It gets real tonight. Tennessee was a fun (if not ugly) lid lifter; Toledo reintroduced our teeth to our fingernails; and UMES let us know the mental state of this VCU team is intact. VCU vs. Villanova will be like VCU vs. VCU. Or Villanova vs. Villanova. The Wildcats are deep at guard, like to push pace and create turnovers, and shoot a canyon-full of threes each game.
It’s also a matchup of top 15 teams with young, high-quality head coaches. In short, it’s exactly what a late November college basketball game should be. Both teams will be tested, and both coaches know it’s a point-in-time gauge of progress without the stress of must-win.
In short, there is no real downside to tonight. However there’s great upside. A loss is not damning nor unexpected nor fatal. It may even stoke the lava that lies below the surface. But a win? I’ve got nothing.
Volcanic, I say.
Two Villanova players scare me more than the rest. Dylan Ennis is a strong, athletic combo guard who is averaging 15.0ppg and shooting 7-16 from three. The reason Ennis scares me is that he has the strength to fight havoc and can score in the midrange–he isn’t simply a stand up shooter. Plus, Ennis can defend. He is a warrior kind of player.
JayVaughn Pinkston is the other. Pinkston is a bull, and he plays aggressive in the post. He can also play face up even though he prefers to post hard. Mo Alie Cox and Treveon Graham will have their hands full. Pinkston goes 14.1ppg/6.1rpg. Daniel Ocehfu (10.0ppg, 9.3rpg) will play alongside Pinkston, and Ochefu goes 6-11, 245 pounds and can block shots. He like to back smaller players down, so post-entry defense is at a premium.
Darrun Hilliard (14.5ppg) is a major league shooter and better than his 6-14 would attest, and Ryan Arcidiacono (12.0ppg, 3.7apg) is a hard-nosed point guard. Hilliard is a tall 6-6 wing and can shoot the turn off ball screen situations. Arcidiacono will attack–could be good for the Rams.
Josh Hart (7.8ppg, 4.5rpg) is the requisite high motor player who likes to crash the glass. However Hart is a very good defender and has the athletic ability to cause problems. Finally, keep an eye on 6-6 Kris Jenkins, who is a high volume three-point threat. Jenkins is 5-17 from three and 5-5 from two. Phil Booth and Darryl Reynolds will also see time.
It’s the Legends Classic and we’re going to go with classic statistics to frame what’s important. Rebounding, taking care of the basketball, and guarding the three-pint line are at a premium tonight.
Let’s start beyond the arc. Villanova hoists 25 shots from back there each game, and they have multiple hot hands to make the Rams pay. I go here first because it is my point of emphasis. VCU has been a smidgen slow in recognition and rotation on the defensive end this season, and that loose end has led to open shots for opponents. For VCU, it will be like looking in the mirror–the Rams don’t want to let the Wildcats get hot.
Down low, VCU has won 21 straight games in which it has outrebounded its opponent. Pinkston and Ochefu pose quite the challenge, and a Rams victory on the glass will be a gigantic step. So there’s that, and there’s guards boxing out. That may be more important. Long shots (three-pointers) create long caroms which create long rebounds.
Finally we harken back to my favorite stat from last year–turnover differential. The Wildcats are plus-13, forcing 22 turnovers per game and committing just 9.3 per game. VCU is plus-seven (committing 13 and forcing 20 per game). The Rams have to create opportunities (and stifle Villanova opportunities) by playing with aggressive ball protection (yep, easier written that done).
Sum it up: how does VCU win those three key points? Play VCU style. Wear Villanova out. Tired legs leads to tired plays and tired mental decisions. Man, I’d love to see a BLAMMO run early.
We’re going to learn a lot about this team tonight, and here is my caution: VCU can win and leave me with more questions than answers, and the Rams can lose and I will feel better about the rest of the season. That’s just the way it is. This is game four of 30 in the regular season, and game five comes about 24 hours after it.
With all of VCUs success, it may surprise you that the Rams have not been 4-0 since 1993-94. Here’s to breaking that 21-year Sahara, with a toast from Mount KBH, the volcanic pregame gathering spot.