“Peanuts and diamonds
Sawdust and satin
Lone Star, and sparklin’ red wine”
-Bill Anderson “Peanuts and Diamonds” (1976)
Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond compete just six miles apart from one another. Despite the small geographic gap between the two universities, the cultural difference might as well be the Pacific Ocean.
VCU and UR are natural rivals. VCU is a newer school, with more of a commuter school vibe tucked in the middle of bustling downtown Richmond. The University of Richmond resides in the suburbs, on a more traditional campus with a more traditional college vibe. VCU is a public school, Richmond is private. Richmond has a renowned law school, VCU is more known for the Medical College of Virginia. Richmond has a football program dating back to the origins of the game, VCU proudly boasts that its nonexistent football team has been undefeated since 1838 (when VCU’s predecessor, Richmond Professional Institute, was founded. VCU did not become VCU until 1968). It is a classic matchup between white collar and blue collar, between two schools that appear to be in different worlds despite residing in the same city.
The cultural differences even extend to each team’s play style on the hardwood. VCU, coached by a former D-III player from Pennsylvania plays a hard-nosed, defensive brand of basketball. Richmond’s head coach was a four-year starter at Ivy League school Princeton, and has transitioned the Princeton Offense to the Spiders during his lengthy tenure.
On Wednesday, the Rams and the Spiders will tip off for the 86th time in their respective histories. This year, the stakes for both teams are high as seedings become solidified for next months’ conference tournament, which both schools will host.
VCU leads Richmond 54-31 in the all-time series, including a six-game winning streak from 2015-2017 that included two conference tournament meetings. VCU’s lead in the all-time series comes after Richmond won their first five meetings in the mid-1970s.
In the last three seasons, Chris Mooney’s Richmond squad have split even with Mike Rhoades’ Rams, 3-3. Richmond also won the last time these teams faced off, in a 77-59 blowout at the Robins Center last February.
The rivalry existed for 20 years as an interconference rivalry before both wound up in the Colonial Athletic Association in 1995. After Richmond left for the A10 in 2001, the rivalry again became interconference until VCU joined the A10 in 2012. Since joining the A10, VCU and Richmond have met twice a year in the regular season and have met in the A10 tournament thrice (2014, 2015 and 2017, all won by VCU).
Needless to say, the Rams and the Spiders always bring a lot of juice to these matchups, and with double-byes on the line for both squads, Wednesday night’s matchup should be another classic Capital City Classic matchup.
The list of key players in this matchup must start with Richmond senior guard Jacob Gilyard. The Missouri native is leading the nation in steals, averaging 3.8 per game. Add in the fact that he averages double-digit points, and you get a guard that has earned a spot on the short list for conference player of the year. In addition, Gilyard is 27 assists shy of the all-time program assists record, set by Greg Beckwith in 1986.
In fact, all five Richmond starters average double-digits in points, led by Blake Francis’ 16.6 per game. Francis makes about one-third of his 3-pointers as well and has strung together a great offensive season thus far. Second in scoring, Grant Golden has become one of the top rebounders in the conference and should be a menace on the boards Wednesday night. Golden ranks among the top ten all-time in rebounds for Richmond.
Combating the Spiders are the Rams’ two top options, guard Bones Hyland and forward Vince Williams. Hyland, a sophomore, is averaging nearly 20 points a game and has proven to be one of the most lethal shooters in the Atlantic 10. Hyland has become appointment television, with deep 3-pointers that cause Ram fans to hold their collective breath nightly. Like Gilyard, Hyland has earned his way into player of the year consideration.
Junior forward Vince Williams has experienced a renaissance. After being a relatively poor 3-point shooter for much of his career, Williams is among the best shooters in the conference from deep (although his volume is not a shooter’s volume). Williams is a Swiss army knife type of player, able to do a lot of things well on the floor. Hyland and Williams are the only Rams averaging double figures this season.
Other Rams of interest include leading shot blocker Hason Ward, who is among the country’s leading blockers, and freshman Ace Baldwin, who possesses elite court vision for a player of his age.
The Rams, as the home team, are 3.5-point favorites in Wednesday night’s game. The total, per ESPN, has been set at 142.
As a VCU graduate, I cannot pick against the Rams in a Capital City Classic game. I’m pretty sure it’s in fine print on my degree. As such, I am predicting VCU improves to 9-2 in conference and 16-4 overall, while the Spiders fall to 4-3 in conference and 11-5 overall.
From an analyst standpoint, I think Bones Hyland will continue to do Bones Hyland things, and again score 20 points. Richmond is a good team but lacks depth past its five starters. The ability of the Rams to stay fresh and cycle in quality bench units should tire out the Richmond starters and lead to a narrow Ram victory at the Siegel Center.
Prediction: VCU 71, Richmond 66
Enjoy the game Wednesday night, and stay safe and healthy.