For the third consecutive season the VCU Rams are off to a 4-2 start. Classic.
After dropping two close ones in New York to Duke and Wisconsin the Rams bounced back with a 28-point blowout of American followed by a solid rivalry win over former American coach, Jeff Jones, this time with his new team Old Dominion.
The Monarchs got off to a blistering start, hitting their first six shots on the night including four three-pointers, guiding ODU to a 16-8 start, an all-too-familiar feeling for the majority of this year’s Rams team after seeing the ‘Narchs jump out to a 17-8 lead last season.
The different this year however was in the Rams’ response.
Last year ODU built on that lead, taking a 14-point lead into the half, a lead that proved too much to overcome despite the presence of seniors Treveon Graham and Briante Weber. This year’s Rams team however made the necessary adjustments to roar back to a 18-16 lead, a lead they would eventually balloon to 12 during the second half before answering ODU’s hack-a-player attempt to claw back into Saturday’s game.
With that VCU has climbed to the top spot in the kenpom A-10 standings, up to No.40 from our preseason rank of No.52. A successful couple of weeks and that number will skyrocket, as the Rams road remains difficult starting Wednesday at Middle Tennessee (kenpom No.115) before playing two games in Atlanta, first in a neutral court battle against No.39 Florida State, then in a road game against No.86 Georgia Tech.
Survive that and VCU will be welcomed home with a Siegel Center matchup against the nationally-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats (Kenpom No.15).
TRANSFERS PROVE VALUABLE ADDITIONS FOR WADE’S RAMS
Coach Wade had his work cutout for him planning for the losses of key seniors Treveon Graham and Briante Weber from last year’s NCAA tournament team, not-to-mention freshman Terry Larrier, the Rams’ highest rated recruit since McDonald’s All-American Kendrick Warren in 1990. But if that wasn’t enough already, all three players of VCU’s 2016 recruiting class (two top-100s) under Smart opted to break their commitment to the Rams and head elsewhere due to Smart’s departure, leaving Wade and staff about two months to replace a total of seven players.
Enter Ahmed Hamdy Mohamed and Korey Billbury.
Wade snagged JUCO transfer Hamdy from Lee College in Texas, a Houston commit after high school before finding his way to the junior college where he averaged a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double this past season.
Hamdy has been sensational in limited minutes for the Rams. The 6’9 Egyptian ranks 5th in the Atlantic 10 in offensive rebounds per game despite averaging just 13.3 minutes per contest (YO!). Hamdy grabs over 20% of all offensive and defensive rebounds when he’s in the game. While he doesn’t qualify for kenpom’s rankings in offensive rebound percentage due to playing under 40% minutes played, his 20.6% offensive rebound percentage would rank among the top-six nationally for those with the minutes to make the board.
Did I mention he’s also leading the team in shooting at 59.5% from the field?
And then there’s Korey Billbury.
Will Wade and staff knew they were getting a good player this offseason when the Oral Roberts transfer opted for the Rams but had no idea he could be as good as he’s looked at times for the Rams. The high-motor guard who plays bigger than his 6’4 210 frame is second on VCU’s team in scoring at 11ppg, is the team’s second-leading rebounder at 5.3 per contest, ranks second in assists as 2.3 apg and ranks fourth in steals. His offensive rating is a career-best 109.2 while his turnover percentage is a career-low 13.2%.
That’s a serious offseason addition for this year’s VCU team.
Check out a few of their highlights from the early season in the following video.
ATLANTIC 10 RUNDOWN
For those of you who want to know what’s going on around the league but don’t have the time to keep up, here’s a quick team-by-team snapshot for ya (in order of kenpom ranking):
Rhode Island (41) – The Rams have had a rough start to the season thanks to the news of star EC Matthews’ ACL tear (Matthews was a legit A-10 Player of the Year candidate). Without Matthews Rhody has blown out some bad teams, owns a six-point win over a decent team (TCU) and is 0-2 against the kenpom top-100. Great defensive teams and they are shooting a bit better from distance thanks to the addition of Towson transfer Four McGlynn but overall are still somewhat of a question mark. Next big measuring stick comes Saturday when they host rival Providence.
