The day after: Thoughts following a tough win at Liberty
A lot of you are three-ish games deep into this season with us — I say “ish” because the exhibition loss at doesn’t technically count, but it’s not like we can forget it happened either. Despite the Queens debacle, the Rams are undefeated on the regular season but have coaches and fans alike wondering what it’s going to take to make this team click.
VCU did not click last night. What they did do however, was win. Here are just a few thoughts from last night’s win, even if a bit of it felt a little like a loss.
CLOSE GAMES AGAINST BAD TEAMS
Liberty crushed DIII Cairn before a close lose to the Rams. It’s tough to predict their season’s future, but I, like many Ram fans and pundits, suspect the Flames aren’t destined for glory. So how worried should Ram fans be?
That’s a good question. So what I decided to do was see how VCU faired in road games during other successful seasons using the Final 4 era: 2010-11 season through this past season.
2015-16: Last season’s Rams handled business on the road against teams ranked 200 or below by kenpom (as Liberty is currently and is likely to finish this season). The Rams had no trouble against SLU or La Salle but did drop road games to kenpom No.167 UMass (by 6) and No.199 George Mason (by 7). That VCU team eventually made the NCAA tournament after an A-10 tourney runner-up finish, winning their round of 64 NCAA matchup before falling by four to eventually Final 4 participant Oklahoma.
2014-15: The eventual A-10 tournament champs saw two road scares against teams similar to Liberty. The Rams survived No.289 Saint Louis by two, then outlasted No.205 George Mason by a bucket as well.
2013-14: This NCAA tourney team played just one true road game against a sub-200 team, handling No.201 Fordham in a 19-point VCU win.
2012-13: These tourney-bound Rams straight up mauled some cupcakes on the road, crushing Winthrop (by 36), ETSU (51) and Duquesne (27) but did barely beat No.193 Rhode Island by six.
2011-12: This group of Rams had to replace four Final 4 seniors but ended up actually winning more games than that year’s team. They won their first four cupcake road games by double-digits, survived at No.295 William & Mary by nine and narrowly escaped No.238 UNCW by four points.
2010-11: The Final 4 Rams. These guys were so up-and-down but ultimately came together at the right time for the best run in VCU history. Before taking us on that magical journey however, Shaka Smart’s group dropped a 10-point road loss at No.216 Georgia State, escaped No.280 Towson with a four-point win then fell to No.191 Northeastern in an 11-point loss.
My point? Good teams have played bad at times. Whether or not this group ends up as a good team is too be determined. But don’t bury them off a microscopic sample size, especially at the beginning of the season.
AT LEAST THE DEFENSE WAS SOLID
Here’s a silver lining for you: VCU was whistled for 24 fouls, sent Liberty to the line for 18 points at the charity stripe, yet still held the Flames to under 60 points in a home game that was basically their Super Bowl. VCU held Liberty to under 42% shooting inside the arc and to seven makes from deep on 20 attempts, both below last year’s averages for the Flames.
CROWFIELD PASSING THE EARLY EYE TEST
I won’t get carried away and crown freshman Malik Crowfield the next great VCU shooting guard after just two games, but you guys see what I see, right? Crowfield has shot the ball just four times in two games (28 total minutes of play) at VCU, but hit three of them, all of which were behind the arc. VCU has connected on just 32.4% of their 34 threes in their first two games, no huge surprise after losing shooters Melvin Johnson (VCU’s all-time three-point king) and Korey Billbury (39.3% from three last season). The Rams need another player who can stretch defense to make teams pay for the constant double-teams Mo Alie-Cox has seen so far this season. I’m of the opinion that Crowfield can be that guy.
MO VERSUS THE WORLD
Mo Alie-Cox is VCU’s most intimidating presence and with that, draws a ton of attention from opposing teams in the paint. So far in his two games this season both UNCA and Liberty have swarmed the senior big, limiting Alie-Cox to just 11 attempts in two games. The flip side of that however is Mo has been able to draw fouls out of those situations, sending himself to the line for 9.1 fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Again, small sample size, but 9.6 fouls per 40 led the country last season (9.1 would’ve finished third). Getting Justin Tillman back should help ease the double-teams — as would a deep threat or two for teams to respect — but until those things happen it will be Mo versus the world, which basically means a ton of free throws. Oh and he’s hitting a career-best 76.5% of those.