“In my mind I’m going to Carolina…”
Less than 10 days after their first meeting, the VCU Rams men’s basketball team (11-6, 4-2 A-10) will travel to Davidson College in North Carolina to rematch the Davidson Wildcats (16-2, 6-0 A-10).
Much of what was written last week remains true: VCU is a good team that will be on the tournament bubble, despite an offense that has struggled to put up points and has recently struggled to hang with the top-tier teams in the conference.
Davidson, meanwhile, remains head-and-shoulders above the rest of the conference. The Wildcats enter this week ranked #25 in the country, the first time Davidson has been ranked since the 2014-15 season, which was Davidson’s first in the Atlantic 10 conference.
The meeting last week at the Siegel Center became one of the best games of the A-10 slate so far this season. Davidson extended its winning streak, defeating VCU 63-61 in a game that saw VCU sophomore point guard Ace Baldwin miss two potential game-tying midrange shots in the game’s dying moments. The game is the closest margin of victory Davidson has had during the A-10 schedule.
VCU got back on course on Saturday with a 70-54 win on the same afternoon that VCU legend and 2015 A-10 Tournament MVP Treveon Graham saw his #21 jersey hoisted into the Siegel Center rafters. Fittingly, VCU senior Vince Williams led the Rams with 21 points, along with seven rebounds and three steals. Baldwin stuffed the stat sheet meanwhile, tallying 11 points, five rebounds, six assists and seven steals.
In order to avenge last week’s loss, the Rams will need elite performance from their two star players. In the Davidson game, senior guard KeShawn Curry proved to be the third option offensively, scoring 10 points to go with Baldwin’s 10 and Williams’ 16 points. Ultimately, what doomed VCU in the first matchup was a poor offensive first half that saw the Rams shoot 39% from the floor, compared to 52% in the second half.
On the other end of the floor, Davidson has continued its undefeated conference run with a close, 69-66 win against Fordham at Rose Hill Gym. In the VCU game, three Wildcats scored in double figures, led by Luka Brajkovic’s 19 points.
Davidson continues to hold the longest winning streak in the country, currently up to 15 games.
Put simply, Wednesday night’s game represents a huge opportunity for VCU to grab a signature resume-defining win to bolster a potential at-large bid. As of Tuesday night, VCU sits 68th in the NET rankings, second-highest in the A-10.
More concerning, the Rams have a losing record in Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 games. VCU has gone 1-2 in Quadrant 1 games, with the road win earlier this month against Dayton being the only Q1 win the Rams have gotten this year. Currently, VCU has two remaining Q1 games: Wednesday’s road game against Davidson and the season-finale on the road against Saint Louis.
This will be the third time VCU has played a ranked opponent this season, with the first two matchups coming in back-to-back days during the Battle 4 Atlantis in Hawaii. VCU lost to #6 Baylor, the defending national champions, by eight points on Thanksgiving in the closest game the Baylor Bears played in Hawaii. The next day, VCU played former Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley’s #22 UConn team, losing by seven in a close, if not sloppy, game on Black Friday.
VCU has defeated a ranked opponent 15 times in program history. Under head coach Mike Rhoades, VCU has defeated a ranked opponent once: an 84-82 win against former VCU head coach Will Wade at the Siegel Center in November 2019. On that night, the Rams trailed 82-81 in the final minute before senior guard De’Riante Jenkins sunk two go-ahead free throws to give the Rams the lead for good in the signature game of Rhoades’ tenure.
Could Baldwin, Curry, or one of the other VCU guards provide such magic on Wednesday night? It all depends which strength wins out in the end. Last week, VCU did a great job keeping the score low and limiting Davidson, especially in the second half. However, Davidson simply made a couple more plays to secure the win.
Wednesday’s game will also break the 8-8 tie in the all-time series between the two teams. Davidson won the first meeting during the 2005 NIT, while the Wildcats have lost to VCU just once at home in history.
The Rams and the Wildcats will tip-off at 8:30 p.m. from John M. Belk Arena in Davidson, North Carolina. Caesars Sportsbook lists Davidson as 4.5-point favorites, while ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Wildcats a 69.3% chance of victory.
For those attending in North Carolina, Davidson has designated the game a “Stripe Out” and will be giving out free T-shirts. For those not in attendance, CBS Sports Network will have live coverage.
Featured photo: Matt Morton/A10Talk