***Melvin Johnson: We talked all summer about The Melvin being the guy. Talk is cheap. In that 19-2 run that spanned the half, Johnson was the guy.
**Mike Gilmore: We saw a glimpse of what Gilmore can be; truly a tremendous performance. Gilmore is free to actually miss a shot from the field, but more of those performances are welcomed.
*JeQuan Lewis: The VCU offense clearly runs in a different gear with Lewis on the floor. He is as important to success as anyone on the squad.
Honorable Mention: I wanted to honor Korey Billbury in both games, but stopped short. And I think that’s fitting, because it seems Billbury will make an impact in every single game, but the things he does will allow others to impact the game as well.
There are folks who will recall November 2012 in Atlantis, when one of those Plumlee Brothers—Mason, Marhsall, Mephistopheles, I don’t know—calmly took inbounds pass after inbounds pass and walked the ball up the floor. The big man was never in a hurry and single-handedly able to short circuit VCU in a 67-58 Blue Devils victory.
Whatever, because we will always have The Dagger.
It’s too early for measures like tempo-free stats and percentages. We need many more games to normalize the numbers so that we can take them as indicators and keys. It’s safe to say both teams like to play giddyup, and both teams like to play the role of aggressor. This is one of those games, in my mind, in which (1) the style of officiating matters; and (2) the number of times you get to the line and the number of makes matters. I also expect a good number of turnovers—both teams in the teens—and VCU has to be the lower teen or even a pre-teen.
Finally, it’s a 10-man game for VCU. Duke can win this game if its 2-3 best players play well, and everybody else is average or subpar. VCU doesn’t have that luxury. Both Game 1 Tillman and Game 2 Gilmore need to be there, and Doug Brooks has to stay out of foul trouble. Korey Billbury needs a 6 in any other statistical category than total points (except, of course, turnovers or fouls…stick with me here smarty pants).
However there’s one dude that holds the keys to the kingdom.
It’s idiotic to point out that JeQuan Lewis is a key to this game and pretend that’s telling you something. But it’s the truth in so many ways. Lewis has a gear that the Duke guards don’t possess, pure foot speed, and the ability to get to top speed in the first couple of steps. That’s going to cause problems for somebody.
What I mean is this: Lewis can beat everyone up the floor, but if he thinks he can hot-knife-through-butter Duke like he did through Radford, that’s a problem for VCU. If Lewis gets everyone on their heels and then makes good decisions with the ball, then VCU will have a cadre of open shooters. In that vein, Lewis’s assist-to-turnover ratio bears monitoring.
Courtesy of Jeff Horne, a friend of this blog, here’s two stats that do matter because they illustrate success: Through two games VCU is shooting 42.6% on its threes (20-47). Every single make, all 20 of them, was assisted. What’s more, 11 of Lewis’ 15 assists have resulted in a made three pointer. It’s a two-step process for Lewis Friday night: (1) get into the lane; (2) make a good pass.
On defense, VCU needs Mo Alie-Cox to stay on his feet. He’s trying to block every shot that comes within a Troy Daniels three-pointer of him. Cox needs to push around whichever Plumlee is left on the Duke roster, and plant his ample buttocks on someone when a Duke guard comes rifling down the lane. Mo has to say no to offensive rebounds by Plumlee or Amile Jefferson.
I think you will see more zone from VCU. Grayson Allen is a driver, and we have that whole freedom of movement thing going on this year. Plus, for all the crap you want to give Duke they are very active on offense and draw fouls. This also puts a premium on defensive rotations and getting a hand out to Matt Jones, who is an outstanding knock-down shooter. And the words of a now ex-coach ring in my ear: “I like to run zone defense early in the year because most teams haven’t practiced zone offense much, and they haven’t seen it much.” That’s smart.
You know what else? VCU needs to play straight nasty. I’m not saying cheap or illegal or idiotic. I mean that chip we’ve lost the last few years needs to be on full display. The Rams need to be, in the words of Josey Wales, “mean. Plum mad dog mean.” I’m looking at Jordan Burgess to set a tone.
So those are the keys, but as I told Robby the other night I just want to see VCU play well. There are plenty of tests ahead in the nonconference schedule, and the A10 will provide top 100 RPI games for that ever-nebulous resume we hear about come late February. Don’t get me wrong—I want to win. If we play well I like the chances of a win. And a loss will stink—all the losses stink. I’m just not going to make a sweeping judgment of the season based on game #3.
And finally, this is one of my alltime favorite youtubes. It’s other, random college basketball fans, gathered at another NCAA venue, watching the end of the VCU/Duke NCAA tournament game. I’m thinking there’s two types of people tomorrow night: Duke alums, and VCU fans.