RAMS SET FOR FIRST SEASON IN DEEP ATLANTIC 10

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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.

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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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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.

YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND (OF THE LAST 17 YEARS…)

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With VCU’s decision to bolt the Colonial Athletic Association still fresh in our minds, maybe now is a good time to take stock of the 17 years the Rams spent in the league. It was a good run and frankly, the CAA’s Virginia-centric appeal was one of the things that made it fun for VCU fans. I can honestly say it’s one of the things I’ll miss, times change.

VCU has won 42 CAA championships since joining the league for the 1994-95 season. The Rams’ 36 titles in men’s sports are the most in league history. The VCU Baseball team will have a chance to add to that mark later this month. The Rams have won 13 championships in men’s tennis, eight in golf and five each in men’s basketball and baseball. Other sports were not as fortunate, but still enjoyed a great deal of success. Here, I’m going to look at the best team from each VCU program of the CAA era.

BASEBALL: 2003 (46-13, 17-3 CAA, CAA Champions, 1-2 NCAAs)
This was a legitimately hard decision. You could make compelling arguments for the 1998 and 2001 teams. This is one of the few picks that required some back-and-forth debate.

But for me, the 2003 squad was a shade better. Not only did they dominate the CAA regular season and sweep the conference tournament, but the Rams also led the country in ERA that season (2.54). Four pitchers, Cla Meredth (6th), Justin Orenduff (1st), Sean Marshall 6th) and Brian Marshall (5th), were selected in the first six rounds of the MLB Draft.  Four other players were also eventually drafted. Sean Marshall and Cla Meredith played in the majors.

MEN’S BASKETBALL: 2010-11 (28-12, 12-6 CAA, NCAA Final Four)
While I’m picking a non-CAA champion here, I doubt I’ll get few arguments. VCU’s run to the Final Four in 2011 pretty much trumps everything. During the regular season the Rams were equally magnificent and maddening, but flipped a switch in March. VCU reached the CAA Championship Game, upsetting ranked and heavily-favored George Mason in the process. Despite losing to Old Dominion in the title bout, VCU received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where the Rams toppled USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas on the way to history.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: 2008-09 (26-7, 15-3 CAA, NCAA First Round)
The Rams didn’t win the CAA crown this season (Drexel did), but behind eventual WNBA first round pick Quanitra Hollingsworth, the Rams earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time via an at-large berth. The Rams met Rutgers in the first round and gave the Scarlet Knights a run for their money. In addition to Hollingsworth, future All-American and WNBA Draftee Courtney Hurt was a freshman on this squad.

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AN INTERVIEW WITH NORWOOD TEAGUE

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Norwood Teague has been VCU's AD since 2006

We had a chance to catch up with VCU Athletic Director Norwood Teague today, who was questioned on a variety of topics. Here are some highlights from that interview.

ON VERIZON WIRELESS ARENA CLUB SEAT PROJECT
“The construction in the Siegel Center is going fantastic. They’re really working day and night and on weekends to get it done for the first [game] of the year, but we’re on schedule. The first thing we have to have it ready for is a select-a-seat promotion where donors come in and see where they want to sit.

So, we’re doing well. It’s going to be an incredible addition to the arena and something we’re really proud of.

We get assured by the construction workers, hey, it doesn’t look like it will be ready, but it will be ready.

It’s amazing how much wiring they had to do in the ceiling for our video system for the basketball programs and just everything they had to do to get the computers wired and synched. Technology’s great, but it requires another step when it comes to construction.”

ON THE EXCITEMENT OF STARTING A NEW SEASON
“I’m thrilled that the response on the season ticket side has been as good as it has been. We have sold about 650 new season tickets, probably on the verge of 700, and that’s a dramatic pop for any program to have that many new season ticket holders.

The excitement is there. I hope expectations will be realistic when you lost four seniors who contributed heavily and we have a tough schedule. But our program is solid as a rock.”

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