David Hinton said it best when he told Tim Pearrell that "we’re here to play the game, not the occasion." And make no mistake, this is a very important game. Alabama offers up a top 100, if not top 50, opportunity.
To me, there is a better sense of satisfaction when I take this view: give me a 2-2 record against three or four ranked teams when I combine Alabama with the Bahamas. This is also a very good time to show certain onlookers VCU can drill upper-tier BCS teams, you know?
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Things I'm Watching
1. Juvonte Reddic's Crinkleface. This is a game where Reddic can be the difference-maker. If you assume the backcourts cancel each other out–both are talented on both ends of the floor–that leaves Reddic as the most talented player remaining. Ju can pound one of 'Bama's big men, and push around the other (see below). However he has to show up with a fire and want to exact punishment–that rattlesnake we love to discuss.
2. Why Do You Want To Give Me The Runaround? This works in tandem with the first item. The Alabama big men are going to struggle either guarding Treveon Graham at the four spot, or Reddic off the block. So VCU will have to make things even more difficult on them by running them around in the full court–up and down really favors the home team here. It's one thing for guards to get fatigued. It's quite another for a big man to get fatigued and have to chase around Graham and Reddic. I'm looking for a 70-possession game, and maybe even a little Troy Daniels at the four spot.
3. Box Outs. The one thing I've noticed this season is the classic, instruction-video box outs from all five VCU players. That didn't occur in the Old Dominion game and the Monarchs brutalized VCU to the tune of 23 offensive rebounds. Alabama is a good offensive rebounding team, especially its guards off the wings. Similar (but opposite) to the above item, it's one thing for a big man to box out; however it's imperative that guards box out. There's nothing more frustrating that a 6-1 guard grabbing an offensive rebound.
4. Turnover Differential. Yes, this is always important, but it's especially relevant here. VCU is fourth in the nation, creating a steal on 16.7% of opponents' possessions and 10th nationally creating a turnover on 26.9% of opponents' possessions. Alabama, meanwhile, only allows steals on 7.6% of their possessions (23rd best), and commits a turnover of 18.6% of possessions (74th). What does all that mean? If the turnover differential in VCUs favor, one word comes to mind: rattled.
5. Wings and Elbows. Alabama's guards are especially adept both shooting and slashing from the wings. The VCU halfcourt defense must take that positional strength away. Similarly, the Tide swingmen operate smoothly from the foul line elbow. Alabama shoots a very high percentage from the field, and it's mostly due to getting the shots they want, from comfy spots. VCUs job: deny the wings and elbows.
We Don't Work For Free
The Trevors are going to be a handful. Trevor Releford (16.9ppg, 3.1apg) is a crafty point guard, the kind of guy that can stop/start/change direction with the best of them. Releford has hit nearly half his threes (13-28), and 31-33 free throws. Trevor Lacey (14.1ppg, 4.0apg) is a dangerous offensive threat because he is a classic bucketmaker. That is, he can score from anywhere at any time. Lacey is shooting 51% from the field this year and HAS made half his threes (17-34).
The key to stopping both–they are control guards, so VCU will have to assume control by applying pressure and being the aggressor, without fouling.
Rodney Cooper (14.1ppg, 4.7rpg) is a 6-6, athletic, get-after-it wing who is a tremendous offensive rebounder. Cooper is one of those kids that always has his nose in the mix and can shoot from deep (10 threes) or go baseline for a bucket–very Treveon Graham-like. Levi Randolph (7.6ppg) is very similar but plays out on the wing.
Inside, Juvonte Reddic will have to battle 7-0, 260-pound Moussa Gueye. The challenge: Gueye screens, blocks shots, and rebounds–he is a physical player. Devonta Pollard (5.4ppg) may take a turn, too. Pollard is 6-8 but a little light, a freshman, and can be pushed around.
It's worth noting that Alabama will be without two role players: Andrew Steele (19mpg on wing),
and Carl Engstrom (13mpg on block).
Short and sweet today. This is opportunity with a capital O. Alabama is a win we will look at in March and smile. The Tide is missing two role players. The Stu should be rocking as well as any other time. Troy Daniels appears to be funkless. Darius Theus is nearly healthy.
Time to roll the Tide.