Wow, it's Thursday in RVA. Already.
Rhode Island was the team that was going to make the jump in the A-10 this year. You remember those jumps from our CAA days: it would be William & Mary's year, or Delaware's year, or James Madison's year. (Side note: Andrey Semenov is still playing as a 42nd-year senior for Matt Brady.) Rod Barnes lost his job at Georgia State recruiting for that jump.
And for a lot of reasons it hasn't yet occurred for Danny Hurley's team. They've had players leave the team for personal reasons and a pile of injuries–at last count four players who were rotation players are unavailable. Hip strains, concussions, you name it.
Those jumps are always framed around the thought of perfect alignment in a season, that everybody plays up to potential and there are no major injuries. It never works out that way.
However Rhody is good enough to beat LSU and nearly topple Providence. These Rams had SLU beaten but also lost to Fordham their last time out. Hurley is a top-shelf coach who has his kids playing hard. What's more, Rhody has what Richmond has: two guards who can flat out score. VCU had better pay attention and not sleepwalk through this one.
That brings me to the money quote about Rhode Island this season, and it didn't come from a basketball coach.
My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
Run Forrest, Run!
Rhody features Xavier Munford (18.1 ppg) and freshman lefty EC Matthews (12.2 ppg). Both players are pure bucketmakers. Munford scored 17 points in last year's game and is the kind of player who can knock down shots even when you are playing great defense. Munford's performance has improved as the year has progressed.
Matthews is a lock for the all-freshman team. Unlike Fordham's Jon Severe, Matthews is less a gunner and more a slithery, thinking-man's scorer. He is also a good rebounder with good size (6-5). He's a lefty and tends to go left all the time, but he can heat up.
The problem for Rhody is that they don't really have a true point guard. And facing havoc without a point guard is like facing Russell Crowe in Gladiator: some old Southern lady is going to shake her head and bless your heart. TJ Buchanan (6.1 ppg, 2.6apg) will run a fool's errand tonight, but he has the right mental makeup. Buchanan is the kind of kid that will do whatever a coach asks. He is also left-handed and their best perimeter defender.
Down low, Hurley relies on two energy players. Rutgers-transfer Gilvydas Biruta (11.6 ppg, 6.5rpg) can play face-up and is their most important player in that he can score from the block. His presence alone opens up lanes for Munford and Matthews. However fouls have been an issue for Biruta, so look for VCU to fire the ball into the post early and often.
Hassan Martin is an uber-athlete and plays disruptive defense. Martin goes 6-8 and bounces all over the floor. For VCU, it's going to be a matter of not allowing Martin to make momentum plays–blocked shots, and rim runs for dunks. Jarrelle Reischel will also see time. The transfer from Rice was courted by Shaka Smart two years ago but found a home up north.
Sum It Up, Knucklehead
This one isn't difficult: VCU is facing a team that's shorthanded by injuries and doesn't have a true point guard. What do you think needs to happen?
And yes, it all begins with enthusiasm, major league enthusiasm. It will be important for VCU to get off to a quick start and not let the Rhode Island guards find any rhythm. That resides in constant disruption and deflections.
This is the kind of game, that if VCU is to win, we should see a 12-steals, 20-turnovers performance from havoc. They don't have to be wide open, mouth-frothing breakaways. I will take turnovers in any form and fashion. Or, as Bubba said:
Anyway, like I was sayin', a turnover is the fruit of havoc. You can have live ball, dead ball, take a charge…there's, uh, a 10-second call, a five-second call. Steal on the baseline, steal at midcourt, strip the ballhandler, jump a passing lane, trap and force him to step out of bounds. There's uh, Jarred Guest stealin' it, Briante Weber stealin' it, Melvin Johnson stealin' it. That, uh, that's about it.