TBT Game Preview: No.3 Ram Nation v No.14 NC Prodigal Sons [INSIDER]

Brandon Rozzell will wear the black and gold for the first time since VCU's 2011 Final 4 run. He is the reigning MVP of Denmark's top pro league after averaging 24.5 points and 5.8 assists this past season.
Brandon Rozzell will wear the black and gold for the first time since VCU’s 2011 Final 4 run. He is the reigning MVP of Denmark’s top pro league after averaging 24.5 points and 5.8 assists this past season.

VCU basketball in July, how do you make that any better than it already sounds? Well, I’ll tell you how, you do so by fielding a team of VCU legends that includes Bradford Burgess, Larry Sanders, Joey Rodriguez, Darius Theus, Jamie Skeen, Brandon Rozzell, Jesse Pellot-Rosa, Michael Anderson and B.A. Walker, then throw in VMI grad and recent NBA pro, Reggie Williams, just to keep things interesting. That my friends, is a squad, and one that is a legit contender to win $2 million in this summer’s “The Basketball Tournament”, a $2 million open-entry event that includes alumni teams from the likes of Kentucky, Memphis, Gonzaga, Syracuse, Davidson and others, as well as groups full of former NBA and overseas professionals. Team Ram Nation earned the No.3 seed in this year’s TBT South Region where they will prepare to take on No.14 NC Prodigal Sons, a team of ballers from North Carolina who played ball at schools like ECU, Winston Salem State and Presbyterian. The Rams will head into that contest as the favorite, but don’t sleep on the Sons. Here’s why…

A QUICK LOOK AT NC PRODIGAL SONS

I’ll be real, deep down I was hoping for this matchup before the brackets were released. Why? Well because I saw a group of players from smaller schools and thought, “I wouldn’t mind playing them”. Classic mistake and one a VCU fan of all people should avoid. A closer look at the Prodigal Sons however and I realized just how talented and dangerous this team is. The Sons’ strength in my opinion rests in their frontcourt. Prodigal is anchored in the paint but likely center, Chad Wynn, a 6’10 2011 ECU grad who was around a 7-point, 5-rebound guy at his best for the Pirates. His numbers however saw a spike overseas where he competed professionally in both Australia and Thailand. Wynn is joined by Winston Salem State grads Jamal Durham (’09) and Paul Davis (’11) as well as explosive Presbyterian grad, Al’lonzo Coleman. Davis stands at 6’9 and was the 2011 CIAA Defensive Player of the Year while also averaging close to a double-double (albeit in DII action). He’s still an active overseas pro so will be ready to test his skills against guys like Larry Sanders and Jamie Skeen. Davis is joined by former teammate Durham who averaged 12.9 points his senior season. Durham is a “volume guy” (meaning he took a bunch of shots but wasn’t particularly accurate). Arguably the best player in NC’s frontcourt and quite possibly the best on their team is Coleman. Al’lonzo averaged double-digits all four seasons at Presbyterian (career-high 16.9 points and 8.8 rebounds as a senior) and has the size (6’7 250-ish) to bang with almost in this tournament. Prodigal’s backcourt isn’t quite as strong but aren’t exactly lacking in talent either. ECU grad Cory Farmer (’08) and Sam Hinnant (’09) are two potential starters, both standing around 6’4. Hinnant posted the better numbers in college and could see some backcourt time with 2005 DII Pfieffer guard, Rico Grier. It’s been a while since Grier did his best work but at his prime was a very good scorer for Pfieffer and a deadly three-point shooter (45% his senior year). My early read on the Sons is their backcourt’s strength comes via guys who can get hot beyond the arc while their weakness is lacking a true point guard, which could be an issue against guys like B.A. Walker and Darius Theus who played the position at a very high level.

