Guess(t)work and Tiger Stripes…
In many respects, the scouting report and keys for this game are very similar to Memphis. These other Tigers, the Saturday version, are big and fast and love to run alongside a kinetic point guard. That's comforting, but perhaps useless. I watched a decent amount of Missouri's game last night and they looked better than Memphis. We will see.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Things I'm Watching
1. Body Language. This is the third game in three days for both teams. VCU lost a gut-punch, and Missouri was blown out. That's two different mental adjustments and approaches for this third-place game. You're going to see emotion from both teams. The difference will reside in who has earnest emotion and who is faking it. You can see that through body language.
2. Big, Big, Big. DJ Haley has struggled this weekend and Jarrod Guest hasn't quite found his legs. David Hinton played three good minutes yesterday. Haley has played 17 minutes in two games, and Guest 12 minutes. The Rams are going to need a big man to impact the game, give the team 10-12 good minutes. I don't care who it is, just that one of them gets it done.
3. Middle Ground at Point Guard. Darius Theus has played a little over-aggressive (4-20 FGA, five turnovers) and Teddy Okereafor has spent as much time retreating as moving forward in halfcourt offense. There's a nice balance in there, which becomes very important as Missouri wants to push pace. Hurry, but don't rush.
4. Juvonte's JuJu. Reddic has battled two NBA draft picks to a standstill over the past two days. Oriahki and Bowers (see below) are in that mold–big, tough, and physical. I want to see if Reddic stopped by the Internal Exxon station, and if he did not I want to know how much is left in the tank.
5. If I'm Full of Beans. Missouri likes that fast pace that's very pretty–long range threes and lob dunks in transition. Havoc overwhelmed Memphis on Thursday night, and I think the modus operandi remains the same: ugly it up by gang rebounding, trapping, and forcing passes with air under them. Phil Pressey had nine turnovers against Louisville last night. Joe Jackson had seven turnovers on Thursday night. That's good math.
The Missouri attack starts with Phil Pressey (15.8ppg, 5.4apg). In short, Pressey can blow up a game, and is like a can of gasoline on a fire. Pressey loves to get into the lane and make plays, but he also has hit 10-22 threes. If he gets going, you start talking about exponents, not straight multiplication. The challenge for the Rams: contest his every move, and don't let the engine rev.
Alex Oriahki (13.4ppg, 9.4rpg) is the big man. Oriahki goes 6-9, 255-pounds and is a physical post presence who can go to the jump hook with both hands. Oriahki averages five offensive rebounds per game, and can get to the free throw line–39 FTA in five games. The goal of the Rams is a havoc target–run the big man and wear him out to reduce that physicality.
Joining Oriahki is Laurence Bowers (14.2ppg, 5.4rpg) Bowers goes 6-8 and is good in all offensive sets–he can drop face-up
jumpers in the mold of Juvonte Reddic but Bowers is also solid around
the rim. What's more, Bowers can pick-and-pop and drop a three (5-10
this year). VCUs bigs must box him out.
Earnest Ross (11.0ppg, 6.4rpg) is an energy player who feeds off of Missouri success. He will take bad shots in their offense but he is capable–the Rams cannot let him get going. Keion Bell (8.0ppg, 4.0rpg) is the fifth starter. Bell is the role player who defers to the shooters. Of note: Bell is 18-19 from the FT line.
The first player off the bench is generally Negrus Webster-Chan, a 6-7 combo guard who is a coach's dream: he knows what to do is every situation. Webster-Chan, however, struggles in pressure so you can bet he isn't ready to deal with havoc.
Tony Criswell (4.8ppg, 5.0rpg) is a high-motor, physical 6-9 big off the bench who can shoot to 18 feet–he is a hidden scoring threat. And finally, Stefan Jankovic goes 6-11 but is a skilled, athletic 3-man. The Rams cannot let him stand up and shoot.
Let's allow tonight's game to marinate. It's result, and the process by which get to that result, will dictate what matters. Consider all the ramifications of playing well vs. playing poorly; tight win vs. blowout win; tight loss vs. blowout loss. Yeah, marinate.
We're making a lot of assumptions, too. This is unchartered waters for VCU–three top 20 opponents in three straight days. Not three straight games, DAYS. Same deal for the opponent. So honestly, any analysis is base at least somewhat in guesswork.
The gas factor and mental aspects will play as much a role in this game as any we play this season, save a conference championship game. Keep an eye out for the clues–body language, excessive fouling, and response to crisis.
And enjoy the game.