Track meet. Horse race. Tennis match. Pick your metaphor. VCU hosts UMass (6-3, 16-6, RPI = 51) and the game has the makings of a lot of fun.
You know havoc, but UMass also enjoys playing fast. They press. The Minutemen are led by point guard Chaz Williams, who is basketball's equivalent of a flamethrower. UMass has scored 70 or more points 13 times in 22 games this year and won 12 of those 13 games. Interestingly, VCU is 34-1 in its last 35 games in which the Rams score 70 points.
Pace, and heart rates, will quicken. Appropriate for a Valentine's Night matchup, no? UMass coach Derek Kellogg agrees.
"Now we get to go down and take a couple of swipes
at a VCU team that we kind of pattern our play after a little bit," Kellogg said after UMass beat St. Joseph's on Saturday. "It
is going to be a fun game in a fun atmosphere and both teams are going
to play a fun style. It will be havoc versus UMass basketball."
UMass will likely go just eight players deep. The starting five is all upperclassmen–three seniors and two juniors. The three bench players are all underclassmen–two sophomores and a freshman.
Ken Pomeroy notes VCU will win 80-67, and gives the Rams an 86% chance of winning by any margin. From your hard drive to God's ears, Ken.
- UMass played Richmond, then LaSalle, just after VCU did the same. The Minutemen won both games.
- The Minutemen lost second-leading scorer Jesse Morgan to a knee injury in mid-January.
- Last season UMass was second in the nation with 76.6 possessions
per game, fueled by a school-record 326 steals. They made 8.1 three pointers
per game, which led the A10.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Things I'm Watching
1. The Back of the Press. I harken to the St. Joseph's game, where Carl Jones and Langston Galloway would beat the VCU press and dish to a big man for a dunk or layup. UMass is constructed in much the same way, as Chaz Williams is capable of beating the press and dishing to a cadre of Minutemen for a flush. UMass had 10 dunks in their win over, ironically, St. Joseph's on Saturday. It's a simple view: how well does VCU fix it if the press is broken?
2. Physicality, and the Whistles. Nobody likes to talk about officiating in a non-emotional, unbiased manner, but this is my attempt. UMass is a team that likes to operate in space. Obviously that means VCU is wise to eliminate space, or breathing room. Forget good calls and bad calls. I'm watching for the amount of physical play the officiating crew allows both teams, really, to undertake.
3. The Four Man, and the Whistles. This has been a focal point that's cropped up before, but it's important in this game because of the number of tall, long athletes that UMass can run out onto the court. Some four is going to have to play effective minutes. I don't care if it's Haley, Guest, Tuoyo, or Hinton. One has to play like Hinton played on Saturday, which is like a wild dog. Also, this is not the game Juvonte Reddic can battle foul trouble.
4. Lineups. First, don't forget that way back in November Shaka Smart experimented with a five-guard lineup. Treveon Graham was playing at the five. I could be WAY wrong, but there's a part of me that believes turning this game into a Loyola Marymount Special favors VCU. We've also not seen that version of the press that has Jarren Guest at the top for awhile. UMass has a 5'7" point guard. Could we see this as a means to frustrate Williams?
5. Basketball NASDAQ. There will be trading layups and dunks. That much I know. Don't get frustrated by UMass layups, as long as VCU is keeping pace. What's more, I'll trade a dunk for a three-pointer. This is a game where I don't know that shooting percentage is going to tell a story. It may well be a game where made threes comes into play. This also plays out in terms of runs. VCU runs have to outstrip UMass runs.
We Don't Work for Free
Chaz Williams (17.1ppg, 6.7apg, 4.7rpg) is listed at 5-9 but probably closer to 5-6. Williams is a jet of a point guard who can blow by defenders with the dribble. As you can tell by his numbers, the ball is in his hands a lot, and good things usually happen for the Minutemen. Williams, who is 18-39 from three in A10 play, is the conference's preseason POY and a Hofstra transfer.
Terrell Vinson (13.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg) is a long 6-7 wing who loves to drive the basketball but is also a streaky, capable three-point shooter. Vinson prefers to operate in space.
Raphaiel Putney (7.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg) is a ballpoint pen-like 6-9, 185 pounds and likes to roam the perimeter. He will crash the glass from there. Putney will play up front in the UMass press and be continually disruptive.
Sampson Carter (6.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg) is Bizarro Putney. He prefers to bully around the block and as a chiseled 6-8, 225 pounds is usually successful. carter had 16 points against St. Joseph's on Saturday.
Freddie Riley (9.3ppg) is a big-bodied wing but an open
court player. He gambles on defense and is equally successful and taken advantage of, and his handle is very shaky. How controlled Riley plays could be the difference.
Cady LaLanne (10.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg) is a traditional 5-man
(6-9, 250). That is slow but physical and relentless. LaLanne is coming off an injury but has been effective of late.
Maxie Esho (5.1ppg, 4.0rpg) is 6-8 and will see some time as the backup post. Esho is an active player and effective scoring layups and short stickbacks.
Finally, Trey Davis (2.2ppg) backs Williams up at point guard. Davis is a freshman. Keep an eye out: if havoc is succeeding, you could see Davis and Williams on the court together to gain ballhandling.
For all their athletic prowess, UMass has struggled rebounding the basketball. The Minutemen are 203rd nationally, allowing opponents to grab 32.6% of their misses. Owning the paint will matter, and that includes having a positive number on the offensive glass.
I also cannot stress enough that UMass is going to make plays. So be it. The Rams are simply going to have to execute, especially in the open court. The Minutemen will make highlight plays–emotion plays like blocks and dunks–but the dunk is still two points and a block is still a missed shot attempt. Nothing more, nothing less, assuming VCU reacts properly.
There is a style of play interest. Kellogg has stated he uses some VCU concepts to structure his fast attack. Imposters? We will see. It will be fun.