Return to Dayton brings back memories for VCU coach

Virginia Commonwealth head coach Shaka Smart.

Combined ShapeCaption
Virginia Commonwealth head coach Shaka Smart.

Dayton’s game against Virginia Commonwealth at UD Arena at 7 p.m. Wednesday will bring back memories for VCU coach Shaka Smart. The former UD assistant coach has never coached against the Flyers in Dayton, but it won’t be the first time his Rams have played at UD Arena.

Three years ago, VCU’s run to the Final Four began at UD Arena with a 59-46 victory over Southern California in the First Four. The Rams were ecstatic to even make the tournament, Smart said, because they were a bubble team on Selection Sunday.

Getting sent to Dayton proved to be an added bonus. Most of the fans, many perhaps remembering Smart coached under Oliver Purnell from 2001-03 or perhaps just rooting for the underdog, rooted for the Rams. Smart knows that won’t be the case this week.

“I warned our two seniors who played in that game, ‘Don’t expect the crowd to be anything like it was,’” Smart said Monday. “We’re the road team now. It’s not a neutral game.”

This will be VCU’s first game against the Flyers in Dayton since Jan. 11, 1986, when the Flyers won 74-64. Among the players in that game was Anthony Grant. He was a junior for the Flyers that season and preceded Smart at VCU (2006-09). He’s now in his fifth season as the head coach Alabama.

UD and VCU played four straight seasons in the 1980s, with the Rams winning three times. The Rams beat Dayton 74-62 in Richmond last season in their first season in the Atlantic 10, so they lead the overall series 4-1.

Smart still knows many people at Dayton from his two seasons with the Flyers. It marked his first stint in Division I after two seasons as an assistant coach at California University of Pennsylvania.

“Anytime you go back to a program you used to work in, it’s just a unique opportunity, and there are some mixed emotions,” Smart said. “Obviously, you want to win and play well, but there’s a lot of great people in Dayton that are still there from the time I was there with Oliver about 12 years ago. I didn’t play Division I basketball. I played small-school basketball (at Kenyon). Working at Dayton was my first real taste of big-time basketball, and man is it big time there. The crowd, the fans, the way the program is supported, that’s something I’ll never forget.”

Wednesday's game: The Flyers (13-5, 1-2 A-10) get another opportunity to boost their RPI with a win Wednesday. VCU (14-4, 2-1) is 45th in the RPI. Dayton fell to 51st with its 73-64 loss at Richmond on Saturday.

After winning two of their first four against top 100 RPI teams, the Flyers have lost their last to two Saint Louis (30th) and Richmond (62nd).

As usual, VCU’s defense makes it go. The Rams lead the nation in turnover percentage (28.1), according to KenPom.com. That’s turnovers divided by possessions. Dayton ranks 96th (19.7) by comparison.

Dayton committed 26 turnovers against VCU last season, 12 more than it averaged. It was the most turnovers in a game by the Flyers since they committed 26 in a 72-54 victory over Richmond on Jan. 20, 2007.

“Obviously, they’re unique,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “Their full-court pressure is something that’s constant. You’re going to have to deal with it. Don’t underestimate the things they do in the half court. That’s one thing I learned playing in their building last year. As much as you get caught up in the pressure — and they can press you and make some runs — their ability in the half court to really disrupt is something that’s amazing.”

About the Author