Most media reports I've read this morning say VCUs seed in the NCAA tournament is likely settled, that win or lose the Rams are locked into their bracket position. Here's how I see things:
- We don't know that for a fact.
- We're here and we have the right clothes.
- It's the A10 championship.
- We like winning championships.
That said, today is also about exacting a measure of revenge for the season's most frustrating teeth-gritter. VCU hit San Looie flying high, winners of five straight. But St. Louis took the Rams out of set offense early–VCU shot 3-23 from the
field in the game's first 16 minutes–and the Billikens put on an
offensive clinic early in the second half.
The result was a not-that-close 76-62 loss.
And look. This is the championship game in our first season in this great conference. We can exorcise a demon. If you can't get up for this you are clinically dead. No need to get wordy.
Side note: Ken Pomeroy has Saint Louis winning by a score of 68-67, with the Billikens having a 51% chance of winning by any score. That's also known as a coin flip.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Things I'm Watching
1. Shot Challenging. Both teams can play
rock fight defense in the halfcourt. Nothing comes easy. The old
coaching saw goes that in order to make a good percentage of your shots,
first you have to get the shots you want. I'm looking for the team
that's getting the cleaner looks in halfcourt sets.
2. Live Ball Versus Dead Ball Turnovers.
There's pace, but then there's easy baskets. Because the Rams are going
to have to work in the halfcourt it will be important to crank up havoc
and get layups. Dead ball turnovers are welcomed because that's a chance
for VCU to score at the cost of St. Louis not scoring. But live ball
turnovers give you that, plus easy offense, plus the mental boost of
opponent frustration. It's the joining of arms we discussed after the UMass game.
3. Contain Dwayne. Evans is a flat-out SOB on the court, and I mean that as the highest compliment. He's the type of player you aren't going to eliminate. That's a fact. So I'm looking for an out-and-out SOB effort from the VCU defense to keep Evans from being the conference tournament MVP. Evans cannot be a warrior factor, just another player on the court.
4. Rob Brandenberg At The Elbow. Evans is an outstanding defender and the Bills in general protect the
lane. Brandenberg, and really Darius Theus too, needs to turn that
corner and jet to a rim run. That will open up that biting layup (we
must convert at the rim), or a kick out to the three point line. That means defeating Jordair Jett and Kwamain Mitchell at the point of attack.
5. Win the Phil Garner War. For you youngsters, Garner was a second baseman nicknamed Scrap Iron. Besides that being an awesome nickname, VCU is going to have to play at its scrappy best. Those 50/50 balls have to be a 70/30 VCU win. The Rams have to fight on the boards. Fix it when the press is broken. Locate three point shooters in transition and broken plays. Keep an eye on the faces of the Billikens players. They are a machine, a steamroller, an Ivan Drago team. If we can get a look of frustration on their faces, draw blood, that's a sign they are in trouble.
We Don't Work for Free
Dwayne Evans leads the team in
scoring and rebounding and is a 6-5 rock. Evans is physical, crashes the
glass, and lowers the boom. He has recorded double-doubles in two of
their last three games. He is also one of the A10s best wing defenders.
Cody Ellis is a 6-8 four man who can knock down threes and is a pure shooter and solid
all-around player. For your heckling pleasure: Ellis is a flopper, and wears a jersey one size too small. He is the one with blue hair (which I actually like).
Jordair Jett is a
deceptively-quick and hard-nosed point guard who attacks off the
dribble. Jett comes off the bench but leads the team in assists and
steals and made the A10 all defense team. He is their best on-ball defender, one of those "high IQ"
Kwamain Mitchell shares
ballhandling duties, using quickness to break down his man. Mitchell,
who missed 11 games earlier this season with an ankle injury, shoots 40%
from three. He hit seven threes and scored 29 points against Rhode
Grandy Glaze is a 6-6 power bar but plays limited minutes. He
brings energy and does all the dirty work. Since Glaze was inserted in the
starting lineup, they are 14-1.
Rob Loe is slow-footed and tires
easily at 6-10, but will bang as much as possible. On offense, Loe is a
set-shooter and can knock down the three.
Mike McCall Jr. is one of the best three-point shooters in the conference (34-80, 42.5%). He likes to score in transition.
Jake Barnett is the guard version
of Glaze–hard-nosed and will do the dirty work to let stars be stars.
Barnett hurt VCU in the regular season meeting.
Cory Remekun is a rugged, physical
backup post player. Remekun shoots 62% from the field and leads the team
in blocked shots.
Yes, shooting 3-23 to open a game is brutal and is created a big hole, but this team has shown it can climb out of such holes. See: Xavier. The defense really let us down in that first matchup. The Rams made six of seven field goals to open the second half–and when combined with making 5-6 to end the first half gave them an 11-13 string from the field.
VCU wiped just three points off the Saint Louis lead.
But you know what? None of that matters. This is today, championship Sunday. There are lessons that can be learned, but nothing that occurred then has a direct impact on today's game. We start at 0-0, that's the mindset.
This is also going to be a war of depth. Saint Louis can go 7-8 deep with strength. VCU has to match that effective depth. The kids need to know they are a team, that they are not alone. As has occurred all week, we're gonna make this place our home.