Dayton-VCU Preview

VCU hasn't been the same team since Briante Weber's season-ending injury, and now a rotation that's often run 11 deep has a few more concerns.

Yet for whatever adversity the Rams have endured over the last month, they're two wins from taking control of the Atlantic 10.

In a four-way tie atop the conference, No. 22 VCU plays the first of two games in six days against fellow co-leaders Saturday as it hosts a Dayton team that could really use a quality win.

Near the end of January, the Rams (21-7, 11-4) seemed to be cruising toward their first A-10 title, but a 7-0 conference start in which they held opponents to 61.4 points per game and virtually closed off the 3-point line now feels like months ago.

VCU forced those first seven teams into 18.1 turnovers per game and limited them to an anemic 24.8 percent from 3-point range, but Weber's absence continues to be felt in both areas. The Rams' last eight opponents - starting with the game the senior guard tore his ACL - are shooting 34.0 percent from beyond the arc and averaging just 15.4 turnovers against VCU's Havoc press.

They've also had to play 20 extra minutes in their last five games, losing twice in double overtime, and now find themselves tied for first with Dayton (21-6, 11-4), Davidson and Rhode Island. VCU goes on the road Thursday to face Davidson, which enters the weekend as the league's hottest team with a six-game win streak.

The Rams are coming off a road loss Wednesday at Richmond, rallying from 16 down in the second half and forcing overtime on Treveon Graham's 3 only to lose 67-63 in double OT.

Besides missing Weber, coach Shaka Smart didn't have two key big men off the bench and they may not be available Saturday. The 6-foot-9 Michael Gilmore (personal issues) and 6-7 Justin Tillman (shoulder) are toward the bottom of Smart's rotation, but rank first and fourth, respectively, among the Rams in rebounds per 40 minutes.

That would take two of Smart's taller players off the board, but he's less concerned about that given coach Archie Miller's team doesn't have anyone in the rotation above 6-6.

"Archie's done a terrific job with their team," Smart said on his weekly radio show. "They really pass, handle and shoot the ball well because they have one of the smaller teams in the league."

Despite the four-team logjam atop the A-10, VCU is the only one that's considered a lock for the NCAA tournament. Dayton's best win came at home against Ole Miss on Dec. 30, and it was blown out at Davidson in its only game against one of the other title contenders.

The Flyers have won four of five, though, after beating George Mason 76-63 on Wednesday behind Jordan Sibert's 24 points. They'll now have two chances in their last three games against their co-leaders, with a home game against Rhode Island on Tuesday.

Dayton has the league's second-highest field-goal percentage inside the arc (53.4) with Dyshawn Pierre and Kendall Pollard doing most of that damage, but lately it's getting hot from 3-point range. The Flyers are shooting 41.1 percent beyond the arc in their last four as Sibert has hit 13 3-pointers.

Pierre had 14 points in an 80-66 home loss to VCU last season.

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