Virginia Commonwealth Rams
Team Personality: Size doesn’t matter.Virginia Commonwealth (18-3, 10-0 CAA) relies on full-court pressure defense and has its three best players live and die from the outside. Longtime Billy Donovan assistant Anthony Grant (replacing Jeff Capel, who left for Oklahoma) plays a Rick Pitino-style of basketball that forces opponents to chase his guys all over the court and allows the Rams to dictate tempo.
“From day one these guys have bought into everything we’ve told them,” Grant said in a weekly CAA teleconference. “I don’t think it was that hard of an adjustment for them.”
Senior guards B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa average double figures, but the key has been the third leg of the tripod: sophomore point guard Eric Maynor. All three guards, who regularly play almost upwards of 30 minutes a game, shoot at least 40 percent from three and 76 percent from the charity stripe.
VCU challenges every opponent to prove that they can match their guard. So far, that is something nobody in the Colonial Athletic Association has been able to do.
On Jan. 27 the Rams traveled to Drexel, arguably the CAA’s most athletic and aggressively-coached squad, and shot 47 percent from the field and 50 percent from downtown. On the defensive end, the Rams proved that the opposition must execute flawlessly on offense in order to find success against their tenacious ‘D.’ As was the case with Drexel, who turned the ball over 16 times en route to 29 Rams’ points, anything less than perfection will not get the job done.
February 8 vs. George Mason ESPNU
February 16/17 vs. TBA ESPN (Bracket Buster game)
January 31 at Hofstra
February 8 vs. George Mason
February 16/17 Bracket Buster
March 2-5 CAA Tournament
Since the Rams didn’t play a rigorous schedule (SOS rank: 163) and their only games against the Top 50 were losses (Xavier and Appalachian State), VCU must use these final three games to prove they are the elite CAA team. If they win the CAA regular season crown (especially with an undefeated record), it would be hard for the committee to justify leaving the Rams out even if they stumble in the league tournament.
Has to be on the Floor: VCU’s talent across the board ensures that opponents cannot specifically target one dominant player. However, the win against Drexel proved the Walker is the man right now for the Rams. The 6-2 guard scored 24 points to lift Va. Commonwealth to its ninth straight win. Walker scored 19 of his points in the second half, including 11 in the game’s final 4:35 to seal the victory. As we have seen in the past, the essential asset of teams that pull off NCAA Tournament upsets is proven guard play and VCU is loaded in that department.
Potential Pitfall: You can’t teach height but VCU knows that when it comes to interior defense, you can teach proper technique. The Rams have not shown a dominant inside scoring presence but do lead the conference in offensive rebounds primarily thanks to 6-7 junior forward Wil Fameni. The transfer from Arizona State is the team’s most consistent player on the block. The problem is that while he is also one of the team’s biggest bodies, Fameni only grabs five rebounds per contest.
A tough matchup for the Rams would obviously be a team with a dominant forward or center. Like Winthrop, VCU will match up athletically against any 4-5 seeded team, but it will be interesting to see if they can handle an equally talented team who slows the game down to a half-court tempo.
How to reach the Sweet 16:
1. With the CAA currently ranked as only the 13th best league in the country, the committee will not likely give the Rams anything higher than a 10 or 11 seed. Therefore, VCU must catch fire with its trio of guards and force a team to play at a higher speed than they’d prefer. They have a coach who, as an assistant, won the national championship last year, so the leadership is there on the bench
2. Coach Grant must make sure the unparalleled pressure of an NCAA Tournament environment doesn’t rattle this team. Pressure and tension can cause poor shooting games which the Rams can’t afford. VCU has been doing a good job of handling the pressure so far this season, however, as the Rams boast a 9-0 record on the road.
3. Finally, because this team cannot pound the ball insider for consistent scoring, they must make shots.
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