WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD

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Sophomore Treveon Graham scored six of his game-high 25 points in overtime Thursday.

Sophomore Treveon Graham scored six of his game-high 25 points in overtime Thursday.

RICHMOND, Va. – If you turned on Thursday’s VCU-Saint Joseph’s game and felt like you were watching an instant classic from some March of yesteryear, don’t worry, you weren’t the only one. This was a March appetizer on a January plate.

What you were actually witnessing was just another day in the life of the rough-and-tumble Atlantic 10 Conference, 22nd-ranked VCU’s new hoops home. This probably won’t be the last one of these. There are very few pushovers in one of America’s deepest leagues, and there are apparently no off nights in this 16-team gauntlet. While the Colonial Athletic Association was often a caste system of haves and have-nots, the A-10 feels like a balanced free-for-all.

What we learned from the Rams’ heart-pounding, how-did-they-do-it 92-86 overtime victory, in addition to expect more white-knuckle barnburners, was that VCU (15-3, 3-0 A-10) is also up to the challenge offered by the A-10.

When the Rams’ backs were against the wall, they found an answer. When they needed to counterpunch, and counterpunch, and counterpunch they did. When they needed something miraculous, they got it. It wasn’t perfect. Saint Joseph’s (9-6, 1-2 A-10) hit 9-of-22 threes and shot 52 percent for the game, but it was enough.

“If you want to win a conference you have to win games like this,” said VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart. “Not every game is a masterpiece.”

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INTRODUCING THE HAWK

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The Hawk has been a fixture at Saint Joseph's basketball games since 1955.

The Hawk has been a fixture at Saint Joseph’s basketball games since 1955.

While the VCU Basketball team is ramping up its preparations for the Saint Joseph’s Hawks, I wonder if VCU fans are ready for The Hawk of Saint Joseph’s.

The Hawk carries a mascot tradition like no other. Whoever wins the right to serve as The Hawk earns a full scholarship. Seriously. The Hawk has to flap at least one wing the entire game and swoops around the floor in figure eights during home games. The Hawk travels to all home and away games. Somebody even named The Hawk the best mascot in college basketball at one point. So, Thursday won’t just be a challenge for the VCU Basketball team, it’ll be a challenge for Rodney the Ram as well. Step up your game, RR.

For all the whimsical, blob-like creatures that are passing as mascots these days (not to mention pantless bird men), The Hawk remains as basic as Pong (can’t they get him some gloves, though. It’s just weird for a hawk to have man hands. Just weird). The beauty of The Hawk is in its tradition and its insane arm workouts.

Be ready Rams fans. The Hawk is coming.

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER

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VCU and Butler met at the 2011 Final Four in Houston. Butler earned a 70-62 win, despite 27 points from VCU’s Jamie Skeen.

Last year, this would’ve been just another Tuesday in June at VCU Athletics HQ. Instead, the Atlantic 10 (16!) released men’s basketball home and road opponents for each school Tuesday, sending the Twitterverse into a type of frenzy normally reserved for March Madness and Kate Middleton.

In a 16-team league, VCU wasn’t going to get every team on its wish list at home. There’s only 16 games with which to see the league, eight of them on the road. How did the Rams do? In terms of Buzz Factor, pretty good.

The Rams will partner and play home and home with Richmond. That was essentially a given. After that, the only thing anybody cared about was which teams were coming to the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, sponsored by Goody’s, McDonald’s, M&M’s and Nationwide, brought to you by Gatorade?

Here’s who will be visiting: Butler, Dayton, Fordham, George Washington, LaSalle, UMass, Richmond and Saint Joseph’s.  That’s a pretty good slate right there. Butler, Dayton, UMass and Saint Joe’s all have varying degrees of name-recognition.

This is my quickie “must-see” meter for VCU’s A-10 home dates:

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