A QUICK LOOK AT RAM NATION

We weren’t playin’ games when we put together this roster. The goal was to put a balanced group of players who give us the best shot at winning some money in this tournament. So while a guy like Kendrick Warren would have sounded cool on paper, the reality is we needed a team of guys in shape and currently active on the court, be it as recent NBA professionals or overseas players. So with that, we think we put together a pretty loaded roster. Grabbing a No.3 seed in this very talented tournament, I think it’s safe to say the TBT organizers think we did a good job as well. The big names in our tourney came via our two recent NBA pros. Larry Sanders last played professionally for the Milwaukee Bucks in 2015 before stepping away from the game to work on some personal matters. While in the pros Sanders saw his stock soar, rankings second in the NBA in blocks during the 2012-13 season. Sanders is joined by recent NBA baller and our only non-VCU grad, Reggie Williams. Williams found his way to the league after averaging over 27 points per contest at VMI his last two seasons and has played with four different NBA teams. The 6’6 small forward will come straight to this tournament after wrapping up NBA Summer League action with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Those two are joined in the frontcourt by Jamie Skeen, Michael Anderson, Bradford Burgess and Jesse Pellot-Rosa. Skeen and Anderson give Ram Nation some size in the paint while Burgess and Pellot-Rosa can both play the forward position in smaller lineups, lineups used often as VCU during some of the Rams’ most successful seasons. All four of those players had major NCAA tournament success, with Anderson and Pellot-Rosa both posting double-digits in VCU’s 2007 win over Duke while Burgess and Skeen put up huge games en route to VCU’s 2011 Final 4 run. All have been recently active overseas and three (Anderson, Skeen, Burgess) have played in either the NBA Summer League or NBA D-League. Ram Nation’s backcourt is strong with three-point sharpshooters B.A. Walker and Brandon Rozzell, both of who have been posting big numbers overseas. They’ll be joined by our best defensive guard and lane-penetrator extraordinaire, Darius Theus. Joey Rodriguez rounds out the backcourt and gives Ram Nation some point guard depth but will also be serving as the team’s coach. Alex Hidalgo rounds out the roster having never played a lick of college hoops but having cheered on a lot of games. Hidalgo joins Ram Nation’s roster after making a generous donation that earned him his spot and made it possible for our entire team to sleep in the comfortable beds of the Hilton Charlotte Center City and not in tents outside of the Grady Cole Center where we’ll be playing our games.

RAM NATION WINS IF

Prodigal Sons have a sneaky-good frontcourt but lucky for Ram Nation we’ve got a few players down low ourselves. If NC has to rely on their frontcourt for scoring my hope is Larry Sanders will make that a rough experience for the Sons. Sanders’ ability to deny NC’s scorers will hopefully make this a game of guards v guards, and if that’s the case, Ram Nation should have a solid advantage. The Sons have plenty of DI backcourt experience but on paper are an inferior group to this lineup of Ram Nation guards, particularly when it comes to shooting beyond the arc. Burgess, Rodriguez and Rozzell were a part of a VCU team that set the all-time NCAA tournament record for made three-pointers. Throw B.A. Walker into the mix — who held VCU’s career threes record until Melvin Johnson broke it this past season — and you’ve got a dangerous group of three-point shooters. That’s not even including Pellot-Rosa or Jamie Skeen, both of who shot over 41% from deep their senior seasons. If the threes are falling for Ram Nation, Sons is in big trouble.

NC PRODIGAL SONS WIN IF

Ram Nation can not get caught sleeping in this game. Underestimating this group could result in a disappointing early exit for the black and gold. The key for NC will be slowing down the hot three-point shooting of this dangerous Ram Nation team while winning the battle in the paint. If the Sons can make this a game decided inside the arc they likely increase their odds of winning. How good those odds are remain to be seen, and it won’t be easy against a frontcourt that will feature two recent NBA ballers. But sometimes the team that wants it more is the team that walks away victorious, so a focused effort could help this Prodigal group overcome what could be a decent talent edge for team Ram Nation.

Watch: Streamable on WhistleSports.com. Also be on the lookout for a possible Richmond watch party at Baja Bean Co. in the Fan.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation

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