I keep flashing back one year. I keep remembering the discussion surrounding the Atlantis tournament and the VCU game against Memphis. There was a clear tug-of-war between the rational (it's just one regular season game) and the emotional (it's the biggest regular season nonconference game ever).
So we won that one.
Then, just one day later, I remember having conversations about Duke. "It's funny," I remember saying, "that five years ago we stormed Buffalo because we upset Duke in the NCAA tournament and couldn't imagine anything more glorious, and now we play them in a game we expect to win."
Now, in the pantheon of big nonconference games you could certainly argue the relative importance of a Bracketbuster game, say against Wichita State, and you would be correct. But hang with me for a minute. We'll get back to that.
This Virginia game is important, sure. But not more than Florida State next week, or whomever VCU Maize play after that. This Virginia game is similar to that Memphis game, that Duke game, that Missouri game.
The trend is that VCU is playing a lot of these games, another sign of the growth of this program. So yes this game against Virginia is important in the rational mind. And because of the growth of this program and where VCU basketball now sits in the college basketball landscape, you get to attach emotion to the game–ODU-type emotion. That's right, I said it.
And that's not a crack on Old Dominion and I'm not getting uppity. The point I'm trying to make is that games against major conference teams are no longer singular, we-hope events. They are part of who we are and what we do and you get to attach a corresponding level of emotion to the game. Don't you dare reduce any venom towards ODU.
You see, the difference is that VCU wants this game against Virginia. VCU needed that game against Wichita State. This is what we wanted and what we have, so cheer so hard you have to wipe the tears away and stuff your lungs back down your throat.
Make no mistake I believe VCU wins this game, but even if we don't understand that this isn't the past. There are more Virginias on the schedule. And for the Virginias of the college basketball world, there is VCU.
The number 70 matters, it would appear. VCU is 80-9 when scoring 70 or more points under Shaka Smart, including 43-2 in the past 45 games. And get this: Tony Bennett's teams have allowed 70 points only seven times in the past two years–one was an overtime game vs. Maryland–and the Cavaliers are 1-5 in those six regulation games.
(Credit Dave Fairbank of the Daily Press for the second half of that stat. Fairbank is the guy from Hampton Roads that wrote all those smart CAA articles.)
Ken Pomeroy has VCU ranked #13 and Virginia ranked #15. He has Virginia winning the game by a 66-62 score and gives the Rams a 35% chance of claiming victory.
Let's deal quickly with Virginia's vaunted defense. In today's presser, Smart said that "they are very good at forcing contested shots." Think Drexel, only with more sound fundamentals and less fouling. And I hate to go all coachspeak on you, but this game (and probably the St. Louis games later this year) I have no choice.
The VCU offense, when not in transition, will have execute to get the shots it wants. Then, because we're on the road, we have to knock down shots.
As for Virginia's offense, I'm not scared of Joe Harris in the way you would normally fear a first team All ACC player. VCU has a way of taking stud shooters out of games (see: Clarke, Rotnei). And let's pretend, because it fits the narrative, that Akil Mitchell and Juvonte Reddic cancel each other out.
My fear is Justin Anderson, a 6-6 pure athlete who can shoot the three. I fear Mike Tobey, who can stretch Terrance Shannon away from the hoop. If we harken back to yesterday's post, it's those things that thrive in a straightline attack. That's why this game going crooked matters.
Virginia beat Duke but lost to Delaware in JPJ last year. Who knows?
Well, I'll tell you, since I've prattled on about 700 words and not gotten to the crux of the matter. Caveat alert: this assume neither team shoots about 3-16 to start the game.
I think VCU falls behind a little bit early, maybe in the 23-16 range. However fatigue begins to catch UVa, and those bench players–very talented subs but guys who spent the week on the scout team, not FACING the VCU pressure–begin to wilt. The Rams go on a run and lead at the half, maybe 34-32.
And the second half is more of the same, only the antsy feeling is sharpened, so the sideways nature of the game gives way to pace, and Virginia is left trying to catch cars in a tornado. It gets worse.
VCU wins, 73-66.