“If we play like we did against Cincinnati, that same connectedness and some of the stuff that we did, the next 20-21 games, we’ll like the result in a majority of them.”
Will Wade wasn’t pleased with the result when his Rams lost their only home contest of the season, a 69-63 L to Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati Bearcats, but he was pleased with “some of the stuff” he saw that night, hints of things to come from his rapidly-maturing VCU team.
“If we pound the paint and get the other center into foul trouble, it’s going to be a layup line to the rim for the rest of the half,” he told media members the day following the loss. “The formula is right, we just gotta do it better and a part of it is going to be who we are competing against.”
Since that game VCU has been owning a major ingredient of that formula: finishing two-point buckets, and it hasn’t been just a matter of competition.
Prior to that Cincinnati game VCU played five contests against kenpom sub-100 teams. This is how they finished in the paint in those five wins:
VCU two-point percentage v sub-100 pre-Cincinnati
Pravie View A&M: 21-43 (48%)
Radford: 17-39 (43.6%)
American: 18-43 (41.9%)
Old Dominion: 13-25 (52%)
MTSU: 12-38 (31.6%)
Total: 81-188 (43.1%)
The Rams ability to finish the two-point shot 52.6% of the time in conference play is their best showing since the 2004 season when Jeff Capel’s VCU team connected on 53.1% of their’s en route to VCU’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996.
It’s a solid improvement on VCU’s 47% A-10 mark from last season, a season that utilized the majority of the same group but added high-scoring senior, Treveon Graham. It’s an even bigger improvement on the season before that (44.6%).
VCU two-point percentage v sub-100 post-Cincinnati (non-conference)
Buffalo: 25-43 (58.1%)
Liberty: 22-41 (53.7%)
North Florida: 24-49 (49%)
Total: 71-133 (53.4%)
Why is this happening, you ask?
Good question, and one I’m sure Will Wade could speak on for hours. I however have just a few sentences on the matter, but before I get to that, I need you to watch this video.
There are three VCU players that make an appearance in this video: JeQuan Lewis, Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman. The video picks up just after the Alie-Cox screen but what it does allow you to see is the cat-quick Lewis speed past Davidson’s Jack Gibbs (no one is staying in front of Lewis in this situation), leaving 6’7 sophomore, Peyton Aldridge, to pick his poison in his defense of either Tillman — who unlike earlier in the season is now buried on the baseline — or Alie-Cox who is now rolling to the basket.
Tillman’s presence in Aldridge’s peripheral glues Aldridge to his spot leaving Alie-Cox an easy thunder jam. Aldridge is forced to stand there and watch.
That offensive placement for Tillman hasn’t been a season-long occurrence. Wade told me that strategy really got going around the time of VCU’s loss at Georgia Tech, but clearly with a little bit of practice has began to pay off for the Rams thanks to a clicking trio of Lewis, Alie-Cox and Tillman, not to mention Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury who’s 42.7% and 43.1% three-point averages force teams to respect the deep ball (Lewis is now at 39.2% himself).
I am of the opinion that that group and the ability to make plays like that thanks to two bigs playing big has been a key factor in VCU’s recent offensive explosion — Rams are averaging 83.7ppg during their 11-game win streak since the loss against Cincinnati.
Don’t believe me? Peep the numbers.
Mo, JeQuan & Justin two-point scoring pre-Cincinnati
JeQuan 15-34 (44.1%)
Justin 17-40 (42.5%)
Mo 24-53 (45.2%)
Total 56-127 (44.1%)
Mo, JeQuan & Justin two-point scoring post-Cincinnati
JeQuan 38-67 (56.7%)
Justin 45-66 (68.2%)
Mo 47-70 (67.1%)
Total 130-203 (64%)
That’s close to five additional attempts per game from that trio. The fact that they’ve added those attempts AND increased their group two-point percentage 20% is a scary thought for their A-10 opponents.
Of course that’s not the only factor going into VCU’s recent offensive success. There are things like this little nugget from friend and fellow numbers junkie, Jeff Horne:
No matter what the combination, it’s working.
Will Wade does in fact appear to have the right formula. Whether it has the strength to last a couple more months in its effectiveness remains to be seen, but as long as it does Ram fans will enjoy VCU’s new mad scientist and the monster he’s been creating on Broad Street.