Coming into this season, a lot of people assumed the Atlantic 10 wasn’t going to be all that great. Well, the league – headlined by No. 10 Saint Louis (23-2) and tournament darling Virginia Commonwealth (20-6) – has more than pulled its weight.

“Yeah, I think a lot of people just assumed that the league was going be down because we had some schools move to other conferences,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said on The Morning Show, referring to Butler and Xavier, among others. “But we had a pretty good feeling that if a lot of the returning players and coaches that have had success remained intact, I thought we’d have a chance to really have a terrific year as a league – and that’s what’s happening.”

SLU and VCU, in fact, squared off on Saturday in a game that went down to the wire, with the Billikens eventually eking out a 64-62 win. It was the 17th straight win for the Billikens, who may have been a little fortunate that VCU shot just 2-of-16 from three-point range – this after shooting 13-of-25 from long distance in a 92-75 win over George Washington last Wednesday.

“Our guys are going to try to make every shot, they’re going to work on their shooting,” Smart said. “We just had a lot of open looks on Saturday that didn’t go our way.”

Treveon Graham finished with a team-high 16 points, with the other starters – Juvonte Reddic (13), Briante Weber (12), Rob Brandenberg (7) and Jordan Burgess (5) – combining for 37.

Those five starters also combined to shoot 1-of-12 from three-point range, with no bench player scoring more than four points.

VCU will get a second crack at the Billikens – who are ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 1964 – on March 1, this time at home.

Smart was also asked about his recent interview with Seth Davis, during which Smart said he is a father figure to most of this players. Why? Because only three players on VCU’s roster have a father who is actively involved in their lives.

“Everyone else grew up in a single-parent home – or even worse,” Smart said. “Not that a single parent home can’t be great – I grew up with just my mom. But I think as a coach, a big part of your role is to help these guys move forward as people and (to) help them develop off the floor to become high-functioning members of society when they go out in the real world. That’s a role that we help play.

“If you want to call it father-like, you can,” Smart continued. “But there’s no substitute for a real father. I haven’t seen or talked to my father in 20 years. There’s a void there that is always going to be there if someone grows up that way, but I do think there are other people in your life that can help fill that void.”


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