Junior guard Joey Rodriguez (Oviedo, Fla./Lake Howell) doesn’t shy away from his excitement at playing one last game at the Stuart C. Siegel Center this season, but he’s at least modest when explaining why.
“We love playing at the Siegel Center; we don’t lose a lot here,” said Rodriguez after defeating Boston University in the College Basketball Insider semifinals lastWednesday.
That’s an understatement.
This season, VCU is a supreme 17-1 at home, which equates to the most home wins of any CAA team this season – although Old Dominion was a perfect 15-0 but played fewer games than the Rams – and is tied for the most wins statewide with Virginia Tech, who is also 17-1 at home too.
Coming into the year, VCU was already ranked 16th nation-wide – well enough for first in the state – in home winning percentage with a resounding 84.6 percent. After factoring in this year’s results, the Rams should surely creep up the rankings with a percentage that can now drop to no lower than 85.7 percent, which would be the Rams’ percentage if they lost to St. Louis at home Monday night).
Reasons to explain the hot hands at home can range from comfort to the players just knowing the ins and outs of the floor depending on who you talk to, but one factor is unquestionably critical: The fans.
The Siegel Center, which has a 7,500 person capacity, has seen a 150 percent increase in student attendance over the last five seasons at men’s basketball games.
This season’s average attendance was 6089, which was 17 people fewer than last season. But thanks to a prolonged run in the College Basketball Insider Tournament, the Siegel Center needs just under 400 people to come through its doors Monday night to reach a season attendance of 110,000—the season is already the first time the 100,000-person barrier has been broken in school history.
“I think it’s a reciprocal relationship,” head coach Shaka Smart said when asked about the fans’ synergy with the players. “Our players really feed off the energy in here and have a tremendous relationship with the fans.”
When fans do file into the arena one last time this season Monday night, a St. Louis University team that was blown out in their last trip to Richmond two months ago will square off with the Rams for the first time.
The Billikens, who defeated Princeton 69-59 in the other CBI semifinal to advance to the title game, were slaughtered 62-36 by fellow Atlantic-10 team the University of Richmond when they played the Spiders at home in the Robbins Center in their only match up of the season.
St. Louis, with a successful 23-11 record, could write off the Richmond game as growing pains in a long season considering they are the youngest team in all of Division I with eight freshmen, four sophomores and one junior. Indeed since that day, St. Louis has won 11 of 14 and if they win at least one game of the three-game series versus VCU, they will have won the most games in a season at the university since their 1988-89 campaign.
The Billikens’ two most impressive players so far in the CBI, guard Kwamain Mitchell and forward Willie Reed, were virtually the only two players who showed up when they played Richmond (scoring 28 of their 36 points on the day) and were also the catalysts to their semifinal victory over Princeton. Mitchell scored a game-high 21 and Reed notched his ninth double-double of the season with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
VCU’s scoring has been a bit more balanced during the CBI tournament as the Rams have put four players into double figures in all three games and five players in the first round match up versus George Washington.
After seeing an average of 3,325 people in attendance in the first two home games in the CBI (over 2,700 people below the season average), Rodriguez is hoping that stat will balance itself out too.
“It’s a fun opportunity,” Rodriguez said. “Hopefully a lot of students get out here (for Monday night’s game) so it can be packed.”