UncategorizedVCUHoops (Michael Litos Blog)

Catch A Tiger By His Toe…

I don't know the posted speed limit in downtown Nassau, but it is at least half the speed at which our bus driver careened the airport shuttle through the streets. However the team and the travel party all made it to the Atlantis safely, with the only after-effects being white knuckles. I thank the great people of the Bahamas for welcoming us with their own brand of havoc.

I'm with my family today, exploring our surroundings. But before we head out for the day, here's your game primer.

We start with two nuggets that tie Memphis and VCU. First, in 1979, former Rams head coach Dana Kirk left VCU to go coach…Memphis. And Shaka Smart coached Memphis freshman Shaq Goodwin this summer at the FIBA under 18 Anericas tournament in Brazil.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Things I'm Watching

1. Eyeballs. This works both ways. I want to see the Memphis
reaction to the press, when Briante Weber dogs Joe Jackson all the way up
court, when Adonis Thomas is forced to dribble and pass in space. There’s going
to be a moment of stun, of "this is harder than it looks." However I also want
to look into the eyes of the VCU players. Memphis will punch the Rams in the
teeth—perhaps back-to-back dunks breaking the press, or a lob dunk. Those are
emotion plays. I want to see how VCU reacts when Memphis tries to big time
them. Aggressive, Confident, and Loose, right?

2. Juvonte Reddic. He’s been a man-child in three games this
season, but this is the first game he will face someone with the strength to
push him around. It’s one thing to snatch-rebound Larry Bourne of Winthrop.
It’s quite another to snatch-rebound NBA draft prospect Tarik Black of Memphis.
A 12/9 evening from Reddic bodes well for the Rams.

3. The Arc. We all know Troy Daniels will be guarded out to the
Atlantic Ocean, and my hunch is we’re going to need a 40% performance from
people not named Troy Daniels. Give me 8-20 from distance and throw in whatever
Daniels gives VCU, and that’s a winning stat line. On the other end of the
court, VCU needs to let Memphis be Memphis; that is, a middling three-point
shooting team. The Tigers can, and will, knock down a modicum of bombs. The
trick is to keep that number from being abnormal. That means finding Antonio
Barton no matter where he is on the court.

4. Treveon Graham Early. It’s that confidence thing with
Graham. He was clearly feeling very good about himself on Saturday, knocking
down a couple threes early and playing feisty basketball. The lopsided score
prevented Graham from continuing that play for the full game. That won’t occur
on Thursday. VCU needs Graham to be a Feisty Freight Train throughout. A slow
or bad start for Graham does not bode well.

5. Steals Versus Layups. Memphis is going to crack the press.
There’s no getting around that fact. There will be a sort of chess game that
occurs early with Shaka Smart tweaking the press, giving different looks, and
Josh Pastner trying to break every single one of those. The winner of that
battle—VCUs steals or Memphis’s layups—will dictate the flow of the game.
Remember, it’s nice when havoc works early, but it’s at its best around the
8:00 mark of each half, when opponents are grabbing their shorts due to
fatigue. VCU has to get to that point.

Here's what Smart had to say about that:

"Our style of play
is an advantage when we’re aggressive and when we play the way we can play. But
it’s something that can work both ways. You take Memphis for instance. They’re
a terrific transition team. So, if you’re going to extend 94 feet against those
guys and they are able to break some of the traps and beat the press now you’re
dealing with high level athletes and high level shooters at the back end of the
press, so you certainly have to factor that in.

We’re not going to
change how we play. We’re going to do what we do, but when you’re playing
against better teams, you’re certainly going to have to account for what they
can do."


Admission and direction for you: this is a copy/paste from Sunday's preview post. Two people from Memphis told me it was pretty darn good, so I won't reinvent the wheel:

The Tigers were sixth in the country in field-goal percentage last
season (49.1%) and were 21st nationally in KenPom's offensive efficiency
numbers. Five players return who played 21 or more minutes.

is a load on the block. Black goes 6-9, 260 and shot 68% from the
field last year, mostly around the basket where he hit 75% in finishing
situations. Black is a preseason first team All C-USA pick and on NBA draft boards. Worthless
note, except for possible heckle material: Thursday is Black's birthday.

is the point guard and he is a good one. Jackson is
slight–only 6-1 and about 170 pounds–but is very fast in the open
court. He isn't a prodigious scorer and not a particularly great
shooter, but he just plain gets the job done. His ability to withstand
havoc is where he will be most dangerous. Jackson is a preseason second team All C-USA pick.

Antonio Barton can shoot it. Barton is a 42.9% career three-point shooter and hit four threes against Samford.

are specialists, but 6-7, 240-pound Adonis Thomas might give VCU the
most trouble because of his versatility. Thomas can play the block but
also shoot the three. Don't let his 0-5 arc performance sway you–Thomas
hit 40.5% of his threes last year.

Similarly, Chris Crawford, a
2012-13 preseason All C-USA second team member, is an elite athlete.
Crawford excels on defense (63 steals last year) but is a capable scorer
and three-point shooter (51 threes, 39% last year).  Crawford has the
second-most FGA on the team last year (276).

Stephens, Shaq Goodwin
, and Seton Hall transfer Ferrakhon Hall round
out the main eight. Stephens grabbed seven rebounds in 17 minutes
against Samford and has been a quality role player his entire Memphis
career. Goodwin is a highly-touted 6-9 freshman. Six of his nine
rebounds are offensive. And Hall is also a solid role player who can use his size well in spot situations. (Think DJ Haley.)


You want a measuring stick? Well this game is the Catholic
school nun cracking your knuckles with a yardstick. Memphis is big, fast, and
talented. It's going to be a fun matchup to go toe-to-toe with the Tigers. Emotion matters greatly in this game, as emotion will dictate momentum, and vice versa. There will be runs by each team.

I do believe that limiting layups and winning the battle of the arc are the keys. VCU is such an emotional team and threes are chock full of good vibes. I've got to be honest: no matter how much I try to analyze and dig into this game, I have a lot of fan running through me right now. This is why we do what we do.