SPIDERS: The Black & Blue Classic, a rivalry renewed

Coming off of a convincing and much needed win over conference-foe Charlotte (81-61) last Saturday night at the Robins Center, the University of Richmond welcomes cross-town rival Virginia Commonwealth University.

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  • What: Richmond (12-7, 2-2) vs. VCU (16-3, 4-0)
  • Where: Robins Center
  • When: Thursday, January 24th at 7:00 PM
  • Watch: CBS Sports Network (Verizon 94 & Comcast 732/854)
  • Listen: ESPN 950

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Sizing them up

Coming off of a convincing and much needed win over conference-foe Charlotte (81-61) last Saturday night at the Robins Center, the University of Richmond welcomes cross-town rival, NCAA Tournament Darling, and nationally ranked (AP #19, USA Today #16) Virginia Commonwealth University Thursday night in what could potentially be a season-changing matchup for the up-and-down Spiders. This will be the first time since 2001 that these rivals will face-off as conference opponents, with another meeting to come on March 6th, but the significance and intensity of what has become a nationally-recognized rivalry remains the same.

VCU, currently riding a 13-game win streak, has evolved into a common household name in the domain of college basketball–and rightfully so considering its recent success in the NCAA Tournament. But the Spiders are no strangers to the big stage or to the grueling schedule of the A-10, VCU’s new conference home.

Richmond, despite it’s overall inconsistent play, has defended its home court exceptionally well this season with a 10-1 mark and defeated the Rams—who have yet to face a true conference road test this season—during their previous visit to the Robins Center in 2011 (ending a 6-game losing streak in the Classic). A win for the Spiders would push them over .500 in conference play and would prove crucial as they prepare for their second A-10 road trip of the season.

“HAVOC” continued

The VCU Rams have arguably moved their way out of the “Cinderella” category of college basketball programs that make for surprising, fairytale-like success stories in the exciting throes of March Madness.

Headlined by their consistent postseason play, several stints in the national rankings, a young and much sought after coach in Shaka Smart, and, of course, a full-throttled pace led by their famous and suffocating “HAVOC” defense, VCU has made quite a name for itself in the national landscape. And while many questioned the program’s 2012 decision to join the likes of Richmond, Butler, and Xavier in the Atlantic 10, the Rams have picked up right where they left off with a quick 4-0 conference start.

Led by much improved sophomore guard Treveon Graham (16.2 PPG); leading rebounder, junior Juvonte Reddic (13.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG); and senior sharpshooter, Troy Daniels (12.6 PPG, 41% 3PT), VCU has yet to miss a beat this season and proved its national relevance early on with a win over then ranked #19 Memphis in late November, followed by close losses to #5 Duke and #13 Missouri.

Despite their early success and the relative ease into which they have moved into A-10 play, VCU has yet to face a true challenge on the road in the young conference schedule. In fact, Duquesne and St. Bonaventure, the only two A-10 road opponents the Rams have faced thus far, have a combined conference record of only 1-7. A sold out Robins Center, where the Spiders have won 10-of-11 contests this season, will surely put the Rams’ unblemished conference record to the test.

A big loss

The Spiders will be without power forward Derrick Williams, Richmond’s leading rebounder (6.8) and second leading scorer (13.6), for the 6th straight game. Considering Williams is the Spiders’ only big man with any previous collegiate experience, his absence will continue to be a problem for Richmond’s post presence and will create a rebounding void that must be addressed collectively by a cast of young and inexperienced Spider post players. Richmond is 3-2 in its previous five games without Williams.

Prediction

There is no doubt that Richmond will enter tomorrow night’s contest playing the role of underdog against the nationally ranked Rams of VCU. But the Spiders’ stout reputation at the Robins Center and Darien Brothers’s recent hot hand (career-high, 39-point outing against Charlotte), along with the Rams’ weak road experience this season will prove to be the difference in a Spider upset over their cross-town rival.

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