RAMS READY TO MAKE A BID FOR HISTORY
By Chris Kowalczyk
From the outside, the Richmond Coliseum looks like a brown spaceship that crash landed in the heart of Virginia’s capital. The sidewalks are crumbling. Inside, it’s dank and often cold. The rims are notoriously tight. But you know what? Joey Rodriguez loves the place.
“It’s just a fun place to play,” Rodriguez said. “Right when I walked in here, I was thinking about last year and everybody charging the court. Good memories, especially from last year.”
Forgive him if euphoria trumps comfort. It’s understandable, however. Last March, on the floor of the Richmond Coliseum, Rodriguez and the VCU Rams hoisted the Colonial Athletic Association trophy after blitzing the field, including a 71-50 rout of George Mason in the championship game. Those types of memories cure a lot of ills.
Rodriguez and company will be looking for a repeat in 2010, albeit against longer odds. From 2007-09, the Rams entered the CAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed and rolled to league titles in 2007 and last year. This season, if VCU wants to claim its fifth CAA title, it’ll have to do so as the No. 5 seed. That means four games in four days. No first round bye this season.
Since the league expanded to a four-day format in 1996, no team has won four games in four days. Only once has a team seeded lower than fourth won the CAA Championship, seventh-seeded East Carolina in 1993.
“We’ve just got to play defense and rebound,” Rodriguez said. I mean, I know it’s hard, but three or four games? It’s not that big a difference to me. You could see us out there right now [at practice]. We look loose. We’re not really worried about four games. We’ve just got to beat Delaware tomorrow and go from there. We beat Delaware tomorrow and we’re just like everybody else.”
VCU begins its quest in earnest on Friday at 2:30 p.m. against the 12th-seeded Blue Hens. If the heavily favored Rams take care of business against Delaware, fourth-seeded George Mason awaits. If VCU can handle Mason, their likely semifinal opponent will be top-seeded and arch-rival Old Dominion. The Rams have lost close games to both the Patriots and Monarchs this season. Rodriguez is hoping for rematches with both.
“That’s the best. We love playing those teams,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a big stage. Everybody shows up. We feel like we owe Mason something and we owe ODU something too. Definitely excited about the opportunity we have to play those two teams.”
The 2009-10 season has been a rollercoaster ride. The Rams claimed notable victories over Richmond, Rhode Island Oklahoma and Old Dominion, only to have that excitement tempered by several losses in which they failed to hold double-digit leads.
On paper, you could argue that VCU is the most talented No. 5 seed in CAA Tournament history. Basketball Prospectus’ Ken Pomeroy gave the Rams the second-best chance at winning the title on Monday. The Black and Gold feature Rodriguez, a Second Team All-CAA pick, as well as junior Larry Sanders, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and a First Team All-CAA selection. However, talent is only one factor of success. In order for the Rams to run the table, they’re going to have to improve in some areas.
“It’s going to take a team effort, fighting through adversity,” said junior guard Brandon Rozzell. “It’s just coming together as a team instead of splitting apart when we get down or things aren’t going our way. We have to come together and stop pointing fingers at the referees and just come together as a team and just do what we’ve got to do to win.”
In the meantime, Rodriguez is busy conjuring up some of last season’s ghosts for good luck.
“I watched [championship highlights] YouTube last night,” Rodriguez said. “I was up at like two in the morning. I just went to YouTube and watched it real quick. I got chills, like always. I’m just really excited about it. I’m going to watch it again tonight and probably the next game and the next game.”
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