So here we are, in the hours prior to the most anticipated season in VCU basketball history, our minds festooned with Freight Treins and Reddics and Webers while we fake a busy work day. Yeah, that's dramatic, but it doesn't make it less true. We are fans so we get to talk in such platitudes without having a direct impact on the success of the team.
Check that. There are about 7,700 of us that will be bellowing some form of the same theme: beat the crap out of the Redbirds. The energy of The Stu invigorates the players on the court. That is another truth. For me, I've already gotten out of my chair and walked three loops around my office for no other reason than I cannot sit still. My goodness, the season is here. Let's have some fun.
Ken Pomeroy has VCU winning 81-65, giving the Rams a 92% chance of winning by any margin.
There are 16 players making their D1 college basketball debut tonight. VCU has eight fresh faces, and Illinois State has eight new players as well, five JUCO transfers and three freshmen.
Them There Illinois State Redbirds
The top gun is expected to be Daishon Knight, whose competitive penalty for plea bargaining a felony to a misdemeanor yesterday was one exhibition game. That is another truth. Knight averaged 19.4ppg at Odessa JUCO last year and is a very aggressive guard with a green light to shoot.
If not Knight, keep your eyes peeled on Bobby Hunter. He is always attacking and led the juco nation in free throw attempts last year. Hunter hit 11-12 from the line in ISUs exhibition win over Quincy.
Want more juco? I give you Zach Lofton, another agressive ballhandler with a green light to shoot. (Are there any juco guards playing D1 now that don't like to shoot?) Regardless, Lofton scored 19 points in the exhibition and hit three threes.
Finally, a returning player. Nick Zeisloft is a pure shooter. He made 3-4 from three in the exhibition. The Rams need to run him off the three-point line and then we can stop worrying about Zeisloft.
The bigs: Reggie Lynch, a 6-10, 230-pound space eater, and John Jones, a 6-9, 260-pound more-space eater. This poor duo will have to pick their poison: run up and down the court with Juvonte Reddic, or bang and crash against Terrance Shannon. Neither of these guys can guard The Freight Trein when VCU goes small. Note that for later.
Paris Lee is a pretty good backup point guard and a lefty, and Kaza Keane, who led them in assists last year, is a crafty player but will turn the ball over.
My Eyes For Your Eyes: Will Ferrell Edition
Old School. Halfcourt defense has been Shaka Smart's biggest concern coming into the season, and this is the ideal test. ISU has a handful of strong guards who can get into the lane. The old school "help and recover" defense will be paramount for the Rams in the halfcourt. Keep an eye on what happens when an ISU dribbler makes it past the first wave.
Anchorman. I can create 15 different basketball scenarios where the five feet around the rim matter. The biggest: if Terrance Shannon and Mo Alie Cox are in JYD mode it will be a long, long night for the Redbirds. The duo needs to clean up and not allow second chances, score enough to worry the guards, and make ISU rethink priorities. Keep your eye on an ISU player breaking the press and u-turning when he gets to Shannon or Cox protecting the rim. That's your tell.
Blades of Glory. The uber-quick hands of Briante Weber cannot get him into foul trouble. This is an obvious point and an over-discussed facet of the game, but tonight is the first real live game, so we have to check for its impact. Keep your eye on Weber's intensity after his first foul, and on the VCU press around the 14 minute mark of the first half. Everyone will adjust to the whistle.
Step Brothers. We know what we're getting out of the old farts on the squad. We only think we know what Jordan Burgess, Doug Brooks, JeQuan Lewis, and honestly Shannon will bring. I know the upperclassmen will be fine whether they play a good game, great game, or poor game. Keep your eyes on the new guys and how they transition everything that's led up to tonight into a real game.
Zoolander. If it's a boxing match I want to see jabs. A baseball game? Singles and doubles. It will be tempting to swing for the fences, but VCU is the better team. It's a matter of eroding ISU, not trying to walk the runway and look pretty. Keep your eye on failed alley-oops, jacked up threes, and uncontrolled havoc (reaching for steals instead of playing technique defense).
It's been difficult to think about and process the thoughts of tonight's opener. The build-up, the new players, and just plain basketball season has turned my brain into a coffee grinder.
If I separate every bit of emotion, I sound like a coach. This is the kind of game where VCU has the better talent, better depth, and tremendous home court. If the Rams can holster the emotion and do what we do, it should be an enjoyable evening. (If it ever gets here.)
I promise better summations in coming games. I just want to tip the thing off and get rolling.