Good morning Ram fans. We have a rare one-game week as VCU focuses on the classroom until they head to Northern Iowa Friday afternoon to take on the UNI Panthers in a BracketBusters return game this Saturday at noon (Baja brunch, anyone?). Some quick Tuesday notes to help get you through the day…
The Rams take on Northern Iowa after defeating the Panthers 77-68 two seasons ago in VCU’s final BracketBusters appearance. UNI is led by 6’1 junior guard, Deon Mitchell, who scored a game-high 18 points when the two last met. Mitchell was 7-11 from the field in that one with no three-point attempts, so expect to Pflugerville, Texas native to attempt to attack a VCU defense that’s had a tough time defending the paint so far this season. Northern Iowa has had success down low but have been very un-UNI in hitting just 31.4% of their three-pointers this season, which currently ranks 243rd nationally.
Shaka visits Detroit
Coach Smart racked up some quick frequent flyer miles last night, flying to Detroit to watch 2014 commit, Justin Tillman go off in a loss against defending Illinois State champ, Morgan Park. Tillman had 29 points and 15 rebounds for Pershing.
On Jordan’s role
Freshman Jordan Burgess is still carving out his role as a freshmen but has had to readjust after suffering a knee injury during the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. “We need to continue to define roles on our team”, coach Smart told media members this morning at the Siegel Center. “Anytime you have a bunch of new guys that are new to playing it’s gonna be a process to define those roles. I think his role definition, the process was kinda stopped short for a while”.
Burgess has struggled to hit shots so far this season, connecting on just under 23% of his attempts as a Ram, but has the trust of the coaching staff and rewarded them with timely three-pointers against UVA and Old Dominion. “Jordan is a guy that, in his time, will score a lot of points”, Smart added. “Right now he’s just feeling his way.”
Smart compared Burgess to a young Treveon Graham, who also struggled early, hitting just three of his first 23 attempts to start his VCU career. Graham finished that season averaging 7 points per game while shooting 38.9% from the field. He’s led VCU in scoring the past two seasons.
On Mo Alie-Cox
Mo Alie- Cox has quickly become a fan favorite at VCU with his long wing span that has facilitated in a number of highlight reel dunks and blocks for VCU. But despite his solid start, Smart believes Mo will improve with confidence, and that his freshman big has been “thinking too much” these last few games. Despite playing just 17.5 minutes per game, Alie-Cox ranks 5th in the A-10 in blocked shots per game at 1.7 and has blocked at least two in his last four contests including a five-block performance against Northeastern.
Shaka on the A-10
“I think the league’s done really well. I’m not surprised. UMass was a great team last year and they returned most of their really good players and probably the best player in the league, Dayton has some really good wins so far and is playing at a high level, Saint Louis…we know all about them.”
The Atlantic 10 currently ranks seventh in conference RPI despite losing the likes of Temple, Butler and Xavier to realignment. The conference currently has six teams in the RPI top-100 including No.1 UMass. VCU checks in at No.33.
Shaka on his coaching staff
“Our staff’s doing really well. I’ve been fortunate all five years to have the guys that I work with. They work extremely hard, every guy on the staff. It’s almost like the first year the guys on the staff set the bar really high then every year guys are exceeding that. We played EKU on Thursday, and that was a night game, the whole staff was in the office until the middle of the morning…and we won the game.”
Smart has lost a number of top assistants to head coaching positions since the Rams’ magical Final 4 run. Mike Jones took the top spot at Radford, Will Wade recently moved on to UT Chattanooga and Jamion Christian now leads Mount St. Mary’s with former VCU video coordinator Donny Lind as an assistant on his staff.
Two things I loved during VCU’s recent 21-point win over rival Old Dominion:
1) The uniforms – This year’s set of uniforms was probably my favorite I’ve seen in a long while. Then I saw the gold set, which sealed the set as the best ever in my mind. The simple gold and black with cursive Rams on the front….perfect.
2) Second half defense – The Rams gave up 31 first half points on 46.9% shooting to a bad-shooting ODU squad. They then held ODU to just six field goals the remainder of the game (25% shooting) and a total of 17 second half points. That’s a combination of poor ODU shooting and good VCU defense. If the Rams can match efforts like that they will be a nightmare for teams throughout the remainder of the season.
Two things I hated during VCU’s recent 21-point win over rival Old Domion:
1) The lack of enthusiasm – The game was technically a sellout but felt more like VCU v Illinois State than VCU v ODU. Our friend Aaron Williams of RVANews.com has measured decibel levels of games for years and reported that the game went above 103 decibels only once (Mo dunk) for the first 27 minutes, which was the worst crowd noise since VCU played Longwood a season prior……….Longwood.
2) Patchy crowd – I get it, we’re in a new corporate era. The bills have to get paid if we want to play with the big boys, and a necessary “evil” of that are unused, but purchased, corporate seats. But that doesn’t mean a small part of my heart doesn’t break every time I see a row of six empty seats in the first five rows at a VCU v ODU game.