VCU Rams return from Maui Invitational to face a ‘Bermuda Triangle’ of opponents

Fred Jeter | 12/1/2017, 8:13 p.m.
Virginia Commonwealth University is one of only eight schools to have reached the NCAA basketball tournament at least seven consecutive ...
Virginia Commonwealth University guard Malik Crowfield hands off the ball during the Rams’ 83-69 victory on Nov. 21 over the University of California, Berkeley during the Maui Invitational. Courtesy of Maui Invitational

Virginia Commonwealth University is one of only eight schools to have reached the NCAA basketball tournament at least seven consecutive seasons.

If the Rams — now 3-3 following the Maui Invitational basketball tournament — are to extend their postseason dancing to eight years, they’re in need of some résumé polishing wins ASAP.

Coach Mike Rhoades’ squad is about to enter what might be billed the “Bermuda Triangle” of opponents.

The dangers ahead:

Saturday, Dec. 2 – VCU plays Old Dominion University at home, 7 p.m., MASN television. The Monarchs are 5-2 entering this week.

Tuesday, Dec. 5 – University of Texas at VCU, 7 p.m., ESPN2. The Longhorns are starting this week 4-1, with the lone loss in overtime to No. 1 Duke University.

Saturday, Dec. 9 – VCU at Seton Hall University, 3 p.m., FOX. The Pirates are 5-1, with key wins over Indiana and Vanderbilt universities.

Catching up:

At the Maui Invitational, the Rams defeated the University of California, Berkeley, 83-69, but fell to Marquette University 94-83 and the University of Michigan 68-60. VCU’s other loss was at home on Nov. 17 to the University of Virginia.

The Rams played Cal and Michigan with a handicap. Missing was marksman Issac Mann, who was out with an ankle injury. X-rays were negative, but the University of Maine transfer spent most of his time in the 50th state trading his Hawaiian lei for a foot boot. 

Shining lights in the Pacific were 6-foot-5 sophomore Di’Riante Jenkins, who exploded for 27 points and 11 rebounds against California, and Malik Crowfield, with 17 points (five 3-pointers) against Marquette.

Returning to the mainland, Jenkins — the most heavily recruited player on the VCU roster, is first among the Rams in scoring (13 points per game), steals (10) and minutes per game (29.2).

The outcomes of the next three games could be critical come March regarding NCAA at-large selections.

ODU: The Monarchs represent the Rams’ longest-standing nemesis. VCU leads the series 49-43, but that’s only since 1968. The schools began playing each other in 1949, when VCU was called RPI and ODU was the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary.

ODU features the high-rising Stith brothers, Brandan and B.J., and 6-foot-10 Trey Porter, a former State Group 5 Player of the Year from Potomac High School in Prince William County.

Texas: This game marks the awaited return of former VCU Coach Shaka Smart, who posted a 163-56 record at VCU from 2009 to 2015 before leaving unexpectedly for the Lone Star State.

The Rams have been unduly harsh on their former coaches returning to the Siegel Center. VCU routed Coach Jeff Capel’s Oklahoma Sooners and Coach Anthony Grant’s Alabama Crimson Tide in similar homecomings.

Coach Smart won’t be coming alone. The Longhorns boast one of the nation’s premier freshmen in 6-foot-11 Mohamed Bamba. The Harlem native has a standing reach of 9-foot-6, a wingspan of 7-foot-9 and figures to play just one college season before opting for the NBA.

Seton Hall: This will be the only time before January that the Rams will face a team on the road.

The Big East Conference Pirates feature 6-foot-10 Angel Delgado from the Dominican Republic.

VCU will play Seton Hall in the Never Forget Tribute Classic honoring the late North Carolina State University Coach Jim Valvano at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. All other nonconference games are at the Siegel Center or on neutral courts.

The degree of difficulty for the Rams lessens later in December.

After navigating the “Bermuda Triangle,” the Rams return to Broad Street against Bucknell University on Dec. 16, Winthrop University on Dec. 19, Virginia Military Institute on Dec. 22 and Fordham University on Dec. 30 — all games in which VCU will be the clear favorite.

Scheduling is a dicey proposition. One-sided home wins ease the blood pressure of the players, coaches and fans. But to accumulate power points leading to an NCAA selection, it’s wise to steer into choppy water and take some chances on getting shipwrecked.