SENIOR TRIBUTE VIDEO

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VCU SENIORS BY THE NUMBERS

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VCU Mens Basketball Team - posed shotsRICHMOND, Va. – The final act of VCU’s 2013 senior class of Darius Theus, Troy Daniels and David Hinton hasn’t been written, but what they’ve accomplished so far has already been unforgettable.

Theus and Daniels were Coach Shaka Smart’s first VCU recruits, and they’ve both turned out to be home runs. While Hinton was a redshirt freshman on the roster the year before Smart’s arrival, he’s blossomed into a steady contributor the last four seasons. All three have been party to a slew of memory makers.

This group of veterans has helped to usher in a new “Golden Age” of VCU hoops in Richmond. Under their watch, the Rams have won more than 75 percent of their games. While the magnificent run to the Final Four in 2011 will stand tallest on this group’s list of accomplishments, fans can reflect on a countless number of heart-stopping moments from this trio’s careers.

For Theus, I’ll remember stellar bench performance in the Rams’ upset of Florida State in the 2011 Sweet 16, not to mention his MVP performance in the 2012 CAA Championship Game. Meanwhile, none of us will soon forget Daniels’ three-game stretch this year when he hit 27 three-pointers, including 11 (11!!) at East Tennessee State. In addition, do the Rams squeak out a three-point win over Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament last March without Hinton’s two charges? Doubtful.

Let’s take this opportunity to appreciate VCU’s seniors by the numbers:

1,577 combined points by the 2013 senior class
.759 winning percentage in four seasons
432 career assists for Darius Theus, sixth in school history
227 career steals for Theus, third-most all-time
107 Wins, second-most all-time for a VCU senior class
103 three-pointers for Troy Daniels this year, a school record
11 three-pointers hit by Daniels vs. ETSU on Jan. 2, a school record
10 career-high in assists for Theus in a win over Saint Joseph’s
8 NCAA Tournament games, second-most in VCU history
7 Wins versus teams ranked in the AP Top 25
6 NCAA Tournament wins, most all-time
4 seasons with 20 or more wins
2 charges taken by David Hinton vs. Wichita State in NCAA Tournament
1 Final Four appearance

SIGN OF AFFECTION

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Great piece here from intrepid cub reporter Scott Wyant and Mike Voyack. If you’ve been to a game at the Siegel Center the last four years, you’ve seen Ralph Theus letting everybody know exactly who No. 10 on the floor is. Hint: It’s his son.

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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GHOSTS OF HOUSTON WATCH, BUT WON’T DICTATE NEXT CHAPTER OF BUTLER SERIES

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Rob Brandenberg played seven minutes as a freshman against Butler in the 2011 National Semifinal

Rob Brandenberg played seven minutes as a freshman against Butler in the 2011 National Semifinal

RICHMOND, Va. – Monday night, after a long day of recruiting, Shaka Smart did it. He finally watched the game tape of VCU’s 70-62 loss to Butler on April 2, 2011 at the Final Four. First, he watched clips of VCU’s press versus the Bulldogs, then he watched the game in its entirety. He told himself he wouldn’t get upset.

In today’s world of college basketball there are staffers, usually a graduate assistant, assigned with procuring a DVD of a game literally moments after the final horn sounds. From there, the footage is cut, spliced, splintered, scrunched, scrinched and repackaged in a Wonka-like process that has an easily consumable copy in the hands of the coaching staff by dawn. The raw game tape, meanwhile, is usually devoured by coaches before you can get from the arena to your pillow.

But not this game. Too painful.

However, with Saturday’s rematch with Butler at the Siegel Center looming, Smart knew the time had come. In the name of assembling a tactical plan for the Rams’ biggest game of the season, after nearly 700 days of avoidance, Smart cued up video of the biggest game of his life. He didn’t get upset, but he didn’t like what he saw, either.

“It’s amazing when you set your mind on something what you can do. I just told myself I wasn’t going to get upset. I knew that we lost the game, so, just watch it objectively,” he said Wednesday.

“They were the better team that day.”

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TEMPO THURSDAY: NO MODERATO

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Chaz Williams (7.1 apg) leads the A-10's most up-tempo offense.

Chaz Williams (7.1 apg) leads the A-10′s most up-tempo offense.

RICHMOND, Va. – Parenting is an immersive culture. It seems like only yesterday you were planning your buddy’s insane-but-can’t-talk-about-it bachelor party, and then one day you wake up and find yourself half awake, unknowingly singing the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” song in the checkout line at Target with dried Gerber’s beets on your collar.

It’s from this frame of mind that I come to you today. It’s why when I thought about VCU and UMass trying to match each other’s energy, aggression and tempo Thursday night at the Siegel Center, the “Little Einsteins” came to mind. Folks, this how I’m living these days, large and in charge.

Basically, the kids in the Little Einsteins cartoon fly around in a rocket that is fueled by beats. The faster they pat their legs – while calling out tempo words like “moderato”, “allegro” and “presto” – the faster the jet soars through the sky. If you’ve never seen it, this probably doesn’t make sense to you. Actually, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Let’s move along, allegrissimo, because I sense I’ve crossed over into the ridiculous.

Anyway, it gave me a vision of UMass Coach Derek Kellogg patting his quads to spur on rocket point guard Chaz Williams, who averages 16.1 points, 7.1 assists and has ripped 45 steals. Behind the play of its athletic catalyst, UMass ranks 22nd in the country in adjusted tempo and second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring (72.6 ppg).

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NOTES: VCU’S AIMS FOR WINNING ROAD FORMULA

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Troy Daniels is shooting nearly 44 percent from 3-point range in road and neutral site games this year.

