My friend Mark Cross hit me up with a question this morning on Twitter that peeked my interest.
Mat, do you have any opinions as to why VCU often gets off to horrible starts, and even in games they don’t win seem to play better in 2nd half? I know there is such a thing as 2nd half teams, but this seems almost a statistical anomaly in terms of how often they start poorly.
— Mark Cross (@mscrosswi) January 25, 2018
My initial reaction is no, I have no clue. I’m not a DI hoops coach (although I play one on Twitter!) and I don’t study hours of film on these guys, breaking down each individual players role and their response to said role.
What I do have access to however, is numbers.
I can’t tell you the why, but I can give you the when. So let’s look into that, gather some details and maybe we can ask Coach Rhoades about the why at a press conference or Coaches Show in the near future.
VCU v OPPONENT SCORING BY THE QUARTER
VCU total points scored (average)
Q1: 380 (18.1)
Q2: 430 (20.5)
Q3: 363 (17.3)
Q4: 428 (20.4)
Opponent total points scored (average)
Q1: 397 (18.9)
Q2: 387 (18.4)
Q3: 364 (17.3)
Q4: 393 (18.7)
Margin (per game)
Q1: -17 (-0.8)
Q2: +43 (+2.1)
Q3: -1 (-0.05)
Q4: +35 (+1.7)
The Rams highest points scored total in a quarter was a 32-point fourth quarter explosion against Duquesne. VCU scored 30 once in a second quarter (Fordham) and once in a first (Cal), and dropped 29 in the third quarter versus La Salle, proving the Rams may average their most points in the second quarters of games, but are capable of going nuclear during any given point of a game.
VCU’s fewest points scored in a quarter came just this week, as the Rams posted nine points in the first quarter of the game against Saint Louis. Oddly enough, they’d later score 25 in the fourth and 14 in a five-minute overtime.
The Rams have typically seen their fewest points scored in the first (eight times) and fourth quarters (seven times) of games. Four of those fourth quarter low outputs came in easy wins (Grambling, Appalachian State, VMI and Fordham), suggesting the Rams overall scoring took a hit thanks to a dumped bench, which makes VCU’s overall fourth quarter number that much more impressive, a number that would likely be higher if VCU played key players bigger minutes in those late-game situations.
The defensive end seems a bit more interesting and harder to figure out.
VCU allowed their opponents to score 20 or more points nine times in opening quarters of games (reminder: 21 games played total this year), including a team-worst 35 points given up in the first quarter against Dayton, but are somehow better in the second quarters of games — when teams should be getting easier points via free throw — than during first quarters.
A-10 STARTS HAVE BEEN AN ISSUE
For the most part, VCU’s starts this season have been pretty predictable. The Rams opened non-conference games outscoring eight of their 13 opponents, all eight games resulting in wins and six of those eight coming against teams currently ranked below VCU by kenpom, the two exceptions coming in the form of home wins over No.72 ODU and No.107 Bucknell (both single-digit victories for the black and gold).
The Rams got off to rough starts in all of their non-conference losses this season (not surprisingly) –all against top-100 teams — opening games down 8.2 points on average in the first quarter of VCU’s five OOC Ls.
Things have gone a bit differently in conference.
VCU has outscored just two of their eight Atlantic 10 opponents in opening quarters, both (Fordham and GW) resulting in blowout VCU wins, an eventual average margin of victory of 18.5 points per contest. Both opponents are the only sub-200 teams VCU has played within conference this season.
The good news is the Rams managed to fight back for comeback wins in three more of those contests, rallying from down double-digits to win at La Salle and Saint Louis and doing the same at home against Duquesne.
The black and gold scored 29 points in the third against La Salle, outscoring the Explorers by 14 that quarter, outscored Duquesne 18-10 in the third then dropped 32 fourth quarter points on Keith Dambrot and Co. while giving up “just” 21 for a plus-19 second half and did their greatest escape most recently against SLU, dumping 25 fourth quarter points on the Billikens while giving up just 16, then outlasting SLU 14-13 in OT for the Rams first overtime win in two appearances this season.
A-10 average margin per quarter
So there’s the when and the by how much. VCU’s ability to figure out why the Rams have suffered from such slow starts could go a long ways toward securing a top-4 seed in this year’s Atlantic 10 tournament in DC en route to what Mike Rhoades and Co. will hope will result in the Rams’ sixth consecutive A-10 title appearance.