ROUNDUP: GRAHAM, BUSY ALUMS & CANADA

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In case you missed it, Treveon Graham is going to be playing for the United States at the World University Games July 7-16 in Kazan, Russia. Only 12 players in the country can say that. It’s a big deal. The last Ram wear USA Basketball red, white and blue was Eric Maynor, who did so in 2007 at the Pan Am Games, after “The Dagger” and before his junior season. Graham will be the youngest player on this year’s squad.

VCU rising junior Treveon Graham, bottom right, wearing jersey No. 10.

VCU rising junior Treveon Graham, bottom right, wearing jersey No. 10.

Meanwhile, VCU Coach Shaka Smart has been serving as an assistant for the USA Basketball U19 squad in Prague.

More on that HERE.

ALUMNI NEWS
The NBA free agency period began Monday at midnight. It sounds like Eric Maynor will be looking for a new team.

But don’t worry, he should have suitors.

Edit, more Maynor:

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THE YEAR IN VCU ATHLETICS, FROM A TO Z

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Wrong A-B-C...whatever, close enough.

Wrong A-B-C…whatever, close enough.

June marks the conclusion of the college athletics calendar, and July’s arrival effectively signals the beginning of the 2013-14 season, at least for those of us in the biz, anyway. It all makes this week a good time to reflect back on the year that was in VCU Athletics.

A – is for Atlantic 10 Conference, in which, according to our slogan, the Rams were ‘all-in’. We were also all-in for another season of “Arrested Development” and Pop Tart ice cream sandwiches, so we’re having a good year. VCU competed in the A-10 for the first time in 2012-13, a move that has elevated the program’s national profile. The Rams’ first A-10 title came via the women’s tennis squad, followed by a men’s tennis crown days later. Meanwhile, several other sports (men’s basketball, women’s soccer, men’s soccer) reached the league’s championship final.

B – is for the Ball family, one of the driving forces behind the VCU Golf program. They’re like the Kennedy’s of VCU Golf, but with a better short game. Matt Ball may have just completed his 14th season with the Rams, but this one was surely different than the others. That’s because 40 percent of his starting lineup was occupied by sons Adam and Matt Jr. Son Adam, a freshman, led the Rams in scoring average (73.53) this year, while Matt Jr., a junior, placed seventh at the A-10 Championship and was named to the league’s All-Academic Team.

C – is for Courtney Conrad, the alliteratively named star of the women’s soccer team. Conrad led the Rams with 11 goals, including five game-winners, and received All-Mid-Atlantic by the NSCAA.

D – is for Daniels, Troy. If you are a fan of basketball players who score three points at a time (and the signed, obscure Mark Price picture in my dining room proves I am), then you would’ve enjoyed Daniels’ 2012-13 season. In 36 games, Daniels bombed a school-record 124 three-pointers, including games of 11, nine and eight.

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AND THEN THERE WERE 14 (AGAIN)

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Davidson_Combo_LogoRICHMOND, Va. – The tectonic shifting of Division I realignment has rumbled again, and this time it shook out favorably for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

The league trumpeted the addition of Davidson Wednesday for the 2014-15 season, just weeks after George Mason announced it would leave the CAA and would also join the A-10.

“Davidson is an ideal fit for the Atlantic 10 – as a nationally recognized academic Institution complimented by excellence in a broad-based athletic program — the Wildcats will be competitive immediately. Their success in men’s basketball is important, bringing another nationally recognized brand into the league,” A-10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade said Wednesday in a prepared release.

George Mason will become an A-10 member this summer, restoring a strong in-state rivalry with VCU. It also means the league will operate with 13 full members in 2013-14 and then – presumably – 14 in 2014-15.

In the short and long term, this is a boon for the Newport News, Va.-based Atlantic 10. The A-10 will lose four members this summer, Temple (All-American), Charlotte (Conference USA), Butler (Big East) and Xavier (Big East), but McGlade wasted little time shoring up the league.

