Monday, March 11, 2019 5:30 PM | CBN
It’s March, conference tournaments are in full swing, the NCAA tournament is a week away. We're just about one week away until the greatest event in sports returns. I’m sure you’re all curious to see which underdogs prevail that first weekend, which teams make or break your bracket, and which of the teams find their way into your hearts as you feel attached after watching just a few minutes. Why can’t one of those teams be VCU?
I’ll say it right now... VCU makes the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011. If they advance to the Elite 8, I won’t be shocked at all. This is a really, really good basketball team that might remind you of the 2011-2013 teams coached by Shaka Smart that took the court everyday and wreaked havoc. Speaking of Shaka Smart, this VCU team coached by Mike Rhoades went to Texas on December 5th and left with a 54-53 win. An ugly win in which the Rams shot 28.1% on 16-57 shooting. They scored 16 from the free throw line on 21 attempts. Texas shot just 5-8 FT and 22-53 from the field which is good for a 41.5% clip. So, how did VCU win a game in which they shot 28.1% in comparison to 41.5%? They outrebounded a Texas team that possesses a lot of height, 39-36. And they got 17 offensive rebounds while holding Texas to 10. They also forced 18 turnovers with that nasty press defense. VCU played the 29th toughest non-conference schedule. While two losses to St. John’s and Virginia might not look so good, let’s just dive into the stats. VCU fell to the Johnnies 87-86 in overtime, Marcus Evans was fouled with 1 second left in the game, and it wasn’t called. Shamorie Ponds carried St. John’s with 35 points and the game-winning layup with 4 seconds left. What was impressive about this then? They held St. John’s to 6-22 3PT shooting. VCU won the rebound battle 45-36. However, VCU lost this game off their 22 turnovers. When you turn the ball over 22 times you shouldn’t be in the game! VCU was able to take a talented St. John’s team to the final second in Brooklyn. This nasty Rams defense only forced 9 turnovers, the fact they competed from wire to wire with all this against them is super impressive. That’s a loss that’ll make you better in mid-March. Alright, Virginia beat VCU 57-49. Ugly? Sure. You have to realize how great of defense VCU played, Virginia shot 13-44. 29.5% and 5-18 from 3PT land which is 27.8%. Y’all know how great of a 3 point shooting team UVA is this year right? 41.5% for the season, that would be 3rd in the nation. UVA shoots 47.9% overall which is 28th in the country. VCU really had UVA’s offensive attack rattled. UVA made a living at the free throw line as they shot 26-30. That’s the only reason UVA won this game... ticky tack calls leading to 2 free throws. UVA was 319th in free throw attempts this season! A travesty that the refs were whistle happy in this old school type of battle or else VCU might just hold a win at Virginia this season. VCU forced 12 turnovers, UVA averages 9 a game. This was a heck of a loss for VCU despite the 8 point deficit. This game will bode well for VCU in March as they won’t be facing another defense like UVA’s the rest of the season.
Here is how VCU ranks in some important defensive categories… 6th in opponent FG%, 10th in opponent 2 Point %, 3rd in opponent 3 Point attempts, 2nd in opponent 3 Point %, 17th in turnovers forced, 7th in points allowed per game. Now here is how the 2011 Final Four team ranked in those categories… 228th in opponent FG%, 222nd in opponent 2 Point %, 260th in opponent 3 Point attempts, 137th in opponent 3 Point %, 9th in turnovers forced, 138th in points allowed per game. That’s pretty crazy to see honestly. Many fans thought of that 2011 team as an elite defensive team when in reality it was a great pressure defense that was willing to give up solid looks if they didn’t force a turnover. A big common factor, both of these defenses are relentless and they tire the opposition out which is a huge positive. Offensively, the 2011 team took way more 3’s and shot better from distance. This VCU team is near the very bottom in 3 point shooting this season, but hey they play better defense as a whole and that keeps them in games.
Marcus Evans, De’Riante Jenkins, and Issac Vann are the Rams best players and all are juniors. Marcus is a transfer from Rice who’s averaging 14.3 PPG, 3.3 APG, 3.1 RPG, and an impressive 2.0 steals per game. He shoots 43.6% from the field. His best game in my opinion came against St. Joe’s on March 8th. 23 points on 7-11 shooting. He was 3-6 from 3 which is something the Rams could use every game. He added 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. A complete game from Evans that we’d love to see him repeat in the Big Dance. De’Riante Jenkins is averaging 11.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 2.0 APG. He is shootings 41.2% from the field this season. He shoots 34.1% from 3 which is a drop off from 41.8% last season, averaging 5.7 attempts from deep in both seasons. Jenkins could get that 3-point shooting touch back at any point and oh man that would be amazing for VCU. My favorite game from Jenkins was against UMass on January 19th. He scored 17, had 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. He shot 4-4 from 3 and 5-7 from the field. A simple game that would pay off big time in March. That’s a recipe for success. Issac Vann a transfer from Maine is averaging 11.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG, and 2.2 APG and shoots 43.1% from the field. His game against St. John’s was just dominant. He bullied the Johnnies as he put together, 30 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, and was an efficient 8-14 from the field. A complete game from Vann, love it.
I believe that VCU will end up a 7 seed if they don’t win the A-10 tourney and a 6 seed if they do win it. Much prefer a 6 seed here as a matchup with the 3/14 is much better than a 2/15 in most instances. Jerry Palm of CBS has VCU at a 7 playing Minnesota and the winner of LSU/Bradley. Tough draw but hey that’s likely not what’s going to be happening as chaos is sure to ensue as it does every March. Oh man, VCU might just mess around and wreak some more havoc in the NCAA Tourney just like it’s 2011.