Rivalries are organic.  They can’t be mandated- that’s why the Maryland-Rutgers football fight remains a shrug even though the Big Ten’s two newest schools would be a natural fit. Just ask UConn how their “rivalry” with Central Florida is going.  In the area there was Georgetown-Syracuse and there still is George Washington-George Mason…and while we’ll always have Virginia-Virginia Tech (see last Sunday) the best basketball rivalry remains in the Commonwealth’s capital city.

Virginia Commonwealth University is a public research university boasting 24,000+ undergrads.  The University of Richmond is a private, non-sectarian liberal arts college with under 5,000 undergrad and graduate students combined (less than VCU’s grad student total).  One school is a part of the downtown fabric of the city…while the other, despite sharing the name with said city is lodged on the outskirts.  You even have to drive past the “Country Club of Virginia” to get there.

VCU has been the popular Cinderella over the last decade, with more than a few upsets under their belts before we even get into their run from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011.  Richmond?  Been there, done that.  The Spiders were the first #15 seed to win in the tournament (sorry, Syracuse) and they also bounced big-name favorites like Indiana, Auburn and Vanderbilt in the dance.

The Rams joined the Colonial Athletic Association in 1995, only to have Richmond leave for the Atlantic 10 two seasons later.  The two schools still played annually, comparing the apples of one league to the oranges of the other.  Until 2012 when Shaka Smart brought his havoc defense to the A-10 and promptly took his program to the Tournament finals.  VCU has appeared in the title tilt every year it’s been in the league…while Richmond hasn’t advanced to the league semifinals since 2011.  To make things more interesting the Spiders have lost to the Rams in the quarterfinals two of the last three years.

Rival up.

Last Night-

VCU (22-5, 12-2 Atlantic 10) beat Richmond (15-11, 9-5) 84-73 to complete a season-sweep of the Spiders.  The Rams hit 58% of their shots while sinking 7 of 14 three-pointers…and used a mid-game 15-0 run to take control.  JeQuan Lewis nets 16 points with 7 rebounds and 5 assists to lead the way while VCU holds T.J. Cline to 4-of-12 shooting.  The victory gives VCU a half-game lead in the A-10 (Dayton plays St. Bonaventure Saturday at 2) while the Spiders are in danger of dropping into a three-way tie for third (and they don’t own the tiebreaker with George Mason).

Alma Mater Update- so much for major momentum.  The Orange are saddled with a two-game losing streak and the distinct possibility of going to McDonough Arena for the NIT.  Over the final three weeks of the regular season they’ll face Georgia Tech twice (can’t escape that red-hot rivalry), host Duke and visit Louisville.  One thinks a 3-1 performance will keep them safely in Bubbleland.

Saturday-

1 p.m.

Virginia Tech (18-7, 7-6 ACC) at #8 Louisville (21-5, 9-4), ACC Network.  The Hokies followed up their improbably rally against Virginia with a gritty road victory at Pitt.  Up next?  Only the best defensive team in the conference:  the Cardinals rank second in points allowed and turnover margin while ranking third in rebounding margin.  Did I mention they’re tops at defending the three?  Tech has to deal with the season-ending injury to Chris Clarke;  the sophomore was arguably their best all-around player and contributed greatly in multiple areas of the game.  Buzz Williams’ bunch has their work cut out for them.

1:30 p.m.

Navy (15-12, 10-5 Patriot League) vs Army West Point (9-17, 3-11), CBS Sports Network.  The last time these two teams met?  How about a 96-80 overtime thriller where Shawn Anderson poured in 30 points for the Midshipmen.  Kennedy Edwards tallied a season-high 20 points for the Black Knights in that loss; Jordan Fox scored 17 to lead Army past Holy Cross in their most recent game.  The Midshipmen have lost two of three but are in the driver’s seat to host at least their conference quarterfinal game (the Patriot League uses a home-court system for its tournament).  The Black Knights are in position to also host a tournament game, but one in the dreaded first round as a #7 or #8 seed.

4 p.m.

George Mason (18-8, 8-5 Atlantic 10) vs Rhode Island (16-9, 8-5).  Could coach Dave Paulsen’s program be a year ahead of schedule?  One winter after going 5-13 in league play, the Patriots are pushing for a double-bye in the A-10 Tournament…and are fresh from beating Richmond by 23.  Senior Marquise Moore is making his candidacy for conference Player of the Year, averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds per game.  The Rams have lost two straight, including a perplexing defeat to Fordham where they shot just 30% while scoring 43 points (full disclosure:  Fordham is also the Rams so perhaps that led to confusion).  Doc Nix and the Green Machine will be waiting at Eagle Bank Arena.

