Doug Brooks was compared to Troy Daniels when he landed at VCU because of a reputation for his ability to hit the long ball out of high school. I’m starting to see a resemblance for something more important than just that: Brooks respects the process.
Brooks failed to scratch in UVA’s game, logging zero minutes of PT. He’s played single-digit minutes in five of VCU’s nine contests. So what does he do in VCU’s biggest win of the season last night over No.23 Northern Iowa? Comes in when he’s called, goes 2-2 from the field (1-1 from deep), grabs four rebounds, dishes an assist and plays some solid defense against an experienced Panthers squad. What’s more, Brooks was on the floor when it mattered most: when the buzzer sounded in a tight double-overtime win. I don’t know Brooks but I’ve always been impressed by his attitude from afar. We’re in a new time at VCU where guys come in with a slew of stars next to their names and are expected to be difference makers right off the bat, forgetting the fact that guys like Troy Daniels had more games with zero minutes (10) than double-digit minutes (six) his freshman season. Daniels didn’t really break out until his junior season and is now one of just two former Rams playing in the NBA. We watch VCU basketball with a passion every season but so quickly forget the lessons of the past, including the fact that it takes time for both players and teams to develop, but when they do, can really surprise in the end.
Outside of all of that heartfelt stuff, Brooks has statistically been pretty damn good as well. In his three games with double-digit minutes he’s posted offensive ratings of 110 or higher (hint: that’s really good). He’s 9-14 from the field in those games for an impressive 64% fg%. His true shooting percentage of 54.9% on the season ranks fourth on the team among players who have played more than 10% of the team’s available minutes.
I have probably been guilty of overhyping players and teams in the past (hey, it’s my job?)…but seriously…Justin Tillman has a chance to be special. The freshman from Detroit seems to be gaining momentum and perhaps more importantly, gaining the respect of our coaching staff and his teammates. Backup point guards JeQuan Lewis and Johnny Williams found Tillman on a number of pick-and-rolls last night, a play that looked virtually automatic in Tillman’s 16 minutes on the floor (not sure why we went away from Tillman late in the game but that’s why our guys get paid the big bucks and I make next to no money as a blogger). Tillman’s 132 offensive rating last night was his highest of the season and against an experienced ranked Northern Iowa squad. He posted a 97 o-rating against UVA. His 9.8% blocks percentage leads VCU as the freshman is proving he is a threat on both offense and defense. Now, here comes the real hype: this is just one man’s opinion but I can’t remember seeing a freshman who has looked as promising on both sides of the ball as Tillman. Tillman missed time this summer with an injured hand but has a chance to develop into a real deadly piece by the time March rolls around.
IT WAS A CHARGE!
I think I’ve had three serious collisions in my years filming the games but last night’s was easily the hardest charge I’ve ever taken on the sidelines. My first collision came in the form of the freshman version of Melvin Johnson. If you’ve seen Mel’s before and after Daniel Roose pics you know he came to VCU somewhat “squishy” (is that a good way to describe it?). What I mean is when he landed on me it was almost as if someone had thrown a down pillow from the rafter into my lap. I grew overconfident from that first collision. The second collision was a bit more intense when 6’6 SLU power forward, Dwayne Evans introduced himself to Matt Morton and myself in last season’s home win. That one hurt a bit, mostly because I think he caught me in the face, but otherwise wasn’t that bad. Last night’s charge however was certainly the worst. Jordan Burgess knifed through the lane for a bucket only to see his momentum carry himself into my face/lap. That part was painful enough but the chair that introduced itself to the back of my head made sure my next had an interesting night. Note however that the camera remained rolling (digitally that is), and that I took the charge for my team…the VCURamNation.com fans who needed to see the entirety of that play. You can see a wide version below but I recommend checking out our video from last night (starting at the 0:48 mark) to get the first-person perspective of last night’s collision between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.
LUCKY SHOT, MAN
Grill me for this one if you want but I truly believe we are experiencing a streak of bad luck right now. I’ll take 6-3 against this schedule when luck isn’t on our side. What I really mean by that is yes, we gamble, and our gambles have resulted in some wide open three-point looks for other teams, but my problem however is those other teams are hitting EVERY SINGLE OPEN LOOK. I’ve watched enough college basketball to this point to know that open or not, teams just don’t hit that many threes, or that many long jumpers for that matter. Hell, even the contested ones are going in, not to mention every circus attempt Was Washpun through up last night in his 27-point effort (Washpun was 8-12 last night). Last night was the first time a team shot under 50% from distance against us although 45.8% certainly felt close enough. I’ve always said since becoming a college hoops fan that I would tip my hat to any team who beats us from deep, not know in December of 2014 that a bunch of teams would light us up from range. I am confident however that those shots will stop falling and when they do the VCU routs will begin to add up. Feel free to disagree, but I truly believe all of that.
THE GAUNTLET IS ALMOST OVER?
VCU will take on a sub-top-100 team for the first time since playing Maryland Eastern Shore on Nov 20th. Since that rout, VCU has gone 3-3 against three kenpom top-100 teams, defeating Oregon (54), Illinois State (95) and Northern Iowa (32) while losing to Villanova (6), ODU (87) and UVA (3). No.108 Belmont comes to the Stu this Tuesday in a rematch of last year’s VCU win in Nashville. The Bruins led that one early but eventually fell 81-68 to the Rams. Kenpom currently predicts an 11-point VCU home win with a 84% chance of a Rams victory. Belmont has lost their last two, both at home, both to teams just outside of the top-100 (Evansville and Wright State). They struggled to beat No.166 Middle Tenn State the game before that. Rick Byrd has always had the Bruins tough but this on paper at least is VCU’s “easiest” game in a while and second “easiest” on the season. After that tricky one the Rams take on No.53 Cincinnati on the road before returning to the Stu to host ETSU (No.177) and Cleveland State (No.117). After that conference play begins with a road tip at No.246 Fordham.