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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RAMS COUNTER-PUNCH IN BUDDING A-10 RIVALRY

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Briante Weber provided 13 points and four steals in VCU's win Saturday.

Briante Weber provided 13 points and four steals in VCU’s win Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – They call him the Freight Train, and that’s what Treveon Graham resembled as his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame rumbled down the sideline midway through the second half Saturday night.

Graham was chasing down a rebound, and despite his heft, the junior guard slipped past two Saint Louis players, grabbed the ball at midcourt and drew a hip-check foul. His momentum carried him into the path of 5-foot-9 VCU Coach Shaka Smart, who corralled him with an enthusiastic bear hug. The normally stoic Graham broke character and flashed a healthy smile.

It turns out, Smart was about the only person who could catch a Ram Saturday night. Saint Louis, ranked 10th in the country, certainly could not, as VCU staged a wire-to-wire 67-56 victory behind an opportunistic defense and a 49th straight sellout crowd at the Verizon Wireless Arena that lurched towards frenzy at every opportunity.

The victory was meaningful on a number of levels, for history – it was the highest-ranked team VCU had ever defeated at home – for the Rams’ NCAA Tournament resume, for its Atlantic 10 seeding, but it may have mattered most for pride. Since the Rams joined the A-10 last season, the Billikens were the only remaining member of the league VCU hadn’t cracked. Saint Louis defeated the Rams twice last season, once in St. Louis and once for the A-10 crown in Brooklyn, and then again at the Billikens’ Chaifetz arena on Feb. 15.

“It was definitely important. We had a mindset of payback from last year when they beat us in the championship game. Of course that’s always on our mind,” admitted junior guard Briante Weber, who provided 13 points and four of VCU’s 12 steals. “They had yet to come to VCU, and we wanted to give them the impression of what VCU’s like when you come in here.”

VCU upset 10th-ranked Saint Louis Saturday night before the 49th-straight sellout at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Siegel Center,

VCU upset 10th-ranked Saint Louis Saturday night before the 49th-straight sellout at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Siegel Center,

Amid a pulsating sea of gold – the product of an advertised “Gold Out” – VCU (22-7, 10-4 A-10) whipped itself into an aggressive, defiant state.

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VIDEO: VCU UPENDS NO. 10 SAINT LOUIS

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HIGHLIGHTS

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SHAKA SMART

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JIM CREWS

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VCU PLAYERS

JOHNSON’S STYLISH GAME EVOLVES TO ONE OF SUBSTANCE

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Sophomore Melvin Johnson is averaging 10.4 points this season, up from 6.9 last year.

Sophomore Melvin Johnson is averaging 10.4 points this season, up from 6.9 last year.

RICHMOND, Va. – James Naismith invented the game of basketball in 1891 as a way of entertaining a rowdy gym class during the cold New England winters in Springfield, Mass. But there’s no way, watching his students hoisting a soccer ball into peach baskets, that he could have envisioned someone having as much fun playing the game as Melvin Johnson.

There’s nothing boring about the way Johnson, a VCU sophomore guard, plays Naismith’s game. Johnson’s style is loquacious, exuberant and ostentatious. Even against the backdrop of VCU’s breakneck style, “Havoc”, and despite the wide shadow cast by electric guard and NCAA steals leader Briante Weber, Johnson still manages to stand out.

A Bronx-native, Johnson’s game is replete with New York flair, complete with pirouettes, fakes, double-clutches and shimmies. The show does not end at the final horn. An emerging press conference darling, he nicknamed his trademark floater “The Melvin” last year. Earlier this season, he told reporters that one particular acrobatic shot attempt was called “The Boogiedown”.

Johnson’s panache has been obvious from day one, and there were moments of greatness during his freshman season, when he averaged 6.9 points per game for the Rams. But he also shot 28 percent (23-of-81) from beyond the 3-point arc and struggled on defense at times.

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SHAKA SMART MEDIA MINUTES (FEB. 17)

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TRIPLE PLAY; RAMS RIDE ARC OVER GW

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VCU hit 13-of-25 from beyond the 3-point arc in a 92-75 win over George Washington.

RICHMOND, Va. – Troy Daniels hit the first 3-pointers before the game even started, and the arc exhibition didn’t end until more than two hours later.

Whether or not the VCU grad inspired his former team is a matter of conjecture, but the Rams certainly followed his lead, riding a season-high 13 three-pointers (on 25 attempts) to a crucial 92-75 win over George Washington Wednesday night at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

Daniels, who set a school single-season record with 124 three-pointers for VCU last season, was in Richmond while the NBA D-League, where he plays with the Houston Rockets-affiliated Rio Grande Valley Vipers, is on its all-star break. Daniels was called on for a pregame promotion which challenges participants to hit shots to win pizza. After a successful layup and free throw, Daniels swished his 3-point attempt. Then, from halfcourt, he banked home his second attempt to win free pizza for the entire arena.

The fans weren’t the only ones feeding off of 3-pointers, however. Once the game started, VCU feasted by hitting 8-of-14 in the first half alone to roll to a stunning 45-28 advantage. In the second half, the Rams were less prolific and more opportunistic, beating back a George Washington comeback with timely treys. Meanwhile, the Colonials were 0-of-8 from three in the first half and 6-of-18 for the game.

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SHAKA SMART MEDIA MINUTES (FEB. 10)

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MATTERS OF CONSISTENCY

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VCU has won sixth straight games and 11 of its last 12.

VCU has won sixth straight games and 11 of its last 12.

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s not enough to just be talented or skilled or, in the simplest sense, good. The key to being good is replicating that performance. It’s consistency.

I mean, Bruce Willis isn’t Bruce Willis because he makes one Die Hard movie where he levels entire office buildings, airports and the East Coast in 120 minutes of one-liner-muttering splendor. Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis because he can do that five times.

Forgive my affection for bloated, Willisian action cinema. The point is, consistency is a skill in and of itself. High-end potential is great, but it can be a maddening pursuit when you’re only teased the best on occasion. There are plenty of basketball teams out there that haven’t mastered the skill of consistency. Speaking strictly on a macro level, Kentucky is a good example. There are probably 7-8 future NBA players on that team. Sometimes, they look like a terrific, cohesive unit, others a storm of wasted motion and discombobulation. Consistency is a skill as valuable as any other.

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VIDEO: VCU SHUTS DOWN RHODE ISLAND 68-52

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HIGHLIGHTS

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RHODE ISLAND COACH DANNY HURLEY

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SHAKA SMART

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JORDAN BURGESS, JEQUAN LEWIS, JUVONTE REDDIC

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