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A look at VCU’s history against ranked opponents

It is a Friday night in mid-winter. You know what that means?

Another ESPN Friday night Atlantic 10 conference showcase game!

This week, the doors to the Stuart C. Siegel Center in downtown Richmond will swing open to welcome the A-10’s best team, as the No. 18 Dayton Flyers (19-3, 9-1 A-10) will face the VCU Rams (15-8, 7-3 A-10) in one of the season’s most anticipated matchups.

Will VCU’s Max Shulga continue his hot streak after exploding in the second half against Richmond and flirting with a triple-double on the road against Fordham earlier in the week?

Will Dayton’s DaRon Holmes II, the runaway A-10 Player of the Year favorite, further cement his case by adding another double-digit scoring tally to his conference play ledger?

How will former VCU head coach Anthony Grant do helming Dayton to yet another game in the arena he used to call home?

How will VCU stop Dayton’s potent offense in Ryan Odom’s first game against the Flyers?

All are questions that will be answered at 7 p.m. Friday night, in front of a national TV audience on ESPN2.

One thing we do know is that VCU is no stranger to facing off against teams ranked in the Associated Press poll. For much of the winter, Dayton has carried the banner for the A-10 in this regard, floating around the mid-to-low teens in the AP Poll.

Since Grant left VCU in 2009 and the Rams hired Shaka Smart, VCU has played ranked teams 38 times – many of those coming in multi-team events or the NCAA Tournament. Friday will be Odom’s first game against a ranked opponent at VCU.

Here is a brief look at some of those games as VCU prepares to lace it up once again against a top 25 team:

Home games

Friday is the first time VCU has hosted a ranked opponent since 2020, when the No. 5 Dayton Flyers, led by national player of the year Obi Toppin, came to the Siegel Center.

The star of the game that night was Dayton guard Jalen Crutcher, who led all scorers with 18 points on 4-of-9 shooting. Toppin added 12 points and five rebounds of his own, while Trey Landers added 11.

VCU was led by future A-10 player of the year Bones Hyland, who scored 18 points of his own on 7-of-14 from the field, including three made 3-pointers.

But the standout for the Rams that night was Marcus Santos-Silva, who recorded a double-double with 12 points and 17 rebounds in one of the best rebounding performances in recent VCU history.

Ultimately, VCU played a close game but came up just short, falling 66-61 to a team that was destined to be a top seed in the NCAA Tournament before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short.

The Rams’ last home victory against a ranked opponent came earlier that season, when the No. 23 LSU Tigers traveled to VCU in former head coach Will Wade’s return to the Siegel Center.

In front of a crowd that was hostile towards Wade, who left VCU under unpopular circumstances in 2017, VCU exploded with a 50-point first half. LSU mounted a bit of a comeback in the second half, but the Rams held on to win, 84-82.

Santos-Silva again recorded a double-double, this time with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Joining Santos-Silva in double-figures were De’Riante Jenkins (15), Marcus Evans (15), Issac Vann (11) and Vince Williams (11), as the Rams shot nearly 49% from inside the arc.

VCU also stole the ball 14 times led by four steals by Santos-Silva, in a display of head coach Mike Rhoades’ Havoc style of defense.

All five of LSU’s starters scored in double figures, led by 23 from Skylar Mays. LSU turned the ball over 26 times in the contest, ultimately resulting in an upset victory for VCU, who had been nationally ranked earlier that month.

Away games

VCU’s last road game against a top 25 ranked opponent was in January 2022, when the Rams traveled to Davidson to play the No. 25 Wildcats.

The Rams again played spoiler at Belk Arena, dropping Bob McKIllop’s A-10 regular season championship squad 70-68 in a tight game.

Like in the LSU game in 2019, VCU entered the locker room at halftime with a lead – this time 37-29 – then withstood a charge late to hang on to a two-point win.

Three Rams scored in double figures, led by 16 points from Vince Williams. Future A-10 player of the year Ace Baldwin tallied 15 points and five steals, while Levi Stockard joined the scoring party with 12 points.

A-10 Player of the Year Luka Brajkovic led Davidson with 23 points on 60% shooting from the floor, one of four Wildcats to score double figures. Brajkovic paired the scoring night with 12 rebounds and two assists, both marks leading the Davidson team.

The highest ranked opponent VCU has played since Grant’s departure outside of the NCAA Tournament was No. 4 Virginia, which defeated VCU 57-49 on a snowy Charlottesville Sunday afternoon in 2018.

Virginia, who left the game with an unblemished 9-0 record, were led by double digit scoring efforts by Kyle Guy (15) ad Ty Jerome (14). Jerome flirted with a double-double, ending with eight rebounds. Kihei Clark led the Cavaliers with four assists.

VCU kept the game within single digits for the duration, but ultimately was no match for head coach Tony Bennett’s defensive scheme. Issac Vann’s 10 points were a team high for VCU, who shot under 30% for the game. Marcus Santos-Silva again flirted with a double-double, ending two points shy of the mark. Six of his rebounds came on the offensive end.

Virginia went on to win the national championship that season, one year after becoming the first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to lose to a No. 16 seed. The team that beat U.Va., UMBC, was coached by now-VCU head coach Ryan Odom.

NCAA Tournament

The last two NCAA Tournament games VCU has played against ranked opponents were against Saint Mary’s.

In each of those games, the Gaels defeated the Rams.

And following each of those games, VCU’s head coach left for a Power 5 school.

The first such matchup in 2017 marked the end of Will Wade’s time with the Rams, as the No. 22 Gaels knocked off VCU 85-77.

Senior guard JeQuan Lewis put up a game-high 30 points in his final game in black and gold, aided by 11 from fellow senior Jordan Burgess. Three VCU players fouled out in the contest, including senior and fan favorite Doug Brooks.

The Achilles’ heel for VCU that afternoon was 3-point shooting – VCU ended the game 2-of-13 from deep. Both makes were courtesy of Lewis.

Five Gaels ended the game in double-figures, led by a 18-point, 13-rebound effort by Jock Landale.

Six years and one day later, head coach Randy Bennett’s Gaels again took on VCU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and prevailed 63-51 in what turned out to be Mike Rhoades’ final game as head whistle at VCU.

The Rams trailed for much of the contest and struggled to put offense together, with Ace Baldwin leading VCU with 13 points despite briefly exiting the game due to injury.

VCU guard Jayden Nunn put up nine points and seven rebounds in the most complete offensive performance by a Ram that afternoon, but ultimately could not overcome the Gaels.

In contrast, four Gaels scored in double figures, led by 17 each from Alex Ducas and Mitchell Saxen.

Later that month, Rhoades left VCU to become head coach at Penn State, mirroring Wade, who left after the 2017 loss to join LSU.

Of course, no mention of ranked opponents can come without a mention of the 2011 Elite Eight victory over the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks. The win cemented VCU’s only appearance in the Final Four in program history.

VCU led 41-27 at the half and kept the Jayhawks in check throughout, powered by 26 points and 10 rebounds by Jamie Skeen. Joey Rodriguez stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, five rebounds and five assists.

Double-doubles from Marcus and Markieff Morris could not overcome VCU’s gameplan, as the 2011 squad cemented itself among the great tournament stories in March Madness history.