Obi Toppin has played in only one game between the Dayton Flyers and Virginia Commonwealth, but he nailed the importance of the the series when he was asked Thursday if the Rams are UD’s biggest rival.
“I think so,” Toppin said. “When we play them (in Richmond) or whenever they play us (at Dayton), there’s always going to be a big crowd and a lot of people are going to be tweeting stuff, putting stuff on Instagram, so I can’t wait for it.”
The talk started early this week. Mat Shelton-Eide, co-founder of the VCU Ram Nation and A-10 Talk accounts on Twitter, had the idea of creating a rivalry trophy for the series. Dayton and VCU fans love to troll each other on social media. Thus, the Old Wooden Troll Trophy was born.
For now, it’s as real as the fabled Arch Baron Cup, the prize in the Dayton vs. Saint Louis series. That trophy exists only on the Internet. Who’s to say if that makes it less important than the old Blackburn-McCafferty Trophy, which Xavier sold for $1,800 in an online auction in December?
» SERIES HISTORY: Looking back at last 11 matchups
Of course, for the UD-VCU series to continue growing in importance, the Flyers have to start beating the Rams. Dayton lost 76-71 in Richmond on Jan. 16 and has lost three straight games in the series since a 106-79 victory at UD Arena last January.
Here are five storylines to follow entering the rematch at 4 p.m. Saturday at UD Arena:
1. Rolling Rams: VCU (18-6, 9-2) has the longest active winning streak (five games) in the Atlantic 10 Conference. It has defeated Duquesne, George Mason, George Washington, St. Bonaventure and Richmond by an average of 16.6 points. The most impressive victory in that stretch came last Saturday when the Rams routed the Bonnies 85-55 in Olean, N.Y.
“When your defense travels, and then you gain some confidence on offense,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said, “that’s how you snowball this.”
2. Standings picture: Entering the weekend, Dayton (16-8, 8-3) stood alone in fourth place behind Davidson (18-6, 9-2), VCU and George Mason (15-10, 9-3). The Flyers are 0-2 against VCU and George Mason and play at Davidson at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The Flyers have a 1½-game lead on Duquesne and Saint Louis (both 16-9, 7-5) and play those teams for the second time in the final five games of the regular season.
While Dayton is still in contention for the regular-season title, it also wants to improve its chances of getting a top-four seed in the conference tournament so it can have a better shot at winning the A-10’s NCAA tournament bid. Eleven of the last 12 A-10 tournament champions have earned a top-four seed and started play in the quarterfinals, having to win three games in three days.
The 2015 VCU team that beat Dayton 71-65 in the final was the last team to win four games in four days on its way to the championship. It was seeded fifth.
3. Tough defense: VCU allows 62.5 points per game, the best mark in the A-10. It also leads the conference in field-goal percentage defense (37.9) and 3-point shooting defense (25.9).
“They’re aggressive,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “They force a lot of turnovers. They get a lot of steals. Their defense creates offense for them.”
4. Better Flyers: Dayton has won four of its last five games and won 77-48 at Rhode Island in its last game on Feb. 9. The Flyers shot 63.3 percent from the field. It was their second-best shooting effort of the season.
» LOOKING AHEAD: Dayton faces toughest remaining road of A-10 contenders
Dayton’s performance at Rhode Island was arguably its best since it routed VCU a season ago at UD Arena, scoring a school-record 66 points in the first half.
“That game was just unreal,” Toppin said. “I feel like every single one of our players wasn’t missing.”
5. Home-court edge: Dayton sold out this game earlier this season. It’s one of eight sellouts. The three remaining home games after this one are are also sold out. UD urges fans to wear white Saturday and “White-Out” the arena. Fans in the Red Scare student section will receive white T-shirts.
VCU has lost three straight games at UD Arena. Its last victory there came in January 2014.
“I mean, we go in there with about 20 people, and it’s us against 15,000, however many that place hold,” VCU’s Isaac Vann told the Richmond Times-Dispatch this week. “So, I mean, we know we got to stick together no matter what.”
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