A-10 RACE HEADED DOWN TO THE WIRE

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It’s Feb. 27, and the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season title is, to say the least, undecided with three games remaining:

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For the time being, we’ll ignore the unlikely event that UMass or Richmond, both 9-6, find an avenue to the top seed. Quite a conundrum we have here, eh? In the event of a two-way tie, the tiebreaker is simply head-to-head. After that, it gets…complicated. Per the A-10 (click to enlarge):

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Let’s take a quick look at each of the four teams’ remaining schedules (results listed are Ken Pomeroy’s predictions).

VCU
VCU

The good news for VCU is that it still controls its own destiny at this point. The Rams own a head-to-head tiebreaker versus Rhode Island and can lock up the league title with wins against Dayton and Davidson (easier said than done). Combined A-10 record of remaining opponents: 25-20.

DAYTON
Dayton

While Dayton does not control its own destiny – the Flyers lost at Davidson – they can prevent both VCU and Rhode Island from winning the league, then hope Davidson stumbles down the stretch. Combined A-10 record of remaining opponents: 29-16.

DAVIDSON
Davidson

Davidson, a preseason afterthought in the league race, may be in the most advantageous position of the four contenders. The Wildcats two toughest games on paper are both at home, where they are 12-1 this year. The Wildcats also own wins over both Dayton and Rhode Island. The Wildcats did lose to VCU on Jan. 7.  Combined A-10 record of remaining opponents: 24-21.

RHODE ISLAND
Rhody

Rhode Island likely has the most to lose from missing out on the regular season title and also may have the most uphill battle. The remaining schedule is tough, but negotiable, but the Rams have already lost to both VCU and Davidson and still have to play at Dayton, where the Flyers are unbeaten this season. Combined record of remaining A-10 opponents: 24-21.

At this stage VCU and Dayton (most likely) are in the NCAA Tournament, while Davidson has played itself onto the bubble. Rhode Island, however, really needs a strong finish to get into the bubble conversation.

Buckle up. It should be fun.

 

RICHMOND POSTGAME

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RECENT TRIALS REVEAL VCU CHARACTER

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Treveon Graham finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds - his 20th career double-double - for VCU Wednesday.

Treveon Graham finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds – his 20th career double-double – for VCU Wednesday.

RICHMOND, Va. – At some point, late in regulation of Wednesday night’s 67-63 double overtime loss to Richmond, as Treveon Graham took the ball for the umpteenth time, his lungs likely burning (and not just from all the floating sweater vest fibers in the air), his legs probably feeling like Jell-O, I wondered when his body would just quit. Shut down. Go on strike. Possession after possession I watched as he slogged through the clogged paint, took abuse and readied for more.

And that was before he willed an improbable VCU comeback into existence by – I don’t even know what to call it anymore – Grahamagic?

What followed was about an hour of the most emotionally draining, mathematically unlikely and just plain crazy basketball I’ve witnessed while on the VCU dime.

Teetering on the edge of full-on collapse early in the second half, VCU rallied from 16 points down to force overtime. With 2:06 left, the Rams were still down eight and shooting a very comeback-unfriendly 30-something-or-other percent. But then a steal and a few free throws, and a three and another steal and an airball and another steal and a couple of missed Richmond free throws and then a 3-pointer so deep Graham wouldn’t try it in H-O-R-S-E and then a ShawnDre’ Jones prayer that agonizingly bounced three times on the rim after the buzzer….and boom. Overtime, just that simple.

Oh, but wait. In overtime, VCU takes an eventual three-point lead with seven seconds left, fouls Richmond with 4.1 on the clock and then watches as Richmond purposely misses the second free throw, gets a perfect deflection off VCU and then runs a great inbounds play to tie the game. Double overtime, just that simple.

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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On Saturday, Feb. 21, VCU retired Bradford Burgess’ jersey. He became the fifth player in school history to receive that honor. In case you couldn’t be at the Siegel Center, here’s what you missed.

 

SHAKA SMART MEDIA MINUTES (FEB. 23)

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VCU-Richmond, Round 2 is coming up Wednesday. Shaka Smart met with the esteemed River City media to discuss the rivalry and more.

JORDAN BURGESS DOES 20, HIS WAY

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Jordan Burgess may wear the same number as older brother Bradford, but he's carving out his own, distinct legacy at VCU.

Jordan Burgess may wear the same number as older brother Bradford, but he’s carving out his own, distinct legacy at VCU.

RICHMOND, Va. – It was only appropriate that perhaps the biggest plays of VCU’s win over UMass Saturday were made by a Burgess.

After his jersey was retired in a pregame ceremony, former VCU star Bradford Burgess looked on as younger brother Jordan helped turn the tide in a pivotal 78-72 victory.

It was Bradford Burgess’ first game at the Siegel Center since he graduated in 2012. He was likely impressed with what he saw. Jordan finished with 5 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and a blocked shot. While it wasn’t the type of stat line that inspires people to hang your jersey from the rafters, it did advance the notion that Jordan is doing just fine carving out a memorable career, his way.

“There’s a tendency sometimes to dwell upon stats in measuring a player’s impact, but I think that’s a mistake with Jordan. He’s about winning. He’s about the right things,” VCU Coach Shaka Smart said afterwards.

