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Atlantic 10 Championship Preview: VCU vs Saint Joseph's

The carnage in Brooklyn finally ends today with a rematch of the 2014 Atlantic 10 title game.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Time: 12:30 PM
Watch: CBS
Line: VCU -4.5

The bubble brawl that has been the Atlantic 10 Tournament culminates today in Brooklyn at 12:30 pm with the second-seeded VCU Rams taking on the fourth-seeded Saint Joseph's Hawks. The game is a replay of the 2014 A10 championship where Phil Martelli's Hawks shocked the Rams with a 65-61 win in the Barclays Center.

This Year

These two teams have only met once this year way back on January 5.  VCU beat the Hawks in Hagan Arena 85-82 for what turned out to be the Rams highest profile win of the year. The win also signaled to the Atlantic 10 that VCU was still going to be around despite a divey 8-5 non-conference mark.

Melvin Johnson lead VCU in that game with 25 points and six rebounds on the night.  The Rams overcame a 13 point deficit in the final seven minutes to steal a win on the road in Philly. Isaiah Miles was the star for the Hawks that day with 31 points and six rebounds.

Key Storylines: VCU

Everyone in the black and gold is worried about the health of the Melvin Johnson.  Johnson was limited yesterday to just twenty minutes against Davidson due to a foot injury.  Does Will Wade value an Atlantic 10 title or an NCAA Tournament win more? The answer to that could determine how much we see the Rams star senior today.

If Johnson isn't at full strength, then it likely means an expanded role for Doug Brooks, Jordan Burgess, and could also force Wade to use a bigger rotation than the four guard sets the Rams have been using recently. If this does happen then, VCU needs to find a way to stretch the floor against the Hawks as they were just 5-for-21 from three when you take out Johnson's five threes in Philly.  JeQuan Lewis was able to give the Rams a boost in the January 5 game with 19 points, six rebounds, and six assists.

Key Storylines: St. Joseph's

How much do Isaiah Miles and DeAndre Bembry have left in the tank? That's the key question this afternoon.  VCU almost lucked out in a way last week losing to Dayton.  St. Joe's has had two battles with George Washington and Dayton, but on the other side VCU has breezed past UMass and then got a gift from St. Bonaventure in a Davidson mismatch. Miles has played 37 minutes in both games while Bembry has played nearly all 80 minutes this weekend.  The Hawks have a tight seven-man rotation, and that might give VCU a bit of an advantage.

Phil Martelli needs a consistent effort from his two stars, Bembry 5-for-13 from the field in the first game against VCU, and needs someone like Aaron Brown to step up.  Yesterday Brown had 16 points against the Flyers.  It'll also be particularly interesting to see how the Rams defend DeAndre Bembry who has been decimating the A10 all year. Bembry only had 9 points yesterday but nearly had a triple-double with eight assists and seven rebounds.

Prediction

This is a really tough one, especially with the injury status of Melvin Johnson unclear. On one hand, St. Joe's always plays like they have a chip on their shoulder and I would expect that even more today with Hawks losing on their home floor back in January.  Meanwhile, I'm worried about the legs of Bembry and Miles.  This title game may not be as meaningful to the Hawks as two years ago and Martelli might have his eyes on the NCAA Tournament as well. Will Wade has options, he can use his plethora of guards to wear out the Hawks or turn to some of his underutilized bigs to grind down St. Joes.  VCU 70-67