WEBER’S STATUS VCU’S MAIN CONCERN FOLLOWING RICHMOND LOSS

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Senior Briante Weber leads the nation in steals.

VCU Senior Briante Weber leads the nation in steals.

RICHMOND, Va. – Richmond snapped VCU’s 12-game winning streak Saturday, but the Rams’ greater concern moving forward will be the status of senior point guard Briante Weber, who left the game with a non-contact injury to his right knee.

In his press conference following the 64-55 loss, VCU Coach Shaka Smart said he did not know the severity of the injury, and that an MRI was imminent.

“We’re hopeful it’s something he can come back from, but I don’t want to say more than that because I don’t know.”

With 3:18 remaining, Weber drove and made a jump stop inside the free throw line, then crumbled to the floor in obvious pain. He was escorted off the floor by the VCU athletic training staff. Weber returned to the VCU bench on crutches a short time later.

Richmond players and coaches shook Weber’s hand afterwards and offered words of encouragement.

“I just said [to him] that guys overcome a lot of things, and people wouldn’t have predicted he’d become the great player that he is and NBA prospect that he is, so what’s bad for a regular person might not be as bad for him, and I wished him luck in getting better,” said Richmond Coach Chris Mooney.

Losing Weber for any period of time would be significant for VCU. Weber has often been the Rams’ catalyst on both sides of the floor. He is currently leading the nation in steal percentage for the fourth straight year, and his play sets the tone for the Rams’ “Havoc” defense.

Weber scored 11 points and grabbed six steals prior to Saturday’s injury. He has 374 career steals, 11 shy of the NCAA career record. Weber is averaging 8.0 points, 4.1 assists and 3.9 steals per game this season.

Although Weber has been relatively injury-free during his career, the Rams did manage an 85-69 win over Tennessee on Nov. 14 in the season-opener while Weber served a suspension. Sophomore JeQuan Lewis and freshman Johnny Williams will be asked to pick up the bulk of the slack at the point for the Rams.

“We’ll wait and see,” Smart said. “He’s an integral part of what we do. We’re hopeful he’ll be back soon, but if he’s out, we’re going to keep playing. You can’t cancel the season. We’re going to keep playing. That’s why you have a full roster of guys. In terms of style of play, we’re not going to change a whole lot [if Weber’s out], but guys are just going to have to step up and play.”

VCU, which entered the game ranked 14th nationally in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, is 17-4 overall and remains in first place in the Atlantic 10 at 7-1 despite the loss.

The Rams will travel to George Mason on Wednesday before heading to St. Bonaventure on Feb. 7.

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NOE LOBBIED FOR A ‘YES’, HELPED LAUNCH VCU-RICHMOND RIVALRY

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Former Rams’ Chuck Noe helped usher in the Richmond-VCU rivalry.

RICHMOND, Va. – Not many people know it, but the roots of the University of Richmond are tangled with those of VCU.

On the corner of Ryland and Grace Streets, on the eastern fringe of Richmond’s Fan neighborhood and very much within VCU’s footprint, sits a gateway that marks the former location of Richmond College. The college picked up and moved out to the West End in 1914 and became the University of Richmond. Today, you can stand at the gateway and watch fans on the next block trickle into VCU’s Stuart C. Siegel Center.

VCU’s beginnings are also modest, from Richmond Professional Institute – once an arm of William & Mary – to the 1968 merger with the Medical College of Virginia that created the University as it exists today.

The origins of the VCU-Richmond basketball series, a rivalry that has often roused this city for nearly 40 years, are similarly humble. Separated by just eight miles, the two institutions might as well be worlds apart. VCU is a large, public institution located downtown, while Richmond is small, private and tucked away in a leafy neighborhood in the West End. For those and a number of other reasons, the rivalry has maintained its edge despite changes in coaches, administrators and conference affiliation.

Although the RPI-MCV merger produced VCU in 1968, it wasn’t until eight years later that it would meet Richmond on the basketball court. There are a number of possible explanations as to why VCU and Richmond didn’t face each other until 1976. Most agree, however, that Richmond, as an established member of the Southern Conference at the time, chose not to play VCU because it simply didn’t have to.

“We always wanted to play Richmond, but they were an established school. VCU had been an independent up to that point. The schools just never had a chance to play each other. We’d always see the guys in the summer time, and we’d go back and forth,” says Gerald Henderson, a VCU star from 1974-78.

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VIDEO: RAMS EDGE RICHMOND 56-50

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IS ‘STATE CHAMPS’ A REAL THING, AND WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM IT?

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Rob Brandenbeerg (left) scored 11 points as VCU beat Richmond 56-50 Thursday to complete a 6-0 sweep of Virginia schools this season.

Rob Brandenbeerg (left) scored 11 points as VCU beat Richmond 56-50 Thursday to complete a 6-0 sweep of Virginia schools this season.

RICHMOND, Va. –  State Champs.

It’s a bit of a running joke among VCU fans that the Rams were going for a state championship this year, with Virginia, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion, George Mason and Richmond –  i.e. the five best Division I programs in Virginia not named VCU – on the schedule. But now, with Thursday’s 56-50 triumph over Richmond, the Rams have actually “swept the state”, finishing 6-0 against those schools (barring any postseason meetings). Perhaps it’s important to recognize that and understand what it means, if anything.

First and foremost, VCU will receive nothing tangible for winning those six games (beating Richmond twice). This isn’t Philadelphia’s Big Five. There’s no trophy, no special recognition, not even a Chuck E Cheese pizza party for winning this thing we made up on the fly. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. It matters to the fans, who have stroked the fires of these intrastate rivalries. It also matters because going 6-0 against that group means you probably won some quality games.

It also mattered to Shaka Smart and the players. If you listened to Smart’s press conference Thursday night, you could gauge the importance.

