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Preview: VCU, Dayton inevitably meet with title at stake

Are you really surprised this game is huge?

NCAA Basketball: Dayton at VCU Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It was September, but it didn’t matter.

When the A-10 schedule was released, it seemed clear March 1 was the date to circle. And with Dayton and VCU playing for first place, that’s exactly how things turned out.

The Flyers can clinch the regular season title outright with a win, but will need to flip the script from the teams’ first meeting. VCU dominated the interior in a 73-68 win on Jan 27, getting 18 offensive rebounds and scoring 46 points in the paint.

“Looking back on game one, we were clearly in great environment that night and playing a very charged up team as well. [VCU] played extremely hard and physical, they were forceful in the way they played,” Archie Miller said Monday on the league’s weekly conference call. “We’ll need to match that in game two, be a lot more forceful and our guards need to do a better job of defending the ball.”

They may be catching a physical Rams’ team at the right time.

Will Wade has said his team’s strength is “mashing people,” but VCU was one the getting mashed last weekend at Rhode Island.

URI won the rebounding battle by 17 in a 69-59 win, in a game that saw Hassan Martin (17 points, 18 rebounds) run wild in the paint. The loss snapped a nine-game VCU winning streak, though Wade said it wasn’t a complete surprise.

“We hadn’t been playing great and a lot of that stuff caught up to us at Rhode Island,” he said on the conference call. “We hadn’t been getting a lot of our game standards and game goals. We got annihilated on the glass.”

For its part, Dayton is on an eight-game winning streak, and hasn’t lost since that game in Richmond.

But the Flyers most recent win at Davidson wasn’t entirely pretty either. They faced a 13-point deficit with under eight minutes to go, as their typically-stout defense struggled to stop Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge.

Dayton would use an 11-0 run to get back in the game to force overtime, and that’s when Scoochie Smith happened. After being held without a field in regulation, the senior closed out yet another game with 11 points in the extra period.

No matter how either team is playing, here’s what to watch for Wednesday night:

  • With a win, Dayton would move to 15-2 and win the league outright.
  • With a win, VCU would move to 14-3 and control its own destiny. The sweep of the Flyers would give the Rams the tiebreaker, and thus a win Saturday at home against George Mason (or a Dayton loss at GW) would give VCU the title.
  • The game will feature two veteran teams with senior classes used to winning. For Dayton, Smith, Kendall Pollard and Kyle Davis have been one of the most successful groups in program history. Charles Cooke - a James Madison transfer - has been no slouch himself in his two years in Dayton. The same can be said of VCU’s senior class. JeQuan Lewis, Mo Alie-Cox, Doug Brooks and Jordan Burgess have not known a season that didn’t end in the NCAA Tournament.
  • The game may again be decided in the paint. If the well-balanced Flyers struggle in one area, it’s the offensive glass. Dayton’s offensive rebounding rate is 10th in the league, while VCU has two of the A-10’s best offensive rebounders in Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman. Miller has seen this story play out before.
  • Of all the intriguing individual match ups (Pollard v. Alie-Cox/Tillman, Cooke v. Samir Doughty), the one worth glued eyeballs will likely be between the two veteran point guards. Lewis and Smith both deserve All-A-10 First Team consideration, and are players no opposing coach will want to deal with over the next month.

The teams meet Wednesday night at 8 PM ET on CBS Sports Network. You should watch.