SMART PUTS STAMP OF APPROVAL ON A-10 MOVE

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Shaka Smart says he’s excited for the challenge the Atlantic 10 offers.

RICHMOND, Va. – Shaka Smart has only been knocking around the Colonial Athletic Association for three years, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for the VCU coach to walk away from the Richmond-based league.

It’s where he hoisted his first conference championship trophy as a head coach, and a league that made one of the most stunning Final Four runs in NCAA history possible. In 2010-11, the CAA enjoyed its best men’s basketball season ever, sending three teams to the NCAA Tournament. The league also ranked ninth nationally in RPI, which played a major role in the Rams’ 2011 NCAA at-large berth.

“In 2011, the only reason we even make the NCAA Tournament, is because of the strength of the CAA from top to bottom,” Smart said Friday, four days after VCU announced it would depart the CAA for the Atlantic 10.

“We’ve really enjoyed the competition the relationships, the rivalries in the CAA, the experiences that our student athletes have had, but the reality is we’re dealing with a changing landscape.”

Ultimately, VCU officials saw the CAA’s 2010-2011 season as the exception, rather than the rule, and chose to jump to the A-10, which sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2011-12.

Smart didn’t make the call, the VCU Board of Visitors did, but the coach reiterated his endorsement of the move Friday. Since 2000, the Atlantic 10 has earned 20 NCAA at-large bids, while the CAA recorded four. That was enough to convince Smart where the future of VCU Basketball should reside.

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VCU-VIRGINIA SERIES? IT’S POSSIBLE, SMART SAYS

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Shaka Smart: “Up to this point we haven’t been that successful getting people to come back to our building and play us…hopefully, our success rate with that will get a little better.”

RICHMOND, Va. – Are VCU and Virginia in line for a meeting on the basketball court? It could happen sooner, rather than later.

VCU’s gaudy record (163-27, .858 win %) at the Verizon Wireless Arena and reputation of springing upsets have long been roadblocks to getting home games against schools from Power Six conferences, including in-state foes Virginia and Virginia Tech. But VCU Coach Shaka Smart hopes VCU’s recent move from the CAA to Atlantic 10 will change that.

Smart revealed that when he arrived at VCU in 2009, Virginia Coach Tony Bennett agreed to play a home-and-home series with the Rams, but the two schools couldn’t agree on dates for the games. However, those talks may heat up again, according to Smart.

“Because of some of the complexities involved in scheduling, we haven’t been able to schedule that over the last couple of years,” Smart said Friday. “But they’re one of the schools that we’ve talked to and that we would love to play home-and-home. I think they’re open to potentially doing that. But it has to make sense for them too.”

Richmond and Charlottesville are separated by just 70 miles, but VCU and Virginia have not met since 1998. The Rams have never hosted UVA inside the Verizon Wireless Arena, although the Cavaliers have played a couple of neutral site games in the building since it opened in 1999. Clearly, the GPS can find it.

As a matter of principle, VCU has declined to play schools from leagues such as the Big Ten, ACC, SEC and Big East without the promise of a return game at the Verizon Wireless Arena, which usually ended those discussions. The Rams’ home game with Oklahoma two years ago, as well as the Rams’ upcoming contest with Alabama in 2012, were the result of clauses in the contracts of former coaches Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant.

VCU has not met Virginia Tech on the basketball court since 1995, but will face the Hokies in during the 2013-14 season in the Governor’s Cup at the Richmond Coliseum. That game, however, was arranged by the office of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

“We’re excited about that. They weren’t excited about that, but we are,” Smart said of the Virginia Tech match-up.

But the A10’s sturdier RPI and nationally-recognized brand may help bridge the scheduling gaps VCU has faced in the past. The A10 was the nation’s seventh-rated RPI league last season and received four NCAA Tournament bids. The mid-major stigma may be fading from VCU’s name.

Since the Verizon Wireless Arena opened for the 1999-2000 season, VCU has hosted nine games against schools currently residing in one of the Power Six (Big East, Pac 12, Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 and ACC) conferences: Louisville, Colorado, Pittsburgh, TCU, Mississippi (twice), Texas A&M, Oklahoma and South Florida.  The Rams hold a 7-2 mark in those match-ups. At the time of those games, however, Louisville, Houston and TCU were members of Conference USA. VCU has hosted a ranked team in the arena just once (#17 Oklahoma, 2009).

IS RPI A FOUR-LETTER WORD?

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In light of VCU’s recent departure to the Atlantic 10 (15), here’s a quick comparison of men’s basketball RPIs from the 2011-12 season. I know that college basketball goes in cycles and that the A10 might not always be as good as it was last year, while the CAA would (theoretically) be better than it was last year. But this information plays a huge role in VCU’s decision. The A10 had eight (EIGHT!) top 100 teams last year. The Pac-12 and ACC each had six top 100 teams last year. While the league is losing Temple (and Charlotte) after next season, picking up VCU and Butler is plenty reason to believe there will be little drop-off.

BRAVE NEW WORLD

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RICHMOND, Va. – After weeks of speculation and soft, dodgy denials, VCU President Dr. Michael Rao saddled up to the podium Tuesday at the Verizon Wireless Arena and announced the Rams would be moving to the Atlantic 10, effective July 1. He may have also lit the fuse on the dynamite at Colonial Athletic Association headquarters, but that’s a discussion for another time.

What we should talk about is why this move is good for VCU, as many believe it is, myself included (obvious institutional bias aside).

First, let’s be frank about this. Men’s basketball is the catalyst for this. Yes, the logistics of other programs are important to this discussion, but without men’s hoops, this would have been just another Tuesday in May.

After a run of five NCAA Tournament bids, two NIT appearances, a Final Four, four conference titles and seven NCAA wins (and four close losses) since the 2004-05 season, VCU felt it had reached a ceiling with the CAA. In an effort to keep the program on an upward trajectory, Rao, VCU Interim Athletic Director Dave Benedict and the Board of Visitors jumped at the A10 opportunity.

Here’s why:

1-Level of competition: While the CAA has enjoyed recent success, it was undeniably top-heavy. There’s a clear divide of haves and have-nots in the league. You all know who you are. The A10, which is losing Temple and Charlotte in 2013-14 but adding Butler, has produced 20 at-large NCAA bids since 2000. Over that same span, the CAA has produced four. I could stop writing there and be good, but I’ll go on…

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NO SLEEP ‘TIL…

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The Barclays Center, home of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. If you build it…

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