Talk about taking a conference by storm, Shaka Smart’s Virginia Commonwealth Rams are poised to win their first ever Atlantic 10 Tournament, in their first ever season in the historic hoops league. Standing in their way in today’s championship tilt at the Barlcays Center in Brooklyn, is the No. 16-ranked Saint Louis Billikens.
Playing with heavy hearts for the late and former head coach Rick Majerus, the Billikens have been one of the nation’s best stories of the season. Despite starting the season 3-3 including a surprising loss to Santa Clara at home, SLU has rattled off two separate 11-game winning streaks, in addition to three marquee wins over Butler.
The Billikens haven’t reached the Sweet Sixteen since 1957 and their 2012 NCAA Tournament berth was their first in twelve years, but the future is bright for Saint Louis, who currently sit as a fifth seed by Jay Lunardi, which only adds to the mystique left by Majerus.
Mystique is something that Smart and VCU know quite well however, as one of the nation’s premier tournament teams of late, winning the CBI and reaching the Final Four while playing in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Now less of an outsider and finally in an historic basketball conference, the Rams find themselves as the hunted, as evident with a daunting early season schedule that saw them lose to Duke and Missouri in the Bahamas.
In their first season in the A-10, VCU finished 12-4, including losing the only matchup with Saint Louis, a 76-62 win for the Billikens at Chaifetz Arena. In that game, Saint Louis used a 17-0 run in the first half to put the game out of reach early and VCU were never able to close the gap.
The Rams out-rebounded Saint Louis 31-27 in the game, and with 6-foot-9 forward Juvonte Reddic leading the way on the glass, VCU should continue to control the glass against SLU, who rank 247th in the nation in rebounding. Against UMass on Saturday, Reddic grabbed 12 boards, his most since putting up 17 in an overtime win against St. Joes back in January.
For the Billikens, they are led by junior swingman Dwayne Evans, who has 17.5 points over his last 15 games, dating back to SLU’s back to back losses to Temple and Rhode Island in mid-January. In Saint Louis’s two wins in the Atlantic-10 Tournament so far, Evans has averaged 24.5 points and 10 rebounds, despite not tallying a single assist.
The Rams and Billikens will tip at 1:00 p.m. Eastern in Brooklyn and the game will be televised nationally on the CBS Sports Network.