2014-15 A-10 PAIRINGS RELEASED

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Here are VCU Men’s Basketball’s Atlantic 10 pairings for the 2014-15 season. The Rams will play home-and-home series with Davidson, George Mason, George Washington, Saint Louis and Richmond. I love that the league appears to have taken geography into account. VCU already enjoys a fantastic rivalry with Richmond, while the Rams also have strong recent history with Saint Louis and (as of last year) George Washington, and George Mason. Given Davidson’s history and location, VCU could have another budding rivalry on its hands there as well.

You will notice the league has officially shifted from a 16-game conference slate to an 18-game schedule. Given the 14-team makeup of the league, it was probably inevitable.

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Fans should really enjoy (at least) the names coming to the Siegel Center in 2015. On paper, the Rams will have a really strong A-10 home schedule, not that VCU was having trouble moving tickets.

For league-wide pairings for next season, click here.

MATTERS OF CONSISTENCY

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VCU has won sixth straight games and 11 of its last 12.

VCU has won sixth straight games and 11 of its last 12.

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s not enough to just be talented or skilled or, in the simplest sense, good. The key to being good is replicating that performance. It’s consistency.

I mean, Bruce Willis isn’t Bruce Willis because he makes one Die Hard movie where he levels entire office buildings, airports and the East Coast in 120 minutes of one-liner-muttering splendor. Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis because he can do that five times.

Forgive my affection for bloated, Willisian action cinema. The point is, consistency is a skill in and of itself. High-end potential is great, but it can be a maddening pursuit when you’re only teased the best on occasion. There are plenty of basketball teams out there that haven’t mastered the skill of consistency. Speaking strictly on a macro level, Kentucky is a good example. There are probably 7-8 future NBA players on that team. Sometimes, they look like a terrific, cohesive unit, others a storm of wasted motion and discombobulation. Consistency is a skill as valuable as any other.

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MEN’S HOOPS: A-10 PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

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A10Just because some of the teams have changed, due to the revolving door of conference realignment, it doesn’t mean picking the A-10 this year has gotten any easier.

Although I felt very comfortable with my picks 1-4, spots 5-9 (and possibly 5-13) are sort of shrug picks. As in, I think this team will finish here, but *shrug*, who really knows? There’s a ton of depth in the A-10 this season, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see teams like George Mason, Richmond or Rhode Island (to name just a few) shock some folks. I think three NCAA bids is a reasonable goal for the A-10 this year, but five is certainly attainable.

1-VCU
2012-13 Record: 27-9 (12-4 A-10)
Comments:
Although there are still questions about who will replace point guard Darius Theus, this is Shaka Smart’s deepest, most talented group in five seasons at VCU. The Rams will likely open the season ranked in the top 25 (already No. 15 in the Coaches Poll) behind potential NBA draft pick Juvonte Reddic and 2012-13 breakout star Treveon Graham. Human cannonball Briante Weber spearheads the Rams’ chaos-inducing Havoc defense that has led the country in turnover percentage two straight seasons.

And, should I bring up guys like Rob Brandenberg (a rock), Melvin Johnson (a sizzle video waiting to happen), the addition of ACC-quality big man Terrance Shannon (impressed at Black & Gold Game) or the Rams’ influx of a talent-rich freshman class. VCU fans are pretty amped about the coming season, and deservedly so.

Although the Rams have been a nearly-consensus media pick to win the A-10, and were ranked 15th nationally in the USA Today Coaches Preseason Poll, it doesn’t appear that VCU will shy away from the high expectations.

“We’ve always had high expectations for ourselves within our program,” says VCU Coach Shaka Smart. “We want to be at a place where there are high expectations for us. That’s the way VCU is.”

2-Saint Louis
2012-13 Record: 28-7 (13-3)
Comments:
Jim Crews masterfully directed Saint Louis in 2012-13 following the death of coach Rick Majerus, and he’s got the horses to do it again this year. Bruising forward Dwayne Evans (14.0 ppg, 7.7) along with guards Mike McCall Jr. (9.3 ppg) and Jordair Jett (9.0 ppg, 3.2 apg) offer a balanced offensive attack to compliment the Billikens’ stingy defensive-minded approach.

