I went on a hunt last night, late into the night, digging to see if I could find what seems to be ailing the VCU basketball team this year. I'm not going to be that guy and tell you what the numbers that are pasted below say. They can say what you want them to say. But here's what I found:
Very little is wrong, and certainly nothing atypical from any other season. Now get off the ledge.
Be very careful about what your eyes are telling your mind. College basketball is a zero sum game: you win or you lose. You make shots or you miss shots. There are 1,000 ways you take the journey but it ends in the same place: points scored, and points allowed. Almost every single number I dug into last night led me to the same place. There are tweaks to be made, but this team is not fatally flawed.
We're closer than you think, and we're NINE AND FREAKING THREE.
Yes, it feels like VCU is giving up a lot of layups. The reality is that opponents are shooting less than three percentage points better on two-point shots than last year, and less than one-half of one percent as compared to the Final Four team. (See below.) Opponents have made 216 two-point field goals this year, and the average over the past three years is 211.
We're not the Washington Generals.
VCU is playing the toughest schedule I can remember. And I'm old. It isn't anything like last year's cream-filled delight. If you insist on comparing the numbers from this year to last, go right ahead and do so. Just be sure to twist the little dial to focus the lens on the fact, and it is a fact, that the competition level last year was nowhere near this year.
It isn't perfect.
You see the breakdowns, but I would argue part of the brilliance of the havoc system and the press is precisely that it isn't perfect. Allowing layups is standard issue–lull the opposition into thinking they can beat it repeatedly, or gamble and make a mistake that leads to essentially the same result, and then take advantage of that faux-comfort level of your opponent. Trading two layups for four turnovers is havoc math.
My point is that the numbers bear out that this year isn't marginally different than any other year. Steal percentage and turnover percentage are dead on the mark. This edition of the Rams is a better defensive rebounding team. New rules be-damned, the foul ratio is better.
VCU doesn't suddenly stink at its gameplan. The tweaks appear to surround that new roles meme–Burgess, Alie Cox, and Lewis are all brand spanking new to game-action havoc. Johnson is still learning how to play defense. Those little breakdowns lead to open shots, which are typically made at this level, which correlates to a little better percentage, not a cataclysmic failure of defense.
On offense, it's a similar baseline. The two-point shooting is right in line with three-year averages, and the three-point shooting is a tad down, but the team is also taking fewer threes. Even foul shooting is about the same. The turnover percentage is slightly up but VCU is playing faster–four additional possessions per game with inexperienced guards.
The inability to finish around the rim is puzzling, but that isn't really a lack of skill. It doesn't concern me. It could be rushing, or whatever, but a layup is the first shot everybody made when they were four years old. That will come.
The tweak to me is, and I apologize to everyone for this bit of cliched geekery, valuing the basketball. The Rams added new wrinkles to its offensive attack. When you combine those with the consistent mantra of attacking, you get loose drives into the lane, and harried layup attempts.
All part of settling into your season.
About those threes. This is where I argue that the threat of Troy Daniels was more important to last year's team than the actual Troy Daniels. Yes, Daniels was a 40% shooter, but his three-game line was usually 1-6, 2-8, 5-6. An opposing coach didn't want to be on the business end of Troy Daniels, so he was forced to gameplan for that. This in turn opened up creases to exploit, and offered Juvonte Reddic single coverage.
This year, opposing coaches are throwing everyone at Reddic. Belmont's Rick Byrd stopped at our table to ask me if I didn't mind covering Reddic. This is an adjustment in philosophy and tactics. Our future offensive sythesis depends on our ability to play out of Juvonte Reddic double-teams.
We've wrinkled, and the opponents have wrinkled. Again, a tweak.
Here's where I will leave the offense: Rob Brandenberg is due one of those games where he hits 4-6 from beyond the arc and slashes to the basket for three rim-run layups. It's coming, I'm telling you. Once that happens you will feel differently.
As a wise man said to me recently, and it is so very true: "It's amazing what those stupid rankings can do to your mind."
It's coming together.
Last 4 Years, After 12 Games
|OFFENSE||2010-11||2011-12||2012-13||3 YEAR AVG||2013-14|
|2pt FG%||216-525 (41.1%)||197-421 (46.8%)||229-458 (50.0%)||214-468 (45.7%)||230-494 (46.6%)|
|3pt FG%||104-277 (37.5%)||92-263 (35.0%)||102-274 (37.2%)||99-271 (36.6%)||86-250 (34.4%)|
|FT||149-223 (66.8%)||160-217 (73.7%)||150-223 (67.3%)||153-221 (69.2%)||189-282 (67.0%)|
|DEFENSE||2010-11||2011-12||2012-13||3 YEAR AVG||2013-14|
|2pt FG%||230-492 (46.7%)||204-402 (50.7%)||200-418 (47.8%)||211-437 (48.5%)||216-421 (51.3%)|
|3pt FG%||70-200 (35.0%)||56-185 (30.3%)||54-182 (29.7%)||60-189 (31.7%)||66-201 (32.8%)|
|FT||169-242 (69.8%)||142-211 (67.3%)||147-220 (66.8%)||153-224 (68.3%)||175-256 (68.4%)|
|Off reb %||36.6||34.70%|
|Def reb %||65.3||69.80%|