100, the same number as the Big Ten. Meanwhile, nine Atlantic 10 teams also ranked in the top 100 in RPI.

At the heart of VCU’s move to the Atlantic 10 was a desire to elevate the men’s basketball program. It was believed that staying in the CAA would hamper, not help, the Rams in that regard. Playing in a league with better programs, richer history and greater resources would, in theory, boost VCU’s RPI and improve perception of the program. We only have half a season of data to work with, but the early returns are promising.

The A-10 is currently the seventh-ranked conference in terms of RPI (ahead of the Missouri Valley and the SEC), while the CAA has sunk from a high of 10th in 2010-11 to 25th this year. Just one CAA school, George Mason, is ranked in the RPI top 150. There are 12 Atlantic 10 teams in the RPI top 150. This isn’t meant to pile on the CAA, which was very good for VCU. But the reality is that this is turning into one of the CAA’s worst seasons in more than a decade.

Meanwhile, VCU’s star has continued to rise. The Rams have been picked by a number of national outlets to win the A-10 in its debut season. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. Butler was picked sixth in the A-10 Preseason Poll, but has scored some of the league’s most impressive wins, beating North Carolina and top-ranked Indiana. Meanwhile, Temple knocked off No. 4 Syracuse, Saint Joseph’s topped Notre Dame, Charlotte won its first nine contests, Saint Louis just got its best player back from injury, and Xavier has retooled its roster faster than expected. It’s impossible to predict that the next two-plus months have in store for VCU, but it should be fun to watch.

SCHOOL                           REC.            RPI       KENPOM
1-Saint Joseph’s……………..8-4              69               57
2-Saint Louis…………………11-3             56               40
3-VCU………………………….12-3             32               10
4-Temple……………………..10-3             27               55
5-UMass………………………10-3             47              124
6-Butler……………………….12-2             18               53
7-La Salle……………………..10-3             48               60
8-Dayton…………………….10-4             76               71
9-Xavier………………………7-6             112             107
10-Richmond……………….10-5            107              81
11-St. Bonaventure…………7-6             152             110
12-Charlotte………………….12-2             86               96
13-George Washington…….6-7             198             120
14-Fordham…………………4-11            248             247
15-Rhode Island……………5-8             182             188
16-Duquesne………………..7-7             143             207

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