Troy Daniels is shooting nearly 44 percent from 3-point range in road and neutral site games this year.

RICHMOND, Va. – The second half of VCU’s Atlantic 10 Conference schedule is no holiday. Of the Rams’ eight remaining games, seven are against teams with a sub-100 RPI, including Butler, currently ranked 14th nationally in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.

It’s a 4/4 home/road split down the stretch for first-place VCU (18-5, 6-2 A-10). Those road contests include Charlotte on Feb. 9, Saint Louis, Xavier and Temple – four schools with an average RPI of 58. It’s a gauntlet that could cement VCU’s NCAA at-large hopes. The good news for the Rams is that they’ve had success on the road of late.

In the last three years, VCU is 16-6 in conference road games and 24-10 in true road games overall. That includes the Rams’ 6-1 mark in true road contests this season.

“Our guys have done a nice job on the road,” VCU Coach Shaka Smart said. “I give our guys a lot of credit. We’ve won every road game the last year, save two that were unbelievable comebacks by our opponents. So, our guys have put [us] in positions to win all those games.”

Smart doesn’t believe the Rams’ ability win in hostile environments is an accident. Smart and his staff have worked carefully, he says, to instill a road warrior mentality in the minds of players. Although the official lexicon of the VCU Basketball Keys to Road Success (title is my own) is a closely-guarded secret, Smart did offer a portion of his philosophy at his weekly press conference Wednesday.

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RAMS HOPE TO BENEFIT FROM BREAK IN A-10 SCHEDULE

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VCU will wait six days between A-10 games this week.

VCU will wait six days between A-10 games this week.

RICHMOND, Va. – We now interrupt this regularly scheduled season for rest.

VCU, at the midpoint of its race for an Atlantic 10 Conference championship, finds itself in the midst of a six-day break between league games – a respite built into each A-10 school’s schedule. The Rams (18-5, 6-2 A-10) topped Fordham on Feb. 2, but will not play again until they travel to Charlotte on Feb. 9.

Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart says the team is doing its best to capitalize on its bye week.

“We’ve practiced pretty hard,” Smart said Wednesday at his weekly press conference. “[Tuesday] was really good. It was one of the most competitive practices we’ve had all year. For certain individuals we’re treating this week differently. For some it’s a little more about rest, for some guys it’s more about getting them in the right frame of mind, getting them more aggressive, and hopefully by Saturday we’ll have everyone where we want them to be.”

It’s not uncommon to have a week-long break between non-conference games, especially around Christmas and during finals week, but it’s a relatively rare occurrence during conference play. That was not a feature of the Colonial Athletic Association schedule, which was more compact due to the league’s affiliation with the ESPNU BracketBusters event and a conference tournament that took place a week earlier than the A-10.

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JUST ANOTHER GAME? RICHMOND MATCH-UP LOOMS

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VCU is 2-1 against Richmond during senior Darius Theus' career.

VCU is 2-1 against Richmond during senior Darius Theus’ career.

RICHMOND, Va. – For a night, battle lines are drawn somewhere around Staples Mill Road. It’s West End versus Downtown when Richmond and VCU meet on the basketball court.

“I remember when I got the job here, several people came up to me and told me, I don’t care how you do all season, except you’ve got to beat Old Dominion and Richmond, and so I never forgot when they said that,” recalled VCU Coach Shaka Smart Tuesday.

In recent years, as both programs have risen to national prominence – VCU’s Final Four run in 2011 cemented its status, while Richmond’s Sweet 16 berth the same year did the same – so too has this long-running rivalry.

It’s always been a contentious fight, but lately, the stars have aligned to add flavor to this rivalry. In addition to each school’s NCAA tournament success, 19th-ranked VCU (16-3, 4-0 A-10) and Richmond (12-7, 2-2 A-10) are conference foes once again this season. A win is worth more than local bragging rights. It can alter the course of the Atlantic 10 Conference race.

Fans on both sides of the rivalry cast their stones annually, sometimes enough to whip players and coaches into the fervor. Smart said recently that in past years, players like Joey Rodriguez, known for his penchant for absorbing Internet chatter, and Richmond-native Brandon Rozzell enjoyed the buzz around town for games like this.

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WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD

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Sophomore Treveon Graham scored six of his game-high 25 points in overtime Thursday.

Sophomore Treveon Graham scored six of his game-high 25 points in overtime Thursday.

RICHMOND, Va. – If you turned on Thursday’s VCU-Saint Joseph’s game and felt like you were watching an instant classic from some March of yesteryear, don’t worry, you weren’t the only one. This was a March appetizer on a January plate.

What you were actually witnessing was just another day in the life of the rough-and-tumble Atlantic 10 Conference, 22nd-ranked VCU’s new hoops home. This probably won’t be the last one of these. There are very few pushovers in one of America’s deepest leagues, and there are apparently no off nights in this 16-team gauntlet. While the Colonial Athletic Association was often a caste system of haves and have-nots, the A-10 feels like a balanced free-for-all.

What we learned from the Rams’ heart-pounding, how-did-they-do-it 92-86 overtime victory, in addition to expect more white-knuckle barnburners, was that VCU (15-3, 3-0 A-10) is also up to the challenge offered by the A-10.

When the Rams’ backs were against the wall, they found an answer. When they needed to counterpunch, and counterpunch, and counterpunch they did. When they needed something miraculous, they got it. It wasn’t perfect. Saint Joseph’s (9-6, 1-2 A-10) hit 9-of-22 threes and shot 52 percent for the game, but it was enough.

“If you want to win a conference you have to win games like this,” said VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart. “Not every game is a masterpiece.”

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