RICHMOND, Va. – State Champs.
It’s a bit of a running joke among VCU fans that the Rams were going for a state championship this year, with Virginia, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion, George Mason and Richmond – i.e. the five best Division I programs in Virginia not named VCU – on the schedule. But now, with Thursday’s 56-50 triumph over Richmond, the Rams have actually “swept the state”, finishing 6-0 against those schools (barring any postseason meetings). Perhaps it’s important to recognize that and understand what it means, if anything.
First and foremost, VCU will receive nothing tangible for winning those six games (beating Richmond twice). This isn’t Philadelphia’s Big Five. There’s no trophy, no special recognition, not even a Chuck E Cheese pizza party for winning this thing we made up on the fly. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. It matters to the fans, who have stroked the fires of these intrastate rivalries. It also matters because going 6-0 against that group means you probably won some quality games.
It also mattered to Shaka Smart and the players. If you listened to Smart’s press conference Thursday night, you could gauge the importance.
According to VCU Sports Information Director Scott Day, this has never happened before. No school from these six programs (including VCU), has swept the group in the same season. You don’t think that’s a great recruiting tool? “Hey, (insert player name), you know those other Virginia schools that are recruiting you? Yeah, we beat them. All of them.”
But that’s long-term thinking. In the short term, this was about giving a set of players a goal and leading them toward it.
“We also challenged our guys in this way,” Smart said. “Nobody’s ever won every game in a series between the six teams that probably would be thought of as probably the best teams in the state of Virginia. We don’t play for any kind of state title. That’s not how things work. But nobody’s ever done it, so whenever you have a chance to do something for the first time it means a lot.“
So don’t underestimate what motivational tools Smart will use if they’re at his disposal. It should also tell us something about VCU’s mindset for Saturday’s regular season finale with St. Bonaventure at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
The Rams are currently 23-7 overall and 11-4 in the Atlantic 10. VCU is tied with Saint Joseph’s and a game behind Saint Louis. While tiebreaker scenarios mean the Rams cannot win the top overall seed in the A-10 Tournament, the Rams, with a Saint Louis loss at UMass Saturday, can secure a share of the conference regular season crown.
The fact that VCU’s game with the Bonnies won’t start until long after the outcome of the Saint Louis/UMass contest has been decided doesn’t matter much. Because at practice tomorrow and in shootaround on Saturday, you can bet that will be a constant source of motivation. And why wouldn’t it? A share of the league title in a conference that is currently predicted to send six teams to the NCAA Tournament? Who wouldn’t hang their hat on something like that?
So while there will be no banner hung following Thursday’s win at Richmond, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.
Thursday’s win was the 134th for Smart as VCU’s coach. He trails only Sonny Smith’s 136 wins on the Rams’ all-time list… Briante Weber added to his expanding list of accomplishments by picking up 109 steals to break the Atlantic 10 Conference single-season record. Weber also holds the league’s single-game record of 10 against Florida Gulf Coast last season… VCU’s 56 points were a season low…Briante Weber picked up his fourth foul with a little more than 11 minutes remaining and the Rams’ trailing 40-34. VCU promptly responded with a 10-0 run.