RAMS’ YOUTH, BENCH HELP DELIVER A-10 QUARTERFINAL WIN

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Freshman Melvin Johnson (12 points) was one of several of VCU's young reserves who were key Thursday.

Freshman Melvin Johnson (12 points) was one of several of VCU’s young reserves who were key Thursday.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – There was freshman Justin Tuoyo, all alone on the right wing. He’d barely played the last month and had missed 12 of his previous 14 three-pointers this season. From behind my position, a Saint Joseph’s fan, who had apparently done some advance scouting, shouted, “He can’t shoot a three, let him shoot it.”

Tuoyo promptly sized up the three and canned it.

Instead of hesitating or letting nerves overcome him on a big stage, the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals, Tuoyo stuck to the aggressive, attacking principles that Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart preaches.

At the time the bucket didn’t seem terribly significant. It gave the Rams a 64-47 lead with 8:11 remaining. But Saint Joseph’s, namely Carl Jones (29 points) and Langston Galloway (25 points), wouldn’t quit and managed to whittle the final margin to 82-79.

After the game, Smart was quick to remind Tuoyo of that bucket.

“I told him in the locker room after the game, I know it’s just one shot, but I don’t know if you noticed, but we won by three, and you hit a three,” Smart said. “So we needed every basket, and I think overall, just the contribution that he made in 14 minutes says a lot about his future.”

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VCU-SAINT JOSEPH’S HALFTIME NOTES/RAPID REAX

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Score: VCU 33, Saint Joe’s 23

Of note: With Spike Lee courtside rooting for the Rams, VCU stormed out of the gate to a 14-6 lead on the strength of 6-of-9 shooting and six Saint Joseph’s turnovers. The Hawks actually turned the ball over six times in seven possessions at one point.

Early foul trouble was an issue for the Rams. Treveon Graham picked up his second foul at the 11:45 mark of the half and Juvonte Reddic picked up his second a short time later. In their absence, the Rams got important minutes from senior walk-on David Hinton (3) and freshman Justin Tuoyo (4). Although neither player scored, they played sound defensively and kept Saint Joseph’s out of the lane.

Freshman Melvin Johnson, a Bronx native, continued his late-season surge, scoring eight first-half points in front of more than 50 friends and family. Senior Darius Theus led the Rams with nine points in the first, including a high-arching floater off the glass to beat the first half horn.

Although Saint Joseph’s had a 12-5 advantage in fouls, the Hawks were just 8-of-15 at the line. Carl Jones was the only Hawk to score the last nine minutes of the half and had eight points in all.

VCU shot 48 percent (14-of-29) in the first half, while Saint Joe’s shot 37 percent (7-of-19).

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A QUICK BARCLAYS PHOTO ESSAY

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A-10 NOTES: NCAA’S NOT A FACTOR, MELVIN! THRIVES

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Shaka Smart says an NCAA bid is "nice", but the Rams are in Brooklyn to win a championship.

Shaka Smart says an NCAA bid is “nice”, but the Rams are in Brooklyn to win a championship.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – For VCU, the conference tournament has long functioned as a de facto play-in round for the NCAA Tournament as much as it was a chase for a championship. Not since 1985 have Rams fans been able to truly compartmentalize the two experiences.

Although there’s no such thing as an “automatic” at-large berth, not officially anyway, the Rams will be dancing this year. Every “bracketologist” under the sun – from Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm, to Joe Schmoe crunching brackets in his mom’s basement – has VCU safely seeded anywhere from a No. 6 to a No. 9. While the Rams’ results this weekend will greatly impact where VCU will be seeded, who it’ll play and where it will go, it won’t be a do-or-die scenario. This NCAA Tournament is one thing. That’s next week. This weekend in Brooklyn is all about chasing a title.

VCU’s move to the Atlantic 10 is actually one of the main reasons the Rams don’t have to grit their teeth through CBS’ tournament selection show this year. The A-10 has the seventh-highest RPI in the country and will likely receive anywhere from three to six bids. The Rams racked up six top-100 wins in league play. In all, VCU has built a NCAA resume on 10 top-100 wins, including three top 50 triumphs, and no “bad” losses.

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THE PEPPAS ON NBC’S TODAY; RIP AL ROKER’S EARDRUMS

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How awesome is this? The Peppas on the Today Show Friday morning. The band was so loud Al Roker forgot what league we were in.

BARCLAYS GIVES A-10 CURB APPEAL

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The new Barclays Center in Brooklyn will serve as host to the Atlantic 10 Tournament for the first time. The building has given the tournament a previously unseen buzz.

The new Barclays Center in Brooklyn will serve as host to the Atlantic 10 Tournament for the first time. The building has given the tournament a previously unseen buzz.

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s about a mile-and-a-half from the door of Shaka Smart’s office to the floor of the Richmond Coliseum. An absurdly fit man, it’s not silly to think he can run there in about 10 minutes (probably less). But Barclays Center in Brooklyn? It would take a Forrest Gump-like effort and a couple pairs of Nikes to make that jog.

But that’s what Smart would be facing if he wanted to leg it to the conference tournament this year, VCU’s first in the Atlantic 10. While the Rams traded the Colonial Athletic Association for the more highly regarded A-10 this year, they also traded the familiar confines of the nearby Richmond Coliseum for Barclays Center, some six hours away, depending on traffic, of course.

