Monday, January 13, 2014

A10 Preview: The VCU Rams

GW opened conference play with a disappointing loss at LaSalle, followed by a rout of Rhode Island at home. Tuesday night, the Colonials continue to battle a tough A10 conference at the Smith Center against Virginia Commonwealth.

Over the last five seasons, the Rams have risen to national prominence under Coach Shaka Smart. With the new emphasis on hand checking this season, many wondered if VCU’s aggressive style of defense would suffer. The Rams lead the NCAA in steals and are second in turnovers forced. Moreover, the team has not fouled at a higher rate. A defensive rating of 89.8 points per 100 possessions is good for 11th in the country. The Rams have not slowed down. Though two losses to unranked Florida State and Georgetown saw the Rams fall out of the Top 25, VCU will still sit among the top teams in a strong A10 conference this season. Here are some matchups to keep an eye on:

Joe McDonald/Kethan Savage vs. Briante Weber
Though overshadowed by the addition of Mo Creek and the emergence of Kethan Savage, McDonald has had himself an excellent season so far. His assists are up only slightly, but he’s averaging fewer turnovers per game. He’s taken on more minutes and more responsibility and his efficiency has only increased—a good sign for the future. After coming off the bench last season, Savage has averaged more points per game than anyone on the team save Creek. McDonald and the Macho Man defend the ball well with both players averaging 1.9 steals per game.
Briante Weber is dangerous. The VCU junior averages four steals per game. That’s an absurd number. In fact, someone felt the need to rank his best steals. Props to the pun in that title. Though his energetic and occasionally unnecessary, especially late in games, play has won him few fans outside of his Alma mater, there’s no mistaking that Weber embodies VCU’s Havoc system and style of play. Plus, he leads his team in assists. It will be interesting to see how well Savage/McDonald contain him on one end while taking care of the ball on the other end.

Havoc full court pressure vs. Press break
Here’s a fairly comprehensive look at how Havoc works. Note the article is from last season. As with most trapping schemes, you want to keep the ball in the middle. Getting caught in the “coffin corner” often leads to turnovers. The ball has to move quickly in order to force number advantages, i.e. if one guy is trapped one guy is open. Typically, forwards and centers make for worse passers and ball-handlers than guards. Fortunately, sophomore Kevin Larsen has soft hands and the ability to bring the ball up and pass effectively. The team also utilizes Zeek at midcourt to help break other presses. Speaking of Zeek…

Isaiah Armwood vs. Juvonte Reddic
If the Colonials hope to beat VCU, they need to win inside. VCU is more vulnerable on the interior. Reddic is a solid defender but he is not much of a rim protector, averaging .9 blocks per game and blocking 4% of opponents’ shots when he’s on the floor. Armwood averages 2.5 blocks with an 8% block percentage. His defense and rebounding need to be on point, and contributions from Larsen on the block will help the Colonials inside.

Mo Creek vs. Finding an Open Look
Of course, it’s easier to attack in the paint if VCU respects GW’s outside shooting. Mo Creek has been conspicuously quiet the last few games. He’s a bit cold from three, but he needs to have a solid showing against a VCU team that holds opponents to 31% from beyond the arc. In Georgetown’s upset of the Rams, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera made 5 of his 6 three point attempts. Running a press runs the risk of leaving shooters open. Creek can make VCU pay if and when he gets clean looks from three.

GW Making Free Throws vs. GW Missing Free Throws at Inopportune Times  
GW has made an abysmal 67.4% of their free throws this year. It hasn't hurt them badly yet. Teams tend to shoot poorly at the stripe against GW, for whatever reason. There’s potential for VCU to run into foul trouble, and GW needs to capitalize on free throws.

Tip-off is Tuesday at 7:00. Pre-game tailgate (free food for college students so definitely recommended) starts at 5:00. Come out and #RaiseHigh. Also these uniforms are cool, though I’m pretty sure there’s no number 4 on the roster. 

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