From a men’s basketball perspective, which, realistically, is the driver in all this, the additions of George Mason and Davidson should be well-received. Given the landscape of college athletics these days, you could make a strong argument that these were the two most attractive and realistic targets for the A-10. Actually, that’s exactly the argument I’m making. The league adds two strong basketball programs with strong history in attractive TV markets; two schools which have each established themselves on the national scene at different points in the last eight years.

It would be impossible to completely replace programs like Xavier, Temple and Butler in a single year, but these are good moves nonetheless. If you count Davidson, seven of the A-10’s 14 schools finished in the top 100 in RPI last year.

Here’s a comparison of what the A-10 will gain the next two years to the schools that will depart (click to enlarge):

A-10-realignRPIa10-realign-measurables

MY ALL ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE AWARDS

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A10PrimaryThe Atlantic 10 Conference is procedurally different from the CAA in a number of areas, including voting for All-Conference awards. Whereas the CAA used a pool of 48 media members, SIDs and coaches, the A-10 is a strictly coaches voting pool. That doesn’t mean we have to sit this one out, however. We have a blog, you know.

Also, these picks were a part of the Duquesne Sports Blog’s voting pool for their All A-10 awards, so feel free to check out how the collective A-10 blogosphere feels.

Below are what would be my All Atlantic 10 Conference picks. Feel free to discuss, but take it easy on me. I’m sensitive.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Khalif Wyatt, Temple
Why:
I didn’t really need further confirmation, but after Sunday’s performance against VCU, it took me all of about four seconds to write in Wyatt’s name here. The 6-foot-4 senior guard, who has five 30-point performances this season, leads the league in scoring (19.9 ppg) is seventh in assists (4.1 apg) and ninth in steals (1.6 spg). Easy pick.|
Also considered: I’m checking to see if Jameer Nelson is eligible.

First Team
Khalif Wyatt, Temple
Rotnei Clarke, Butler
Ramon Galloway, La Salle
Juvonte Reddic, VCU
Treveon Graham, VCU

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LIKE A (PONTIAC) G6: CAR CHATTER ON 95 SOUTH

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3777914554-1INTERSTATE 95 – There’s plenty of road separating Philadelphia and Richmond, most of it I-95 blacktop.

I was honored to chauffeur VCU hoopologist Mike Litos yesterday. There’s plenty of opportunity during that four-hour, 250-mile drive to discuss everything from affairs on the domestic fronts, to offbeat basketball stories from yesteryear, to how much caffeine is “safe” for daily intake.

We also talked a lot of VCU hoops yesterday. On the ride home, after we licked our wounds and recalled key moments of Sunday’s 84-76 loss at Temple, we took a step back (figuratively, of course). Mike did a nice job analyzing the Xs and Os of the game in his blog post today, so there’s no need for me to play that shot.

Since yesterday marked the end of the regular season, it seemed like a logical time to survey the Rams’ body of work. The question we asked each other was, regardless of Sunday’s outcome, if on Nov. 1, 2012, if I would have offered you a 24-7 regular season finish, including 12-4 in the A-10, two top 25 wins, several weeks in the top 25 and an all-but-assured at-large berth, would you take it? Of course you would. I would knock over my own grandma to shake hands on that one.

It’s a strange feeling, Mike and I agreed. For the first time in my tenure here at VCU, I’m not white-knuckling NCAA bubble teams’ results on Sportscenter. It’s liberating, quite frankly. Two years ago, Kentucky’s upset over Florida this weekend would’ve had me kicking trash cans. Not yesterday. The only emotion I felt was, meh – which is to say, no real emotion at all. It’s a nice change.

Theoretically, if the Rams had finished 16-2 in the CAA and lost in the semifinals this weekend, would we feel the same way? The best RPI – THE BEST – in the CAA right now is Delaware’s 132, so you tell me. Eleven of the 12 teams that qualified for the A-10 tournament have a better RPI than 132. VCU won six top 100 games in conference play this season. Even if the Rams had finished 18-0 in the CAA, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as valuable as those six A-10 wins.

So, while Sunday’s loss stung, as all losses do, I’m enjoying the long view today. The regular season was incredibly successful. Now it’s time to rattle some cages in Brooklyn.

