The Rams prepare for a taste of March this week as VCU gets set to take on Florida State in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Thursday. Win or lose, the black and gold will play three games in a span of four days, potentially against a number of NCAA tournament caliber teams.
ROUND 1: VCU v FLORIDA STATE
Easily the most important game for VCU, a win against Florida State would send the Rams into the winners bracket side of the tournament where they would quite possibly matchup with a ranked Michigan team in the second round, followed by potentially Georgetown or Kansas State in the championship game. Like last season’s opening round win against No.19 Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis, a win would set up VCU for the biggest RPI boost as VCU would likely face two higher profile teams in the semi and final rounds of the tournament. Those games, win or lose, can be very helpful come tournament selection time.
There are a couple of intriguing subplots to this one. These two last met in the 2011 Sweet 16 with VCU prevailing via game-winning overtime layup by Bradford Burgess against a Florida State team that featured 6’8 240lb big, Terrance Shannon…who’s now a Ram. Shannon will take on his former team after transferring this summer. The ex-Seminole was third in scoring on last season’s squad but missed a number of games due to a neck injury sustained at UVA last season. He, along with leading scorer Michael Snear (14.8 ppg), have moved on, but a number of capable ‘Noles have stepped up in their absence, most notably 6’8 senior Okaro White. White is averaging 16 ppg and 6.3 rpg for the Seminoles, both team-highs. White leads the ACC club with a 68% field goal percentage but has had a hard time holding on to the ball when he’s not throwing it through the hoops this season, averaging an eye-popping 4.3 turnovers per game. As a team, Florida State has turned the ball over 24.3% of their possessions, ranking 336th in all of college hoops. On paper, that bodes well for a VCU club who is third in the nation at turning teams over. Florida State is fourth at turning teams over however, so whoever plays the most poised game might just advance to the second round after Thursday night’s rock fight. Both VCU and FSU have faced some adversity this season with road wins against solid in-state schools, VCU taking down a then No.25 UVA on a 3-point dagger, FSU a 12-point win over a UCF team that won 20 games last season. Kenpom.com gives the Rams a 77% chance of a first-round win.
ROUND 2: VCU v MICHIGAN/LONG BEACH STATE
I think we all know who the Rams want to see in this one. VCU was embarrassed this past March, running into a buzz saw in Auburn Hills (a short drive from Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus), ending their season on a 25-point loss that might not have even been that close. The Wolverines are doing some 2013 adjusting however, after the loss of star point guard Trey Burke and fellow first-rounder, Tim Hardaway Jr. The two combined for 32 points and 10 assists against VCU this past March, but it was returning forward, Mitch McGary, that gave the Rams the biggest headache, scoring 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting and grabbing 14 rebounds in the Michigan win. The Rams simply had no answer for McGary that night, but with the additions of Terrance Shannon and Mo Alie-Cox, may be better prepared for the 6’10 255lb sophomore this season. This matchup is no guarantee however, so VCU will need to be prepped for a Long Beach State matchup as well, win or lose. The 49ers are coached by Dan Monson, the founder of modern day Gonzaga basketball, if you will, having taken the Bulldogs to their first Elite 8 appearance in 1999 before leaving for Minnesota where he struggled for just over seven seasons. Monson has taken the same “anytime, anywhere” approach he used at Gonzaga while at Long Beach State. The Niners have made three straight postseason appearance (two NIT, one NCAA), but are off to a rough 1-3 start this season with their only win coming against DII Hawaii-Pacific.
ROUND 3: VCU v KANSAS STATE/CHARLOTTE/NORTHEASTERN/GEORGETOWN
A number of possibilities in this one, but as the highest ranked team in the tournament (No.10 nationally), Ram fans will be hoping for a championship meeting with either K-State or Georgetown. Only Charlotte and K-State boast winning records out of that group, but have losses to Charlestown (Charlotte) and Northern Colorado (K-State). Georgetown is 1-1 with a neutral court loss to the No.17 Ducks of Oregon.
FUN WITH NUMBERS
134.6 – Freshman Doug Brooks’ offensive rating, the highest on VCU’s team. With a 20% field goal percentage and a 25% mark from deep, Brooks has somehow found a way to beat the system, but a nice fun number while it lasts.
100% – VCU bigs Reddic, Ali-Cox and Guest’s combined 3-point field goal percentage this season. This group won’t make folks miss Jamie Skeen just yet, but at 5-5 on the season, they’re off to a solid start as a group.
6 – Juvonte Reddic’s field goal attempts per game, his lowest total since his freshman season (3). With that, Reddic has been incredibly efficient, hitting 72.2% of his attempts. Feed the big dog, let him eat.
7.2% – Briante Weber’s steals percentage, currently ranked 8th in the country. Last season Weber led the nation in that category, and could be on his way to doing so once more. Rob Brandenberg ranks 9th nationally at 7%, filling in perfectly for Darius Theus in that category.
30% – He may not get the minutes just yet, but freshman JeQuan Lewis is certainly active when he’s in. The freshman leads VCU at 30% of possessions used when he’s on the court for VCU.
37 – Amount of games in VCU’s consecutive sellout streak. Assuming Ram continue the trend, that would be 50 by the end of VCU’s regular season.
2 – Amount of OOC home games VCU has scored 90+ points in this season (2-for-2). The Rams posted three of those in their nine OOC home games last season, and had eight games of 90 or more points in total last season.
0.1 – How many fewer assists per game (4.7) Briante Weber has averaged through three games this season than senior point guard Darius Theus (4.8) dished out last season. Small sample size, but a nice start for the new guy.
17.5 – Jarred Guest’s rebounds per 40 minutes. Coach Smart has said Guest was his most tenacious rebounder in practice, and in 39 total minutes off the bench this season he’s grabbed 17 boards. If Guest’s offensive game came catch up with his defense (just 2-11 from the field this season), the 6’8 junior could be a force for the Rams, and provide yet another headache for opposing teams to deal with.
5 – VCU’s current RPI. Those things change like crazy throughout the season, but with a shot at playing some very good teams this week in Puerto Rico, VCU could put their RPI in a really great position heading into A-10 play. The Atlantic 10 as a league currently ranks 4th with eight teams in the top 100.