Reviewing 2-0, stat geekin’ and an A-10 update [INSIDER]

Melvin Johnson connects on one of his five three-point makes on the night against Radford.
Melvin Johnson connects on one of his five three-point makes on the night against Radford.

Hey, it’s just two games, but we’re undefeated heading into a Friday night primetime matchup with Duke at Madison Square Garden! That’s exactly where I want to be.

Dickie V will reportedly be on the call as VCU jumps into an exciting weekend of NYC hoops. But before we head North, let’s take a look at VCU’s 2-0 start.

WIN No.1: PRAIRIE VIEW A&M

This one was all about the defense as VCU held the Panthers to under 31% shooting from the field and turned the SWAC opponent over 22 times. Offensively the Rams played an incredibly efficient first half (56.7% shooting) before falling off the cliff in the second (30.6% shooting). But when you play defense like the Rams did that night all you need is one good half of shot-making and more often than not you are celebrating at the end of 40 minutes.

Player of the Game: Justin Tillman

The sophomore posted a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double with ease (just 23 minutes of action), blocked two shots, dished out one assist and had two steals. Tillman would go on to struggle in his next contest due to foul trouble but I would expect more of the double-double type games and less of the foul-outs. Tillman has All-Conference potential this season and will use his sophomore year to officially introduce himself to the A-10 as a man that’s not to be messed with. Big year ahead.

WIN NO.2: RADFORD

This game was just a ton of fun. The Highlanders were to be taken very seriously after upsetting a Georgetown team on the road (Big East preseason No.2). VCU did just that. The Rams flirted with big leads early before Radford tied things up at 30 with five minutes before halftime. VCU however finished strong from deep and took an 11-point lead into the lockers, chatted for a few minutes about a few basketball things, then came out and rolled up the Highlanders and smoked ’em behind a second half burst from sophomore Mike Gilmore as well as a continued hot hand from the on-fire Melvin Johnson who finished with 24 points.

The Rams played a nice overall first half, scoring 43 points while holding RU to 37.9% shooting. The killer however there was the 12 fouls whistled on the Rams that resulted in eight Highlander points. The second half VCU’s defense slacked a bit, some of which was due to a 27-point lead and a natural urge to pull the foot off the gas a bit, but a lot was also just due to not doing the best job of protecting the paint, a mission that was made more difficult with shot-blocker Justin Tillman fouling out.

Player of the Game: Melvin Johnson

Melvin reminded me a Monday night of the Melvin Johnson who absolutely exploded on Virginia Tech as a sophomore. The guy just couldn’t miss and was making every type of play imaginable, including defensively where he grabbed a game-high four steals. Johnson appears to be embracing the senior leader role and I think is due or a potentially HUGE year.

Honorable Mention: Mike Gilmore.

Gilmore’s line is pretty nuts: 16 minutes, 12 points, 4-4 from the field including 2-2 from deep and 2-2 from the charity stripe, 3 rebounds and 1 assist. All of that was good for a 236 O-rating, probably the highest I can remember every seeing from a player on Kenpom.com.

NOTABLE STATS

7.5 Assists – It’s just two games against not the stiffest competition but JeQuan Lewis is averaging 7.5 assists to just 2.5 turnovers and has really embraced his role as point guard. Lewis looks good (and fast…very fast).

136 O-Rating – Again, two games but that’s the start Melvin Johnson is off to. That’ll most likely drop but if he can stay around 120 he’ll likely be toward or at the top of the A-10. Johnson has been deadly from deep (9-18) and has ZERO turnovers in 52 total minutes. Hey now!

