I'll say this bluntly: VCU doesn't win last night's game against Richmond in November. No way, no how.
When we talk about "VCU is a better team in March than it is in November," it's mostly an esoteric conversation based on the fact that the Rams under Shaka Smart win a lot of games in March. But there's no true measure.
However last night was a true measure. Led by Treveon Graham, Rob Brandenberg and timely shotmaking, VCU overcame 30 fairly groty-to-the-max minutes to overwhelm the Spiders.
It took Brandenberg breaking out his senior, especially late in the game. With Briante Weber and JeQuan Lewis saddled with four fouls and sitting next to Mike Rhoades, Brandenberg ran the VCU offense with aplomb. He played defense with anger in his eyes and venom in his blood.
Rob Brandenberg would not allow VCU to lose this game.
The biggest salvo: VCU played four minutes without a true point guard and headed to the bench at the under four media timeout in a one-possession game. It is exactly the point in most every game that a player with four fouls, especially someone important like Weber, comes back into the game.
Except last night, when the Rams retook the court with Brandenberg at point guard and Weber and Lewis flanking Rhoades.
Note: Weber broke the A10 single season record for steals. The turbocharged octopus had four last night, bringing his total to 109 for the season.
Note: VCU went 6-0 against the major teams in Virginia (UVa, Va Tech, ODU, George Mason, and Richmond). It's the first time that's ever been accomplished.
Note: with a win over Bonny, VCU locks up either a #2 or #3 seed in the A10 tournament. St. Joseph's plays at LaSalle. If the Hawks win that drops VCU to the #3. If LaSalle wins, VCU is the #2 seed.
Note: Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic were on the court together for 27 minutes last night. In those minutes, VCU scored 51 of its 56 points. One reason I point out that ridiculous stat: the Rams were led by two seniors and its junior leading scorer last night. That's how good teams who aren't playing their best win games in March.
No drama here because the drama will be on the court. It's senior night, and That Animal will be saying farewell to two mainstays. I'm completely convinced that 10 years from now we will be talking about Rob Brandenberg with the same love and reverence as Jesse Pellot Rosa. We will be talking about Juvonte Reddic with the same respect and fondness as Phil Stinnie.
These two guys matter.
So lets get straight to the point: a win, and VCU locks up a #2 or #3 seed. A loss, and there are a million convoluted scenarios that we need not discuss.
The Bonnies enter losers of three straight games, but 6-9 in conference and 16-13 overall. Judge Smails says they are no slouch. VCUs job: not to sell them short and make them a tremendous slouch.
Here's the fun part: the Bonnies are the A10s most efficient offense, and VCU is the A10s most efficient defense. They beat UMass and had St. Louis on the ropes before falling. The most concerning part: the Bonnies turn teams over at a 21.7% rate–22nd nationally. It's important to take care of the basketball.
The man to know is Matthew Wright (16.ppg, 3.1apg), an excellent shooter with pop-a-shot capabilities. Wright has drilled 58 threes, which isn't a huge number, however he has range and can shoot the turn well. He will pop it anywhere, anytime.
Charlon Kloof (10.5ppg, 5.3apg) is a big, strong point guard. Kloof is a driver and not really a deep threat–he will have the physical advantage on the VCU guards.
The top big man is Youssou Ndoye (11.5ppg, 5.4rpg), who stands a rock solid 7-0, 245 pounds. He's mechincal in his movements, but plays with a high motor and blocks shots well. This is an interesting matchup for Juvonte Reddic.
Andell Cumberbatch (8.7ppg, 4.2rpg) is a slashing, sizeable wing with a solid midrange game. Cumberbatch, who makes my A10 All Great Name first team, can hit a three but he has to be wide open. Marquise Simmons (8.0ppg, 5.2rpg) is a 6-8 lefty and Cumberbatch's alter ego in the post.
First off the bench for head coach Mark Schmidt will be combo guard Jordan Gathers (8.4ppg, 2.1rpg). Gathers is one of those feast-or-famine players, so it's important for VCU to remove the food from the refrigerator. Dion Wright (9.2ppg, 5.1rpg) goes 6-7 and is another sparkplug in the car. Wright is a super athlete who can cause a mismatch.
Sum It Up, Knucklehead
The game plan is no different in game #31 than it was in game #1: push the ball on offense, attack in ballscreen situations, and share the basketball. On defense: punish, rebound, and blow stuff up in an effort to be as disruptive as possible. Really, those are more themes than game plans.
This game is a tone-setter. VCU needs to play with a fire. And that's not really different, either. The difference?
We're setting the tone for the rest of the season. The postseason.