VCU heads to A-10 Tournament; NCAA's a distant dream

Fred Jeter | 3/13/2020, 6 a.m.
Virginia Commonwealth University’s basketball team has arrived in The Big Apple with big upsets on its mind.
Coach Mike Rhoades

Virginia Commonwealth University’s basketball team has arrived in The Big Apple with big upsets on its mind.

Seeded ninth, the Rams will play No. 8 seed University of Massachusetts at noon Thursday, March 12, in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament at the Barclays Center.

If successful on Thursday, VCU would play nationally ranked University of Dayton on Friday, March 13, in the quarterfinals. The Dayton Flyers are 29-2 with 17 straight victories,

including two against VCU. Dayton showcases National Player of the Year candidate Obi Topping.

Coach Mike Rhoades’ Rams are 18-13 overall and 8-10 in the A-10.

The team has been on a free fall of late, losing seven of its last eight games. As recently as Jan. 28, the Rams were 16-5.

Medical issues involving starters Marcus Evans, De’Riante Jenkins and Vince Williams, and backup Corey Douglas, have been atop the worries list.

Evans, who hadn’t played since Feb. 21, returned to the mix in the regular season finale at Davidson College, scoring seven points.

Evans was an All A-10 first team pick a season ago, but the talented guard has struggled much of this season with illness and injuries.

A year ago, VCU went to the tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y., as the top seed but was upset in the quarterfinals by the University of Rhode Island.

VCU frequently had made the NCAAs in the past as an at-large selection. That is not an option this season. The Rams must win four games — all against higher seeds — in four days in Brooklyn to return to the NCAAs. If that doesn’t happen, VCU might be a candidate for the National Invitational Tournament or the College Basketball Invitational.

Despite recent disappointments, there are some uplifting indicators in the Rams’ camp.

Junior center Marcus Santos-Silva averages 13 points and nine rebounds, while leading the team with 39 blocked shots.

Freshman Nah’shon “Bones” Hyland averages nine points, while hitting 43 percent from behind the arc.

VCU also is excited about a 2020-21 incoming freshman class that is rated tops in the A-10.

Freshmen-to-be are 6-foot Ace Baldwin from Baltimore; 6-foot-8 Mikeal Brown-Jones of Bradenton, Fla.,; 6-foot-5 Josh Banks of Charlotte, N.C.; and 6-foot-7 Jamir Watkins of Trenton, N.J.

The early season 2020-21 schedule will feature a Dec. 3 visit from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, a trip to play Louisiana State University and former VCU Coach Will Wade and an appearance in November at the Charleston Classic.

Other entries in the South Carolina classic are host College of Charleston, Florida State, Houston, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Seton Hall and Tennessee.