LONG TIME COMING; RAMS, CAVALIERS END SERIES HIATUS

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Junior Treveon Graham will lead VCU into Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena Tuesday.

Junior Treveon Graham will lead VCU into Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena Tuesday.

RICHMOND, Va. – About 70 miles separate the campuses of VCU and Virginia, a little more than an hour for even the most conservative drivers. But it’s the figurative divide, not the physical, between the two schools that has kept their men’s basketball teams apart for 15 years.

On Tuesday, the series between VCU and Virginia, on sabbatical since Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart was a senior at Kenyon College, resumes at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. It’s a marquee match-up of ranked squads. The Rams are 14th in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 Poll, while the Cavaliers are 25th.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for both teams and for all the fans of college basketball in the area,” Smart said Monday at his weekly press conference. “There’s a lot of great basketball that goes on throughout the year in Virginia, in the Mid-Atlantic Region, but for this early in the year, for two teams that are in the top 25 to play one another…I think that’s what it’s all about.”

But the strength of the match-up might not be the most remarkable element of Tuesday’s contest. It’s that the game is happening at all.

Part of a home-and-home series between the two schools (UVA will visit VCU in ’14-15), the game likely owes its existence as much to the mid-major roots of Virginia Coach Tony Bennett and the friendship between he and Smart, as it does the standing of the two programs.

VCU and Virginia last met in a game on Nov. 13, 1998 in Richmond, an 86-70 Cavaliers’ win. That contest was originally scheduled as VCU’s grand debut in the Stuart C. Siegel Center, but construction delays prevented the arena from opening until the following season. Instead, it was played at Richmond’s Robins Center.

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VCU-VIRGINIA SERIES? IT’S POSSIBLE, SMART SAYS

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Shaka Smart: “Up to this point we haven’t been that successful getting people to come back to our building and play us…hopefully, our success rate with that will get a little better.”

RICHMOND, Va. – Are VCU and Virginia in line for a meeting on the basketball court? It could happen sooner, rather than later.

VCU’s gaudy record (163-27, .858 win %) at the Verizon Wireless Arena and reputation of springing upsets have long been roadblocks to getting home games against schools from Power Six conferences, including in-state foes Virginia and Virginia Tech. But VCU Coach Shaka Smart hopes VCU’s recent move from the CAA to Atlantic 10 will change that.

Smart revealed that when he arrived at VCU in 2009, Virginia Coach Tony Bennett agreed to play a home-and-home series with the Rams, but the two schools couldn’t agree on dates for the games. However, those talks may heat up again, according to Smart.

“Because of some of the complexities involved in scheduling, we haven’t been able to schedule that over the last couple of years,” Smart said Friday. “But they’re one of the schools that we’ve talked to and that we would love to play home-and-home. I think they’re open to potentially doing that. But it has to make sense for them too.”

Richmond and Charlottesville are separated by just 70 miles, but VCU and Virginia have not met since 1998. The Rams have never hosted UVA inside the Verizon Wireless Arena, although the Cavaliers have played a couple of neutral site games in the building since it opened in 1999. Clearly, the GPS can find it.

As a matter of principle, VCU has declined to play schools from leagues such as the Big Ten, ACC, SEC and Big East without the promise of a return game at the Verizon Wireless Arena, which usually ended those discussions. The Rams’ home game with Oklahoma two years ago, as well as the Rams’ upcoming contest with Alabama in 2012, were the result of clauses in the contracts of former coaches Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant.

VCU has not met Virginia Tech on the basketball court since 1995, but will face the Hokies in during the 2013-14 season in the Governor’s Cup at the Richmond Coliseum. That game, however, was arranged by the office of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

“We’re excited about that. They weren’t excited about that, but we are,” Smart said of the Virginia Tech match-up.

But the A10’s sturdier RPI and nationally-recognized brand may help bridge the scheduling gaps VCU has faced in the past. The A10 was the nation’s seventh-rated RPI league last season and received four NCAA Tournament bids. The mid-major stigma may be fading from VCU’s name.

Since the Verizon Wireless Arena opened for the 1999-2000 season, VCU has hosted nine games against schools currently residing in one of the Power Six (Big East, Pac 12, Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 and ACC) conferences: Louisville, Colorado, Pittsburgh, TCU, Mississippi (twice), Texas A&M, Oklahoma and South Florida.  The Rams hold a 7-2 mark in those match-ups. At the time of those games, however, Louisville, Houston and TCU were members of Conference USA. VCU has hosted a ranked team in the arena just once (#17 Oklahoma, 2009).

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