The black and gold wrapped up their 2018 non-conference showing Sunday afternoon with win over Rider, turning in a 9-4 OOC record heading into A-10 play. The Rams picked up three top-100 wins in the process, two away from the friendly confines of the Stuart C. Siegel Center, one of which came against former VCU head coach Shaka Smart and his kenpom top-40 Texas Longhorns.
VCU heads into conference action as the 70th ranked team in the country according to kenpom and even more importantly, the 57th ranked team in the new NET rankings that are meant to be replace the RPI come NCAA tournament selection time.
For comparative historical purposes however, let’s take a look at how the Rams compare to last season as this point using kenpom, as well as some recent NCAA at-large VCU squads.
Recent Kenpom ranking at end of OOC (ranking before NCAA tournament)
2018-19: 70 (n/a)
2017-18: 88 (144)
2016-17: 58 (48)*
2015-16: 56 (38)*
2014-15: 14 (31)#
2013-14: 29 (10)*
2012-13: 12 (22)*
2011-12: 44 (45)#
2010-11: 91 (84)*
* = NCAA at-large bid
# = NCAA team via auto-bid
In terms of looking ahead with visions of tournament bids on the mind, looking back to the resumes of the 2010-11 Final 4 Rams, the 2012-13 A-10 year-1 at-large Rams and both Will Wade-coached teams offer reason for some optimism. This year’s edition is on pace in terms of quality wins (both ranking and location), but this season’s down A-10 leaves a bit less room for error.
Either way, through this point in the season VCU has had as good, if not better of a start than previous NCAA tournament Rams.
The Final 4 squad’s best non-conference wins were a neutral court W over kenpom no.52 UCLA and a home win over No.84 Wofford.
Wade’s first edition Rams had just one kenpom top-100 win at this point, a 9-point home W over Old Dominion, while his final group boasted non-conference Ws over No.99 St. John’s (neutral court), No.58 Princeton (home) and a three-point win over No.48 Middle Tennessee State. By comparison this year’s road win at Texas, neutral court W over a 10-2 Temple team and home win over a 84th-ranked Hofstra team that should compete for a CAA championship, looks fairly good by comparison to some previous groups.
Conclusion: VCU has done a solid job of helping themselves at this point.
BEST GAME: VCU at Texas
While it wasn’t particularly pretty to watch, the clanking of Texas’ Matt Coleman’s missed three to ice VCU’s one-point road win made it a win that will be an all-timer among VCU faithful. The Rams shot just 28% in the win, but out-rebounded the Horns and won the turnover battle in the havoc on havoc matchup to help VCU eventually eek this one out. Marcus Santos-Silva led all players with 16 rebounds and added 10 points on 50% shooting for the game’s only double-double.
BEST PLAY: Evan’s late three lifts VCU over Temple
The Rams built up a huge lead in their opening game of this year’s Legends Classic in Brooklyn, only to see themselves trailing with under three minutes left to play against the Owls, 50-49. The Rams’ Marcus Evans went on to score VCU’s six points as a part of a 9-3 Evans v Temple run, including a monster three-pointer with 32 seconds to play to give VCU a crucial two-shot lead to ice the game. The three was not only huge in that it iced a key neutral court non-conference win for VCU, but also lined the Rams up with a quality semi-away game against St. John’s the following day, a game the Rams would lose by one point but one that would regardless give VCU a rankings boost and an improved OOC schedule instead of being relegated to take on the hapless Cal Bears the following night.
Non-Conference MVP: Marcus Santos-Silva
Raise your hand if you saw this coming just a matter of months ago. Odds are no one not named Jackie or Louis Santos-Silva did, but here’s the reality: at least through non-conference play, the sophomore is the identity of this year’s VCU team.
The Rams went from a struggling defense in Rhoades and Co.’s first season to a top-10 defense nationally as of this post with Santos-Silva being one of the key reasons why.
The Taunton, MA native averaged just 9.8 minutes per game as a freshman and has more than doubled that this year as a 23.5 mpg sophomore starter. MSS’ +8.1 box plus/minus is tops on the team, as is player efficiency rating and his offensive, defensive and total win shares.
What a difference a year can make.
Rookie of the Non-Conference: Vince Williams
Not a huge surprise considering Williams came to VCU as a 4-star recruit who was also sought after by former Xavier, now current Louisville head coach, Chris Mack, Williams is very much looking the part of that Treveon Graham type I expected him to be before he got here.
The Toledo native just does so many things and will no doubt become a matchup nightmare as he continues to log minutes and gain experience. Williams ranks second behind only Marcus Evans in drawing fouls, ranks second in steals percentage, second in true shooting percentage among players averaging double-digit minutes, fourth in assist rate and has posted 108+ offensive ratings in three of his last four contests.
Williams struggled a bit with turnovers early but has turned it over just seven times his last six games in 95 minutes of action. He has 11 assists over that same span and has worked himself into a role as VCU’s main power forward over the Rams last five games.
Doing some quick digging, I saw just one example of an Atlantic 10 team that entered conference play ranked the top team that failed to finish in the top-4, coincidentally…it was a VCU team.
The 2015 Rams entered A-10 play as the 14th-ranked team in the country according to kenpom, but after a 7-0 start, lost six of their next 10 to finish at 12-6 (losing Briante Weber to a career-ending ACL tear as well), but losers of a tie-breaker with fellow 12-6er, Richmond, dropping VCU into fifth heading into that season’s tournament. Oddly enough, those Rams won four games in four days and won that season’s conference tournament, the only A-10 tourney VCU has won since joining the conference (VCU has played in five tourney title games in their six seasons in the league).
The point of that observation is not to suggest that the Rams will win the tournament, but to note that more often than not, the kenpom leader heading into conference play finished within the top-4, thus securing a double-bye heading into Brooklyn. Ram fans will hope that holds true this year.
Just four teams currently rank within the kenpom top-100: VCU (70), Saint Louis (81), Dayton (82) and Davidson (93). Davidson was ranked as high as 75th but took a tumble after losing three of their last four, but doing so without the services of injured leading scorer and star player, Kellen Grady.
Like VCU, Saint Louis is an elite defensive team that can go dormant on the other side of the ball. Also like VCU, SLU has three top-100 wins including an impressive road win at No.55 Seton Hall and a 12-point home win over No.37 Butler. They will contend for a title.
Dayton also happens to own a win over Butler, but outside of that win have little to brag about with just one other win coming within the current top-150. They were however competitive against a number of top-100 squads including UVA. They’ll compete.
Davidson is a bit of a wild card even with Grady, the Cats having no real impressive wins but did take down a Wichita State at full health.
Those four however are likely your favorites to earn the the conference’s double-byes. Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, UMass, George Mason and Duquesne appear to be the realistic chase pack. Fordham will attempt to test VCU early and at 9-4 themselves may look like a legit contender. Only one of Fordham’s wins however has come against a team within the top-200 (8-point home win over No.110 Rutgers) and the Rams have just dropped a home game to No.263 LIU Brookin, so I wouldn’t put your chips on them getting a a double-bye.