This week’s Legends Classic was a wild ride for virtually every team involved. The Rams dropped their first game against Arizona State, the black and gold entering that one as the favorite after ASU limped into the tournament following an overtime loss to SWAC team, Texas Southern. The Sun Devils would go on to twin the tournament, blowing out Michigan in a shocker, leaving VCU (who led the Sun Devils for about 33 out of 40 minutes) to play for third in a matchup against former Rams coach, Jeff Capel, a game VCU would go on to win despite flirting with disaster late in the second half. The Ace Baldwin-less Rams didn’t really hurt themselves too much in the event, but didn’t necessarily help themselves either, but they did learn a lot about themselves and will hope to build on their performance heading into a tough weekend matchup at Memphis. Some thoughts on the weekend…
THERE IS NO ONE EASIER TO ROOT FOR THAN JOSH BANKS
The unsung hero from the week was junior guard/forward, Josh Banks.
As a sophomore, banks averaged just 7.6 minutes per contest, failing to walk on to the court in four contests and logging less than a minute of action in two others. The lanky 6’5 Charlotte, NC native played single-digit minutes — if any at all — in his last eight games this past year and to start this season played a total of one minute combined in VCU’s games against Manhattan and Morgan State to start the season. Honestly, in the day of instant transfer, like many Ram fans, I was surprised to see him back at all (and wouldn’t have blamed him if he walked), but not once did we see/sniff/hear anything resembling a complaint from Banks on social media or any other form of communication, and back to VCU he came. That just seems impossible in today’s hoops world and honestly is just oddly refreshing.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Banks logged 24 minutes in the loss to Arizona State, tied for fourth most for the Rams with Jamir Watkins. He posted a team-best 116 offensive rating in the contest and led the Rams with a +10 box plus/minus in the four-point loss. Only he and Jalen DeLoach had positive plus/minus numbers on the night.
The following contest Banks played starter minutes, 22 to be precise, the fifth most on the team in the win, posting a 121 offensive rating and scored nine points on a 71% true shooting percentage.
I find myself rooting for Banks so much and hope he can continue to earn the types of opportunities he saw this weekend. He deserves it.
VCU MAY GO AS JALEN DELOACH GOES THIS SEASON
A bit of an odd stat, but not a surprising one, was despite DeLoach’s turnovers and foul trouble in the Legends Classic, he posted positive plus/minus numbers in both contests (+6 in the 4-point loss to Arizona State, +21!!! in the 4-point win over Pitt).
For those unfamiliar with that stat, just know it means when DeLoach was on the court, VCU outscored the opponent by that much. The +21 over Pitt is just absolutely mind-blowing to me in a game the Rams looked incredibly suspect throughout the entire 40 minutes. DeLoach of course ended up fouling out in just under 26 minutes, but clearly, his time on the floor was beyond valuable for the black and gold.
The reality is DeLoach possesses such a unique combination of tools, but his challenge on the year is in his ability to limit turnovers (currently turning the ball over one out of every three possessions he gets his hands on it, which is not ideal) and foul trouble (currently averaging 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes). But the ceiling is high and if the Rams are to build anything resembling a NCAA tournament resume, they’ll need DeLoach to reach his potential sooner than later, especially with Ace Baldwin presumable shelved for at least two more weeks.
STILL FEELS GOOD TO BEAT JEFF CAPEL
The Rams moved to 2-1 against their former head coach, Jeff Capel. Capel picked up his one and only win against VCU with the help of Blake Griffin back on Dec 20, 2008, but VCU repaid the favor the following season with a win over a Griffin-less Sooner squad, then moved to 2-1 against Capel this week.
If you were curious like me, you might have searched the name “Jeff Capel” on Twitter following Thursday’s game and if you saw what I saw, you noticed how displeased Pittsburgh fans are with their fifth-year head coach.
Capel signed an extension through the 2026-2027 season a few years back so the tea leaves would suggest he’s there for a bit longer, but I won’t be completely surprised if this ends up being his last season with the Panthers, which would be an odd bit of irony having VCU helping drive one small nail into his coffin as Pittsburgh head coach.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
The good from the Legends Classic is that despite shooting under 58% from the free throw stripe in their first two contests, VCU sank 17 of 18 in the loss to Arizona State, then a respectable 26 of 35 in the win over Pitt (74.3%).
The bad from the Legends Classic was that charge call on Jayden Nunn against Arizona State. With 1:28 left to play and the game tied, a block (which was it) would’ve sent Nunn to the line, giving the 73.4% career free throw shooter a chance to extend VCU’s lead to two getting toward the final minute of play. Obviously it’s not what happened, which gave this one a very “Marcus Evans was fouled” type of feel to it a la St. John’s a few years back. C’est la vie.
The ugly from the Legends Classic was VCU’s three-point shooting. The Rams were 6-23 (26.1%) from three in the loss to ASU, then just 5-18 (27.8%) in the win over Pitt for a combined effort of 11-41 (26.8%) in Brooklyn. Last year the two teams that shot that bad from distance on the season ranked 357th (Presbyterian at 26.1%) and 358th (South Florida at 25.2%) in the nation in three-point shooting, the bottom two teams in all of DI NCAA basketball. So that’s how bad we shot from three.