Bradford Burgess, VCU's second leading scorer
The VCU Rams made a strong statement on Thursday night in their quest for supremacy in the Colonial Athletic Association, and perhaps for an NCAA tournament bid.
In a battle of two teams who came in tied for first-place in the CAA, VCU came out with an impressive 82-67 win on Thursday, in Richmond. VCU now leads the CAA with a 9–1 record in conference play, including eight straight wins. Hofstra, at 8 - 2, now sits in a second-place tie with George Mason.
It was a very productive week for VCU, who had to win three games—two of them on the road—over a six-day period in order to take over first place.
Prior to beating Hofstra, the Rams won a huge game at Old Dominion by nine. They followed that up by narrowly escaping against last-place Towson, winning by four.
VCU now sits alone atop the CAA, and it may be tough for anyone to catch them.
They are in excellent position to hold, and perhaps expand, their lead over Hofstra and George Mason, as well as defending-CAA-champion Old Dominion, who is 7–3 in league play.
The Rams’ remaining schedule is very favorable—they will not make a return trip to Hofstra, and their only game against George Mason this season will be played at home. The Rams will play another game against Old Dominion, but of course that will also be played in Richmond.
What will VCU's NCAA tournament fate be?
There are a couple of potential pitfalls on the road against middle-of-the-pack teams—James Madison and Drexel—in February.
It is quite possible that VCU will make it through the regular season with just one or two conference losses. If they do, the Rams would likely win the CAA by at least two full games.
Would this, in itself, make VCU worthy of an NCAA Tournament berth?
In addition to the win at ODU, the Rams already have an increasingly-solid win against UCLA (in New York) to build their case.
The answer will depend on who they beat the remainder of the season.
In conference play, the most important game for this team will be the second game against Old Dominion. Despite being in fourth place currently, ODU is still the league’s most likely NCAA at-large candidate, with wins over Clemson, Xavier, Richmond, and Dayton.
Beating ODU twice would establish VCU as a superior team in the eyes of the selection committee, making the Rams an equally, or more, attractive at-large candidate.
Another game that could significantly help VCU’s tournament hopes is their upcoming Bracket Buster game, for which their matchup is currently unknown.
A matchup with one of the teams from the Missouri Valley Conference—Missouri State or Wichita State—would have the most potential to boost VCU’s overall tournament resume. Out of the Horizon League, Cleveland State, at 19-3 overall and currently first in the league, is an interesting matchup possibility as well.
Another win over Old Dominion, as well as one in their Bracket Buster game, will be crucial for VCU.
These wins, along with an outright regular season CAA title, should make them very difficult to pass up for the NCAA tournament.