Coming off Saturday’s loss to George Mason, VCU is all of a sudden in the last week of the regular season.
That’s the Atlantic 10 calendar now, after the league announced this past Thursday that it adjusted its tournament schedule, moving the majority of the men’s basketball tournament up to March 3-6, and moving the women’s basketball tournament back to March 10-14.
The Rams had games scheduled at Dayton on March 3 and at Richmond on March 6. But those were canceled.
Now VCU (16-5, 9-3 Atlantic 10) is slated to finish off with games at home against Saint Louis (11-4, 4-3) Tuesday and at Davidson (11-5, 6-2) on Saturday.
“We've done a great job with all this crazy COVID stuff to play a bunch of games in our league, right? We have the most wins in the league. We've done a great job of that,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said. “Then we got two left here this week, let's take advantage of them."
Entering the weekend, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had VCU solidly in the NCAA tournament field as the A-10’s automatic qualifier, and a No. 10 seed. Saturday’s loss to the Patriots may knock the Rams back a peg, but shouldn’t be too much of a hit to their resume.
At the same time, they’ll have to perform well this week against a pair of the league’s other top squads, albeit two that had to deal with extended COVID-19 pauses
Saint Louis was picked to win the league, but endured an almost month-long stoppage from the end of December to late January, right when it would’ve been entering league play. The Billikens lost their first two games off pause, to Dayton and La Salle. They then won four straight before they were beat 76-53 at Dayton on Friday.
The group currently sits No. 48 in the NCAA’s NET rankings, which makes Tuesday’s game a “Quadrant 2” opportunity for the Rams. The quadrant system sorts the quality of a team’s victories, and significance of its losses, based on opponent NET rankings, with Quadrant 1 victories the most valuable, followed by Quadrant 2. Quadrant 3 and 4 losses are the worst.
VCU is currently 0-3 against Quadrant 1 opponents based on current NET rankings, with losses to West Virginia, Penn State and St. Bonaventure. But the Rams are 7-0 against Quadrant 2 teams.
In the league title race, though the the first-place Rams carry the most victories at the moment, Davidson and Massachusetts (7-4, 6-2) match VCU in winning percentage (0.750).
As part of the adjustments the A-10 announced Thursday, seeding for the men’s and women’s league tournaments this year will be based on winning percentage for teams who’ve played at least 60% of the median number of games played by all league teams. Teams below 60% will be seeded based on the NET.
VCU, with a record of 11-3, could finish with a best winning percentage of .786. Davidson could finish with a winning percentage of .818, at 9-2. UMass could finish .800, at 8-2. St. Bonaventure, currently 8-3 in league play, could finish .800, at 12-3. Richmond, currently 5-3, could finish .727, at 8-3.
The Wildcats had a 26-day break due to COVID-19 protocols, that began Jan. 27. They played a tune-up against Division III Southern Virginia Friday, a 101-51 victory, before matchups scheduled at St. Bonaventure Sunday, at home against St. Bonaventure Wednesday and home against VCU Saturday.
Davidson is No. 72 in the NET so Saturday’s game would be another Quadrant 2 opportunity for VCU, on the road.
Asked about the sense of urgency Saturday, with the season now shorter, Rhoades said the urgency has been there. How the Rams finish this week will be of the utmost importance in both their quest for the A-10 regular-season title and their NCAA tournament standing.
“'Look, this last week here we got no favors from the league. It's just how it goes, right?’” Rhoades said, relaying his postgame message to his players Saturday. “‘Look, we got Saint Louis and at Davidson. Hey, it is what it is. ... We got to fight and we got to figure it out.’”