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Conference play has arrived. The Rams (10-3) are set to kick off Atlantic 10 play Friday at George Mason (10-3) in a game that suddenly calls back (at least a little) to the halcyon days of the CAA. Will Wade has some things to say about the match-up.



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First, let’s lead off with a pretty cool video. VCU fan Chris Crowley sang the National Anthem last night and asked the Siegel Center crowd to sing along with him. By the end, Crowley lowers his mic as the crowd sings in unison. It was a night of “family”. VCU hosted its annual Alumni Day, where scores of former players like Calvin Duncan, Kendrick Warren, Joey Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson, Bradford Burgess and others returned to celebrate the VCU Basketball fraternity. It was also Senior Night, where the Rams paid tribute to Briante Weber, Treveon Graham and Jarred Guest. The whole game felt like an evening with friends.












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VCU forced 24 turnovers in a 71-60 win over George Mason Saturday.

VCU forced 24 turnovers in a 71-60 win over George Mason Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – When you begin to pick up the pieces, you’ve got to start somewhere. For VCU, which suffered a humbling loss at Davidson on Thursday, that place was two years ago. To move forward, the Rams had to look back momentarily.

On Saturday, it helped produce an imperfect 71-60 win over George Mason in VCU’s regular season finale at the Verizon Wireless Arena. It was a start.

Working with a short turnaround following Thursday night’s 82-55 loss at Davidson, VCU Coach Shaka Smart showed his team clips from an 86-68 win over UMass on Feb. 14, 2012.

Those clips were not selected at random. That game featured a UMass squad in the midst of its best season in years. They were confident and fun. At the time, it was an A-10 must-watch game. VCU tightened its grip that night and forced 24 turnovers in a fan friendly, wide-open, 79-possession gem.

“Coach just reminded us of how VCU plays, the VCU way, and he showed us a clip of two years ago in the A-10 against UMass, the style of play and how the game was going,” said sophomore Mo Alie-Cox, who finished with 11 points. “So that really put a reminder in our heads about how we should play and an attacking mindset, and that’s what we really tried to do here today. “



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Sophomore Doug Brooks provided nine points and solid defense in VCU's 72-60 win at George Mason.

Sophomore Doug Brooks (having his face reconfigured above) provided nine points and solid defense in VCU’s 72-60 win at George Mason.

Last night at George Mason, VCU’s cup runneth over…with adversity.

Given the season-ending injury suffered by senior point guard Briante Weber days earlier, the Rams were already faced with an emotional road game Wednesday night. How would VCU regroup mentally? Would the impact of Weber’s injury linger? How would the Rams replace his contributions on the court?

If you said to yourself, ‘Wow, VCU sure does have a lot to deal with tonight,’ you’d be like the rest of us. Except Fate. Fate laughed and gave the Rams another scoop.

Treveon Graham re-aggravated his right ankle injury and played just 12 minutes last night. When he exited the game for good, VCU trailed 26-19. If you responded at that moment with a litany of colorful four-letter words, not even your grandma would admonish you.

Instead of packing it in, VCU, led by its stable of underclassmen, gritted out a 72-60 win at the Patriot Center. That means that VCU was plus-19 last night against George Mason without Weber and Graham. Look, the Patriots may be struggling, but winning on the road without two of your three best players is pretty darn impressive, regardless of opponent.

Mo Alie-Cox didn’t fill up the box score, but he did make a couple of spectacular plays down the stretch and also did a splendid job of limiting Shevon Thompson’s post touches. Oh, and there was this:

Dougie Brooks’ game has matured by leaps and bounds over last year. Melvin Johnson (17 points) and JeQuan Lewis (13 points, 4 assists) led the way with heady playmaking.

It certainly won’t get any easier for VCU. The Rams head to the hinterlands of New York State to play at St. Bonaventure team that just won at Davidson, especially if Graham cannot go. But if Wednesday’s game was any indication, the Rams are going to battle every night, regardless of who is on the floor.



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Thursday night, VCU welcomed George Mason to the Atlantic 10 Conference essentially the same way the Rams said farewell (although they didn’t know it at the time) to them in the CAA in 2012: with a Havoc-heavy double-digit win. In front of a raucous, “Check the Stu” legion of VCU fans – the 43rd straight sellout at the Siegel Center – VCU beat the Patriots 71-57.

It was a night where I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the bouillabaisse of terrific happenings on and off the court. First and foremost, the “Check the Stu” promotion. Much like last year’s “Stripe the Stu”, this was outstanding. Frankly, it’s intimidating to look up in the stands and see 7,700 black and gold shirts bearing down on you. Love how big-time that looks on TV too.

