Let me start by giving as much love in writing as possible to the RamNation that traveled to Brooklyn. Here's my best shot: during media timeouts last night, instead of checking stats and thinking about what was occurring in the basketball game, you know, MY JOB, I'd turn around and just watch the sea of VCU fans in the Barclays Center.
All. Night. Long.
All I could do is shake my head and burst with pride.
So UMass…in the first meeting, a Valentine's Night affair in The Stu, VCU trailed 42-37 at the half.
In the first 6:11 of the second half UMass was 0-5 from the field, 1-2
from the foul line, and committed seven turnovers. VCU grabbed six
steals in those six minutes and shot 8-13 from the field. The run was
21-1. The run would get to 44-12 in the first 14:08 of the second half.
The turnover differential that night: plus 16. VCU committed eight and forced 24, including six for first team All A10 performer Chaz Williams. Of note, Melvin Johnson had his breakout game, scoring 18 points. That was the night Johnson broke through the freshman wall.
That was also the night everyone thought Shaka Smart delivered a locker room repainting speech. It was nothing of the sort. The Rams, probably the time we saw this before the descriptive words came along, were in Be VCU mode.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Things I'm Watching
1. The Back of the Press. Chaz Williams is a human fast forward button. UMass is constructed in a way that is capable of beating
the press and dishing to a cadre of Minutemen for a flush. Those are emotion plays-see below as to why that matters this afternoon. 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. In both the Temple game and last night, VCU collected a cadre of fouls, way more than the opponent. Keep an eye on the differential. Note: UMass was 23-27 from the line last night vs. Temple.
3. Channeling Last Night's Bench. 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. Guest, Tuoyo, and Hinton are going to have to match their effort and production from last night. 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. UMass has played two games in two days and Williams has played 78 minutes. I don't care if he's a fast-forward kid. That's a ton. Plus, VCU takes Cady LaLanne out of the game if we get running.
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 (28 points, four rebounds, five assists, two turnovers last night vs. Temple) 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
Terrell Vinson (15 points, four rebounds, five turnovers last night) 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 (did not score in 11 minutes last night. Gave VCU fits in the first game) 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 (7 points, 7 rebounds last night) is Bizarro Putney.
He prefers to bully around the block and as a chiseled 6-8, 225 pounds
is usually successful.
Freddie Riley (15 points last night) is a big-bodied wing but an
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 (7 points, eight rebounds last night) is a traditional 5-man
(6-9, 250). That is slow but physical and relentless.
Maxie Esho (7/8 last night) 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 (eight minutes last night) 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
Emotion matters today. The Minutemen are playing their third game in three days. Fatigue comes into play, but when you are in this situation, emotion trumps the physical. It's of utmost importance VCU disallows UMass the opportunity to feel good about its chances.
UMass is an up-and-down the floor team. They like pretty and free-flowing basketball. You don't get tired when it's clicking.
And here's what Shaka Smart had to say last night, speaking about Briante Weber: "He's got the most
swagger of anyone on our team. He's a scrapper, and we need that.
That's what we're all about. We're not a pretty team, we're a scrappy
The Rams, if you can believe it, need to ugly up the ballgame. A tired team is prone to ugly mistakes, and a tired team allows mistakes to compound. VCU needs to win the battle of emotional control, and turn that into the physical advantages.
The teams change and the points of emphasis change and the stakes change and the situations change. However it always seems to come back to the same two words as the key to success: