We found out some things about this basketball team last night, but we're going to learn a whole lot more tonight. This game is going to show the emotional toughness of the team and you will be able to gauge it by the See Saw of Adversity.
VCU must embrace last night's adversity, chew it up and swallow it, while creating adversity for Long Beach State. We're about to X and O this game, but understand there is nothing of higher import to keep your eyes on tonight. No matter what the scoreboard says, no matter what the shooting percentage reads, and no matter how many turnovers are forced pay attention to how VCU is playing in the first eight minutes. There is no game situation that cannot be overcome if havoc is havocy.
Long Beach State: What To Expect
This is a team that plays loose. What I mean is that they don't grind. LBSU takes 22 three-pointers per game and will shoot from anywhere, at any time. Their shot selection can be questionable but they make up for it by attacking the offensive glass. LBSU rebounds 43% of its misses–a number in the ODU offensive rebounding territory when the Monarchs were relevant.
On defense they will cover up a finesse attack by playing a decent amount of 2-3 zone. If VCU is able to make the right reads on offense, shooters should be open. Then, it becomes about making shots. (Side note: how often does it come down to that simple fact: Make. Shots.)
LBSU is experienced: they have seven juniors, one senior, and a redshirt freshman in their nine-man primary rotation.
Two LBSU players stand out. Mike Caffey is an explosive, scoring point guard. Caffey averages 15 ppg, 4.5 apg, and 4.5 rpg. He is in the middle of everything. VCU must attack him and force him to give the ball up, preferably a deflected pass to a swarming defender.
Dan Jennings is a big 6-9 lefty who averages a double/double (13/11). Jennings is a monster on the glass and will pose a challenge for the Rams interior defense. Of note: Jennings is 11-25 from the foul line.
A quiet option may be another lefty, 6-7 AJ Spencer. He is an attacking wing who got his first start of the year against Michigan and responded with 12 points in 34 minutes against the Wolverines. Spencer averages 8 ppg on the year.
Branford Jones is probably their most dangerous shooter, knocking down 7-16 from three on the year. Jones is a solid combo guard (7.5 ppg) but will turn the ball over. He is a redshirt freshman in his baptism-by-fire. If not Jones, then McKay LaSalle will gun it from the arc. In fact, LaSalle took his first two-point shot of the season last night. He is 7-31 from beyond the arc to go alongside a layup against Michigan.
Kris Gulley lost his starting job to Spencer, primarily due to a shooting slump. Gulley made 2-5 from the field against Michigan to bring his accuracy to 6-31 (19%) on the year. Still, Gulley is a big 6-7 wing who can cause problems if VCU loses him on defense.
The requisite "high motor" guy on the team is 6-7 David Samuels (6.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg). And of course when you are 6-7 and you attack, you become a problem for VCU–and anybody–on the glass. Samuels had 32 hard-working minutes last night.
The final two players to mention play their roles. Nick Shepherd is 6-9 and will play about 15 minutes. He doesn't shoot much (4-6 on the year) but is an effective in-between player. Christian Griggs-Williams is a 6-7, 260-pound lug. Griggs-Williams is obviously a space-eater who cannot run with the herd. A fast pace likely takes him out of the rotation.
What I Want To See From VCU
This isn't complicated and it isn't a secret. Old school havoc is in order, complete with wild dogs attacking, more than 35 deflections in the defense, and a level of energy that the opponent cannot match. In many ways the scouting report doesn't matter. This is the poster child of a game that is more about us than the opponent.
The actuals may be wrong, but the perspective stands: in the past two games I can only remember Juvonte Reddic posting on the block, with vigor, once. Now maybe that's the plan of the coaching staff and that's fine. It's not my place to call for more post touches.
My point is that Reddic needs to get angry. Brandenberg Scowl angry. No matter where the coaches station him on the floor, and certainly in every defensive possession, Reddic needs to be Reddic. Here's the thing about that: when Reddic is in full beast mode, it rubs off on everyone. That's the team I'm looking for.
Here's the final point: it can't be forced. When I talk about old school havoc it isn't playing hard because we need to play hard. It's playing hard because that's what we do, that's our identity. That's a natural spirit, a mode of play.
I want to see that because when VCU plays VCU basketball, it's darn fun to watch and darn effective.
And about last night: settle down. This is part of the process. Winning can cover up blemishes, and no matter how grotesque you felt after last night there was a lot to learn from a basketball perspective and a mental approach perspective. It stinks and it hurt, but I feel that it was a necessary step.
The players didn't suddenly stink and the system didn't suddenly evaporate. Everything is just the same as it was after the Virginia win. The important thing is that the basketball team carries this lesson forward and makes it a part of the process of winning.