Threat Level HAVOC!: The conference play ahead of us

What you’re likely to see as the Rams move through their conference schedule, and a nice breakdown of all their evil opponents.

Photo by Will Weaver

Despite giving Saint Joseph’s a 9-0 run to start the first half and an 11-0 run to start the second half, despite 31 points (7-8 2PFG, 4-6 3PFG) and 9 rebounds from the supremely improved St. Joe’s senior big man Isaiah Miles, and despite a 13-point deficit in the second half, VCU topped the Hawks 85-82 Tuesday night in Philadelphia to move to 2-0 in conference play.

The short version: VCU stole this game and I still haven’t figured out how they did it.

The Rams couldn’t get things done on the defensive end and they fell in love with the 3-point shot attempt despite mediocre success from beyond the arc. But between the 13:08 mark and the 5:14 mark in the second half, Melvin Johnson scored 17 points. Then Doug Brooks scored 5 points in 41 seconds. Mo Alie-Cox followed that up with a dominant 10 straight points.

The Rams scored 33 points in the final 10 minutes, and I guarantee a non-insignificant number of people who turned the game off in frustration couldn’t believe reading the result in Good Morning, RVA Wednesday morning.

I honestly don’t want to dwell on Tuesday for too long. It was agonizing for all but eight minutes. And while it went down on paper as a W, a process-based evaluation won’t be as favorable to the Rams as the scoreboard. But that’s conference play, and that’s what it takes to be successful sometimes. A win against the Hawks in Philadelphia is no easy feat, so to put it in perspective, here is every A-10 team ranked on how much of a threat they are to HAVOC!

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#13 La Salle (4-8, 0-2)

The fightin’ Jordan Prices (22.8 PPG) haven’t beat a D-I team since November 23rd. The defense just isn’t there.

#12 GMU (6-9, 0-2)

The Rams already dismantled the Patriots 71-47. Dave Paulsen’s ceiling appears to be way higher than his predecessor, but George Mason just can’t score this season. They’ll break 50 when the Rams visit Fairfax, but VCU should get another season sweep.

#11 UMass (8-6, 1-1)

The Minutemen have impressive victories over Clemson and Harvard but have fallen off the train since starting 4-0. On Tuesday they were clobbered by Dayton. The Minutemen’s dreams of Chaz Williams are HAVOC!’s nightmares, but he’s long gone and what’s left just isn’t enough.

#10 SLU (6-8, 1-1)

The Billikens were bad last year, and it still took Jordan Burgess heroics to squeak out a 63-61 victory in St. Louis. SLU has won just two of their last 10 games. The Rams return to the Mississippi on Sunday, and something tells me it will be closer than it should be.

#9 Duquesne (10-5, 0-2)

The Dukes are a middle-of-the-pack team at best, but they’ll be the most annoying team in the A-10 because of their 3-point shooting. Expect them to beat someone unexpected. Derrick Colter is putting together a solid season after beating cancer, and Micah Mason is 41-of-96 (.427) from 3-point range.

#8 Fordham (10-3, 1-1)

These Rams are unexpectedly 10-3 in coach Jeff Neubauer’s first year. His 2014 team at Eastern Kentucky took VCU to overtime in the Siegel Center, using an aggressive 2-3 zone and a high-octane backcourt. This season, his team ranks 4th nationally in defensive turnover percentage and 3rd in defensive steal percentage. VCU ranks 5th and 2nd respectively. Fordham is still a work in progress, but this could turn into high-pressure, high-turnover rivalry moving forward.

#7 St. Bonaventure (10-3, 0-2)

The Bonnies are actually pretty good this season. They’ve won seven of their last eight, Marcus Posley (who hit the game-winner against VCU last season) and Dion Wright are quality seniors, and they may even get a bye in the A-10 tourney. But VCU doesn’t have to visit Olean this season, and that in and of itself is a victory.

#6 George Washington (12-3, 1-1)

The Colonials added Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh to an already stacked front court featuring Patricio Garino, Yuta Watanabe, and Kevin Larsen, and until Monday they’d been the only team to beat UVA. But VCU is 4-1 against GW in the A-10 with an average margin of victory of more than 20 points per game, and the Colonials dropped a game to SLU on Wednesday. Until GW proves me wrong (likely), call me a skeptic.

#5 Davidson (9-4, 1-1)

The Wildcats started the conference slate 5-4 last season before winning nine straight and topping the conference. Never bet against Coach Bob McKillop, especially when he has guards like Jack Gibbs, Jordan Barham (ankle injury), and Brian Sullivan (concussion). The Wildcats rank second nationally in offensive turnover percentage, and they shoot the ball well, too. If they get healthy and their defense shows up, they could beat VCU…or anyone for that matter.

#4 Rhode Island (10-5, 2-0)

This was supposed to be Rhode Island’s dominant season, but E.C. Matthews, favorite for Conference Player of the Year and potential first round draft pick, tore his ACL in the first half of the first game of the season. Towson transfer Four McGlynn is the 3-point shooter the Rams have always needed and Hassan Martin is one of the best defensive players in the conference, but it’s tough to not wonder what might have been. URI has never beaten VCU, despite the loss of Matthews, URI boasts tons of talent and will push VCU to the brink.

#3 Saint Joseph’s (11-3, 1-1)

The Hawks have a strong history against the Rams. Furthermore, they entered Tuesday 11-2 with losses to Florida and Villanova. Saint Joseph’s has obliterated expectations this season, and if they rematch the Rams in Brooklyn, the outcome is as good as a coin flip.

#2 Richmond (8-6, 0-2)

The Spiders could have no talent and still steal a win over the Rams because rivalry. But Richmond does have talent. Terry Allen (19.9 PPG, 8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 2 SPG) is an early favorite for conference player of the year, TJ Cline is a 3-point shooting match-up nightmare, and ShawnDre’ Jones is basically Kendall Anthony in training. The Spiders stumbled to start A-10 play, but it will be a miracle if VCU sweeps the city this season.

#1 Dayton (12-2, 2-0)

The Flyers are in the Top 25 and still aren’t near their ceiling. JMU transfer Charles Cooke has been sensational (15.2 PPG & 6.8 RPG), and senior Dyshawn Pierre should be a big boost as he gets comfortable playing after missing the first eleven games of the season. VCU ends the conference-slate at Dayton on March 5th. Basketball will win if the Flyers and Rams are tied for first in the A-10 entering that game.

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Dayton is far and away the favorite to win the conference at this point. Richmond, Saint Joseph’s Rhode Island, Davidson, Saint Bonaventure, and VCU are all going to scrap it out in the second tier, and Tuesday’s Hawks-Rams battle was just the beginning. Someone’s going home unhappy. Someone’s going to start strong and then tank. Someone’s going to struggle and then take over. The next two months are primed to be a roller-coaster for VCU fans and fans of Atlantic 10 basketball. Buckle up and enjoy.

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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