Despite 5-3 record, Rams may be ahead of schedule

<a href=""><img class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-9462" title="Tre" src="" alt="" width="533" height="299" /></a>For the second straight season, VCU has started their march to March with a 5-3 record.

Those two starts couldn't be any more different however, as this year's Rams have proven themselves against some of the best in the country, while last year's squad searched for an identity following the loss of four key seniors from a Final 4 team the previous season.

So far, VCU has lost to three top 100 RPI teams this season: No.70 Missouri, No. 12 Wichita State and No.1 Duke, all by single digits, two of which, Mizzou and WSU, came in the closing seconds.

All three appeared in last season's NCAA tournament (coincidentally all losing in the second round).

Their wins have come against a mixed bag of teams, No.40 Florida Gulf Coast, No.46 Belmont, No.158 Memphis, No.282 Stetson and No.346 Winthrop.

Last year's edition lost three games by an average of 12 points per game, losing to Seton Hall, Georgia Tech and Alabama, with only the Tide advancing to last season's NCAA tournament.

Like this season, VCU did boast a promising win however in their 23-point dismantling of former Sunbelt rival and current Big East member South Florida, who went on to receive an at-large bid in last season's tournament. They also picked up two wins against a Western Kentucky team that advanced to the tournament despite a losing record by winning the Sunbelt conference's automatic bid.

What's perhaps more encouraging however are the statistical advances this year's more mature squad has made over their younger versions, and against an elevated level of competition.

The 2012-13 edition are averaging 8.35 more points per game, 6.7 more rebounds, 3 more assists, have forced 2.1 more turnovers and are shooting a higher percentage from the field (+5.5%) and have given up 1.5 fewer points per game against much stiffer competition through the same amount of games as this point last season.

One of the key questions heading into this season was how sophomore Treveon Graham could fill the shoes of the graduating Bradford Burgess.

Answer: As a sophomore, Graham is averaging 0.6 more points, 0.5 more assists, hitting 12.9% more of his shots, 2.6% more of his threes, has the same amount of steals (1.1) and is averaging just 0.1 less rebound but in six and a half less minutes played per game than Burgess did this past season.

And he's just heating up.

In games Graham has seen 30+ minutes (three so far), he's averaging a ridiculous 20.3 points, seven rebounds, two steals and is shooting a blistering 57% from the field while hitting 53.8% from his shots from deep. Graham just turned 19.

For historical perspective, that's just barely more points per minute (0.01) than a senior version of Eric Maynor.

With most of our season left ahead of us these numbers could easily go in either direction. But as Ram fans have seen throughout Coach Smart's three previous seasons, the black and gold have always been ready come March.

If VCU's start is any indicator of how dangerous this team might be once the madness begins, Ram fans may be in store for another exciting ending under Shaka Smart and the Rams.

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Mat Shelton-Eide
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