There’s some good early news for VCU fans just one week into the 2018-19 season, the first bit of which is that Marcus Evans is clearly every bit as good as advertised, the second bit being he wasn’t just available by the start of conference play, but by the start of the regular season.
Mike Rhoades and Co. are slowly working the Rice transfer into the rotation after achilles surgery, but even in limited minutes, Ram fans are becoming aware of just how impressive of an addition he is to VCU basketball.
Evans has played a total of 28 minutes so far and has accounted for 22 points (31.4 points per 40). His true shooting percentage against the Rams’ two Big South opponents has been a scorching 63.7%. His assist rate an absurd 37% to sit his player efficiency rating just north of 32.
In short, the two-time Conference USA First Team selection has looked every bit of an A-10 First Team type of player and a serious player of the year candidate, the type of player that will not only win some individual hardware, but fills a need for this VCU team.
That need is a reliable scorer.
Through two games against kenpom sub-200 squads, VCU has had some offensive issues.
With the graduation of Justin Tillman, that was perhaps to be expected. With Evans in limited minutes in game-1 and an injured De’Riante Jenkins in game-two (plus an off night from him in the season opener), VCU has yet to crack 70 points despite being a top-70 tempo team and coming off a 76 ppg average the season prior.
As a group the Rams’ team offensive effective field goal percentage is down 4.8% from last year despite two lackluster opponents. That’s thanks just about 100% to the team’s struggles from deep however, something neither Tillman nor graduated seniors Khris Lane or Johnny Williams excelled at this past season, which is probably a decent sign for the black and gold.
Evans’ efficiency combined with a regression to the mean from the rest of the team beyond the three-point arc — particularly for staters De’Riante Jenkins, Issac Vann and Sean Mobley, a group currently a combined 1-12 from deep, which is just 8.3% a season after combining to shoot 37% — should get VCU’s offense back on track sooner than later. Combine that with what looks like — in both the numbers and the eye test — and improved defense, and VCU looks as though they could be a serious contender for a breakout A-10 season a year after finishing eighth in the conference.
Time will tell.
Through two games however, VCU’s defense has limited their opponents to under 60 points. The Rams did that just twice all of last season. The black and gold have held their two challengers to a combined 37% shooting inside the arc, including a 41.7% effort against Gardner-Webb, a team that just connected on 62.5% of their deuces against the Hokies of Virginia Tech.
It’s early and we’ll learn a good bit more against a tough Bowling Green opponent this Monday, but mark me down as an early believer in VCU’s D.
I’m of the opinion that extended minutes for a healing Evans combined with some maturation of this new group and VCU might be up to something fun this season.
OTHER NUMBERS TO WATCH
60.3% – That’s P.J. Byrd’s assist rate. It will be basically impossible to keep that pace (Trae Young led the country at 48.5% last season), but the freshman is off to a great start. VCU needed to bring in a true point guard following the graduation of Johnny Williams and thus far Byrd has been just that. The Houston native has dished seven assists in just 21 minutes of play this season. Mike Rhoades said in a presser following VCU’s home-opener that Byrd would win VCU a game this year. That statement combined with his early assist numbers are making me a believer just two games into his career here at VCU.
13.6% – VCU’s team defensive blocks percentage is almost double what it was last season thanks to a three-man center/power forward platoon. Newcomer Corey Douglas has blocked five total shots in his 30 minutes of play, Marcus Santos-Silva has chipped in a block per contest for a solid 5.8% blocks percentage with Michael Gilmore just south of that at 5.5%. That’s helped VCU limit their opponents to just 37% shooting inside the arc, good currently for 29th in the nation.
3 – The combined losses of VCU rivals Richmond and George Mason. The Spiders dropped a home-opening stunner to an abysmal Longwood team last night while George Mason fell to 0-2 on the season after losing their second consecutive home contest, this time to an American University team that finished ranked 328th nationally according to kenpom this past season. Woof.