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The VCU Rams have been a difficult team to gauge this season. One week they’ll show glimpses of their talent level, the next week they’ll resemble a young team that’s another year away from competing.

They lost six of their last nine games, giving them a record of 17-14 to finish off the regular season. It’s the first time the Rams failed to reach the 20-win mark since 2005-06, and it’s their lowest win total since 2000-01.

They were unable to secure one of the top-four seeds in the conference and will now be forced to win the Atlantic 10 tournament in order to go dancing for the eighth consecutive year.

The Rams have endured quite a bit in their recent history, going from Shaka Smart to Will Wade to Mike Rhoades as the head man in charge in the matter of four seasons. For a bit of context, seniors Justin Tillman and Jonathan Williams experienced playing for all three coaches.

Over that timeframe, there have been players to commit, then decommit, and some who decided to transfer. Ahmed Hamdy (TCU) and Marquell Fraser both transferred following Wade’s departure, as did Samir Doughty (Auburn). And Terry Larrier (UConn) parted ways with the program the year before.

But VCU has continued to land quality players. For instance, freshman forward Sean Mobley has made his impact felt this season, as has Marcus Santos-Silva — both of whom will be important pieces to the puzzle over the next few years. Issac Vann, De’Riante Jenkins, Mike’l Simms and Malik Crowfield are all sophomores and have played integral roles on this year’s team. And not to mention Marcus Evans, who transferred with Rhoades from Rice and will be eligible in 2018-19.

Needless to say, the future looks bright for the black and gold. However, VCU isn’t accustomed to mediocrity. So while the road to earning a tournament bid won’t be an easy one, fans will maintain a sanguine outlook.

VCU will enter the conference tournament on Thursday as an 8 seed, and will face off against Anthony Grant‘s Dayton Flyers in the opening round. The teams split during the regular season, with VCU coming away victorious on its home court in the last meeting. If the Rams are able to slither by the Flyers, Rhode Island is patiently waiting in the next round.

It will take a monumental effort by Rhodes’ bunch, but it’s possible his team can get hot at the right time. Rhode Island has proven to be vulnerable over the past few weeks, losing three of its final five regular-season games — one of which was a 30-point blowout at the hands of St. Joseph’s.

The A-10 as a whole has been wacky down the stretch, as that same St. Joseph’s team, which finished 15-15, won six of its last seven games to end the season and grabbed the fourth seed in the conference. After it appeared Rhode Island was head and shoulders better than any team in the A-10, St. Bonaventure suddenly got red hot, winning 12 straight, and has looked like the top dog.

And Davidson has been sneaky good since conference play began. The Wildcats have won eight of 10 and closed the season with a triple-overtime loss to the Bonnies and a victory over Rhode Island.

Quite frankly, the A-10 tournament is wide open. Every team has been exposed one way or another. The Bonnies, however, appear to be the team to beat, led by their triplett of scorers, Jaylen Adams, Matt Mobley and Courtney Stockard. Adams’ NBA stock continues to rise as they win games.

The Atlantic 10 has historically been a very competitive conference, and this season has been no different.

VCU will have its work cut out. But if it can get consistent scoring outside of Tillman during the tournament, its chances of making a run largely increases. Tillman brings his A game on a nightly basis, putting up 18.9 points and 9.7 rebounds, but he won’t be able to will VCU to four straight wins without getting help from others.

Based on how they fared this season, it would be wishful thinking to believe the Rams would actually right the ship and win the A-10 tourney. But, it’s called March Madness for a reason. Crazier things have happened.

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