George Washington (46) – GW is off to a great start with a home win over then-No.6 ranked UVA and boast a solid neutral court win over Tennessee (No.92) but just suffered their first defeat, a five-point neutral court loss to No.17 (No.15 kenpom) Cincinnati. Wake transfer Tyler Cavanough has been a very nice addition for the Colonials and I expect them to win the majority, if not all of their remaining non-conference games, bringing a nice looking record into Atlantic 10 play.
Dayton (47) – The Flyers have looked really good for the most part, boasting three top-100 wins over Alabama, William & Mary and Iowa, as well as a surprisingly good win over a red-hot Monmouth team (who has wins over UCLA, Notre Dame and USC). Their only blemish came Sunday with a 29-point beatdown by rival Xavier. The Flyers are doing all of this without the suspended Dyshawn Pierre, an A-10 First-Team caliber forward who’ll return for conference play. JMU transfer Charles Cooke has been a great addition to UD and currently leads the team in scoring at 14.7 ppg. Throw in some nice looking newcomers like big man Steve McElvene and the Flyers will most certainly compete for an A-10 title.
Davidson (64) – The good news for the Wildcats is they are the conference’s only undefeated team remaining at a perfect 4-0. The bad news is they are 4-0 by the skin of their teeth, struggling against the likes of College of Charleston, Mercer and Central Florida while beating Division II Denison by just 13 points. Defensively the Cats are as bad as they’ve always been while also having taken a hit on offense as well. Without 2015 A-10 Player of the Year, the recently graduated Tyler Kalinoski, the Cats are shooting just 29.8% from long range (266th nationally), down from 38.7% last year (35th nationally). They can still cut you up in the paint however and rank No.1 nationally at not turning the ball over but look like they are begging for their first loss. Assuming they escape Charlotte on Tuesday that loss could very well come Sunday when the Cats head to North Carolina to face the Tarheels at the Smith Center.
Richmond (66) – No clue how these guys opened their season with a home L to JMU. They have to be pretty hot about that one after recently winning at Wake Forest and later taking down the then-14th ranked California Bearcats in Las Vegas — Cal is no longer ranked after losing two games that weekend, and truth-be-told, probably shouldn’t have been ranked in the first place. Regardless, the Spiders have looked VERY good on offense, ranking 29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Senior forward Terry Allen is putting up A-10 Player of the Year numbers, Cline and Jones have been almost equally as impressive while VT transfer Marshall Wood is off to a hot start to make Richmond a potentially scary team for A-10 opponents. Oh but there is a weakness and so far it has been a struggling defense. The Spiders have given up 80 or more points in four of their six games, one of the other games being a neutral court loss to West Virginia where the Spiders scored just 59 points themselves.
Saint Joseph’s (83) – The A-10 needs depth in order to have a nice conference RPI and so far St. Joe’s is doing their part. The Hawks boast a nice neutral court win over Old Dominion as a part of their 4-1 record and have no bad losses, their only L coming by nine to the Florida Gators. Three of their next four games come against top-100 teams so they’ll need to keep that up if they want to prove they are back to the dangerous team they were just two seasons ago. The Hawks will host both Villanova and Princeton before traveling within city limits to Temple. Tons of opportunity their for Martelli and Co.
St. Bonaventure (109) – Honestly, I’m a little worried about the Bonnies, especially after their home loss Saturday to Hofstra. The Bonnies are 3-2 and have a bunch of semi-close wins over crappy teams while having lost their two games against good squad. Yes, they led Syracuse at Syracuse. That was great. But during the second half they completely fell apart and saw their hope for a huge win turn into a 13-point loss. They’ve got enough ballers to scare the hell out of any team on any given night but I expect them to be pretty much what we thought they’d be before the season, which is very mediocre. Their schedule remains full of what should be wins so hopefully they can at least bring a solid record into conference play.
