VCU looks to bounce back at Xavier
Shaka Smart was especially anxious to get his VCU team on the practice floor Thursday.
That, in large part, is because the rules state the Rams couldn't be there on Wednesday. That was a very long day for Smart, one that followed a very long night.
VCU's first season in the Atlantic 10 hit probably its low point on Tuesday night at Saint Louis, where the Billikens turned a first-place game into a rout and beat VCU, 76-62, snapping the Rams' five-game win streak.
"We had to take (Wednesday) off according to NCAA rules," Smart said. "I'd anticipate a very spirited practice on Thursday. Every situation you have to learn from, and we have to bounce back."
After taking the mandated one day off per week, VCU (21-6. 9-3) turns its focus to another road game Saturday at Xavier (15-10, 8-4). The Musketeers will provide another test in a new environment for VCU. Since 2007, Xavier is 52-1 in conference games played on its home floor.
It's a new opponent and new fight for a VCU program that went from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011 and won the Colonial Athletic Association and an NCAA Tournament game a year ago, but Smart said he hasn't seen anything in his team's first run through the Atlantic 10 that he wasn't expecting.
"No; no surprises," Smart said. "The A-10 is really a good league. There are a ton of great teams. We knew that coming in. I was an assistant (at Dayton) in the A-10 a long time ago and though the league is different now, it's a very good league. We are going to have earn anything we want to get here."
No. 15 Butler and No. 24 VCU have upped the A-10's national profile and overall depth, as expected. Saint Louis figures to be in the national rankings next week — deservedly so —and appears very dangerous going forward. Smart said the Billikens are "clearly the hottest team in the league, playing at an extremely high level."
Saint Louis leads the league at 9-2, a half-game ahead of 9-3 Butler and VCU. Saint Louis blitzed Butler at home earlier this season and visits the Bulldogs on Friday night in the return game. La Salle is 8-3 heading into its Thursday night rivalry game at Temple, with Xavier sitting at 8-4.
VCU's next game after Saturday is next Saturday, at home against Butler. There's not a lot of room for error or further missteps for anyone, which makes that "spirited" practice VCU was due to undertake Thursday even more important.
"We're just trying to win our next game," Smart said. "Our program is no different from any other in this league in that regard. Our focus is on our next opponent.
"Obviously we're aware of the standings. We know where we are. We know there are a ton of team pretty much bunched together and there's not really anything you can do about that other than win your next game."