With four days and enough turkey in me to feed Uruguay, I know exactly what VCU has to do tonight to defeat Northeastern: nothing. Okay not exactly nothing, but nothing different or looney or desperate.
The Rams don't need to suddenly play 25 minutes of zone. Doug Brooks should not start. Shaka Smart does not need to lean over to trainer Eddie Benion to ask for a play call. No live chickens are being sacrificed and no calendars are being burned.
We simply need a big fat dose of Standard Operating Procedure. Play to our identity. Be VCU.
Few teams have it all together this time of year. Just yesterday I watched Wake Forest look very average, and the Deacons only trailed second-ranked Kansas 54-50 in the second half. Ditto Villanova and Southern California (hi DJ!). Bad shots, reckless drives, poor passes, and ole defense ruled Thanksgiving.
So really the Rams have to get into That Animal, which should be roaring with delight, and do what they do. It's really that simple, except that it isn't.
Northeastern has beaten VCU in four of the last seven games in this series, including two of five in That Animal. Every time Bill Coen is mentioned in a sentence, you can bet VCU fans get all crinkly-faced. The RamNation knows Coen is a mastermind coach.
In the past 10 meetings, the two teams have split 5-5, with five of the 10 meetings being decided by two possessions or less. The difference in total points scored between the two teams over those 10 meetings is just eight points.
Plop on top of that the fact that the Huskies beat Georgetown and lost to Florida State on a last-second basket in Puerto Rico, and you can see this won't be a walk in the park. And consider this: NU did not have their best player, Quincy Ford, in Puerto Rico. Ford is nursing a sore back.
NU may be the toughest team we face all season. In their victory over Georgetown, NU outscored the Hoyas 38-20 in the second half and did not attempt a single three-pointer. They've also outrebounded every opponent they've played.
Here's what I also mean about VCU being VCU: I don't yet have the data to back it up, but I feel like these bigger lineups are not as effective as the smaller lineups. Big lineups certainly don't "look like" VCU. The Rams just need to get back to that identity in full force, with Treveon Graham sliding over to the four spot.
And the hammer stat of all hammer stats that indicates we just need to get the pace going and play VCU basketball? The Rams rank 21st in tempo according to KenPom, averaging 74.3 possessions per game. Northeastern is 305th in tempo, averaging 65.7 possessions per game.
Those guys begin with Quincy Ford, one of the better all-around we may face this year–and also the biggest wild card possible. Ford is their best player but is battling a pouty back. However it is a spasm issue, so the opponent's best player will either feel perfectly comfortable and play extended minutes, or sit the bench. Check his outfit at warmups.
(Side note: Ford is one of 11 children and was home-schooled through high school. I just think that's interesting.)
David Walker is the sticky needle of the NU compass. Walker has played 38.5 minutes per game this year and has not played fewer than 37 minutes yet. He fills the stat sheet, averaging more than 11 points, four rebounds, and four assists on the year.
And while Walker is the center point, Scott Eatherton (16.2ppg, 11.5rpg) is the pencil that draws the lines. Eatherton is 6-8 and averaging a double-double for the year (five dub/dubs is tied for the national lead), and averaged 18.3 points and 12.0 rebounds while shooting 64.5% from the floor in Puerto Rico. Eatherton averages 1.7 blocks, because he can. Interestingly, Eatherton has committed four fouls four times, and fouled out once, in six games.
Eatherton and Reggie Spencer (11.7ppg, 7.5rpg) are high energy, high motor, hard-working post players. Spencer is undersized at 6-7 but fits the junkyard dog role and can hurt the Rams on the block.
Demetrius Pollard is the shooter to eyeball. He hit eight threes in a win over CCSU and is hitting 46.2% from beyond the arc on the year. TJ Williams (6.2ppg) is a 6-3 freshman combo guard who si adjusting nicely to the college game. You know what happens to freshmen in this building, right?
Derrico Peck is an energy boost off the bench and a highly dangerous player. Peck is slolwly gaining playing time and producing in the early season, including eight points against Florida State, and seven rebounds against Georgetown. Zach Stahl is Northeastern's scrapper. He scored 16 points against Boston University to open the season. Marco-Banegas-Flores will also see spot duty in the backcourt.
The Huskies are not deep (runrunrun, right?) but will play a series of changing zone defenses that helps protect legs. The Rams can expect to see a 1-2-2 and 3-2, alongside a standard 2-3. Obviously shooting is a premium, but so is crisp passing and a high post attack. VCU is going to have to get underneath the guards at the high post and pivot and pass. That will break them down.
We always talk about VCUs defense. Well, I will pay particular attention to its offense tonight.