The feelings around the VCU and Richmond fan bases five games into the conference season is probably pretty different. The Rams have won eight straight games and boast the lone remaining perfect record in Atlantic 10 play. The Spiders, meanwhile, have fallen in four of their last six and are 2-3 against league competition.
The most obvious statement in the world is that there's still plenty of time left for things to play out. The Spiders could go on a run, or falter. VCU could pull away from the pack, or stumble. All of this will be decided in the final 13 games of the regular season for both teams, and both schedules will feature some of the best competition the Atlantic 10 has to offer. Both teams undoubtedly look at this stretch as big opportunity to make noise in the A-10.
For both the Rams and the Spiders, six of the final 13 contests feature match-ups against opponents with an RPI ranking of 54 or better. Both squads face St. Bonaventure (54), Dayton (13), Davidson twice (36) , and George Washington twice (34). The Spiders will also get another crack at VCU (66). Richmond's current RPI ranking is 110 (using ESPN rankings).
So why is this important? The RPI measures a team's strength of schedule and how it does against that schedule. It's key in the selection committee's determining of which teams receive at-large bids to the field of 68 come March.
At this point, I would argue that VCU's biggest win has been at St. Joseph's, while Richmond'S most notable victories have been over California on a neutral floor and against Northern Iowa at home. Both were huge wins at the time, but inconsistency has hurt the Spiders as of late. They had St. Joe's on the ropes at the Robins Center in their league opener, but fell victim to DeAndre Bembry down the stretch and let what would have been a win over a now-top 35 RPI team slip away. Richmond would fall to Rhode Island its next time out on the road.
Both teams still have their eyes on possible NCAA Tournament berths. Obviously, from where we sit now, VCU is in better shape in that regard. The Rams have overcome some non-league struggles to rebound. They don't have any bad losses, they just don't have any really solid non-conference wins to help them come selection time (if they don't win the A-10 Tournament, of course). With that said, success down the stretch should take care of the Rams, as long as they don't slip up against teams they'll be heavy favorites against. For example, don't do what Dayton did and lose at La Salle. Dayton could afford that because they boast several strong non-league victories. VCU's final three games (@GW, vs. Davidson, @ Dayton) will prove to be the most crucial point in the Rams' chances if they can keep staying the course. They have Duquesne and the Bonnies this week.
Richmond's next two games are against Davidson at home and at George Washington, so a chance to make a move lies in the Spiders' immediate future. They also have a three game stretch next month that features trips to the Wildcats and VCU, followed by a home game against the Colonials.
Chris Mooney's big concern has been defensive inconsistency, but despite some of their struggles, the Spiders are doing some things well. They're second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring and lead the league in shooting with nearly 50 percent of their shots falling. They also are tops in the conference with a 38 percent success rate from beyond the arc.
VCU is once again leading the charge with it's defense, holding opponents to 66 points per game. The Rams are fourth in the nation with 10.2 steals per game and sixth in the country with an average of 17.6 turnovers forced.
Dayton may be considered the favorite by many, but it certainly still seems wide open. Buckle up, because the next month and a half will be quite a ride.