It's funny, I considered mailing in today's review post. I mean, last night's victory over a depleted Western Kentucky team was ugly from the jump. Okay, maybe not the jump, but when Briante Weber picked a pocket and slammed home ESPNs #5 top play of the night on the game's very first possession, you knew something was up.
But it hit me that Shaka Smart's entire message to the team prior to Weber's dunk was to not be satisfied–to play as hard as they did against Alabama. That's exactly what they did; therefore I wouldn't feel right if I didn't provide a standard wrap up.
The Rams forced turnovers on Western Kentucky's first three possessions and zipped to a 15-3 lead. The Hilltoppers never managed to get into offensive sets, and an 18-3 VCU run closed a 42-16 first half.
The second half was more of the same–Smart commented postgame he was very proud of how well the team played in the second half. The lead grew to 76-34 on Justin Tuoyo's first career three. WKU made 15 field goals on the night while VCU had 20 steals (and created 32 turnovers). That's really all you need to know.
WKU was missing its two best players, guards TJ Price and Jamal Crook. In all honesty, it wouldn't have mattered. The VCU defense arrived as hunters. At one point late in the second half, the Hilltoppers had scored 30 points and committed 31 turnovers.
One thing that should not be lost is passing. There were frequent trips in which a VCU player passed up a pretty good shot to get a very good shot. There was an unselfishness on display and that matters.
We so often get caught up in the defense we lose sight of baby steps taken by the offense. Have fun with the defensive numbers, but take away from this game that VCU got to play long stretches against a zone, and that there were mutiple very patient offensive sets.
Where Things Changed
Around 5:30 in the afternoon Western Kentucky rolled into the Siegel Center. One player limped past me on crutches. After a few minutes of digging I was told that kid was Crook, and TJ Price would not play either.
That's all I've got. The game itself was never in doubt. WKU had a different look in its eye than Alabama. You could see after the first three minutes the Hilltoppers were shell-shocked.
What It Means
Progress. Plain and simple. Sometime in February and March, Smart is going to need important game contributions from his middle bench–players 7, 8, 9, and 10 in the rotation. Each of these guys was able to get valuable game experience last night that will pay dividends later this year.
Jarred Guest was the team's leading rebounder (7) and had four on the offensive end. Justin Tuoyo, who seems to need reps, got them. The term to use: developing depth.
Statistic(s) That Jump Out At Me
See below for the ridiculous Darius Theus stats. And we will give you the 32 turnovers and 20 steals as wow stats. Yet for me, the fact that 11 players logged double figures minutes and nobody played more than 23 minutes is vital.
45.7% But you know what? On second thought, I changed my mind. I don't care if WKU was shorthanded–they were 8-3
and had beaten DePaul and only lost by five to Murray State without
Price. VCU turned them over on 45.7% of their possessions. Insane.
The Curmudgeon's View
<Shaking first in air> They didn't have their two best players. It was at home. Rob Brandenberg missed a free throw. Get off my lawn. The designated hitter rule is awful. Today's music isn't music.
I imagine I can get on the fact that when Western Kentucky went zone, VCU didn't immediately figure it out. There was an eight-possession stretch that featured six missed shots and two turnovers. Four of the six missed shots were jacked up threes.
But I can't even really complain about that, because once the Rams settled down they torched the zone.
Stars of the Game
***Darius Theus. Check these out from crack SID Scott Day…Theus played a total of 17:08 in the victory. During that time, WKU scored a total of four points. And Theus was on the floor for 33 WKU possessions–21 of them ended in a turnover.
**Briante Weber. There's the 13 points, five rebounds, two assists, zero turnovers, and five steals. However Weber looked even more comfortable with the ball in his hands running the offense. Weber continues to grow as an offensive player.
*Juvonte Reddic. You may think I'm crazy when you see a 2-11 FG with three rebounds stat line. However Reddic "played forward," as in continued attacking the game despite it not really being his night. When Reddic struggles, it's usually because something early in the game doesn't go his way and he lets it affect him all night. However last night, with a big lead and shots not falling, Reddic could've packed it in. It was talilor-made for that. He didn't, and that matters.
Shot Chart, courtesy of Jeff Horne: