VIDEO: RAMS EDGE RICHMOND 56-50

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IS ‘STATE CHAMPS’ A REAL THING, AND WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM IT?

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Rob Brandenbeerg (left) scored 11 points as VCU beat Richmond 56-50 Thursday to complete a 6-0 sweep of Virginia schools this season.

Rob Brandenbeerg (left) scored 11 points as VCU beat Richmond 56-50 Thursday to complete a 6-0 sweep of Virginia schools this season.

RICHMOND, Va. –  State Champs.

It’s a bit of a running joke among VCU fans that the Rams were going for a state championship this year, with Virginia, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion, George Mason and Richmond –  i.e. the five best Division I programs in Virginia not named VCU – on the schedule. But now, with Thursday’s 56-50 triumph over Richmond, the Rams have actually “swept the state”, finishing 6-0 against those schools (barring any postseason meetings). Perhaps it’s important to recognize that and understand what it means, if anything.

First and foremost, VCU will receive nothing tangible for winning those six games (beating Richmond twice). This isn’t Philadelphia’s Big Five. There’s no trophy, no special recognition, not even a Chuck E Cheese pizza party for winning this thing we made up on the fly. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. It matters to the fans, who have stroked the fires of these intrastate rivalries. It also matters because going 6-0 against that group means you probably won some quality games.

It also mattered to Shaka Smart and the players. If you listened to Smart’s press conference Thursday night, you could gauge the importance.

According to VCU Sports Information Director Scott Day, this has never happened before. No school from these six programs (including VCU), has swept the group in the same season. You don’t think that’s a great recruiting tool? “Hey, (insert player name), you know those other Virginia schools that are recruiting you? Yeah, we beat them. All of them.”

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SHAKA SMART MEDIA MINUTES (MARCH 3)

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VIDEO: RAMS DOWN RICHMOND 81-70

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THE BATTLE FOR RICHMOND

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VCU Baseball hosts Richmond at The Diamond for a three-game set to close the regular season. The series starts Thursday at 6 p.m., followed by an 11 a.m. contest on Friday and a  10:30 a.m. tilt on Saturday. The Rams (25-26) still have a mathematical shot at playing in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, so there’s more than just city bragging rights at stake.

VIDEO: RAMS OUTRUN RICHMOND & OTHER BONUSES

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FEAR NOT, COLLEGE HOOPS COLUMNISTS, HAVOC CAN SAVE US ALL

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If you can't have fun watching Havoc, check your pulse.

If you can’t have fun watching Havoc, check your pulse.

RICHMOND, Va. – College basketball is broken? Scoring is down? The game is boring? Soft bubble? Too many upsets? I think some of these stodgy columnists need some Havoc therapy.

This year, more than any in recent memory, college basketball has faced parroted calls for a fix.

“Make this game more fun! Entertain us! Too many upsets. Too many guys leaving college early.”

Maybe I’m not qualified to assess the state of Division I basketball. I drive a Pontiac – a car brand which no longer exists – and own a total of two suit jackets, so, probably not. Maybe hoops is “broken”, maybe it’s not. I’m just wondering if these guys are watching what I’m watching. Have you seen VCU? Have you sampled the fruit of the breakneck, devil-may-care style of play that is only churning out turnovers and entertainment value at a faster rate than it is producing victories?

From where I’m sitting, college hoops looks better than ever.

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UNSPONSORED, BOB SEGER-INSPIRED POST

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RICHMOND, Va. – Let’s take this opportunity to tip our cap to the Atlantic 10 Conference schedule-makers. Some might decry the short Thursday-Saturday turnaround, but this week the Rams will welcome the opportunity to get back to basketball.

In football, ESPN has an entire week to overanalyze why Tim Tebow didn’t run more than four snaps in the wildcat. There are six days between games to stew on a loss, eight if you live on Skip Bayless’ planet. Baseball players are pretty lucky in this respect. Whatever horror Tuesday wreaks, the sun will come up Wednesday and bring another ballgame with a chance for redemption.

That’s why VCU (16-4, 4-1 A-10) should be happy about Saturday’s game against La Salle at the Verizon Wireless Arena, which will tip less than 48 hours after the Rams heartbreaking 82-74 overtime loss to Richmond. That’s not a lot of opportunity to irrationally dissect the season. It’s human nature to act like this, but a quick turnaround affords a chance to turn the page. It’s a long season, and one loss is just that. So the Rams aren’t going to sweep the A-10 season. Other than that, what did we learn? That VCU is pretty unlucky when it comes to the opposition heaving desperation 28-foot 3-pointers with less than two seconds remaining on the road on weekdays against players whose names begin with a consonant? Terrific. Next!

“We’ve just got to move on quick and get ready for Saturday,” junior Rob Brandenberg said Thursday night. “We play in less than 48 hours. We’ll be able to do something about it then.”

In my seven previous seasons covering the Rams, six ended with some type of postseason, including four NCAA tournaments. All seven years included at least 19 wins; In essence, seven great seasons. In those seven years, I’ve seen the Rams lose at the buzzer at George Mason (on Valentine’s Day) and to a bad James Madison team (which led then-JMU Coach Dean Keener to commandeer the PA mic and blast some adrenaline-fueled plea for more fan support into the rafters — it didn’t work, by the way).

There have been head-scratching losses at Hampton, UNC Wilmington, William & Mary, East Carolina, Western Michigan and Towson. This year’s Richmond team is better than any from that quintet. Each loss caused us to obsess about basketball minutiae. We felt the same after each loss as do when we learn that Carson Daly still has a TV show: angry and disappointed, with an overriding desire to drive to Connecticut.

VCU Coach Shaka Smart says the Rams' loss to Richmond will test his team's maturity.

VCU Coach Shaka Smart says the Rams’ loss to Richmond will test his team’s maturity.

Look, by March, those games were long forgotten because the Rams picked themselves up and got back to work at Franklin Street Gym. They turned the page. Heck, in VCU’s Final Four season, the Rams lost at a sub-par South Florida team and were thumped at Richmond. It’s college basketball. It happens. Duke was absolutely pulverized by Miami (Fla.) the other night. And, as much as I enjoy piling on Duke (never gets old), the Blue Devils are still a very good basketball team; maybe the best team in the country. That doesn’t change.

La Salle, which just stunned ninth-ranked Butler Wednesday, doesn’t care what VCU did at Richmond Thursday, so the Rams shouldn’t either. They need to be ready to guard the peach baskets at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

The A-10 is an incredibly competitive league. The championship teams don’t always avoid a tough road loss – it happens to nearly every one – but they don’t let Wednesday’s (Thursday, in this case) loss beat them Saturday.

“We’re in good position,” VCU Coach Shaka Smart said. “We could’ve been in better position. It is what it is though. We’ve got to move on. I think emotionally, there are ups and downs, highs and lows to any season. We’ve had a lot of highs of late. The Saint Joe’s game we were on the flipside. We were down late and obviously we came back and forced overtime and won. So, it’s the maturity of the team and the guys on the team that’s going to dictate how you’re going to move on.”

Cue the Silver Bullet Band.

VIDEO: RICHMOND PREVIEW

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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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