VCU STRIDES INTO A-10 LEAD AT HALFWAY POINT

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Sophomore Treveon Graham is averaging 18.5 points per game in Atlantic 10 play.

Sophomore Treveon Graham is averaging 18.5 points per game in Atlantic 10 play.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU reached the halfway mark of its inaugural Atlantic 10 Conference season Saturday in an enviable position, alone in first place.

The Rams, who also benefited from Richmond’s win over Xavier Saturday, cruised to their lofty perch with an 81-65 trouncing of Fordham that wasn’t even really that close. At 18-5 overall and 6-2 in the very much still up-for-grabs league, VCU has plenty to crow about.

“I think we’re doing pretty good so far,” sophomore Treveon Graham said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”

It’s already been a season of great highs – a 13-game winning streak and national ranking – and painful lows – a stunning overtime loss to rival Richmond is likely still fresh in players’ and coaches’ minds. But Sunday morning, VCU will find itself atop its new conference. The A-10 has been a dog-eat-dog league for half the season, but so far, the Rams have had one of the most dangerous barks.

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VCU BLAZING NEW TRAILS ON RECRUITING FRONT

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Jordan Burgess is one of two top-100 rated recruits in VCU’s 2012 recruiting class.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU’s late signing of top-100 guard Melvin Johnson was the Rams’ first since joining the Atlantic 10 on July 1. The evidence suggests it won’t be the last big splash for Shaka Smart and his staff.

The Rams will welcome a pair of four-star recruits this year in Johnson and swingman Jordan Burgess, as well as highly-regarded forwards Justin Tuoyo and Mo-Alie Cox to complete a recruiting class that has earned much praise.

It’s been a long time since VCU landed a four-star or top-100 recruit that wasn’t a transfer. Now the Rams will have two joining the program in the same year. But it’s not just significant locally. VCU is turning heads nationally.

“This is the first year I can remember where a [non-power six conference] program not named Gonzaga has had two top 100 players,” said Dave Telep, recruiting guru and ESPN senior national basketball analyst.

VCU has undoubtedly benefited in recruiting circles from its Final Four appearance in 2011, as well as its move from the CAA to the A10, but the biggest factor in the amount of talent the Rams are able to put out on the floor stalks the sidelines of the Verizon Wireless Arena.

“I think the personality and real charisma and star power Shaka Smart has really keeps [VCU] alive in a lot of instances,” Telep said.

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BURGESS TALKS A-10 AND NBA

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Great turnout last night at Home Team Grill for the A-10 celebration. It was a good time. I would recommend the Dayton Flyer wings, which nearly melted my face off. Anyway, Bradford Burgess stopped by the event to talk about his recent agreement to play with the Orlando Magic in the Orlando Summer League, as well as VCU’s move to the A-10.

HAPPY A-10 DAY!

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Okay, VCU and Butler officially became Atlantic 10 members yesterday, but today is the first actual day of business, so let’s get down to the business of winning.

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BONUS VIDEO

YOUR OFFICIAL NERDY SPORTS INFO ATLANTIC 10 NAME GAME PRIMER

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So, you think you can work in sports info? Well, listen up here, sonny.

Yesterday we were unofficially officially welcomed to the Atlantic 10 by league staffers with a riveting Power Point presentation and wooed with pewter coasters. Yes, my loyalty can be bought, and the price is pretty low. For many of us, it was our first administrative act as totally almost official but not official until July 1 members of the league.

This allowed for a chance for all us sports information/media relations types to get together and discuss incredibly sports info things.

A little background info. I’m a sports nerd. It’s a condition that affects thousands of adolescents a year. If left untreated, your children could grow up to work in sports information like me.

By the time I was 14, I was pouring over the USA Today sports section on a daily basis because they had the best stats. I can still tell you that Cleveland Indians third baseman Brook Jacoby hit 32 homers in 1987, but somehow only managed to drive in 69 runs. I know that Scottie Pippen was actually drafted by the Seattle Supersonics and that Johnny Unitas retired a Charger. I know that Michael Jordan was born in Brooklyn and that the Washington Senators are now the Minnesota Twins (1961) and Texas Rangers (1972). I’m one of six people on the East Coast under the age of 50 that can score a baseball game by hand.

In high school, I managed to mask my sports nerdness to participating in undeniably cool sports like bowling and cross country.

Anyway, yesterday we sports info folks had an opportunity to do some of the most sports info stuff ever. Things like: In StatCrew, does the A-10 enter player names last name first, use the full first name or just the initial? Do you type the name in all caps or in upper and lower case letters (for the record, the A-10 is last names first – in all caps – followed by the first name in upper and lower case letters). Exciting, right?

Here’s my favorite part of the meeting, which is equal parts inane and helpful, especially to VCU fans. Here at Ram HQ, we’ve been fighting the VCU brand fight for years. For the record, there are two acceptable ways to reference your school. It’s either Virginia Commonwealth University (first reference) or VCU. It’s been an uphill battle within our own league to get people to stop using Va. Commonwealth as an abbreviation. We do this because, frankly, Va. Commonwealth looks terrible and is difficult to market and understand. VCU is sleek and looks great on a t-shirt. Plus, chicks dig it.

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WELCOME TO THE A-10!

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This move to the Atlantic 10 is already paying dividends. Best. League. Ever. I can tell you I never got a CAA coaster.

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER

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VCU and Butler met at the 2011 Final Four in Houston. Butler earned a 70-62 win, despite 27 points from VCU’s Jamie Skeen.

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:

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WAIT, THIS IS XAVIER’S MASCOT?

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I was totally on board with this move to the Atlantic 10 before today. But while browsing through this A-10 guide, I found out that this is Xavier’s mascot? What is the Blue Blob? He looks like the redheaded stepchild of Grimace. It’s as if Cookie Monster and the Philly Phanatic had a love child. He looks like a bean bag chair with hair. I’m not sure we can go through with this move now. I just can’t deal with this. My mind has been blown.

Xavier’s Blue Blob

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Geez, Xavier. You’re the Musketeers, the least you could do is dress a guy up to look like Charlie Sheen in The Three Musketeers.

#Musketeering

VIDEO: SHAKA SMART ON VCU’S MOVE TO THE A-10

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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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