Posted by Brandon Jarvis
VCU 9-1 at home, though UD won at Siegel Center in 2015.
DAYTON —Virginia Commonwealth invited students to camp out for two days starting Wednesday night outside the Siegel Center in Richmond. The site used to be called Shakaville. Now it’s called Wade’s World.
VCU’s second-year head coach, Will Wade, delivered pizza to the campers a year ago as they awaited a game against rival Richmond. He planned to stop by Thursday night, one day before an Atlantic 10 showdown between VCU and Dayton, to do the same.
PREVIEW: Dayton at VCU
If the last three matchups between the Flyers and Rams are any indication, the wait will be worth it. These two teams played for the A-10 tournament championship two years ago. They met in the regular-season finale last March with a share of the regular-season title on the line. They meet at 9 p.m. Friday in Richmond for the first of two matchups in the last five weeks of the regular season. Again, a share first place is up for grabs.
VCU (15-5, 5-2) and Dayton (15-4, 6-1) may not be official rivals, but circumstances make them so.
“If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Dayton point guard Scoochie Smith said. “Whoever’s at the top of the league, that’s who we consider a rival.”
Here are seven things to know about the game:
1. VCU is tough at home: The Rams have won their last three home games against Massachusetts, George Washington and La Salle by 17, 30 and 38 points. They are 9-1 at home, losing only to Georgia Tech (76-73 in overtime on Dec. 7).
Dayton at least has the advantage of knowing it can win at the Siegel Center. It beat the Rams 59-55 in its last game there in 2015.
“It helps to understand what the environment is like,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “It’s two different types of teams, different circumstances, different seasons. I don’t know how much it parlays into the game, but I do know a couple guys on this team understand what they’re walking into.”
2. Free throws will be key: Miller knows Dayton is at its best when it’s shooting a lot of free throws. The Flyers rank 36th in the nation in free-throw rate, according to KenPom.com. The stat reflects a team’s ability to get to the line.
Making them is another story. Dayton’s opponents have shot 70.1 percent the line. Dayton has shot 67.5. On the bright side, Dayton turned its most accurate performances of the season in its last two games, making 21 of 26 (80.8) percent against Richmond and 17 of 21 (81.0) against Saint Louis.
“I think we’re a better free-throw team than we’ve shown,” Miller said. “It hurts our offense. It really does. There’s been games where we’re really fortunate to win with our shooting numbers. We’ve changed some things up in practice, and guys are really concentrating. We’re being more competitive with our free-throw shooting in practice. Guys are competing against one other, and I think it’s showed. Guys are shooting with a lot of confidence.”
3. Watch out for turnovers: VCU ranks 15th in the country in turnover percentage and 10th in steal percentage. Smart took his pressing style to Texas. The Rams don’t play the same style of defense that inspire the nickname Havoc, but they still cause plenty of trouble on that end.
Dayton committed a season-high 19 turnovers in its only A-10 loss, 67-55 at UMass on Jan. 11.
“We can’t turn the ball over,” Smith said. “We can’t give them free points.”
4. VCU has no margin for error: Prior to its blowout of La Salle, VCU lost 69-63 at Davidson and 69-67 at Fordham. The loss to Fordham, which ranks 206th in the RPI, is especially damaging to VCU’s resume. This game gives it a chance to record a top 50 win — Dayton ranks 29th in the RPI — and move into a tie for first place.
“They’re all important for us now,” Wade said. “We’ve given away our mulligans.”
5. Status of Davis up in air: Dayton senior guard Kyle Davis will be a game-time decision. He has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle and bruised foot. He told a fan on Twitter on Wednesday he was “almost ready.”
6. Smith will play big role in close game: Smith scored a career-high 29 points in the last meeting against VCU, a 68-67 overtime victory on Senior Night in March. He tied the game and sent it to overtime on a layup with 11 seconds to play.
Smith has excelled in the same types of situations this season. In the last two minutes of games, he has made 12 of 18 field goals (66.7 percent) and scored 42 points. Charles Cooke ranks second on the team with 25 points in the last two minutes.
“Scoochie Smith is obviously somebody who has been there a long time and won a lot of games for them,” Wade said. “He’s a front-line guard in our league.”
7. Teams are as experienced as any: Dayton’s four-man senior class has won 93 games. VCU has six seniors, and they have won 92.
Dayton’s Smith and Charles Cooke have each scored more than 1,000 points in their careers. VCU guard JeQuan Lewis surpassed 1,000 in November. Dayton’s Kendall Pollard and VCU’s Mo Alie-Cox should hit 1,000 in the next few weeks.