6 p.m.

Howard (6-20, 3-8 MEAC) vs North Carolina A&T, (2-24, 0-11).  The Bison ended their slide at six straight losses by beating Morgan State (despite 21 turnovers).  The Aggies also won  recently, but their victim was NAIA-Division II Allen.  The closest A&T has come to a win in the league was a two point loss at Coppin State.  Charles Williams scored 30 points in the previous meeting this season (a 15-point Bison win);  the freshman has continued to play well in leading the team in scoring this winter.  James Miller scored 26 in that win-and the senior is going out in style, averaging 19 points per game this month.

8:15 p.m.

#14 Virginia (18-7, 8-5 ACC) at #10 North Carolina (22-5, 10-3).  These two schools tangled on a Saturday night in March last year in the ACC Tournament Final;  this game would be for first place if it weren’t for a two-game slide that saw the Cavaliers cough up a 14-point second half lead at Virginia Tech…followed by a tough loss at home to Duke.  The Tar Heels lead the conference in scoring while UVa allows the fewest points per game.  To the surprise of nobody on the planet, coach Roy Williams team is super-talented yet has multiple lapses over a 40-minute stretch.  Justin Jackson (6th in the ACC in scoring), Kennedy Meeks (4th in rebounding) and Joel Berry II (4 assists per game directing the offense) will provide the latest test for Tony Bennett’s top-notch defense.  The question again though-as has been the case all winter-is will London Perrantes get any help from an underperforming frontcourt?

Sunday-

12 p.m.

American (6-20, 3-12 Patriot League) vs Holy Cross (13-15, 7-8).  Wednesday’s loss at Lafayette dropped the Eagles from 8th to 10th in the conference…while the Crusaders are also cooling off.  Five losses in seven games has a one-time contender in the role of Patriot League pretender…but don’t tell that to coach Bill Carmody.  All he did after they finished 5-13 and in 9th place last March was win four games en route to the NCAA Tournament.  AU turned the ball over 23 times en route to a 63-55 loss the last time these two teams tangled.

George Washington (13-13, 5-8) at Duquesne (10-16, 3-10), NBC Sports Network.  The Colonials won the previous meeting this winter 65-63 thanks to shutting down the Dukes’ perimeter attack (4-of-21 from three-point range) while Tyler Cavanaugh tallied 11 points and 10 rebounds.  The senior’s heated up lately, posting three double-doubles in his last four games.  The road has been rough for GW during conference season:  the team’s lone win in seven games away from Smith Center was in nearby Fairfax against George Mason.

1 p.m.

#23 Maryland (22-4, 10-3 Big Ten) at #11 Wisconsin (21-5, 10-3), CBS.  Depending what happens with Purdue (also 10-3 in the conference) at Michigan State Saturday, this very well could be for first place (Boilermakers own tiebreakers with both teams).  Coach Mark Turgeon’s team is at its best when it’s defending well…while the Badgers allow the fewest points per game in the league.  Nigel Hayes was the Big Ten’s Preseason Player of the Year, but its actually Ethan Happ who’s making the difference this season.  The six-foot-ten sophomore is second in the conference in shooting percentage as well as steals, while ranking third in rebounding and tenth in blocks.  Happ leads Wisconsin in those categories as well as scoring and assists.  The Terrapin big men will have their hands full inside…while the Badgers’ guards will be tested by Melo Trimble (32 points against Northwestern) outside.  And the winner still might be chasing Purdue…

Georgetown (14-12, 5-8 Big East) at #20 Creighton (21-5, 8-5), Fox Sports 1.  Much like a candidate trying to work out Electoral College math to get to 270, the Hoyas faithful are trying to figure out what it would take-barring the automatic berth from winning the Big East Tournament-to get this team into the NCAA’s.  Conventional wisdom would say four wins in five regular season games (with no bad losses) followed by two more wins at Madison Square Garden to have even a prayer.  The Bluejays have been losing altitude since Maurice Watson Jr. went down for the season with a knee injury;  they’ve dropped four of seven while slipping from 7th in the nation to one bad loss away from being unranked.  The Hoyas held Creighton to 34% shooting and 1-for-18 from three-point range in a 20-point win last month;  they’ll have over a week to prepare for the Bluejays this time.

 

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