Duquesne (114) – They are 5-1, that’s a solid start for Duquense. The Dukes have been red-hot on offense, ranking third nationally in effective field goal percentage at 61.9% (I don’t care who you’re playing, that’s a very nice number). Defensively though they’ve been bad once again and will basically have to outscore everyone they play if they want to have a good season. They have no real good wins although a 26-point beatdown of Penn State certainly had to feel nice (pro tip: Penn State is terrible). Their schedule will remain cupcake city so they better bring at least a 10-4 record into conference play, those two losses likely coming to Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech.
UMass (120) – I’ve been very impressed by UMass and for two reasons: 1) They actually have a couple of nice wins including a beatdown of Clemson and a road win of a struggling but usually dangerous Harvard squad and 2) I thought they were going to be absolutely terrible. UMass has exceeded my expectations (despite their recent blowout loss to Creighton) thanks to incredible play from Trey Davis and Jabarie Hinds. It’s very early but Hinds is putting up A-10 POY type numbers, ranking fifth in the A-10 in scoring (20ppg) and third in assists per contest (5.4). I don’t really trust these guys to keep it going with tough games against Boston, Ole Miss and Providence but so far, so good.
Fordham (127) – Again, we’ve got another perennial conference cellar dweller with a winning record and that deserves some applause. Jeff Neubauer’s new squad has beat up on some of the worst teams in college hoops but at least they’ve dominated those teams in the process. The Rams have a chance for a little sizzle in the win column as they host St. John’s (who’s not really good, but at least they’re in a decent conference) on Wednesday. Their schedule is a total breeze so I expect the Rams to build some confidence heading into A-10 play. Statistically these guys have been good on both sides of the ball, but again, it’s hard to get a good reading off of four wins against teams ranked 250th or worse.
Saint Louis (137) – The Billikens rolled over three cupcakes before picking up a solid win in a 13-point home W against a capable North Florida squad, then things got real when they played their first top-100 opponent, a 20-point loss to Louisville. SLU plays six home games before taking on Kansas State to end OOC play. There are many wins in there for the taking with a rowdy Chaifetz Arena crowd behind them but I don’t think we’ll really get to know these guys until conference play. Overall they look a bit improved which was to be expected with such a young roster last season.
George Mason (152) – Here’s the bad news: Mason’s 3-4 record is the only losing record in the Atlantic 10 (well, I guess that’s kinda good news too). Here’s the good/weird news: two of those three wins were neutral court top-100 wins, as the Patriots took down both Ole miss and Oklahoma State in this year’s Charleston Classic. The Patriots are certainly a tested team, not to mention one that’s wildly inconsistent. They’ve looked like one of the best teams in the conference and one of the worst teams in the conference. They’ll be no fun for anyone to play this year.
La Salle (176) – I expected the Explorers to take a huge step backward this year, and while they may be 4-1, I think they’ve shown me plenty of signs that I’m probably right. They started their season with a two-point win over No.228 Towson, have a single-digit home victory over No.250 Lafayette and recently lost by 16 to No.217 Penn out of the Ivy League. Three of their next four are against top-100 squads in Hofstra, Villanova and Miami. That shouldn’t be pretty.
48.8% – Melvin Johnson’s three-point percentage this season, his best mark since shooting 39.5% as a sophomore.
33.8% – The percentage of defensive rebounds Justin Tillman grabs when he’s on the court. That ranks 5th nationally.
25.2% – VCU’s team defensive turnover percentage, a number that currently ranks 11th nationally. VCU finished 11th nationally last year after ranking No.1 the previous three seasons, checking in at a program-best 28.5% the 2012-13 season.
123.7 – The average kenpom ranking of VCU’s remaining non-conference schedule. The Rams play three more OOC teams currently in Pomery’s top-100 and five teams in the top-150. The only sub-200 teams left on VCU’s schedule is No.346 Liberty.
51% – The average win probability according to kenpom for VCU’s next four games. The Rams are however only the kenpom favorite in one of those games, Wednesday’s matchup at Middle Tennessee State (58%). Pomeroy’s computers have VCU losing the other three games by one point each. In other words these next three are tough and are considered by the computers basically coin-flip games.