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ICYMI: A-10 MEDIA DAY – ‘VCU IS THE PLACE TO BE’

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The Atlantic 10 Conference held its annual media day Tuesday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. As we all know, media day is all about getting hard-hitting stories and really getting to the heart and soul of college basketball. Observe:

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See? Your understanding of Shaka Smart, the man, has grown exponentially through that video. You’re welcome. There were plenty of other rumblings from Barclays. He’s some of the best stuff.

VCU fans will no doubt enjoy this interview. Here, Shaka Smart says he wants to “spread the word” about VCU.

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But there’s more…

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AND THEN THERE WERE 14 (AGAIN)

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Davidson_Combo_LogoRICHMOND, Va. – The tectonic shifting of Division I realignment has rumbled again, and this time it shook out favorably for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

The league trumpeted the addition of Davidson Wednesday for the 2014-15 season, just weeks after George Mason announced it would leave the CAA and would also join the A-10.

“Davidson is an ideal fit for the Atlantic 10 – as a nationally recognized academic Institution complimented by excellence in a broad-based athletic program — the Wildcats will be competitive immediately. Their success in men’s basketball is important, bringing another nationally recognized brand into the league,” A-10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade said Wednesday in a prepared release.

George Mason will become an A-10 member this summer, restoring a strong in-state rivalry with VCU. It also means the league will operate with 13 full members in 2013-14 and then – presumably – 14 in 2014-15.

In the short and long term, this is a boon for the Newport News, Va.-based Atlantic 10. The A-10 will lose four members this summer, Temple (All-American), Charlotte (Conference USA), Butler (Big East) and Xavier (Big East), but McGlade wasted little time shoring up the league.

From a men’s basketball perspective, which, realistically, is the driver in all this, the additions of George Mason and Davidson should be well-received. Given the landscape of college athletics these days, you could make a strong argument that these were the two most attractive and realistic targets for the A-10. Actually, that’s exactly the argument I’m making. The league adds two strong basketball programs with strong history in attractive TV markets; two schools which have each established themselves on the national scene at different points in the last eight years.

It would be impossible to completely replace programs like Xavier, Temple and Butler in a single year, but these are good moves nonetheless. If you count Davidson, seven of the A-10’s 14 schools finished in the top 100 in RPI last year.

Here’s a comparison of what the A-10 will gain the next two years to the schools that will depart (click to enlarge):

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MY ALL ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE AWARDS

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A10PrimaryThe Atlantic 10 Conference is procedurally different from the CAA in a number of areas, including voting for All-Conference awards. Whereas the CAA used a pool of 48 media members, SIDs and coaches, the A-10 is a strictly coaches voting pool. That doesn’t mean we have to sit this one out, however. We have a blog, you know.

Also, these picks were a part of the Duquesne Sports Blog’s voting pool for their All A-10 awards, so feel free to check out how the collective A-10 blogosphere feels.

Below are what would be my All Atlantic 10 Conference picks. Feel free to discuss, but take it easy on me. I’m sensitive.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Khalif Wyatt, Temple
Why:
I didn’t really need further confirmation, but after Sunday’s performance against VCU, it took me all of about four seconds to write in Wyatt’s name here. The 6-foot-4 senior guard, who has five 30-point performances this season, leads the league in scoring (19.9 ppg) is seventh in assists (4.1 apg) and ninth in steals (1.6 spg). Easy pick.|
Also considered: I’m checking to see if Jameer Nelson is eligible.

First Team
Khalif Wyatt, Temple
Rotnei Clarke, Butler
Ramon Galloway, La Salle
Juvonte Reddic, VCU
Treveon Graham, VCU

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LIKE A (PONTIAC) G6: CAR CHATTER ON 95 SOUTH

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3777914554-1INTERSTATE 95 – There’s plenty of road separating Philadelphia and Richmond, most of it I-95 blacktop.

I was honored to chauffeur VCU hoopologist Mike Litos yesterday. There’s plenty of opportunity during that four-hour, 250-mile drive to discuss everything from affairs on the domestic fronts, to offbeat basketball stories from yesteryear, to how much caffeine is “safe” for daily intake.

We also talked a lot of VCU hoops yesterday. On the ride home, after we licked our wounds and recalled key moments of Sunday’s 84-76 loss at Temple, we took a step back (figuratively, of course). Mike did a nice job analyzing the Xs and Os of the game in his blog post today, so there’s no need for me to play that shot.

