Quickly on a Saturday, as we all get everything out of the way so we can concentrate on what matters this time of year–VCU basketball. (It also means please look past any typos.)
One of my best road trip memories was heading to LaSalle in maybe 2004 or 2005. VCU trailed the entire game, but won at the buzzer–maybe there was 1.5 seconds left, but whatever–when Jesse Pellot Rosa grabbed an airball and laid it in the basket. Good times. Fun drive home.
LaSalle explored I95 and found its way to Broad and Lombardy for an 8pm tipoff. They are 3-2 in conference, and 13-5 overall. Victories: Butler, Richmond, Dayton. Losses: Charlotte, Xavier. The Explorers are #32 in the RPI and coming off the Butler victory.
They have an explosive and experienced backcourt but a thin bench. In fact, LaSalle is the 301st deepest team in the nation, getting 25.1% of its minutes from its bench. In comparison, VCU gets 35.8% bench minutes, 74th nationally.
Ken Pomeroy says VCU will win 76-64, giving the Rams an 86% chance of winning by any score.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Fiv Things I'm Watching
1. Quick On Quick. Guess who leads the A10 in steals and turnover percentage for the five conference games? It ain't the good guys. That would be LaSalle, who boasts a quick and emotional backcourt tandem, and a rock solid swingman. All three swipe and harrass just as well as the VCU backcourt. What I'm looking for is which team uses its quickness best–early traps, quick feet to take charges, etc. The defending advantage will be important.
2. Emotion, Beginning With Anger. Here's where I believe opposite than every coach in college basketball. They preach "not too high, not too low." However I'm looking for sheer rattlesnake anger from the Rams. I want to see big stops and players egging on the crowd. Fist pumps and chest bumps. Lob dunks. I'm good with a curse word and a technical foul. I really am. This VCU team, fired up, is difficult to contain. I'll give a little to get a lot.
3. The Return of the Trey. Yes, we'd all like to see Troy Daniels find his stroke again. But it's also Rob Brandenberg and Melvin Johnson. In fact, it would be nice if Johnson had one at least rattle out instead of the mortar fire he's tossed up of late. Richmond did a very good job sagging on Juvonte Reddic to limit his touches. A few swishes will open up that passing lane.
4. Shooting Percentages. LaSalle has struggled from the field in its past three games. I want to see that continue. Ramon Galloway can have 24 points, but he has to shoot 8-20 from the field. Tyreek Duren especially cannot get into the lane at will and knock down 5-6 on two-point shots. VCU has to run them off the three-point line and defend with toughness. For the Rams, see #2.
5. First Responders on the Scene. Thursday was tough. Well, I'm keeping a close eye on the body language of the Rams if LaSalle jumps out quickly. It's one thing to talk about coming out with energy. It's another to play with energy. And it's altogether different to play without faking energy, especially if the other guy smacks you in the teeth first. I'll be looking closely at the VCU response when/if LaSalle strikes. Similarly, assuming VCU can run out to a 10-point lead, I want to see that response. Does the lead become 18, or does it become six?
We Don't Work for Free
Ramon Galloway (16.4ppg, 4.7rpg, 3.2apg) is a big time
scorer. The 6-3 senior is an emotional player and will not back down from
anything. He has deep range (50-121 threes).
Tyreek Duren (14.4
ppg, 3.4apg) is a quick and low-to-the-ground point guard who will drive
aggressively. He is also a tremendous on ball defender with fast hands.
Jerrell Wright 10.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is a big 6-8, 240 lefty
post who plays physical and crashes the glass.
Tyrone Garland (13.6ppg) is the team’s sixth man working his
way into a starting role Garland is a relentless driver and slasher and pure
scorer. He is a Virginia tech transfer.
Sam Mills (7.9ppg, 2.9rpg) is one of those rock solid combo
guards who does nothing great, but everything well.
Steve Zack (7.2ppg, 6.2rpg) is another big–6-11, 250lbs—post
and a banger who scores off working garbage.
DJ Peterson (4.2ppg) is a versatile, 6-5 swingman. 70% of
shots are threes.
LaSalle is interesting in that they bring the kind of backcourt that has been the winning recipe against VCU–older, skilled, and unafraid. However they also go just seven deep so it's incumbent upon the Rams to make fatigue a factor in this game. As Shaka Smart said Thursday night, that is a straight derivative of either team pushing aside emotion from their respective midweek game.
So it becomes about playing criply on offense, and locating shooters on defense. What's more, fatigue will lead to turnovers and runouts and that turnover differential we're always discussing.
Here's a stat to follow: Points off turnovers. In our 16 wins, we average 28.5 ppg off turnovers. In four losses, we average 11.3 ppg off turnovers.
There you go.