VCU loses to Saint Mary’s 63-51 in NCAA West opener

Ace Baldwin’s injury makes losing more painful

Fred Jeter | 3/23/2023, 6 p.m.
VCU’s exceptional basketball season ended with a resounding, “What if?”

VCU’s exceptional basketball season ended with a resounding, “What if?”

What if point guard sensation Ace Baldwin hadn’t suffered a leg injury that contributed to a 63-51 loss to St. Mary’s, Calif., in the opening game of the NCAA West Region in Albany, N.Y.?

The Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year went down with 14:16 to go and St. Mary’s up 38-34. At that point the Gaels went on a 12-5 run.

Baldwin, who had a team-high 13 points, returned briefly in the late going, even hitting a 3-pointer, but it was too little too late.

“That’s why it hurt so bad ... I wanted to get out there and help my brothers ... but I couldn’t run or plant,” he told the news media.

So the Rams finished 27-8 with A-10 regular season and tournament titles. VCU had won nine straight prior to the NCAAs and 18 out of 20. The Rams have enjoyed 23 straight winning seasons under six different coaches.

Much to his credit, Rams Coach Mike Rhoades didn’t blame the latest setback on Baldwin’s misfortune.

“The best team won,” Coach Rhoades said. “St. Mary’s played better longer.”

But here’s another “What if?”

As powerful as the Rams’ latest edition was, it might have been even stronger. Missing were Bones Hyland (now with the NBA Clippers) and Vince Williams (splitting time with NBA Grizzlies and G-League).

Both would have been eligible to return this season had they not decided to go pro.

Baldwin could be the Rams’ next NBA player, but not before what figures to be fantastic finish as a senior in 2023-24.

Moving on: Departing Rams will be graduate students Brandon Johns, who made third team All-A10, and David Shriver, team leader with 60 3-pointers.

Also exiting will be four-year walk-on Arnold Henderson VI out of St. Christopher’s.

Then there is always the chance of players transferring out, in some cases for more lucrative NIL deals. There is temptation at every juncture.

Big name schedule: The 2023-24 non-conference schedule is expected to include home games with Temple and Memphis and a trip to Orlando, Fla., for the ESPN Invitational.

Possible opponents in Florida would be Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Penn State, Butler, Boise State and Iowa State.

Fresh arrivals: Tarique Foster, a 6-foot-8 forward out of The Bronx, N.Y., is the only announced incoming freshman. Foster played this season at Putnam Academy in Connecticut.

It is likely at least one other player will come to Richmond through the NCAA portal. VCU had three portal additions this season, Johns and Zeb Jackson from Michigan and Shriver from Hartford.

The Rhoades Runners: Few schools nationally played better away from home than VCU.

Under Coach Rhoades, the Rams were 8-3 in true road games and 4-2 at neutral sites.

Since becoming VCU head coach prior to 2017-18, Coach Rhoades’ Rams are 129-61 overall and 72-32 in the A-10.

With success sometimes comes worries. Will other higher profile schools with deeper pockets attempt to lure Coach Rhoades away?

VCU has a history of losing coaches. Dana Kirk (left for Memphis), J.D. Barnett (Tulsa), Jeff Capel (Oklahoma), Anthony Grant (Ala- bama), Shaka Smart (Texas) and Will Wade (LSU) are examples.

Coach Rhoades’ son, Logan, will be playing football this coming season for Colgate University, N.Y., after a stellar career as Mills Godwin High School’s quarterback.