Although the Rams have parted company with the convenience, VCU-friendly crowds and homespun appeal of the Coliseum in March, Smart isn’t losing any sleep over it.

“A lot has been made of the fact that we’re not playing here in home at Richmond,” he said Tuesday. “But I’ve coached at a lot of schools. This is the only school I’ve coached where we’ve played a conference tournament in our home city. That’s more the exception than the norm. We’re like everyone else. We have to travel to New York to play.”

For the first time since it joined the CAA in 1995-96, VCU will play in a conference tournament outside the city of Richmond. The Rams joined the A-10 this summer, in part because the league will host its championship at Barclays. The arena, located in America’s hoops haven, New York, provides the A-10 Tournament with a curb appeal the CAA just couldn’t match.

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SIZING UP VCU’S POTENTIAL A-10 QUARTERFINAL OPPONENTS

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Travis Taylor averages 11.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game for Xavier.

Travis Taylor averages 11.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game for Xavier.

No. 7 Xavier Musketeers (17-13, 9-7)
Coach:
Chris Mack (fourth season)
RPI/KenPom: 78/80
A-10 Tournament Championships: 4 (1998, 2002, 2004, 2006)
All time vs. VCU: series tied 2-2
This season: VCU 75, Xavier 71 (Feb. 23 – Cincinnati, Ohio)
Player to watch: Semaj Christon, Fr., Guard (15.4 ppg, 4.7 apg)
The rundown: Should the Rams draw the Musketeers in Friday’s quarterfinals, Christon would likely play a critical role in the outcome of the game. The last time these two teams met, the A-10 Rookie of the Year committed 10 turnovers against VCU’s Havoc full-court press. Yes, 10.

The first meeting between these two was a tale of two halves. Xavier shot an incredible 74 percent (14-of-19) in the first half and took a 39-26 lead into the lockerroom. The Musketeers extended their margin to as much as 17 points with 18:57 left before the Rams started knocking down shots and the press began wearing Xavier down. In all, VCU turned Xavier over 22 times in the game, which the Rams converted into 23 points.

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BRONX’S JOHNSON READY FOR NEW YORK HOMECOMING

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Freshman Melvin Johnson, a native of the Bronx, is averaging 7.1 points per game this season.

Freshman Melvin Johnson, a native of the Bronx, is averaging 7.1 points per game this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – Brooklyn isn’t the Bronx, but it’s still New York City, and that’s good enough for Melvin Johnson.

The VCU freshman guard, a Bronx native, is set to return to his hometown this week as the Rams descend on Brooklyn and Barclays Center for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The second-seeded Rams have a first round bye and will take on the winner of No. 7 Xavier and No. 10 Saint Joseph’s on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

For Johnson, it’s a chance to come home to play before friends and family in the city’s new, chic hoops destination. Johnson says he expects about 50 relatives, neighborhood buddies, AAU teammates and others to make the trip to the arena. But please, if you know Johnson, don’t call him. Call the Barclays ticket office.

“I couldn’t get 50 tickets, so I’ve got friends that are purchasing tickets,” he said Tuesday.

But it’s not all bad. Johnson says he’s been flattered by the outpouring of support he’s receiving from New York.

“Just for them to come out for me and do things like that for the entire weekend is going to mean a lot for me and is going to go a long way,” he said.

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ATLANTIC 10 TOURNAMENT BRACKET

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Download Full Bracket: 2013_MBB Bracket

2013 BBracket.xlsx

ATLANTIC 10 TIEBREAKER SCENARIOS

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Here are the relevant A-10 Tournament tiebreaker scenarios, as explained by Xavier blogger Shannon Russell (Click here for the full rundown). The Rams meet Temple Sunday in Philadelphia, while Saint Louis hosts La Salle Saturday.

Saint Louis – Currently the top seed. Can solidify No. 1 seed with a win over La Salle or a loss by VCU.

VCU – Currently the No. 2 seed. Can claim No. 1 seed with win over Temple and loss by Saint Louis. A Saint Louis win would give them the No. 2 seed whether they win or lose. A loss by VCU and a La Salle win (over SLU) would create three-way tie, with La Salle getting the No. 1 seed, SLU getting the No. 2 seed and VCU the No. 3 seed.

La Salle – Currently the No. 3 seed. Can claim No. 1 seed with win over Saint Louis and VCU loss. Can claim the No. 2 seed with a Saint Louis win and VCU win. (VCU to No. 1 seed, St. Louis to No. 3 seed.) A loss to Saint Louis and wins by Temple and two wins by Butler creates three-way tie. All three split with the other two, so it would go to record against best common opponents. If SLU won the A10, Temple would get the No. 3 seed, La Salle the 4 and Butler the 5. If VCU won the A10, La Salle would be the No. 3 seed, Temple the No. 4 seed and Butler the No. 5 seed.  If La Salle loses and is tied with Butler only, La Salle would be the No. 3 seed, Butler the No. 4 seed.  If La Salle loses and is tied with Temple only, Temple is the No. 3 seed and La Salle the No. 4 seed.

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