Look up the word “heart” in the dictionary, and you’ll see a picture of Shaka Smart and his Virginia Commonwealth Rams. Heart is what this team is going to need a lot of in order to go on a run in the Atlantic 10 Tournament and put themselves in the best position possible come Selection Sunday on March 15.
Currently, VCU is unranked in AP poll, but is No. 18 in the RPI rankings. Their overall record stands at 21-8, and their A-10 record of 11-5 has them ranked fourth in the conference, just 1.5 games out of the top spot, owned by the Dayton Flyers.
It certainly hasn’t been easy for the Rams this year, with inconsistency overshadowing what has become one of the more beloved college squads of the last few years. Coach Smart’s “havoc” approach of smothering defense and fast-paced offense has taken the college hoops world by storm, and it is vitally important that it make a comeback in the conference tournament.
But it’s going to be a tough task. The Rams have currently lost two straight games, their most recent one being to Dayton on February 28, and that knocked them out of the Top 25. This weekend’s game against hot-shooting Davidson is vitally important, as is the regular season finale against George Mason, though the latter team is in second-to-last place in the A-10.
It certainly doesn’t help that in a loss to Richmond on January 31, senior guard and pest extraordinaire Briante Weber tore knee ligaments on a fast-break and was lost for the season. Sure, he only averaged 8.1 points on 40 percent shooting this year and was incredibly undersized at 6’2″, 165 pounds, but keep in mind he also managed an eye-popping 3.9 steals per game. With JeQuan Lewis the next steals leader at 1.6 per contest and on-ball defense the backbone of VCU’s approach, the team is already at a great disadvantage despite being in a decent spot in the A-10 standings.
Moreover, what with them falling out of the national rankings and how well they’ll do in the A-10 tournament unknown, it is even more vital that VCU step up its efforts and play their hearts out like they did in 2011 en route to a spot in the Final Four. Otherwise, come Selection Sunday, there’s no telling what will happen. Sure, they’ll probably make the big dance, but the draw will be less than favorable.
That said, the Rams need to get their momentum going and start the stampede. And fast.
*Section Photo credit to Alex Goodlett, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to VCU