PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Of all years for the Atlantic 10 Tournament to come to DC.  Honestly.  The closest school to Capital One Arena, George Washington, is the 11th seed and might be saying goodbye just as the rest of the league is saying hello.  Fifth seeded George Mason owns a losing record overall, while seventh seeded Richmond is almost guaranteed to have its first sub-500 campaign since 2007.  Thank goodness for VCU…what’s that?  The Rams drop by the district having lost six of nine that includes a 24 point loss at GW?  Rough winter…

Virginia Commonwealth drops by the district with a 17-14 mark–its most losses since Mack McCarthy was guiding the program in 2001.  The last time the Rams failed to win 20?  The 9-9 conference mark is its first non-winning league record since 2000. While previous debut seasons have provided major splashes (Shaka Smart’s 2010 team won the CBI while Anthony Grant’s 2007 club bounced Duke in the NCAA Tournament), former Rams assistant Mike Rhoades’ initial campaign at VCU has been more of a kerplunk.

But the Rams boast a pair of seniors who have known nothing but success- forward Justin Tillman and guard Jonathan Williams have played in three straight A-10 Championship Games (actually, VCU has played for the title every year since joining the conference in 2012-13.  Tillman led the conference with 9.7 rebounds per game and was fifth in the league in scoring (18.9);  he enters the tournament on a roll with five straight double-doubles.  Williams led the Atlantic 10 with 5.7 assists per game while being the catalyst defensively (11th in steals) for the Rams.  Will they get the necessary help from sophomore Di’Riante Jenkins, whose 41.7% accuracy from three-point range ranked 4th in the league but had issues shooting and taking care of the ball in losses down the stretch?

As the #8 seed the Rams face Dayton in the Thursday’s Second Round.  They split the regular season series with the Flyers, losing 106-79 on the road in January (they were down 66-40 at the half) while needing overtime to win 88-84 at home last month (Justin Tillman scored 37 points–including seven of the Rams’ nine in OT).  A potential battle of bigs could emerge as Dayton forward Josh Cunningham leads the A-10 in shooting (.646), but the 6-foot-7 junior has been held to 50 points over his last five games.  Defense may prove to be the difference, as the Flyers hit 63% of their shots while turning the ball over just 11 time in the January win while hitting 44% from the field with 19 turnovers in the February meeting.  Can the Rams dial up a little Shaka Smart/Will Wade/Anthony Grant inspired havoc?

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