I’m not sure why, but early season tournaments have always been a bit rough for VCU. Last season the Rams went 1-2 in the Bahamas, picking up a win over then No.19 Memphis before falling in battles with ranked Duke and Missouri squads. The prior season VCU went 1-2 in Charleston, falling by double-digits to two unranked teams before grinding out a win against a Western Kentucky squad they would dominate just a game after the tournament. VCU went 2-1 in the NIT Preseason Tip-Off during the Rams Final 4 season, taking down Winthrop in Winston Salem before going 1-1 at Madison Square Garden, a loss to No. 24 Tennessee followed by a win against UCLA. The Rams have a chance to match that 2-1 record with a win over Georgetown Sunday at 2PM, the first game between the two since VCU drubbed the Hoyas en route to a 2011 Final 4 appearance.
VCU entered game-one of this week’s tournament as an eight-point favorite over FSU. Leonard Hamilton’s squad was having none of that. The Rams struggled to hit shots on one end of the floor (29.3% from the field), while failing to defend on the other, allowing the Seminoles easy baskets for a 53.7% field goal mark (roughly 61% on two-point attempts) while dropping 85 points on VCU’s highly-touted defense. Long story short, it was just one of those nights. We were Butler trying to play at the Siegel Center, they were VCU dominating us in every aspect of the game. We were VCU circa March 2013, they were Michigan dicing up a really good program on the grandest stage. It was a classic VCU struggle game, complete with Juvonte Reddic foul trouble (fouled out in just 15 minutes of play). The oddest part of that loss however was the Noles 25 turnovers. Typically, when you turn the ball over 25 times to VCU, you get embarrassed, but despite that glaring weakness FSU was able to dominate the Rams by forcing VCU to make tough shots–the Rams had an astonishing 21 more attempts than FSU’s 54–while attacking VCU’s swiss cheese halfcourt defense on the other end.
Tough loss, but in a tournament setting, VCU had just a matter of hours to feel sorry for themselves, needing to bounce back in a Friday night tip against Long Beach State. For the most part, the Rams did just that.
VCU had an easier time against Long Beach’s smaller players, finding holes in the 49ers zone and hitting just under 60% of their shots from inside the 3-point arc. As a team, the Rams combined for just 11 fouls on the game (which will probably be a foul era record) and a total of eight from VCU starters. That allowed offensive threats Treveon Graham (34), Juvonte Reddic (31), Rob Brandenberg (27), and Melvin Johnson (26) to ALL play season highs in minutes. The Rams also got 30 minutes out of point guard Briante Weber who rewarded the team with a 16-point, six-rebound, four-assist, two-steal and ZERO-turnover performance in the win. That said, there was a down-side to the low foul count, being an easier path to the basket. Long Beach State attacked the rim all night, hitting 57% of their attempts inside the arc, the second highest percentage VCU has given up on the season.
“Defense is 90 percent want-to and 10 percent technique and scouting report and all that stuff,” VCU coach Shaka Smart told the Times Dispatch after the win. “Our want-to got better down the stretch.” VCU trailed by as many as eight points in last night’s win, but held the Niners scoreless for five minutes and 40 seconds of the second half during a 13-0 VCU run (LB State 0-7 from the field during that run), holding them to just 6-19 shooting–only six of which were within the three-point arc–for the final 14:40 of the game.
The Rams will face a Georgetown team coming off a 90-63 throttling of Kansas State that followed a 63-56 upset loss at the hands of VCU’s former CAA foe, Northeastern. Getting back to field goal percentages, the Hoyas hit an impressive 69% of their two-point shots against K State to just 44% of their short range buckets against the Huskies zone defense. VCU’s ability, or inability to defend the paint, should have a huge effect on Sunday’s game. NU got to the line for 33 freebies as well (hitting only 20 of those attempts), so expect the Rams to continue to attack the basket as they have all season.
–Briante Weber posted his second 16-point performance of the season, hitting six of his seven attempts on the night including his trademark foul-line jump shot on a number of occasions. When Weber brings his defensive confidence to the offense the point guard has the potential to be special. Weber hasn’t turned the ball over more than twice in a game this season, and is averaging 3.2 steals to just 2 fouls per game.
–Jordan Burgess (sprained knee) will have an MRI when the team returns. He missed the Ram’s win over Long Beach State and will sit out again against Georgetown.
-Despite averaging his fewest minutes since a freshman (23.4), Rob Brandenberg’s numbers are up across the board. The senior is averaging 11.8 points and 2.4 steals while hitting 46.5% of his shots, 43.5% from deep, all career highs. Brandenberg has been cat quick since arriving at VCU but has clearly added strength this offseason, exploding toward the basket despite playing with back spasms most of this season.
-Prior to VCU’s loss to FSU, Kenpom.com’s computers had the Rams as a favorite to win all but one (at SLU) of their remaining games this season. Today, the CPU has added four additional losses, including a one-point predicted loss in Sunday’s battle against Georgetown, giving the Rams a 48% chance of winning.