Rams butt heads with Hawks for A-10 title

Brooklyn, NY ( - The second-seeded Virginia Commonwealth Rams face the fourth-seeded Saint Joseph's Hawks in the championship game of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament.

VCU punched its ticket to the title game with rather easy wins in the quarter and semifinals. The Rams got started with a 71-53 triumph over Richmond, followed by a 74-55 rout of George Washington. They have now won six straight games dating back to the regular season, and are 26-7 overall. Last year, their first in the A-10, the Rams navigated their way to the title tilt as well, but they were defeated by Saint Louis, 62-56.

Saint Joseph's came into this event firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, having suffered losses in its final two games of the regular season. The Hawks had a bye in the first round here, and since have bolstered their resume' with victories over Dayton (70-67) and St. Bonaventure (67-48) in the quarter and semifinals, respectively. They are seeking their third A-10 tourney title and first since 1997, although they have made it this far three times since, most recently in 2008, when they fell to Temple in a 69-64 final.

In the only meeting between these two teams during the regular season, the Hawks secured a 69-62 upset win at home. VCU leads the short-lived series, however, 3-2.

Halil Kanacevic, normally a complementary player, took control for Saint Joseph's against St. Bonaventure. He had a double-double in just the first half (16 points, 10 rebounds) and finished with 26 points and 17 boards. The Hawks were tied with the Bonnies at intermission (29-29), but they pulled away in the second half, netting 52.2 percent of their shots from the floor, while limiting the Bonnies to only four field goals.

The Hawks don't usually blow by opponents, as they average a modest 71.5 ppg, despite shooting a respectable 46.8 percent from the floor. However, they are a solid group on defense, limiting foes to 67.1 ppg on 42 percent shooting. Langston Galloway (17.4 ppg) is the primary playmaker and scorer for the Hawks. He finished with 18 points against St. Bonaventure, doing most of his damage after halftime. Ronald Roberts (14.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg), DeAndre Bembry (12 ppg) and Kanacevic (10.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 4.4 apg) all pitch in as well for head coach Phil Martelli.

VCU appeared to be headed for a tight finish in its semifinal clash with George Washington, but the Rams also pulled away in the second half to secure the win. After entering halftime with a slim 33-31 edge, they connected on 46.5 percent of their total shots, while limiting the Colonials to seven field goals over the final 20 minutes. Treveon Graham was instrumental in the win, scoring 14 of his game-high 22 points after intermission.

Shaka Smart's Rams have burst onto the national scene in recent years in large part because of his HAVOC defensive scheme, which puts a premium on pressuring the basketball. The same holds true this season, as the Rams enjoy plenty of success in forcing turnovers (national-best 11.3 steals per outing). Briante Weber (9.6 ppg, national-best 3.5 spg) may not be scoring at a rapid pace, but he is a great defender. Graham (15.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and Juvonte Reddic (12 ppg, 8.5 rpg) handle the scoring as the primary options, while Melvin Johnson (10.4 ppg) adds depth off the bench.