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VCU Rams Roundup: Capital City Classic set to renew on Saturday

“Peanuts and diamonds

Sawdust and satin

Lone Star, and sparklin’ red wine”

-Bill Anderson “Peanuts and Diamonds” (1976)

According to Google Maps, the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University are separated by roughly six and a half miles. The drive takes 13 minutes if you take the toll road – 16 minutes by way of Monument Avenue.

The schools might as well be six states apart.

In athletics, the universities are each other’s greatest rival, so much so that the University of Richmond does not offer single-game tickets for the VCU game on its website. Tickets for Saturday afternoon’s men’s basketball game are going for as much as $150 on the secondary market, far more than any other game the Richmond Spiders will host the rest of the season.

Indeed, the rivalry is almost born off of a Hollywood movie set: VCU, the traditional commuter school dropped right in the middle of downtown Richmond, while Richmond is the older, more suburban private school closer to the Henrico County line. On the surface, the matchup is that of white collar versus blue collar, of two vastly different college experiences and vibes.

And both are separated by a quick drive across Virginia’s capital.

On the floor, the two universities bring vastly different approaches to roster construction.

VCU (12-6, 5-2 A-10) are younger than their suburban counterparts, even though the team starts two seniors and a fifth-year player. Head coach Mike Rhoades has built the identity of this iteration of the Rams around elite defense, which has helped a sometimes-sluggish offense stay in games, especially while sophomore guard Ace Baldwin recovered from an Achilles injury.

An accomplished player at Princeton, Richmond head coach Chris Mooney has adopted the Princeton offense during his near two-decade tenure with the Spiders. Richmond (13-7, 4-3 A-10) is among the oldest teams in the country, with six rostered players listed as “graduate.” Among those players is fifth-year senior Jacob Gilyard, who earlier this year broke the NCAA career steals record and is just six assists away from breaking the career Atlantic 10 record, set in 2004 by Jameer Nelson.

Richmond enters the game at the Robins Center coming off a successful road trip, securing three straight wins against Fordham, La Salle and Rhode Island. The Rams, meanwhile, come off the biggest win of their season, knocking off #25 Davidson at Belk Arena on Wednesday night.

Both teams remain in contention for the coveted double-bye in March’s A-10 conference tournament, held just up Interstate 95 in Washington, D.C. A win on Saturday would go a long way to securing that for both of the conference’s Richmond-based teams.

VCU-Richmond will tip off from the Robins Center on the campus of the University of Richmond at 4 p.m. on Saturday. CBS Sports Network will have live coverage.

This is the 87th edition of the Capital City Classic. VCU holds a 55-31 advantage in the all-time series and won the last time these teams met in a 68-56 game at the Siegel Center last February.

Top Story: VCU knocks off Davidson

Before Wednesday night, the Davidson Wildcats had not lost a game since mid-November and held the country’s longest win streak.

Despite that fact, the outcome of the Wednesday night VCU-Davidson game was not in doubt for most of the second half, as VCU cruised – mostly – to a key Quadrant 1 victory.

A strong first half performance by VCU saw the Rams enter the locker room with a 37-29 lead and kept the foot on the gas pedal for much of the second half, maintaining a double-digit lead well into the game’s final 10 minutes.

Davidson and legendary head coach Bob McKillop, meanwhile, had other plans. A 14-point run chipped the VCU lead down to 67-66 with 1:32 remaining in the game. Senior forward Vince Williams quickly made a dunk, before committing a foul on the next possession to allow Foster Loyer two free throws.

With 13 seconds to play, Baldwin made a free throw to make the score 70-68, but missed his second attempt from the line. With the opportunity to take the lead, Davidson forward Luka Brajkovic attempted a 3-pointer in the game’s final seconds, but was blocked by VCU sophomore Mikeal Brown-Jones, securing the VCU win. To that point, Brajkovic was the star of the game, leading all scorers with 23 points while also securing a game-high 12 rebounds.

The win was VCU’s 16th against a ranked opponent in program history, and the first since VCU defeated former head coach Will Wade and the LSU Tigers in 2019. It was also VCU’s first win at Belk Arena since Jan. 29, 2016, snapping a four-game drought at the arena.

