RICHMOND, Va. – About 70 miles separate the campuses of VCU and Virginia, a little more than an hour for even the most conservative drivers. But it’s the figurative divide, not the physical, between the two schools that has kept their men’s basketball teams apart for 15 years.
On Tuesday, the series between VCU and Virginia, on sabbatical since Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart was a senior at Kenyon College, resumes at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. It’s a marquee match-up of ranked squads. The Rams are 14th in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 Poll, while the Cavaliers are 25th.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for both teams and for all the fans of college basketball in the area,” Smart said Monday at his weekly press conference. “There’s a lot of great basketball that goes on throughout the year in Virginia, in the Mid-Atlantic Region, but for this early in the year, for two teams that are in the top 25 to play one another…I think that’s what it’s all about.”
But the strength of the match-up might not be the most remarkable element of Tuesday’s contest. It’s that the game is happening at all.
Part of a home-and-home series between the two schools (UVA will visit VCU in ’14-15), the game likely owes its existence as much to the mid-major roots of Virginia Coach Tony Bennett and the friendship between he and Smart, as it does the standing of the two programs.
VCU and Virginia last met in a game on Nov. 13, 1998 in Richmond, an 86-70 Cavaliers’ win. That contest was originally scheduled as VCU’s grand debut in the Stuart C. Siegel Center, but construction delays prevented the arena from opening until the following season. Instead, it was played at Richmond’s Robins Center.