Having moved to the Atlantic 10 Conference prior to the 2012-13 season, the Virginia Commonwealth Rams have been once of college basketball’s premier mid-major programs since 2003, where they made the NCAA Tournament for the first of 10 trips over the next 15 years.
Last season was their first without post-season basketball since 2005-06, snapping a seven-year streak of NCAA Tournament bids, highlighted by an improbable trip to the Final Four in 2011, despite being one of the First Four and an 11 seed.
Other than last years’ 18-15 campaign, VCU has won 24 or more games every year since 2006. This season, they reign as the prohibitive favorites to win the A-10 Tournament, standing at 25-6 and 16-2 in league play, their best conference record in 13 seasons.
They also carry a 12-game winning streak into Brooklyn, where the Atlantic 10 will be stationed at Barclays Center for the first time since 2016, when VCU lost to Saint Joseph’s in the final.
The last of VCU’s 12-game winning streak took place on Friday against these same Hawks, who they defeated 75-63 for their eighth double-digit margin victory of the lengthy streak.
“The best way to go into the tournament is to have momentum going into it, and I think we have that,” said VCU head coach Mike Rhoades after the team defeated Saint Joseph’s to close out his second regular season at the helm for the Rams.
The Rams are led by junior guard Marcus Evans, who transferred from Rice following a two-year stint, to reunite with Rhoades and be closer to his Chesapeake, Virginia, home to round out his college career.
Evans, a 6’2” guard, averages 14.2 points, 3.3 assists and 1.2 steals heading into March Madness, and dropped 23 points over St. Joe’s on Friday night.
“You know, you see the stats and you see 20, but to me it’s the four rebounds, the four assists, the steals,” said Rhoades of his lead guard. “He feels better, he’s healthier than he was a month ago, he’s healthier than he was two months ago. That’s huge.”
In four Barclays Center-held A-10 Tournaments, VCU has only punched one automatic NCAA Tournament ticket, which came in 2015, their last in the now legendary Shaka Smart-VCU era, led on the court by then senior Treveon Graham, currently a member of the Brooklyn Nets.
One year later, VCU captured a share of their first regular season A-10 title. This Friday, they added to their list of hardware, securing their second A-10 regular season title.
“It’s been a lot of growth, obviously,” Evans said Friday after his big night. “It started back in Rhode Island after we took that loss on January 23. Guys came together and understood the effort that we had up there. It wasn’t acceptable and guys held each other accountable all season.
“When we go up to Brooklyn, it’s about the same mindset, the same thing we’ve been doing,” he added. “Obviously it’s been working so far.”
The Atlantic 10 Tournament begins on Wednesday at 1 p.m. featuring 12-seed George Washington and 13-seed Massachusetts, followed by 11-seed Richmond and 14-seed Fordham.
VCU and the other top seeds – Davidson, Dayton and St. Bonaventure – will begin play in the tournament’s quarterfinals on Friday.