The Hawks played like their #1 preseason selves in beating Xavier 58-57 earlier tonight. Two Langston Galloway free throws were the difference. Here's what you need to know that matters, in a scene-setting way:
- St. Joseph's played six players, essentially. Chris Wilson got 29 minutes off the bench, and Daryus Quarles and Papa Ndao got four spot minutes.
- Carl Jones, a VCU PITA in the first matchup, played all 40 minutes.
- Halil Kanecevic, who did not play against VCU in the regular season game, had 11 points, seven rebounds, and six assists before fouling out.
- Hawks coach Phil Martelli quipped the best line I've heard in awhile. He said his team would head out to Times Square and dodge cars in order to prepare for havoc. Funny, and not altogether unrealistic.
We don't need to overtalk this. January 17 was too long ago. It's tournament time, folks. Giddyup.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Things I'm Watching
1. Tempo. St. Joseph's played to the slowest pace in the A10, 62.8 possessions per game. They were middle of the pack in terms of turnover percentage (18.2%) and 12th in three-point percentage. For all St.Joseph's ability, those numbers scream a coach trying to minimize shortcomings–including a short bench. I'm looking for havoc to get havocing and get the pace going. The Hakws went six deep against Xavier. It should be fairly easy to get them playing loose. And loose play is havoc's devil's workshop.
2. Early Spunk, But Not Fake Spunk. If VCU learned anything with Temple, it's that we cannot fake it and expect to win in this conference, in this tournament. That spirit Shaka Smart refers to needs to be spiriting early, often, and authentic. Here's how you can tell and what I will be looking for: the Rams back up a run with another run. Or, when St. Joseph's punches back, VCU collects the counterpunch and swallows it like cotton candy. So, a 12-4 lead becomes 22-8. Or, 12-4 becomes 14-10 but then it becomes 22-12. That's how you will know.
3. The Difference. Kanacevic matters. He's a very good passing big man and carries an attitude. However St. Joseph's was very smooth in the regular season game, something that's easy in a fast pace. I'm looking for the Hawks's ability to run with VCU with Kancevic a part of the offense. Swiftness isn't one of his assets. If the pace quickens and Kancevic is more of an anchor, that bodes well. The other side: he becomes incredibly valuable in a rock fight. Refer back to tempo being critical.
4. Three Point Differential. The Hawks allowed A10 teams to shoot 30.2% from three this year–second in the conference. VCU was 10th in the A10, making just 33.7% of its arc bombs. I'm looking for VCU to top its season percentages. St. Joseph's wants a 3-10. Things look good for VCU if we see 40%, or 8-20. What's more, St.Joseph's has a bevy of bombardiers. Quite simply, the Rams need to outshoot them. The Hawks made nine threes in the regular season game, and VCU hit 21.9% (7-32). Can't happen again.
5. The Sophomore Class. Let's call it plainly–Briante Weber has been in a funk. The Rams could use a December-type game from Weber, a nine-point, three-assist, zero turnover, four-steal night. And Jarred Guest. When we talk about deep depth, Guest is the X-factor. VCU could use productive, double-figures minutes from Guest. That would spell trouble for the St. Joseph's big men, and the guards. The VCU press is very effective with Guest and his long arms up front. Finally, the Freight Train needs to be the Freight Train. 'Nuf Ced.
We Don't Work For Free
Players are players, after all.
Galloway (13.3 ppg, 3.6rpg) is their best shooter and scorer (69-185
from three). Galloway uses screens well but loses effectiveness on his
shooting when his legs get tired.
very quick and fast combo guard with range on his three (56-157 from
three) but has an aggressive moving-forward game. Jones has surpassed Chris Wilson as the primary facilitator.
Aiken (10.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is being touted as first round NBA draft pick but has had a soft season. Still, the 6-9, 200-lb Aiken is a shot blocker deluxe and can shoot the three
(21 threes on the year). Aiken plays face up and prefers no contact. He can dunk. Hard.
(11.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg) is big and relentless on the glass, a high-athletic,
high-motor post who will run the floor hard. Roberts goes 6-8, 220, and put a double-double on VCU in teh first game.
(6.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 105 assists) is a tough lefty point guard but has been shaky
against pressure. Wilson hit two threes against Xavier.
physical, crafty 6-7 three/four man. He is an excellent passer.
skilled post but not a good defender.
This is a victory built on what VCU does well, and answering the naysayers. Jones and Galloway are ridiculously good and play well off of each other. By containing those two, we cut the heart out of the Hawks by ending the meme of good guards giving VCU trouble.
Plus, the pace should play out differently than you are used to seeing. If St. Joseph's wears down we may not see very many turnovers–the Hawks take care of the basketball–but we will see a pile of open shots in the VCU offense. Open twos, and open threes. And I like the prospects of Troy Daniels gunning without a hand in his face.
I cannot get past this fact, either. St.Joseph's beat Xavier on January 26 to get to 2-3 in conference. St. Joseph's was never more than one game above or below .500 the rest of the year. By middle March you are what you are, and that does not sound like championship basketball to me.
The nuance favors VCU, but in the end, we have to Be VCU.