This Saturday is the same as the last one: the Davidson Wildcats and the VCU Rams are set to face off in a pivotal late-season Atlantic 10 conference game.
On the line in this one? A chance to go to Dayton next Sunday to play for the Atlantic 10 conference title and the March Madness auto-bid that goes with it.
VCU enters the game, again on their home floor, as 1.5-point favorites. The Rams beat Dayton in the A10 quarterfinals on Friday to move on to the semifinals for the first time since 2017.
Since joining the A10 in 2014-15, Davidson has never not made it to the semifinals. The Wildcats also have recent history on their side, having defeated the Rams 65-57 just last weekend. VCU entered that game at Belk Arena battered, with Bones Hyland unavailable and Vince Williams exiting the game early with an injury.
With at-large resumes hanging in the balance, a win Saturday could be the piece that separates these teams from going to the big dance next week.
Entering Saturday, VCU finds itself comfortably in the March Madness field at the moment. The Rams are far enough on the good side of the bubble that a loss would not be terribly damaging. While VCU does have home floor advantage, a detriment to that is that the quadrant system is much less forgiving, making the game against Davidson a lower Quadrant 2 matchup. As of Saturday, VCU is 35th in the NET rankings, second to St. Bonaventure in the A10.
Davidson has a bit more work to do. Of the four remaining A10 teams, they are likely the only ones with no path to an at-large bid. At 60th in the NET, Davidson is just barely out of the bubble conversation. A road victory against VCU would certainly improve that ranking and give the Wildcats the chance to play for an automatic bid next week.
Both teams are looking for their second Atlantic 10 title. VCU won the A10 title in Shaka Smart’s last season in 2015; Davidson won theirs in 2018.
VCU seems to be dealing with more and more injury news every game. A physical game against Dayton left an already-battered VCU squad with more bumps and bruises to take care of overnight.
Bones Hyland was either injured or raining 3-pointers. He exited the game briefly after grabbing his right leg in the middle of the second half. After some massaging and stretching, Hyland returned to the game and continued the onslaught, on the way to a 30-point, 10 rebound double-double.
Vince Williams carried an injury designation for much of the week, but still started. Williams underperformed, tallying zero points on 0-of-3 shooting before exiting the game after taking a hard charge from Jordy Tsimanga. Head coach Mike Rhoades after the game said that Williams had back spasms and could not return, adding that Williams had never had that happen before.
Mikeal Brown-Jones, who is battling a dislocated finger, played four minutes off the bench. He recorded no offensive statistics and committed two turnovers.
Grady and Lee
The ones to watch on this Davidson roster are a pair of senior guards. Kellan Grady has been a star in this conference for a while now. Grady has averaged 17.6 points per game this season, including shooting a remarkable 39.9% from 3-point range.
Hyunjung Lee has had a remarkable season, completing the first 50/40/90 conference season in Davidson basketball history. Lee is just shy of averaging that for the entire season, shooting 51.4%/43.5%/88.6% on the season. At times Lee feels automatic from anywhere in the arena and represents the perfect player that can provide enough ammunition to combat an explosive Bones Hyland performance.
The pairing of Lee and Grady, combined with Carter Collins, have scored 58% of Davidson’s points this season.
In addition, forward Luka Brajkovic is an excellent scorer and averages an even six rebounds per game. Look for Brajkovic to be an impact player for Davidson tonight, with an outside shot at leading the team in scoring.
VCU is battling injuries and lost to Davidson last week but are a healthier team than the one Davidson faced on Feb. 27. The Rams can dial it up on defense, with Hason Ward being among the best defensive players in the conference and the Rams defense being among the top in the country in turnover percentage. Ward can easily lock up Brajkovic and force the Davidson guards to beat them.
Davidson’s guards, however, are perfectly capable of beating VCU. Grady and Lee are a potent duo that, with all due respect to Ace Baldwin, has more firepower than the Hyland-Baldwin backcourt. The thing that can hold VCU back is the lack of a second scoring option. If Vince Williams cannot play, there is no clear #2 option that can break out. This puts much of the workload on Hyland, who is an insanely good scorer but should not have to score 30 every game to give VCU a chance.
It is an incredibly even matchup, as are all matchups at this point of the season. #2 VCU (18-6 overall) and #3 Davidson (13-7 overall) should provide a great, close, high-scoring matchup on Saturday night.
Jason’s picks: VCU 76, Davidson 75 (Jason’s record: 3-2).
Davidson and VCU will tip-off at 9 p.m. tonight. CBS Sports Network will have the television coverage.