Rock This Town...
Given the past two weeks in VCU basketball history, Rhode Island is the perfect opponent. Not good nor bad. Perfect. VCU is coming off road wins at Davidson and Richmond (woo-hoo!). Then lost by 30 to Dayton at home (what the?). Then played a horrible first half and good second half in dispatching Duquesne (a different kind of what the?).
What’s more, no matter how poorly Rhody is playing at any given time, those Rams have these Rams’ number. The Kingstonators have won nine of the last 11 games in the series and come into the Siegel Center having won two in a row and and three of its last four trips to VCU. Then again, Rhody has lost five straight.
If we wanted to make some sense of the past two weeks, Rhody is the perfect opponent to tell us.
For the good guys—and in my best Robby Voice I’ll clarify that from here on out when I say “Rams” I mean VCU—individual players are going to matter. It’s the subplot to the team game, especially coming off of the uneven past two weeks for VCU. The individual begets the collective. Let’s go to the bullets:
Vincent Williams: will he play, and if so, how limited is he?
Levi Stockard: will Caribbean Levi show up? Worth noting, in last year’s Rhody game, Stockard had 15 points on 7-8 shooting.
Jalen Deloach: Rhody’s going to play physical and Deloach can match that physicality. If he can temper being a freshman (the mental side), this could be the game we point to next year as his breakout. Either way, I think we need all five of his fouls.
Marcus Tsohonis: need him to be a sniper, but really I’ve added him because my wife doesn’t think I talk or write enough about him.
THE LAST GAME, IN BRIEF (THANKS, JERRY)
The Rams overcame a sluggish first half to beat Duquesne 71-62. Hason Ward led VCU with a 13/10 double-double, with five blocked shots. It was the second straight game VCU played without Vincent Williams. Marcus Tsohonis hit three threes, two of which were at critical junctures. A big 16-2 run in the middle of the second half gave VCU just enough cushion.
Rhody plays big and strong—mainly because that’s exactly what they are. They attack on both ends and try to dictate the emotional barometer of a game. Sound familiar? The Mitchell Twins are a load on the block, as is Antwan Walker. However Walker looks slimmer and is playing more on the perimeter than we’re used to seeing. Don’t be fooled—his greatest value is throwing around his hips.
Ishmael Leggett is a juice factor for them. He scored 21 points in their last game against UMass, hitting 3-5 from three. Ishmael El-Amin is their best three-point shooter by percentage (44.1%), and Jeremy Sheppard has the most makes (31-92).
Rhody goes nine deep and the bench scores more than 22ppg.
Worth watching: freshman guard Sebastian Thomas is playing well, the rare freshman to get better over the course of his first year. Thomas has 47 assists and only 18 turnovers on the year.
DO YOU REMEMBER?
February 6, 2014: Juvonte Reddic posted his fourth consecutive double-double, leading VCU to a spirited 68-52 win over Rhody. VCU held the visitors without a field goal for nearly eight minutes in the middle of the first half, building a 41-21 lead. Briante Weber opened the second half with a steal and vicious dunk, essentially ending the competitive portion of the game. Reddic crossed the 1,300 career points threshold that game and it was Shaka Smart’s 130th career victory. Hassan Martin and EC Mathews were freshmen on that Rhody team.
THIS IS THE LAST SECTION
This game is not for the faint of heart, and that includes an officiating crew that will have to figure out the Letting Them Play line and be consistent about it.
Kenpom has VCU winning 60-55 and I don’t know that we’re getting there. VCU gives up 60 ppg and Rhody 63 per game. By February everybody knows what everybody else is doing, which makes this game particularly rock fighty. I was very impressed with VCUs counters in the Duquesne game. The Rams will need to find similar holes.
The teams are remarkably similar: Rhody has very balanced scoring, with seven guys averaging between 7-11ppg. They rely on hard-nosed defense. They go nine deep. Free throws are a struggle and so are turnovers. So what’s the difference, you ask?
Turnovers and free throws, of course. There’s going to be a lot of missed shots in the game. You’d better TAKE a lot of shots, which means you’re not throwing the ball to coaches, fans, or the other team. And when you’re on the foul line, knock them down.