The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers roll into town for tonight's 7pm tip with probably the worst mascot choice VCU will face all season. It's as if McDonald's Grimace met George Mason's Gunston, and the duo produced a red-colored, bald child. Google it to see what I mean.
As for basketball, the Toppers are an interesting team–they have scoring punch at guard and a brick wall in the paint who plays alongside a shot blocker. It's the kind of team that can do enough things correctly to steal a victory before you realize it.
VCU needs to be on full alert tonight.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Things I'm Watching
1. Juvonte Reddic. The Big Smooth has had back-to-back clunkers, but it's
how Reddic got here that has me keeping close eye. On one play in the
Alabama game, Reddic made a move on 7-0, 255-pound Moussa Gueye. The
'Bama big man didn't budge, and instead of re-attacking, Reddic attempted a feeble
12-foot fadeaway that never stood a chance. Bad games are
understandable. VCU needs Reddic to get Brandenberg angry.
Mick Jagger. That Alabama win was impressive. But I need Jagger
strutting around the locker room in all his 1970s glory, feathers flying
off his boa, arms flapping and tongue wagging, drilling that the VCU Rams can't get no satisfaction. This isn't a trap game per se, but if VCU is at all satisfied with Saturday's game, tonight will be closer than it needs to be. I
want to see another 84-58 beat down, if only to give this team a sense
of beating down teams good and bad. I don't mean that in a vicious way;
rather, the Rams need to be able to tap into that kind of killer
instinct at ANY point during ANY game.
Melvin Johnson. He brings that guard-cocky we love, and it's obvious
Johnson is beginning to figure it out. Johnson sandwiched a bagel
against ODU with two double-figures scoring games–11 against Belmont
and 12 against Alabama. He still needs to get into shape, and Dan Roose
is going to enjoy this offseason, but I know you see what I see–the kid
is going to have a career. I want to see Johnson stronger in off-ball
defense, the kind of defensive game that will give Shaka a warm fuzzy
about playing Johnson for 25 or more minutes.
Justin Haleyguest. Each of the three 4/5 men
have had a moment in the sun. I don't care which of the three takes a
turn tonight, so long as they get their heads together and decide one
will shine. And then tells Shaka prior to tipoff. Seriously, I'm looking
for progress at this position, which involves each of the three doing
what he does better than yesterday.
Identity. VCU is 19-0 under Smart when the Rams hit 10 or more threes and grab 10
or more steals. I want to see that. I want to see long outlet passes and rim runs.
Fast break kicks for a corner three. Jump traps in halfcourt defense.
Backcourt steal and dunk. Havoc may be a brand name, but it's a reality.
A force. I want to see it in all its glory.
We Don't Work For Free
you think of 6-4 TJ Price (16.9ppg, 6.1rpg), think of Jesse
Pellot-Rosa. Price is a shooter, scorer, glass-crasher, and tough guy
(in the positive sense of the word). Here's the difference: Price is
averaging a havoc-salivating 3.8 turnovers per game. The point guard is
Jamal Crook (14.5ppg, 4.6rpg). Crook is more of a scorer than
distributor and has a very good midrange game, and he is Western
Kentucky's best defender (quick hands).
low, the Hilltoppers feature All Sun Belt Second Teamer George Fant
(11.3ppg, 7.1rpg). Fant goes 6-6, 240 and is exactly that strong. He is
also a fighter on the block and the Rams will have to match that
comes a couple names you will know. Teeng Akol (8.1ppg, 4.3rpg) is that
seven-footer that blocked seven VCU shots in last year's game. Akol
arrives a more well-rounded
player, but he will still swat away with the best. Kevin Kaspar set a
career high with 13 points against VCU last year in Charleston. Kaspar
has taken 61 shots this year, 46 from three.
final players to look for: Brandon Harris (5.9ppg, 5.8rpg) is a solid
combo guard whose three-point gunnery outpaces Kaspar. Harris has taken
66 shots this year, and 51 are threes. O'Karo Akamune is a 6-7 jumping
jack that brings energy, and they are going to need it.
Here's why I'm so locked in to this being an identity game, statement game, or whatever. Pick your adjective. First, VCU barely got past a struggling WKU team in Charleston last year and then needed a huge late run to put the Hilltoppers away five days after that.
Don't forget that Western Kentucky was a 7-15 team last year that went 9-3 down the stretch before losing to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. They are 8-3 this year with a win over DePaul and a close loss to Murray State. It's a team figuring it out.
However, look at this lineup reality: VCU
has nine players that average more than 10 minutes per game. The seven
WKU players listed above are the only ones who get nine or more minutes.
This game is built for havoc. Western Kentucky can keep it nervously close, but only if VCU lets them. This is an "it's about us" matchup.