ATLANTIC 10 TOURNAMENT BRACKET

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Download Full Bracket: 2013_MBB Bracket

2013 BBracket.xlsx

ON NATIONAL STAGE, VCU, HAVOC STAR IN STATEMENT WIN

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Senior Troy Daniels provided a game-high 20 points in VCU's win over Butler Saturday.

Senior Troy Daniels provided a game-high 20 points in VCU’s win over Butler Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – Moments before his team took the floor for Saturday’s highly anticipated game with 20th-ranked Butler, VCU Coach Shaka Smart wrote two simple words on a whiteboard in the locker room: Be VCU.

What followed was one of the most thorough dissections of a top 25 team you’ll ever see, an 84-52 browbeating that should turn heads. VCU was everything Smart wanted and more. The Rams were VCU, but they were VCU in the Hulk’s body, wearing Superman’s cape. VCU was about as good a version of itself as possible. The Rams were the Five Horsemen of Havoc, laying waste to the Bulldogs in a way not seen in Coach Brad Stevens six seasons. It was Butler’s worst loss in a conference game since the 1985-86 season.

It’s Smart’s job to find the wrong in VCU’s performance Saturday, but he’s going to dig a little deeper this time around.

“I don’t think this game went perfectly at all,” he said. “I thought our response to what happened was close to perfect…if anything was perfect, it was our guy’s commitment to our plan and our goal.”

Hey, he’s got to say things like that.

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SHAKA SMART TALKS A-10, BUTLER ON BRANDO

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RAMS LOOSE, SHARP IN TUNE-UP FOR STRETCH RUN

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Juvonte Reddic finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds Saturday.

Juvonte Reddic finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – If Saturday night’s 84-57 win over George Washington is any indication, VCU is ready for its stretch run. It was the Rams’ final game before a pressure-packed five-bout gauntlet to close out the regular season, and VCU looked a lot like the team that was blowing opponents off the Siegel Center floor earlier this year.

It was a perfect storm for VCU (21-5, 9-2 A-10), really. It was Havoc meets the Peach Fuzz Boys. The Rams’ relentless defensive pressure, combined with George Washington’s inexperience, gestated into 25 Colonials’ turnovers. VCU was more than happy to trade those miscues in for 27 points, an advantage that proved insurmountable.

George Washington, in the second year of Mike Lonergan’s rebuilding project, started four freshmen Saturday night. Those four rookies combined for 17 turnovers, including eight from Joe McDonald. After that, there were few stats that mattered. The pace and tone of the game were squarely in VCU’s favor, and from there, it was a day at the races.

Junior Juvonte Reddic found open space all evening and made his first seven field goal attempts, five of them highlight-quality dunks. On the Rams’ first offensive possession of the game, Reddic used a back screen to get free and caught a high-arching lob from Darius Theus with his right hand and threw it down for a thunderous slam. It was a play that set the tone for night.

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RAMS UNDAUNTED BY SHORT PREP FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON

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Shaka Smart says VCU will need to shift its focus quickly to prep for George Washington.

Shaka Smart says VCU will need to shift its focus quickly to prep for George Washington.

RICHMOND, Va. – There will be just 44 hours between the final horn of VCU’s 86-68 win over UMass Thursday and its 7:30 p.m. tip with George Washington Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Arena. After sleep, class and meals, that’s not a lot of time to prepare for a college basketball game.

The Atlantic 10 Conference typically plays its games in a Wednesday-Saturday format, but the Rams’ midweek game against the Minutemen was slotted for 9 p.m. Thursday to accommodate television. Coincidentally, George Washington will be coming off six days rest. The Colonials last took the court on Feb. 9 in a 59-56 loss to Butler.

It’s a situation that VCU Coach Shaka Smart says will ask the Rams to be efficient in their preparations for the Colonials.

“It’s important that we shift our focus mentally to George Washington,“  Smart said. “They’ve got a really good team. They’re well coached. They’ve got a great system. They’re very, very different than UMass, so we’re going to have to shift our focus quickly.”

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