The Rams opened up the season with a fairly easy win against a depleted Manhattan squad. After starting the game with a first half that made VCU look like the ’96 Chicago Bulls, a cooled-off second half offense kept this one from being a slaughter rule victory, but one the black and gold were able to coast to victory in regardless. Some instant reactions from the night.
WE ALL LOVE BRANDON JOHNS JR.
I knew the kid was special when I filmed him singing all the words to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” pregame, but he went on to confirm it during the game, posting 13 points on 5-7 shooting (inside and out), grabbing five rebounds, blocking one shot, grabbing one steal and finishing with a +21 box +/-. Dudes sings, he scores, he smiles. There has been a ton of early love thrown at this team, but Johns has INSTANTLY become a fan favorite. Beyond that, I think he’s just an insanely good addition and a steal for the Black and Gold from this year’s offseason transfer market.
ACE UP OUR SLEEVE
It is just an insane luxury to have an all-conference scoring point guard and VCU, once again, has just that in Ace Baldwin. No surprise there with the Baltimore native being a preseason all-conference player, but MAN…are we lucky. The Rams outscored Manhattan by 26 points in the 34 minutes and 14 seconds Baldwin was on the court (15 points, 9 assists, 3 steals and just one turnover), meaning the other five minutes and 46 seconds didn’t go quite as well seeing how VCU won by just 17 points (do the quick math there). I have a coaching friend (not at VCU) who has just absolutely raved about the year Baldwin was capable of having and I for one hope he puts together one for the ages. He deserves every bit of it.
NO, MANHATTAN ISN’T A GOOD TEAM
I’ve seen it mentioned on our forums and heard it from people as well, but I’m here to bet Manhattan doesn’t turn into the next FGCU or St. Peter’s, which is to say an underrated season-opening mid-major opponent that later goes on to stunning NCAA tournament success. The Jaspers lost the MAAC preseason player of the year to transfer as well as several other key returners from a .500 team that ranked 257th nationally by kenpom last season and finished with a losing record in their conference, played a slew of inefficient players from this past year a lot more than normal and are breaking in a first year (interim) Head Coach. Because of this, I won’t front…I’m a bit disappointed in the 17-point win. VCU’s 18-point halftime lead I thought was on track to what should have happened to finish this game (a 30-ish point blowout), but the Rams inability to finish strong showed there is so much work left to be done.
Note: while Manhattan isn’t a good team, big man, Josh Roberts, is very good. He finished sixth in the country last year in offensive rating and was basically unstoppable last night. He went 7-7 from the field (14 points), grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots. The 7-7 part is what worries me most, but I’ll get to that later.
THE VIBE WAS BACK
Last night’s reported final attendance number was 7344 sold seats, just shy of the 7637 required to claim a sellout (I was counting available seats all day and I back this number!). It’s been a wild few years with COVID and the politics that comes with and all of the ticketing drama. Still, last night, for the folks who were there, it just felt like old times. The return of Ryan Kapasci to the pep band played a huge part of that (the band was awesome last night and fun and had things feeling like 2014), the advertising didn’t have that same “let’s kill the moment” feel during play stoppages and the student turnout was the best it has been in some time (nice work, Kevin Dwan and Co.). We’re a sellout and a VCU Pav return away from reeeeally getting there, but I think we can make both happen…soon.
BEST STAT: 27 FORCED TURNOVERS
We call that “havoc” ’round these parts and in fact, it’s even trademarked! (Sorry, Texas circa 2015-2021). That is 100% responsible for the Rams win.
WORST STAT: 59.3% INTERIOR DEFENSE
This has been my stat to watch all season. VCU’s ability to limit easy buckets I think may ultimately determine this team’s ceiling, but it’s just a concern of mine with this group from the Black & Gold game to now and that 59.3% surrendered wasn’t a great start.