What happened to you this week? I wrote and wrote and wrote and had zero visitors! (My apologies. I had one of those once-in-10-years work commitments that culminated yesterday afternoon, which also meant I was forced to miss last night's checkbox win over Fordham. Rest assured, I'm back with the same ham-handed metaphors and 1980s cultural references that get in the way of below-average basketball analysis.)
From the highest level of brain waves, this has been a weird season. The ledger says 21-7 but it hasn't felt like 21-7. Even so, outside of Northern Iowa, you are hard-pressed to find one of the other six losses that isn't greeted with some version of "okay, I can see that."
What I mean is that this VCU team has avoided a colossal bannana peel game. No losses at Fordham, or home to Duquesne. Some have been prettier than others, but there haven't been many highs and there haven't been many lows–just slow and steady progress. Virginia and Puerto Rico seem so very long ago, don't they, as if they were a different season?
Perhaps it feels weird because there's been a notable lack of drama. That doesn't play nice with the passionfest that is college basketball. So I advise to check your emotions against that gauge: we are where we are, 21-7 and a potential second seed in the A10 tournament and NCAA tournament participant. Giddyup.
And as we enter March, that most momentous and memorable month, it can all change tomorrow evening when VCU tips against Damned St. Louis. They like to use SLU, I choose DSL.
I'm not buying the product that says DSL will show up angry because the Billikens lost to Duquesne last night. DSL plays businesslike baskeball, and they are among the best in the nation at being comfortable in their own skin and playing the next game on their schedule.
This isn't to say they won't be fired up to play VCU; rather, no matter what Thursday's result was, DSL was bringing the same level of eagerness into That Animal.
For this reason, a good start is important for VCU. The Rams are going to need to create an aura of "this is what you signed up for." It becomes a mental game, another aspect in which DSL is so very tough. If VCU can get into their heads that this is going to be one of those days, it's possible to put them down before they can rise up.
I believe the key is the same as it was in the game at DSL: shooting the three at a decent percentage, and shooting a good number of threes. I believe that target in my head was 9-21 and I will sign up for that right now.
VCU will also have to take better care of the basketball. DSL will be harried by havoc into a number of turnovers, but they won't commit too many unforced errors. In my mind that means the Billikens will have around 12-14 turnovers. VCU has to win the turnover differential.
(Again, this is a repeat from the first game, with updated numbers and a few new comments.)
Jordair Jett and Dwayne Evans are the show ponies. Jett averages 17.9ppg, 4.9apg, 4.8rpg in A10 play and is a tough, physical player with deceptive quickness. Jett is my choice for player of the year in the A10. He is a solid ballhandler, so you can expect the Rams to try to trap him. He will gamble on defense, hmmmm.
Evans is my favorite player in the A10 that does not wear a VCU uniform. He is an SOB of the highest order, and I mean that in a complimentary way. Evans is a strong 6-6 player who scraps for rebounds and attacks on offense. He leads the A10 in free throw attempts and is a 14/7 stat line guy whose contributions are greater than the numbers.
Rob Loe (10.3ppg, 6.0rpg) is 7-0 and can bury the three (including the backbreaker in their place earlier this season). He has to be accounted for in the offense because he can also pass well. Loe is also a stone wall in the post. Mike McCall (9.2 ppg) can be a shooter, although he has not done so this year. McCall is also an above-average ballhandler and their best perimeter defender.
Their main, and probably only true, three-point threat is Austin McBroom (8.3 ppg). McBroom is small and slithery—lightning fast and 42-108 from three. He doesn't like pressure and has not played well in the past two weeks.
Finally, Grandy Glaze and Jake Barnett are the guys that make everybody better. Glaze is a garbage man in the paint who plays with high energy, and Barnett makes plays. More three of every four field goal attempts from Barnett are threes. John Manning is a 6-8 big that will see spot duty.
VCU must handle the basics: take care of the basketball and get good shots on every possession. DSL like to turn it into a possessions game, just like VCU. The big difference is that VCU likes things with more havocy possessions and DSL like fewer and sludgy possessions. It's about the quality of possessions that fuels the Billikens defense, so VCU must have high quality possessions on offense.
On defense, it's about discomfort–again. That never changes no matter the opponent, but in this case it's discomfort in the halfcourt.
This is also another game of Pick Your Adjective. What I mean is this: Robby always has me give him a Fleming's What's At Steak? just before tipoff of each game. (Get it? Steak? Stake? Ha!) What's at stake for the Rams tomorrow is leaping the one hurdle VCU has not leapt since moving to the Atlantic 10. Payback, revenge, whatever gets your juices going. You pick, but get it going.
The sum is this: this is a VCU team built on momentum and confidence. A victory over the one puzzle the Rams have not solved, as we enter the third month of the year?
That's entering March like a lion, buoyed by the momentum and confidence of defeating DSL. That adds drama to the season, just in time for the month of lions.