Last Saturday night, just outside
the Charles Barkley Lounge in the back of the Siegel Center, the worst
rendition of Happy Birthday ever warbled could be heard up and down the hallway. It
was a fun moment celebrating Darius Theus's 22nd birthday–a resounding
75-65 win was a nice gift–but it was racket of humorous Super Bowl ad
quality. Probably for a deodorant. VCU can play some high level
basketball, but this team's Singalong RPI would be about
After another moment of silence,
the locker room door opened and the players filed out. Most went left,
and three went right, headed towards the media room for postgame
interviews. Briante Weber was one of those three, and he wasn't talking
about Belmont. He was already talking about ODU.
Weber is like everyone
associated with VCU (and ODU) basketball–this game matters in a
personal way. Don't for one second underestimate how much the 1-7
Monarchs will be gunning for the Rams and it will impact play. I don't
expect a blowout in the least.
there's a pile of emotion attached to this game, so naturally here's a
few statistics to chew on for your ride to Norfolk.
Stat: ODU turns the ball over on 22.9% of its possessions, only 254th
nationally. VCU forces turnovers on 27.5% of opponents' possessions,
Stat: ODU allows teams to shoot 52.8% on two-point shots (and 46.4%
overall), and have an effective FG% defense of 53.6% (306th nationally).
Side note: Juvonte Reddic Alert!
Pointless Stat: VCUs free throw struggles are well documented. ODUs foul shot defense is 14th best in the nation. The Monarchs opponents shoot only 60.7% from the line.
Ken Pomeroy has VCU winning 71-57, giving the Rams a 90% chance of pulling off the road victory.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Things I'm Watching
Offensive Rebounds. This will tell the story of the game. ODU has done
it well for years, and continues that trend this year. The Monarchs grab
42.9% of their misses, 9th in the country. But guess who's right behind
them? Your VCU Rams, who grab 39.2% of thier misses (31st nationally).
Here's why that's important: VCU starts to beat ODU at its own glass
crash game, it becomes demoralizing. The Rams can play with the swagger of winning at any style. However ODU gets second and third shots and
shooting woes, especially at home, disappear.
Rob Brandenberg's Face. Brandenberg has played with a scowl all season,
and his crinkleface has gotten progressively crinklier as he's gained
confidence. He's a nice kid that plays his best basketball mean, so I
don't want Brandenberg having any fun Friday night. It means he's
missing that edge that has made him so very valuable this season.
Transition Defense. Everybody knows of ODUs shooting woes. So I've got
to think nobody is afraid of a lights-out shooting performance if VCU is
playing disciplined defense and challenging shots. However this ODU
team will run more than its predecessors, and Aaron Bacote and Dimitri
Batten spotting up, wide open in transition, could very well lead to
swish after swish. The rally cry: find the shooters!
Freshman Face. You've seen that look. It starts with a competitor's
frustration–an opponent cannot make headway against VCUs fullcourt
defense. The competitor then yields to angst and makes a bad turnover.
(See: Joe Jackson, Frantz Massenat.) An upperclassman can reel it back
in and survive, but many times a freshman gets that fried-egg-eyes look,
which is like blood in the water for havoc. ODU has three freshman
guards who will see considerable playing time.
The Theory of Game #2. The old saw holds that any team can rise to the
occasion and play well the first game after losing a star. The Rams, Briante
Weber in particular, graded an A for their initial non-Theus game. However
the down side is that the cliche tells us that Game #2 reverts to
norms. Therefore I'm keeping an eye on Weber, Brandenberg, Okereafor,
and Daniels. They are all going to have to play well. I've seen words
giving Theus every status from "out" to "90%." Regardless, Theus is not
100% and VCU is going to need their guards.
We Don't Work For Free
a little freaky that ODU has nobody that averages double figures, but
the entire starting five averages between 7.8ppg and 9.5ppg. So anyway,
the leading scorer is Dimitri Batten, a streaky three-point shooter.
Batten is a cause for concern as he's 11-37 (29%) from three this
year–he has a hot streak in him.
Hill (9.3ppg, 5.0rpg), the Clemson transfer, is their most important
player. Hill provides experience and a calming presence for the young
Monarchs. He can also go one-on-one with the best of players–look for
blind side traps to force Hill to give up the ball to either a teammate
or to a VCU player.
ACC transfer, former NC State player Deshawn Painter (8.3ppg, 7.4rpg)
is the kind of big man that can give VCU trouble. Painter goes 6-9 but
is more comfortable attacking the basket face-first, from 15 feet and
in. Painter also works hard on the block and makes you earn your
defensive stripes. In short, there's a lot Painter can do to hurt you.
Keenan Palmore (9.0ppg, 5.3rpg, 3.1apg) is a good-looking freshman point guard. Palmore is very quick and beyond his years driving into the lane and finding a teammate on the wing to kick the ball.
Palmore is thusfar the team's best shooter, hitting 25-53 from the field
(47%) and swishing his only three. He is 21-25 (84%) from the foul
line. The secret to Palmore: pressure him into a nightmare.
know Nick Wright (7.8ppg, 5.0rpg), the energetic big man. Wright can
pop a three if left open, but likes to do his work around the glass. The
Rams will have to keep a body on him all game to minimize those
offensive rebounds. Similarly, you know uber-athletic Richard Ross
(5.5ppg, 5.0rpg) who is still rounding into form after suffering a
broken wrist. Ross has 23 offensive rebounds and 17 defensive rebounds,
so you know the plan. Box his butt out and give him no space. Play physical. For all that ability, Ross can be pushed around when he's on defense.
close eye on freshman Aaron Bacote (6.3ppg), a shooter with range.
Bacote may get the start over Batten, but he has a shaky handle (2.3
turnovers per game). He could be the freshman face we look for early.
Deion Clark is the kind of kid Blaine Taylor usually redshirts. Clark
has a good feel of the offensive game, but is a terrible defender. Look for VCU to take advantage of that.
And could we really provide an ODU preview without noting the lovable 7-0 Anton Larsen? There you go. That's one thing VCU fans have to appreciate about Blaine Taylor: he always gives you a goofy 7-0 foreigner.
I'm not afraid to admit I've been a tad worried about this game all week. Pick your overused cliche, but think about what happens when a team starts playing with confidence. VCU fans should know that better than anyone.
A good start is important–VCU doesn't want ODU feeling good about themselves. The best way to flummox a coach is to not allow his team to gain any sort of momentum. For all the blathering warnings, ODU is still a 1-7 team who just suffered its worst home loss in the history of The Ted. It's paramount to deliver an early blow to their confidence.
You know what else? I hadn't planned on writing, but it just hit me. Who else wants to see VCU boat race a team coming out of the locker room for the second half? Let's say VCU is up 35-24 at the half. It sure would be nice to be on the giving end of the 12-2 run to open the second half.
It doesn't matter if VCU is trailing, winning, or tied. Pick your scenario, but the C-word (confidence) may lead to a better second half performance.
In the end, it's about playing to VCUs identity on the road in what has been a hostile environment. And like every year, I cannot wait for the tip of the VCU/ODU game.