When the preseason predictions for Atlantic 10 Conference men’s basketball were made by a panel of coaches and “select” media members, the team at the top was the Saint Louis Billikens.
The team at No. 7 was the VCU Rams.
When the preseason predictions are made for 2019-20, perhaps a new group of coaches should be empaneled and different media members should be selected.
With three conference games left in the regular season, VCU is at the top of the conference standings while Saint Louis is seventh.
Those positions were solidified Tuesday night at the Siegel Center when VCU powered its way through the 3-4 or was it a 4-3 with blitzing-linebackers defense of the Billikens for a 71-65 victory.
This was a physical matchup only in the sense that players spent almost as much time crashing into one another, diving on the floor after loose balls and grabbing, pulling and twisting whoever had the ball in what appeared to be attempts to score points via wrestling takedowns.
Every pass was contested, which led to more balls batted into the air than there were long-winded speeches at the Oscars.
The officials called every foul they saw and missed a couple that everyone else saw. But if every foul that was committed had been called, we wouldn’t even have a final score on Richmond.com (it’s not a shameless plug when it’s a fact) because the game still would be in progress.
And you can’t blame the officials if they missed a couple of infractions. They didn’t expect to referee a rugby match.
How physical was it? Late in the game, an official tumbled to the floor when he was undercut by a body sliding across the baseline under VCU’s basket. The body was a player. The coaches, much to their dismay, had to stay within the confines of their coaching boxes and the fans remained in the stands.
The officials shook it off and finished the game.
No one was on the floor more, though, than VCU’s 6-foot-2, 190-pound redshirt junior point guard Marcus Evans. He stood his ground and absorbed three player-control fouls, also known as charges, before landing hard on the ground.
“I’m not going to lie,” Evans said. “The last one I definitely hurt on, what’s his name, Foreman, yeah, Foreman [6-8, 240-pound D.J. Foreman]. That one hurt, but it was what we needed, so . . .”
Tuesday night was one of the best examples this season of the Rams doing precisely what was necessary to win. They had to battle a bigger, stronger team that had no reservations about getting physical.
“Obviously, they’ve got some big dudes,” redshirt junior guard Issac Vann said.
The Rams had to somehow get rebounds, loose balls and make 3-pointers at the right time to maintain their lead and finally secure their victory.
It helped that Evans had 20 points and Vann 16. Each also had four assists.
“We had to find a way to get better as the game went on and attack it when it turned into a little bit of a grind, and that helps us,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said. “We don’t win this game last year, period. We found a way to win it today.”
While it might seem odd for a coach to be pleased his team was battered and bruised in victory, Rhoades had a valid point.
Tournament time is coming, and in tournaments, games slow down, especially in the NCAA tournament, where the Rams hope to be in less than a month.
“Absolutely,” Rhoades said. “To win a championship late in the year, you still play your style of play, but late in the game, it still comes down to half-court or quarter-court stops and half-court and quarter-court scores. We had enough of them today.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Nothing was decided Tuesday night. Davidson remains in second place in hot pursuit of VCU. Dayton is two game behind the Rams in the standings. The Rams are at Richmond on Saturday, at George Mason next Tuesday and finish at home against Saint Joseph’s next Friday and have little margin for error.
“Win them all,” Vann said of the Rams’ school of thought on the rest of the regular season.
Tuesday night, VCU showed it can win a game in any manner necessary.