According to VCU Sports Information Director Scott Day, this has never happened before. No school from these six programs (including VCU), has swept the group in the same season. You don’t think that’s a great recruiting tool? “Hey, (insert player name), you know those other Virginia schools that are recruiting you? Yeah, we beat them. All of them.”

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SHAKA SMART MEDIA MINUTES (MARCH 3)

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VIDEO: RAMS DOWN RICHMOND 81-70

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THE BATTLE FOR RICHMOND

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VCU Baseball hosts Richmond at The Diamond for a three-game set to close the regular season. The series starts Thursday at 6 p.m., followed by an 11 a.m. contest on Friday and a  10:30 a.m. tilt on Saturday. The Rams (25-26) still have a mathematical shot at playing in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, so there’s more than just city bragging rights at stake.

VIDEO: RAMS OUTRUN RICHMOND & OTHER BONUSES

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FEAR NOT, COLLEGE HOOPS COLUMNISTS, HAVOC CAN SAVE US ALL

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If you can't have fun watching Havoc, check your pulse.

If you can’t have fun watching Havoc, check your pulse.

RICHMOND, Va. – College basketball is broken? Scoring is down? The game is boring? Soft bubble? Too many upsets? I think some of these stodgy columnists need some Havoc therapy.

This year, more than any in recent memory, college basketball has faced parroted calls for a fix.

“Make this game more fun! Entertain us! Too many upsets. Too many guys leaving college early.”

Maybe I’m not qualified to assess the state of Division I basketball. I drive a Pontiac – a car brand which no longer exists – and own a total of two suit jackets, so, probably not. Maybe hoops is “broken”, maybe it’s not. I’m just wondering if these guys are watching what I’m watching. Have you seen VCU? Have you sampled the fruit of the breakneck, devil-may-care style of play that is only churning out turnovers and entertainment value at a faster rate than it is producing victories?

From where I’m sitting, college hoops looks better than ever.

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UNSPONSORED, BOB SEGER-INSPIRED POST

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RICHMOND, Va. – Let’s take this opportunity to tip our cap to the Atlantic 10 Conference schedule-makers. Some might decry the short Thursday-Saturday turnaround, but this week the Rams will welcome the opportunity to get back to basketball.

In football, ESPN has an entire week to overanalyze why Tim Tebow didn’t run more than four snaps in the wildcat. There are six days between games to stew on a loss, eight if you live on Skip Bayless’ planet. Baseball players are pretty lucky in this respect. Whatever horror Tuesday wreaks, the sun will come up Wednesday and bring another ballgame with a chance for redemption.

That’s why VCU (16-4, 4-1 A-10) should be happy about Saturday’s game against La Salle at the Verizon Wireless Arena, which will tip less than 48 hours after the Rams heartbreaking 82-74 overtime loss to Richmond. That’s not a lot of opportunity to irrationally dissect the season. It’s human nature to act like this, but a quick turnaround affords a chance to turn the page. It’s a long season, and one loss is just that. So the Rams aren’t going to sweep the A-10 season. Other than that, what did we learn? That VCU is pretty unlucky when it comes to the opposition heaving desperation 28-foot 3-pointers with less than two seconds remaining on the road on weekdays against players whose names begin with a consonant? Terrific. Next!

“We’ve just got to move on quick and get ready for Saturday,” junior Rob Brandenberg said Thursday night. “We play in less than 48 hours. We’ll be able to do something about it then.”

In my seven previous seasons covering the Rams, six ended with some type of postseason, including four NCAA tournaments. All seven years included at least 19 wins; In essence, seven great seasons. In those seven years, I’ve seen the Rams lose at the buzzer at George Mason (on Valentine’s Day) and to a bad James Madison team (which led then-JMU Coach Dean Keener to commandeer the PA mic and blast some adrenaline-fueled plea for more fan support into the rafters — it didn’t work, by the way).

There have been head-scratching losses at Hampton, UNC Wilmington, William & Mary, East Carolina, Western Michigan and Towson. This year’s Richmond team is better than any from that quintet. Each loss caused us to obsess about basketball minutiae. We felt the same after each loss as do when we learn that Carson Daly still has a TV show: angry and disappointed, with an overriding desire to drive to Connecticut.

VCU Coach Shaka Smart says the Rams' loss to Richmond will test his team's maturity.

VCU Coach Shaka Smart says the Rams’ loss to Richmond will test his team’s maturity.

Look, by March, those games were long forgotten because the Rams picked themselves up and got back to work at Franklin Street Gym. They turned the page. Heck, in VCU’s Final Four season, the Rams lost at a sub-par South Florida team and were thumped at Richmond. It’s college basketball. It happens. Duke was absolutely pulverized by Miami (Fla.) the other night. And, as much as I enjoy piling on Duke (never gets old), the Blue Devils are still a very good basketball team; maybe the best team in the country. That doesn’t change.

La Salle, which just stunned ninth-ranked Butler Wednesday, doesn’t care what VCU did at Richmond Thursday, so the Rams shouldn’t either. They need to be ready to guard the peach baskets at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

The A-10 is an incredibly competitive league. The championship teams don’t always avoid a tough road loss – it happens to nearly every one – but they don’t let Wednesday’s (Thursday, in this case) loss beat them Saturday.

“We’re in good position,” VCU Coach Shaka Smart said. “We could’ve been in better position. It is what it is though. We’ve got to move on. I think emotionally, there are ups and downs, highs and lows to any season. We’ve had a lot of highs of late. The Saint Joe’s game we were on the flipside. We were down late and obviously we came back and forced overtime and won. So, it’s the maturity of the team and the guys on the team that’s going to dictate how you’re going to move on.”

Cue the Silver Bullet Band.

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