Ben Malakoff, Contributing Writer
Men’s Basketball ranks 55th in the nation — best in the Atlantic 10 — heading into the bulk of the conference schedule, according to NCAA NET rankings. For a team that ranked seventh in the A-10 preseason poll, most were shocked to see the Rams improve from last year.
Conference play began Jan. 5 with VCU defeating Fordham 76-51. Only four A-10 teams are in the top 100, according to the NET rankings. Similar to last season, there are few easy A-10 wins — the Rams will need to prepare for some standout teams.
VCU faces Dayton home and away on Jan. 16 and Feb. 16, respectively. Last season, the Rams swept the Flyers in their two meetings, which included an overtime victory at the Siegel Center. During last year’s conference tournament, VCU beat Dayton the second round.
Last year, coach Mike Rhoades called playing Dayton “a great opportunity to play a good team.”
The Flyers are 66th in the NET rankings with a 10-5 record, finishing the non-conference schedule on a three-game win streak. Led by former Rams coach Anthony Grant, Dayton had a notable victory over Butler and impressive efforts that fell short against No. 4 Virginia and No. 14 Auburn.
Dayton’s strong offense will test the Rams’ defense, with four players averaging more than 10 points per game — including standout forward Obi Toppin who averages 13.4 ppg, 8.0 rebounds per game and 73.3 field goal percentage.
After losing both games against Rhode Island last season — including one in the A-10 quarterfinals — the Rams have a chance for redemption Jan. 23 and Feb. 19. Led by new coach David Cox, Rhode Island enters A-10 play with a record of 7-5 and 105th rank in the NET rankings.
“I would love to play them again,” Rhoades said. “They take advantage of bad plays by you.”
Rhode Island is left with one senior on its roster after four of their five starters graduated last season. guards Jeff Dowtin and Fatts Russell and forward Cyril Langevine lead the team’s offense. Langevine averages 10 rebounds per game, the highest in the A-10. Rhode Island’s defense should not be overlooked either — it ranks 14th nationally in 3-point field goal defense while VCU ranks ninth.
Ranked first place in the A-10 preseason poll, Saint Louis begins its conference play ranked 61st in the NET rankings. The 9-4 Billikens remain undefeated at home with a record of 8-0 at the Chaifetz Arena. VCU will face Saint Louis one time this season on Feb. 26 at the Siegel Center.
Last year, the Rams snuck a win at Saint Louis during a tightly-contested overtime period. After a strong start to out-of-conference play, the Billikens lost their young freshman star Carte’Are Gordon — a former top 100 recruit who started nine games — who is sitting out the rest of the year for “personal reasons.”
VCU cannot overlook its game against Saint Louis, a team that has notable wins over Seton Hall and Butler.
“Our guys know what is going on in the league,” Rhoades said. “They know what they were ranked preseason by everybody. And I don’t want them to forget that.”