Although he wears the same No. 20 Bradford and bears a resemblance, Jordan’s game is much more rugged. There’s no veneer. He’s not the shooter Bradford was – at least not yet. No, Jordan is something different.

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A CHAT WITH BRADFORD BURGESS

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Ironically, this interview we shot with Bradford Burgess for the pregame shot was bumped by…the ceremony honoring Bradford Burgess. But have no fear! We have Internets! Here’s my chat with Brad, who talks about his emotions heading into Saturday’s big moment.

BURGESS DEFINITELY A ‘BIG SHOT’ NOW

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Bradford Burgess ranks fifth in VCU history with 1,684 points and third in 3-point field goals with 231.

Bradford Burgess ranks fifth in VCU history with 1,684 points and third in 3-point field goals with 231.

People started calling him “Big Shot” years ago, but now maybe Bradford Burgess will actually feel like one.

That’s because on Feb. 21 prior to VCU’s game with UMass, the Rams will retire Burgess’ jersey.

Appropriately, a likeness of his No. 20 jersey will hang not far from the Final Four banner he helped deliver.

Burgess will become the fifth VCU Men’s Basketball player to see his jersey retired. He’ll join an elite group that includes Eric Maynor, Calvin Duncan, Kendrick Warren and Gerald Henderson. It’s lofty company.

Although he was recently passed by Treveon Graham on VCU’s all-time list, Burgess still ranks fifth on the program’s career scoring chart with 1, 684 points. He is one of just three players in school history – joining Warren and Charles Wilkins – to score at least 1,600 points, grab 700 rebounds and hand out 200 assists. Burgess also started 146 consecutive games for the Rams.

Burgess’ credentials are outstanding, but the case for his jersey retirement is about a lot more than points or starts or his 231 career 3-pointers. Burgess’ jersey will hang from the Siegel Center rafters because he won – a lot. The beauty of Burgess’ career is that his game often felt unassuming, until the Rams were headed home with another win.

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TERRY LARRIER, MAN IN TRANSITION

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Freshman Terry Larrier is averaging 6.7 points per game this season.

Terry Larrier knows a little something about transitions.

The 6-foot-7 VCU freshman’s current adjustment is to college curriculums and the rugged style of Division I college basketball. It’s a been a period of change for the lanky wing player, who also happens to be VCU’s highest-ranked recruit in a generation.

High school basketball and college basketball are the same in that their names both contain the word “basketball”. Other than that it’s like going from Mario Kart to NASCAR. It’s not just that college basketball players are more skilled – they are – it’s that most of them are genetic wonders.

But for Larrier, it’s not the first time he’s faced such difficult transition far from home. The last one helped shape him personally, academically and athletically, and made his college career possible.

Although he is, like teammate Melvin Johnson, a Bronx, New York kid to the bone, Larrier spent his final two years of high school at The Phelps Academy in Malvern, Pennsylvania, located in the rolling rural patches west of Philadelphia. It couldn’t have been more different than The Bronx.

According to the 2010 United States Census, more than 1.4 million people reside in The Bronx. For every one of the borough’s 42 inhabitable square miles, there are an average of 32,000 residents. In Malvern, there are about 3,000 people living in the entire town.

Set back a couple hundred yards off a country road, Phelps is a private, all boys boarding school. The Phelps website depicts student life through images of smiling teens in Hollister sweatshirts framed by verdant backdrops. There’s also a direct link for students to order their school uniforms, khakis and navy polo on most days, from Land’s End.

“It’s basically in the middle of nowhere,” Larrier says. “I went from being in classes with 32 kids to six, 10 kids. It was a big change and transition for me, but it was something I had to do. It was the best thing for me.”

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SAINT LOUIS NOTEBOOK; GRAHAM LOOKS SHARP AGAIN

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Senior Treveon Graham scored a team-best 16 points in Tuesday's win over Saint Louis.

Senior Treveon Graham scored a team-best 16 points in Tuesday’s win over Saint Louis.

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s unclear who had more spring in their step Tuesday, Treveon Graham or VCU fans after seeing the Rams’ star look sharp in a 74-54 rout of Saint Louis at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

Graham has been nursing a high ankle sprain, originally suffered Jan. 13 at Rhode Island and re-aggravated Feb. 4 at George Mason. The injury has cost Graham three games this season, and VCU has lost two of them.

It’s clear the ailment has affected Graham’s explosiveness of late, a source of concern for fans aware of his importance to this team, especially given the loss of Briante Weber two weeks ago.

But Graham looked much like his old self in Tuesday’s win. He scored VCU’s first eight points against the Billikens. He appeared to have good lift on his jumpers and out-jumped several other players for an early tip-in. Graham finished with a team-high 16 points and six rebounds.

“Yeah, I felt pretty good today,” Graham said afterwards. “Every day I’m getting better and better. I just wanted to come out and be aggressive. If I came out aggressive, I felt like my teammates would come [along].”

VCU Coach Shaka Smart assured people that his trained eyes also saw a more dynamic Graham Tuesday night.

“It’s a big lift he gave us, because our other guys were struggling to score early in the game. I thought tonight was the best that he’s moved since he sustained the injury. So that was good,” said Smart. “He and our athletic trainer have been working really hard around the clock with treatment and different modalities to work on that thing. Sometimes it’s frustrating because it doesn’t seem like it’s doing much, but I thought tonight it was a different bounce that he had and explosiveness.”

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