The VCU women’s basketball team took huge strides forward during the 2013-14 season, doubling their win total from the previous year. Despite the improvement, the Rams find themselves in familiar territory, as underdogs. Atlantic 10 coaches have pegged this year’s version of the women’s team as the 10th best in a league of 14. With a majority of last year’s core returning to the rotation, it’s possible for the Rams to once again shock their counterparts. However, there are a few key games that will likely paint the picture for head coach Beth O’Boyle’s inaugural campaign. Here’s a look at a few make or break matchups that will determine whether this season can be looked at as a stepping stone or the beginning of another rebuilding effort.
@ Liberty University
O’Boyle will take her team to Lynchburg for the first road game of the season. A year ago the Flames experienced a moderate level of success winning 20 games. A team with four returning seniors could prove to be a challenge the young Rams must overcome.
@ Ohio State University
The only hiccup during their quick 14-1 start a season ago, the Rams will be looking for both revenge as well as a quality resume’ builder. The Buckeyes are the lone team on VCU’s schedule hailing from a power conference (the Big Ten Conference) and a victory in Columbus would make Thanksgiving week all the more enjoyable for the basketball program.
@ Old Dominion University
No matter what the records are at this point in the season, the in-state rival Monarchs always make for an interesting opponent. Last year’s matchup was a game of runs before the Rams eventually created separation, winning by 13 points. Former Ram Robyn Parks filled up the stat sheet for 27 points and 11 rebounds last December. Expect ODU to remember that performance and come out swinging in front of their home crowd this time around.
@ Saint Joseph’s University
The Hawks held the distinction of being the only Atlantic 10 team to make the round of 32 during the NCAA tournament a year ago before being steamrolled by the eventual champion Connecticut Huskies. VCU traded blows with Saint Joe’s a year ago, splitting the series at one a piece. A win in January can certainly provide a boost in morale, but it will also give the Rams a 1-0 record in conference play.
@ Fordham University
In what can be dubbed the ‘Battle of the Rams,” the women’s team has the tough task of traveling to the Big Apple to take on the A-10 tournament champions from last season. In last year’s only meeting between the two, VCU was a mere 48 seconds away from leaving the Siegel Center with maybe its most impressive victory of last year’s campaign. Fordham sophomore, Hannah Missry ended that upset bid with a couple huge shots late to give her team the win. Look for a duel between Missry and fellow budding star Keira Robinson to be one of the most exciting guard matchups in the conference this season.
There will be plenty to play for when the Flyers travel to Richmond to take on the Rams. Dayton narrowly escaped upset last year in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinal, beating VCU by a single point to advance. Taking on the reigning regular A-10 champs and the runaway favorite to win the conference again in 2015, VCU will turn a lot of heads if they can manage to steal one from the team every coach in the conference picked to win it all this season.
George Washington University
A rematch with the Colonels has to be one that the Rams are circling on their schedule and licking their chops for. The contest between the two this past February led to an 18-point blowout loss on national television. It has yet to be announced whether this year’s battle between the two will also be picked up by CBS Sports Network, but either way VCU figures to play with a chip on their shoulder in front of their home crowd. Expect a matchup of high energy and high emotion in this regional rivalry.
University of Richmond
Referred to by many as the Black and Blue Classic, the matchup figures to have one of the largest home crowds of the season for the Rams. As heavy underdogs last season, the Spiders managed to get their biggest win of the year on Senior night. VCU has zero players graduating this season, but that wouldn’t make a victory over the ‘U of R’ any less sweet in the regular season finale.