Williams led the Rams with 16 points and six rebounds, while Baldwin tallied 15 points and a game-high five steals. In Baldwin’s last three games, he has swiped 17 steals and would be leading the country in steals per game if he played enough games to qualify. Fifth-year senior Levi Stockard III was the only other VCU player in double figures, scoring 12 points before fouling out late.

Brown-Jones star of the night

On a team where four starters tallied 30 or more minutes on Wednesday night, it was the sophomore forward who played just eight minutes that ended up being the star of the game.

Mikeal Brown-Jones’ block on Luka Brajkovic in the final moments of VCU’s 70-68 win against #25 Davidson is on the short list of best plays of VCU’s 2021-22 season. It is worth revisiting:

The play personifies an oft-repeated refrain about Rhoades’ VCU teams: that top to bottom, every player in a VCU uniform can be a major contributor.

A Philadelphia native, Brown-Jones led IMG Academy to the 2019 Geico High School Nationals Championship as a junior, one year after leading Girard College to the PIAA Class A State Championship Game in Pennsylvania.

In his freshman season at VCU, Brown-Jones appeared in all but one game, scoring a season-high 10 points in the rivalry game against Old Dominion.

This season, Brown-Jones has again played a limited role off the bench, averaging just over 10 minutes per game in 15 games played. Brown-Jones has improved his scoring slightly and is good for a couple of made baskets per game.

Where Brown-Jones shines though is on the defensive end. He has 10 blocks this season, including a three-block performance in Hawaii against UConn back in November. Amongst VCU players, Brown-Jones is tied for 4th in blocks this season, with all three players ahead of him (Hason Ward, Williams, Jalen DeLoach) averaging more minutes per game.

Perhaps none of those blocks were bigger than the game-clincher on Wednesday night, which saw the sophomore guard the greatest scoring threat of the night in the biggest of moments. Despite limited play, Brown-Jones has shown his impact on the game and was the star of VCU’s greatest victory of the season thus far.

Former walk-on Hinton named “10 Under 10” honoree

Former VCU walk-on David Hinton Jr. was named to this year’s “10 Under 10” awards by VCU Alumni, which “celebrates noteworthy and distinctive achievements made by alumni who earned their first Virginia Commonwealth University degree within the past 10 years.”

A 2012 graduate, Hinton played for the Rams from 2008 until 2013 under head coaches Anthony Grant and Shaka Smart. While at VCU, Hinton appeared in 75 games, including a start against Richmond in 2013. Hinton’s career-high came in 2013 against East Tennessee State University, when he scored six points on a perfect night from the floor and from the charity stripe.

While he never played significant minutes, Hinton was a member of the 2010 CBI Championship team, four NCAA tournament teams, and appeared in three NCAA Tournament games during VCU’s run to the Final Four in 2011.

Now, Hinton has taken on a new challenge. In 2014, he joined the United States Secret Service, which the VCU Alumni magazine, Shafer Court Connections, described as “an ever-changing job that has taken him to six continents and allows him to witness history firsthand.” Additionally, Shafer Court Chronicles reported that Hinton continues to remain involved with the community and serves as a mentor through the VCU Basketball Development Center.

Stats, stats, stats

As of Jan. 28, here is where the VCU Rams rank in several important metrics:

  • NET Rankings: 60th (2nd in the A-10, trailing Davidson)
  • KenPom: 70th (2nd in the conference, trailing Davidson)
  • A10Talk.com Power Rankings: 5th (trailing Davidson, St. Bonaventure, Dayton and Saint Louis)

And here are the VCU stat leaders through 18 games:

  • Points per game: Vince Williams (12.4)
  • Rebounds per game: Vince Williams (6.0)
  • Assists per game: Ace Baldwin (5.1 – 10 games played)
  • Steals per game: Ace Baldwin (3.4 – 10 games played)
  • Blocks per game: Hason Ward (1.4)
  • Field goal percentage: Jalen DeLoach (.579)
  • 3-point field goal percentage: Ace Baldwin (.452 – 10 games played)