Since yesterday marked the end of the regular season, it seemed like a logical time to survey the Rams’ body of work. The question we asked each other was, regardless of Sunday’s outcome, if on Nov. 1, 2012, if I would have offered you a 24-7 regular season finish, including 12-4 in the A-10, two top 25 wins, several weeks in the top 25 and an all-but-assured at-large berth, would you take it? Of course you would. I would knock over my own grandma to shake hands on that one.

It’s a strange feeling, Mike and I agreed. For the first time in my tenure here at VCU, I’m not white-knuckling NCAA bubble teams’ results on Sportscenter. It’s liberating, quite frankly. Two years ago, Kentucky’s upset over Florida this weekend would’ve had me kicking trash cans. Not yesterday. The only emotion I felt was, meh – which is to say, no real emotion at all. It’s a nice change.

Theoretically, if the Rams had finished 16-2 in the CAA and lost in the semifinals this weekend, would we feel the same way? The best RPI – THE BEST – in the CAA right now is Delaware’s 132, so you tell me. Eleven of the 12 teams that qualified for the A-10 tournament have a better RPI than 132. VCU won six top 100 games in conference play this season. Even if the Rams had finished 18-0 in the CAA, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as valuable as those six A-10 wins.

So, while Sunday’s loss stung, as all losses do, I’m enjoying the long view today. The regular season was incredibly successful. Now it’s time to rattle some cages in Brooklyn.

ATLANTIC 10 TIEBREAKER SCENARIOS

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Here are the relevant A-10 Tournament tiebreaker scenarios, as explained by Xavier blogger Shannon Russell (Click here for the full rundown). The Rams meet Temple Sunday in Philadelphia, while Saint Louis hosts La Salle Saturday.

Saint Louis – Currently the top seed. Can solidify No. 1 seed with a win over La Salle or a loss by VCU.

VCU – Currently the No. 2 seed. Can claim No. 1 seed with win over Temple and loss by Saint Louis. A Saint Louis win would give them the No. 2 seed whether they win or lose. A loss by VCU and a La Salle win (over SLU) would create three-way tie, with La Salle getting the No. 1 seed, SLU getting the No. 2 seed and VCU the No. 3 seed.

La Salle – Currently the No. 3 seed. Can claim No. 1 seed with win over Saint Louis and VCU loss. Can claim the No. 2 seed with a Saint Louis win and VCU win. (VCU to No. 1 seed, St. Louis to No. 3 seed.) A loss to Saint Louis and wins by Temple and two wins by Butler creates three-way tie. All three split with the other two, so it would go to record against best common opponents. If SLU won the A10, Temple would get the No. 3 seed, La Salle the 4 and Butler the 5. If VCU won the A10, La Salle would be the No. 3 seed, Temple the No. 4 seed and Butler the No. 5 seed.  If La Salle loses and is tied with Butler only, La Salle would be the No. 3 seed, Butler the No. 4 seed.  If La Salle loses and is tied with Temple only, Temple is the No. 3 seed and La Salle the No. 4 seed.

ON NATIONAL STAGE, VCU, HAVOC STAR IN STATEMENT WIN

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Senior Troy Daniels provided a game-high 20 points in VCU's win over Butler Saturday.

Senior Troy Daniels provided a game-high 20 points in VCU’s win over Butler Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – Moments before his team took the floor for Saturday’s highly anticipated game with 20th-ranked Butler, VCU Coach Shaka Smart wrote two simple words on a whiteboard in the locker room: Be VCU.

What followed was one of the most thorough dissections of a top 25 team you’ll ever see, an 84-52 browbeating that should turn heads. VCU was everything Smart wanted and more. The Rams were VCU, but they were VCU in the Hulk’s body, wearing Superman’s cape. VCU was about as good a version of itself as possible. The Rams were the Five Horsemen of Havoc, laying waste to the Bulldogs in a way not seen in Coach Brad Stevens six seasons. It was Butler’s worst loss in a conference game since the 1985-86 season.

It’s Smart’s job to find the wrong in VCU’s performance Saturday, but he’s going to dig a little deeper this time around.

“I don’t think this game went perfectly at all,” he said. “I thought our response to what happened was close to perfect…if anything was perfect, it was our guy’s commitment to our plan and our goal.”

Hey, he’s got to say things like that.

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SHAKA SMART TALKS A-10, BUTLER ON BRANDO

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