Hungry Like The Wolf...
You were probably on your seventh buffalo wing yesterday, pondering if you should eat it while knowing you were, when I dug into some numbers. For instance, in the last five VCU games, Hason Ward is 26-35 from the field (74%) and has three double-doubles. Without foul trouble in the Mason game Saturday I believe he has a fourth. There’s some acid in his play of late.
But I kept going, because this VCU team has looked, other than the Dayton game (heretofore to be called: The Dayton Game), increasingly better as the season progresses.
For instance: VCU is 7-2 in games in which KeShawn Curry has committed three or more turnovers. They’ve lost five times when Curry commits two or fewer turnovers. Theory: VCU needs Curry on the floor, playing like a bat out of hell.
So while the 11th wing was downed before the halftime show ended (they could’ve mixed in a tribute to Sugar Hill Gang or Grandmaster Flash, no?) and you pondered throwing up, I re-watched some of the Mason game and then stared intently at VCUs turnover numbers throughout the season.
I took a stroll down memory lane with some of this season’s games, and I nearly threw up myself. But it’s vomit of a different nature, related to VCU turnovers.
Look, the opponent is going to make great plays. They will step into the occasional passing lane or make a great help read and draw a charge. They will trap and force a bad pass. Ditto to the foibles associated with playing aggressively. Sometimes passes find their way to the mezzanine level.
What we saw against Mason was a lack of what I’ll start calling vomit turnovers. Just yakking up the ball. Those are the turnovers that have plagued the team this year. You know them well. A VCU player is running downcourt, unguarded, and magically the ball is in the hands of the opponent. Or the player truly believes he can score through four defenders. Let’s not get started on no-look lob passes. Basically, things are playing out and suddenly the ball is horcked up to the opponent.
Only two or three of the 12 turnovers on Saturday were vomit turnovers. As we hit this critical final stage of the season, my eyes will be there. I don’t lament regular old turnovers. VCU needs to remain aggressive and eat wings. Except not the extra ones that make you sick.
THE LAST GAME, IN BRIEF (THANKS, JERRY)
VCU won a no-doubter over George Mason, 85-70. The Rams never trailed and the game was never tied after 2-2. VCU won its third straight and remains tied with Dayton for second in the A10 race, one game back of Davidson. (A SLU win tonight over Bonnies knots them up.) The Rams tied a season high with 85 points and shot 55.6% from the field. For good measure, they were 9-20 (45%) from three and made 16-18 from the line. Ace Baldwin had an 18/10-assist double-double, Vince Williams also scored 18 points, and Jayden Nunn filled the box score. The freshman had 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals. He did not turn the ball over.
These aren’t your mom’s Fordham Rams. They come into the game 11-12 on the year and 4-7 in the A10. The two guys to look at most: Darius Quisenberry, a grad transfer from Youngstown State, is a high-volume shooter. Quisenberry averages 17.3ppg and is 55-165 from three on the year. He's also taken 161 twos. In comparison, Vince Williams has taken115 threes and 82 twos. Quisenberry has scored more than 20 points even times this year, including 36 against Davidson.
Chuba Ohams (13.5ppg, 11.2rpg), who is on the Semenov All Stars, is a load around the rim and an athletic 6-9. Ohams averages two blocks on the year. VCU is going to have to get physical around the rim. Kyle Rose, a 6-4 sophomore, is their glue guy and best on-ball defender.
There’s still some old school Fordham in this team. They struggle to create easy offense and if they are not bombing away become limited. On defense, they grind you down with physical play. Kenpom has the good guys winning 61-57. Fordham has split its last four games, bracketing wins over Rhody and Duquesne around losses to St. Joseph’s and Bonnies.
DO YOU REMEMBER?
January 18, 2017: VCU leads the alltime series with Fordham 10-1, and that ONE stands out. You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Fordham’s Antoine Anderson rattled—and I mean RATTLED—home a 16-footer at the overtime buzzer to beat VCU 69-67. VCU fell behind by double digits in the first half and never led in the game. The Experience hit a big three late in regulation and Mo Alie-Cox hit two free throws in overtime before Anderson’s contested jumper.
VCU had 12 first half turnovers and 22 for the game. My memory says most all of them were vomit turnovers and it felt like VCU had 22,222 turnovers. It also felt like they were going to steal one at the end. Fun fact: Chuba Ohams played in that game, scoring four points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 35 minutes.
THIS IS THE LAST SECTION
Let’s get back to turnovers. There is also a correlation to shooting that many don’t see. Mike Rhoades frequently talks about VCU creating “shooting turnovers.” This is essentially forcing the wrong guy/wrong shot/wrong time on defense. We never talk about that as it relates to VCU on offense. So let's do that.
You have to have the right guys taking the shots. Execution is not just being in the right spot or even making the shot. Sometimes the execution is the set up. Don’t turn it over. Get the ball to the shooter who can shoot. Do this as many times as possible. That’s where coaching intersects with execution, and what VCU is doing very well since the calendar flipped to 2022.
In A10 play, VCU is shooting 40% from three-point land. Here’s the thing: the three highest volume three-point shooters also have the highest percentage. Ace Baldwin (20-39, 51%), Vince Williams (25-52, 48%), and Marcus Tsohonis (16-38, 42%) are burning up the nets. That’s a combined 61-129, or 47.3%. The rest of the team only has 67 three-point attempts TOTAL, making 17, for 25%. Phenomenal.
What’s more, that troika plus KeShawn Curry and Jayden Nunn—the five players who have shot the most free throws—are a combined 95-113 from the line. That’s 77.2%. It came to roost in the Mason game: the first group was 5-9 from three, and the second group was 9-10 from the line.
That needs to continue as we start the last third of the conference season and stare down March.