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GW comes to town tomorrow. Well, they are in town now, but the game is tomorrow. Outside of Dayton, the Colonials are the most talented and dangerous A10 team VCU will face. It’s that simple.
They are old, big at every position, and execute. You know Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen. Ditto Joe McDonald, a great rebounding point guard and the head of the beast. But this team is led by Tyler Cavanaugh, a 6-9 transfer from Wake Forest who is a 40% three-point shooter but has an array of post moves. Cavanaugh is a 16/8 guy who gets to the line, and makes his free throws (86%).
GW is a tough rebounding team–they lead the conference in offensive rebounds–and will switch defenses often. We all know the 1-3-1 coach Mike Lonergan like to utilize, but Cavanugh has given them the option for a standard 2-3 zone, and of course straight man.
This GW team is VCUs biggest challenge since Cincinnati. Those “details,” and that teamwork, will matter more on Saturday than any other time since before Christmas.
It will likely be a close game, but if that’s the case I like VCUs chances. In the conference season VCU has shown a grit and finishing kick anytime it gets challenged. Let me explain.
First, you must know that credit for this goes to someone I’ve never met, some guy named Scott Kier that is a friend of a friend–the #caahoops-famous Dragons Speak blogger Dan Crain–gave his space to write about the struggling Dragons. He writes very smart stuff and you should check it out. Scott’s premise was straightforward: Drexel is not performing well late in games.
His conclusions aside, but you should read it because it’s smart, I thought it a worthwhile errand to go see how VCU has performed late in games.
I limited my research to A10 play not because VCU is 9-0, but because those games are the ones that matter. Just as the 5-5 start is a distant memory, so is the final two weeks of the nonconference season and overwhelmed opposition. We need recency bias in order to get a better understanding of what’s working, and what may not be working.
“Close late game situations” is the metric, and I defined that as VCU led by no more than four points, or trailed, around the 6:00 minute mark. It’s worth noting that the Richmond game went to overtime, so it has about 11 minutes of basketball included.
In the nine A10 games, five did not meet the standard: LaSalle, Mason, St. Louis, Fordham, and Duquesne. Those were the kinds of games that if this was Cave Spring High School and this was 1986, I would’ve played.
The other four made the cut: Davidson, St. Bonaventure, Richmond, and St. Joseph’s.
The data shows that when the going gets tough, the Rams become an offensive juggernaut. In all four of those games VCU shot at least 50% from the field in the last six minutes. This includes making 8-11 down the stretch at St. Joseph’s, and 6-7 at home versus St. Bonaventure. In all, VCU is 27-42 (64.3%) from the field in the last six minutes of tight A10 games.
VCU is 5-10 from three in that span. That’s good, but it’s worth noting that overall 32.4% of VCUs field goal attempts are threes, and when the game gets tight that number is only 23.8%. (10 of 42 FGA). VCU attacks the rim–a double-whammy winning strategy if the other guy is trying not to foul because it’s tight and late.
You would expect VCU to have more free throw attempts than the opposition–being on the winning side late in the game, you get fouled to stop the clock. But the difference is stark. VCU is 36-49 (73.5%) from the line in late-game situations, and the opposition is just 12-22 (54.5%).
My takeaway: VCU is not intimidated by time and score. When it gets late and the game is tight, they don’t become conservative and defer to the situation. In fact, it appears VCU attacks more. As Will Wade is wont to say–they step on the gas pedal and push it through the floor.
And it pays off.
Wade has spoken often about the high number of A10 games being one- or two-possession games when the clock gets skinny. That focus has certainly paid its dividends and VCU plays better the later we go into games.
I’m not sure it has much to do with fatigue. This isn’t a cumulative effect of havoc thing. Opponents are shooting 21-47 (44.7%), and a 4-16 inaccuracy can be attributed to late haste. The Rams have committed 7 turnovers and forced 11 turnovers.
No, this is about identity, and that identity does not begin with the letter H. It’s aggression. Bully ball. In all, VCU has outscored its opposition in tight games 95-58 in the last six minutes of its four “close” A10 games. Closing speed.
Here is the raw data, gleaned from the play-by-play sheets: