RICHMOND, Va. – VCU’s 12-3 non-conference record has helped win the program some affection on the road to respectability. The Rams are ranked 24th in the latest USA Today Coaches Poll, released Monday. It’s VCU’s first top-25 ranking during the regular season since 1985. The Rams are also the last team outside the Associated Press Top 25 Poll this week.
One person that isn’t particularly impressed is VCU Coach Shaka Smart, who, coincidentally, is a voter in the Coaches Poll. Does Smart find the Rams’ newfound top-25 status significant?
“No,” the coach flatly replied Monday.
Smart has more pressing matters, namely the Rams’ Atlantic 10 Conference opener Wednesday against Dayton at the Verizon Wireless Arena, to tend to. That, and the fact that a top 25 ranking can’t make jumpers and won’t run a diamond press.
“I think rankings are for fans and for the media, not so much for players and coaches,” Smart said. “When we take the floor they’ll be five of us against five of them from Dayton and they have just as much of a right to win as we do. It’s going to be a matter of who plays best on that night.”
VCU’s growing poll visibility could also prove problematic for the Rams. Smart and his staff have masterfully motivated the Rams over the years through an underdog narrative. When VCU cut down the nets after defeating Kansas to reach the Final Four in 2011, the only thing more that got more attention than the Southwest Region Championship trophy was the chip on the Rams’ shoulders.
But this season, A-10 newcomers VCU and Butler – ranked 14th in the Associated Press Top 25 this week and 17th in the Coaches Poll – aren’t sneaking up on anybody. Both schools are walking into league about as quietly as a marching band visiting the public library.
“Both of our programs have received a certain level of attention, but all that means is that there’s going to be a bullseye on our back whether we’re new to the league or not,” said Smart. “People are going to want to beat us.”
VCU’s last top 25 ranking came on March 29, 2011, when it was ranked sixth in the final USA Today Coaches Poll following the season.
VCU Men’s Basketball Top 25 Ranking History
Nov. 29: 20th
Jan. 1: 20th
Jan. 8: 18th
Jan. 15: 16th
Jan. 22: 19th
Jan. 29: 17th
Feb. 26: 17th
March 5: 12th
March 12 (Final): 11th
March 29 (Final): 6th
Jan. 7: 24th