24.6% – As in percentage of possessions used. Total geeked-out random stat but shows you just how involved in the offense backup center Ahmed Hamdy is when he’s in the game (he leads the team in usage). When the JUCO transfer is on the floor for his 8.5 minutes per contest, so far he’s been extremely active — small sample size yes, but still — grabbing a team-high 29.4% of available offensive rebounds. Repeat: when he’s been on offense he’s grabbed close to 1/3rd of every missed shot VCU has hit, which is an extremely high number and almost 10% better than what college mega-rebounder and current NBA star Kenneth Fareid was grabbing during his time at Morehead State. He has converted those rebounds into a team-high 66.7% effective field goal percentage. Long story short, when Hamdy has been on the floor, at least offensively, he has maxed out his production by going out and taking what is his. Great pickup for VCU this offseason.

20.3% – That’s VCU’s steals percentage this season (number of defensive possessions the Rams steal the ball from their opponent), a number that ranks second nationally thus far. That number is most definitely going to drop but is still worth noting as a heck of a start. VCU led the nation in steals percentage two seasons ago at 15.7% as well as the two seasons prior at 17% and 16%. That number will most definitely be tested Friday night when VCU faces a Duke team that has turned the ball over just 14.6% of their possessions. They had just 10 turnovers in a home game against Sienna followed by only six versus Bryant but added another 16 Tuesday night against Kentucky (although Kentucky doesn’t pressure the ball quite like VCU, turning over both Albany and NJIT 14.5 times).

6-4 – VCU owns two wins of this year’s 2K Classic participants overall 6-4 record and heads to MSG this weekend as the only undefeated team. Duke and Georgetown lost forgivable games to top-10 teams in Kentucky and Maryland, no shame there, but the Hoyas also dropped their home-opener to the Radford team VCU just destroyed while Wisconsin, last year’s National runner-up, opened their season with a home L to Western Illinois.

ATLANTIC 10 UPDATE

For those of you that love VCU hoops but maybe aren’t as up-to-date on A-10 news, here’s what you need to know this week.

Rhode Island loses Matthews for the season

First Team All-Conference preseason selection EC Matthews will miss the season after suffering an ACL tear.
First Team All-Conference preseason selection EC Matthews will miss the season after suffering an ACL tear.

Rhode Island guard EC Matthews went down early in the Rams’ season opener, buckling in a non-contact play that VCU fans know all too well after losing star Briante Weber to the exact same injury last season: an ACL tear. That will shelve the potential A-10 Player of the Year candidate for the season, a major blow to both Rhode Island and in many ways, the Atlantic 10. The Rhody Rams may have felt the effects for the first time Tuesday when suffering a three-point home loss against an underrated Valparaiso team.

GW nets huge win for A-10 over No.6 UVA

Hey, first of all credit to UVA head coach Tony Bennett for scheduling home-and-home series with A-10 teams like GW and VCU (our having wrapped up last season after splitting the series with the Cavs, 1-1), not a lot of ACC coaches are doing things like that. Like the VCU series UVA ended up splitting with GW as well, defeating the Colonials last season in Charlottesville before dropping their first game of the year Monday night in DC, 73-68. GW’s Smith Center is no easy place to play, especially in high profile games when things get turned up a level or four, as the Colonials have dropped three home contests the previous two season on their home court (yes, one of which was a 13-point home loss to your VCU Rams last year). This win is a huge one for the A-10 and VCU’s RPI as the Rams will face GW not once but twice this season. It’s the second year in a row GW has upset a team ranked 11th or higher, last year handing Wichita State one of their only three regular season losses.

Losses of note

Not telling you who to root for but I know from our message board that these results have some importance to Ram fans, for one reason or another.

-Richmond drops home-opener to JMU.
-George Mason starts year 0-2 with losses to Colgate and Mercer and is the only winless team in the A-10.
-Bonus: Texas falls to Pac-12’s preseason No.11 team, Washington in Shaka Smart’s debut (hey, don’t kill the messenger!!!, but Ram fans can’t stop talking about it on our forum).

Wins of Note

-GW defeats No.6 UVA
-Dayton destroys Alabama (a season after firing Anthony Grant), 80-48
-UMass defeats Harvard in upset road win (don’t sleep on Harvard, they’ve been really good under Tommy Amaker and are a perennial NCAA tournament team)

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