Last year the LaSalle game was the first true crinkleface loss of the season. Yes, VCU had just dropped that Richmond game, which hurt, but Darrien Brothers bombed a major three to conclude a late-game self-destruction. It was incredibly frustrating but it was on the road and VCU did things they don't normally do. It was a stinky-poo game but it made sense.
LaSalle took everyone by surprise. The Explorers were a long way from their Sweet 16 ways, just in the formative stages of being a March gladiator. It was in That Animal. Tyreek Duren committed four turnovers in the game but was in control throughout. He kept finding open Explorers, namely Ramon Galloway, for for threes and layups. It was frustrating, too, but it didn't make much sense.
Of particular frustration: LaSalle outplayed VCU in the final 10 minutes of each half, normally the Den of Havoc Iniquity. The Explorers outscored VCU 15-8 in the final 10 minutes of the first half, and 25-15 in the final 10 minutes of the second half.
But that was last year. It means exactly bupky to the flow of this year's game. Just like 2011 in Dayton had nothing to do with Wednesday's 80-66 grounding of the Flyers, tomorrow has nothing to do with last January. Okay, I will grant you a little bit of payback but if you think about it, that's a stretch.
The Bad Guys
The Explorers are one of six 3-1 teams in the A10. Silly stuff, this conference. LaSalle beat GW in their building and have shaken their Sweet 16 hangover. Pay little attention to their loss at Bonnies–Olean is a tough place to play and Bonnies is better than you think. LaSalle is actually similar to VCU in that they are guard-driven but have skilled size that makes them tough to beat.
Tyreek Duren (14.2ppg, 3.7apg, 3.6rpg) is their go-factor. Again. Duren is dangerous because he does a little bit of everything for them, including play defense. He's made 30 threes on the season and for VCU it's about playing tough basketball. Of note: Duren is averaging 17ppg in A-10 play and has the double-dip talents of being both very fast and very tough.
I'll admit that I love watching Tyrone Garland (13.9ppg) play because he looks like he's having fun. There isn't much complicated about him–attack and shoot. If that doesn't work, then he will attack and shoot. Keep an eye on VCU players standing in front of him to take charges in the attack portion of Garland's game.
Jerrell Wright (12.4ppg, 5.9rpg) is a strong 6-9, 250-pound banger in the post but his production has dropped off since A10 play began. He's joined in the front court by Steve Zack (9.7ppg, 9.6rpg), another beefy postman at 6-11, 250. Zack has 10 double-doubles on the year.
Every opponent VCU plays has a "no open looks" guy. That's Sam Mills (7.9ppg) for LaSalle. Mills has bombed in 10-18 threes in A10 play this year, and is shooting 44% from beyond the arc in all games.
Sum It Up, Knucklehead
The Explorers play stand-in-your-face defense; that is, save Duren they don't take a lot of chances for big ticket steals and contest their opponents' shots. All of them. The VCU offense has to be patient and flow–finding great shots is important.
On defense, the yeah-no-duh statement is keeping Duren out of the lane so he can't pick apart the VCU halfcourt defense like last year. The Rams will have to defend ballscreens well and help each other out.
I feel like the uglier this game gets, the better it is for VCU. Keep LaSalle at bay until their legs get wobbly, and then blammo them with the cumulative effects of havoc.
Your magic number is 73. The Explorers are 9-1 this season when scoring 73 or more points, and just 2-6 when not reaching that number. VCU is 15-0 when holding teams to less than 73 points. Ken Pomeroy's Texas Instruments calculator ginned up a 68-66 victory for VCU. I'm no Euclid but I even know that 66 is less than 73.
I lied earlier. There is one thing that we can take forward from last year. In my very best King's English: they ain't surprising nobody this year. VCU will be prepared, and will be ready.