As if that wasn’t enough, the game featured possibly the best Briante Weber steal you’ll ever see, a thunderous Terrance Shannon tip dunk, a Shaka Smart chestbump (of Shannon) and a space kitten. Let’s recap!


This picture doesn't necessarily do it justice, but it's the only arena shot at have right now.

This picture doesn’t necessarily do it justice, but it’s the only arena shot at have right now.

With about 47 seconds left in the game and VCU up double-digits, George Mason attempted to roll the ball in – an attempt to advance the ball without running clock. Bad idea. Briante Weber, who just flat-out never downshifts, came sliding in for one of the best steals you’ll see. Ever. Seriously.

EDIT: Slide gif now available.

Weber finished with 12 points and added a total of five steals to move into sole possession of second place one the program’s career list.



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Oh, and we will be "Checking" the Stu Thursday, as well.

Oh, and we will be “Checking” the Stu Thursday, as well.

Welcome folks, no time to spare! Let’s whip around the I-95 corridor and catch up with some of the scuttlebutt surrounding the VCU-George Mason contest Thursday evening.

First, we’ll check in with VCU’s own radio color analyst and Stella Artois enthusiast, Mike Litos, who offers his breakdown of the Patriots’ personnel.

We can overanalyze this game to death, but it’s pretty simple: style of play. VCU leads the country in turnover percentage, assuming command of the ball on 28.1% of opponents’ possessions. George Mason turns it over on 21.6% of its possessions, good for 308th nationally. So there’s that.

I continue to enjoy the work of RVA News, which has really stepped up its VCU coverage the last couple of years. Reporter Aaron Williams is cut from a bit from the SABRmetric cloth, and that’s a good thing. You can click here for the full preview.

In addition to having an underwhelming season, this is a terrible matchup for George Mason. The Rams can and should win. KenPom picks VCU to win 74-61 with a 91% chance of victory.

Time Pearrell of the Times-Dispatch was also around to offer some scribbles on VCU and George Mason resuming a rivalry that dates back to 1981.

“It’s a great rivalry for the fans,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “They’re a good team, they’re a good program. They’re right up the street. . . . There were some great games and a lot of back and forth in the CAA.

VCU’s Voice of The Rams and I also offered our thoughts in “What’s at Steak” (spelling is intentional). That and the polar vortex also gave me an opportunity to dig out a sweater from my closet for the first time in about two years.



VCU and George Mason will meet for the 50th time Thursday. The Rams lead the all-time series 31-18.

VCU and George Mason will meet for the 50th time Thursday. The Rams lead the all-time series 31-18.

For all that VCU gained in its move to the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2012, the Rams did forfeit a couple of compelling in-state rivalries. Sure, the Rams still play Old Dominion, but without a conference race at stake – not to mention the Monarchs’ recent struggles – the series has lost momentum. The other realignment casualty was VCU’s series with George Mason. When VCU packed up for the A-10, I didn’t lose any sleep over the possible end to games with James Madison and William & Mary, but the Mason rivalry has had some incredible moments. When the Patriots made the jump to the A-10 this summer, I was happy that the Rams would have another in-state rival playing for similar stakes.

Until 2012-13, the last season in which VCU and George Mason did not meet was 1983-84. So there’s some history, here. VCU leads the all-time series 31-18, and in the last 8-10 years, the rivalry really hit its stride. Both were CAA contenders essentially every year, they were two hours apart (depending on that NOVA traffic) and each enjoyed postseason success, including a Final Four.

But the Rams were also 6-0 against the Patriots in the CAA Tournament. VCU actually ended the Patriots’ conference title hopes the last four years they were in the CAA together and five of the last six. It’s at this moment that I wonder if George Mason actually suggested that the Rams join the A-10. They may have helped pack VCU’s bags.

While Mason isn’t likely to shake off those stinging losses, which include two CAA Championship games (we’ll get to that), the Patriots have earned some notable wins over the Rams in recent years. At the top of the list is Sherrod Wright’s 30-foot buzzer-beater that spoiled Valentine’s Day in 2012, and the 71-51 hammer the Patriots dropped on VCU at the Siegel Center in 2011, just prior to the Rams morphing into the Lakers (well, the old Lakers).

All-in-all, it’s been a fun rivalry, one fans should welcome back on both sides. Here’s a quick look at some recent memorable contests between George Mason and VCU.


Tournament MVP Eric Maynor celebrates VCU 2007 CAA Championship over George Mason.

Tournament MVP Eric Maynor celebrates VCU 2007 CAA Championship over George Mason.

March 5, 2007 – VCU 65, George Mason 59 – CAA Championship GameBox Score
Before there was “The Dagger”, there was this. Eric Maynor may have made his name by crushing Duke in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, but it wouldn’t have been possible without his incredible performance – highlighted by back-to-back steals – to stun George Mason.




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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):


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