Posted: 12/9/2011 12:29:59 PM
November: 46-38, +5.20
November Leans: 39-38
December: 16-18, -0.90
December Leans: 13-24
This year’s version of the Black & Blue Classic brings in two teams with significant roster turnover after both teams made improbable runs toward an NCAA title last year. While both have brought in many new faces and have lost key high minute players, neither team has shown that they are worthy of not being contenders yet again this year as both coaches systems are built on replacing those players in a fast way. In last year’s rivalry game, Richmond came away with a 72-60 victory that can be directly attributed to one thing: VCU shot a whopping 1-14 from the three point line against the Richmond zone. Yes, this same team that caught fire towards the end of the year that had double digit three pointers in almost every tournament game only hit one against this zone. In the first half of that game, they showed signs of wear and tear and some fatigue as they were coming off a high paced up and down matchup with VMI. Also taking place prior to the rivalry game was a conference opener with snail William & Mary (another rival), and an OT game with USF. So, as they found themselves down at the half by a score of 40-17, it’s pretty understandable after the fact why they trailed so much. The game was never really close. VCU found itself with more turnovers than FG’s in the 1H of that game, a product due to some foul trouble to a few guards early. That was the first meeting that Richmond had won in the Classic in about 7 years. The win also came at a time when Richmond had a long streak of winning at home. This is a pretty big rivalry game for both teams, and there is a good chance this one is sold out. Coming into the year, it was extremely hard to imagine that both the offensive and defensive principles that Chris Mooney uses year after year would catch on so quickly with the departure of four seniors, and a bunch of new faces. To an extent, they have played well so far. What I would like to focus on, and what a lot of my preseason focused on was this defense and how plenty of players without experience would adjust to this style. They incorporate what many coaches will call zone, however, it’s not really a zone. Yes, it follows the principles of a zone (stick to an area) but it’s more designed to take an offense that uses ball screens and other screens within the offense out of the equation. It’s a defense that really focuses on each individual and how well that individual defends not only from a one-on-one department, but from a discipline approach as well. Constant switching and guys switching matchups and really good help defense has been a staple in Mooney’s defense for years, and more often than not, it has confused the piss out of many opposing teams. So, how have they done this year? It’s tough to gauge. The six games they have won have come against an average of a #201 offense and an average of a #200 defense. The two games they have lost have come against two offenses that have been really efficient thus far in Davidson and Illinois (yes, up to the last game Illinois was efficient prior to that end of the game where they made 2 FG’s in their last 29 attempts – something I have been waiting for all year!). So, I think the verdict is still out on this defense. When you play some brutal offenses, it sort of makes the defense look better than what it actually is. This is a defense built on slowing you down and wearing you down from the start, and taking advantage in second half of ball games by getting out and going a bit more. They have excelled with lesser this year doing this. I’m not going to look at the lesser (although they have given up some extremely big 2H’s to those schools once teams make adjustments), and will focus on the two losses. Against Davidson and Illinois, in all four halves, they’ve given up more than 33 points. Teams that are familiar with the style are able to beat it, which leads me to VCU. At the beginning of the year, VCU’s offense looked pitiful as expected with Burgess trying to do a wee bit too much within the offense and a couple tough matchups out of the gate early. They really have been the team that I expected. Slow start to the year offensively, grind it out defensive style and crash the boards on offense. These have become Shaka Smart trademarks and nothing has changed this year. To date, they’ve played some really good defensive teams (all three I project to be top 50 at seasons end) and have ended up on the losing end of those ballgames: (Seton Hall which I took early, Georgia Tech, and Alabama). Most recently, they’ve played a tough USF defense and a George Washington defense, two tough physical in your face defenses. They took care of business in the games that they should of won, and tonight should be another prime opportunity. The defense has been excellent, even with a few key pieces missing and they are hawking the ball like crazy. The pressure on the wings is the #1 reason for this defense being as good as it has been, and the matchup problems they will have tonight should be a big advantage defensively with the height they have on the perimeter. Shaka’s defense is a pretty simple thing to figure out. Pressure a ton (half of the time in a full court setting), take risks when they are there, and get out and go when you have the chance...
Posted: 12/9/2011 12:30:11 PM
...From an offensive standpoint, the thing that sticks out with VCU is that they’re aggressive. They don’t come down and jack up stupid shots, they attack and they keep attacking until they can kick out for an open shot, or get into the lane and score or dish for an easy bucket. If you were to just look at VCU both this year and last and see the stats, you would focus on the fact that they shoot the 3-ball a heckuva lot, but if you were to watch the games, it is not really a focal point it just happens because the slashers and attackers force so many openings against opponent defenses. This is the type of offense I want going against Richmond. From an intangible perspective, clearly, the familiarity is here with both teams as kids are familiar with one another and the emotion in this one should be pretty high for both teams this early in the year. As young as Dayton is, I think they’re walking into a bad situation here. They’re on the tail end of a five game roady and have Iona on tap. Furthermore, they’re walking into a hostile environment that even an experienced team has had difficulty with in past years. From the looks of it, VCU really hasn’t gone against this style of defense in past years other than playing Richmond each and every year, but the familiarity is there. Shaka’s main man, associate head coach Mike Rhoades is the main reason. Having coached at nearby D-III Randolph Macon for ten years before joining Smart’s Staff, he ran the exact same offense and defense that Richmond employs on a nightly basis. Him using that system at the D-III level led to multiple tournament appearances, and numerous top 25 rankings. He’s familiar with what Richmond wants to do from an offensive and defensive standpoint, and a full four normal practices this week should be plenty of prep time. I say normal, because they’re at home, they’re not traveling, and they’re sticking to the normal routine, while Richmond has been far from that. Clearly, I have put a ton of emphasis on the matchups and what each team does within its offensive and defensive philophies. But I think the bottom line is that I don’t trust Richmond in this spot. They are young, and while pretty talented, they have yet to go into any environment they’re going into tonight on national television, adding to that a fifth straight game on the road, against an offense that is going to attack your defense and against a defense that is going to pressure the living piss out of inexperienced guards. Richmond has yet to see any kind of full court pressure, so given the above, Shaka’s probably going to take advantage of that, and come after them early as these Richmond guards have shown a knack for turning the ball over at times. Here’s what I’m hoping for. I need VCU to get off to a fast start. I need VCU to attack as they always do. I need the crowd to play a factor. I need Richmond to lose a bit of focus and get away from slowing the pace and get up and down a bit. And most importantly, I need one really important matchup to go in my favor, and that matchup lies on each team’s bench. Richmond’s best offensive weapon comes off the bench in freshman Kendal Anthony. He’s a 5’8” quick as a jet skinny toothpick guard who is the leading scorer and main distributor of the basketball in this offense. He can attack, and he can shoot the 3. When he comes in the game, this Richmond team becomes a much better offensive weapon than the starting five they trot out for the tip. He brings this team energy, and has sparked them off the bench in numerous games thus far. In fact, he just put up a career high 21 points at Wake Forest. Hello Kendal, meet Briante Weber. As Richmond looks for an offensive spark off the bench, Shaka turns to defense (Granted, Weber could start tonight as he has started a few games this year, but as of late Shaka has gone with the better offense to start games). Weber should have one goal tonight, and that’s to slow down Anthony. At 6’3” and as toothpick skinny as Anthony and just as quick, he should have no problems in containing him. In the game against Seton Hall, I saw a kid flying all over the friggin place and immediately chucked it up to being early in the season and Shaka really hasn’t taught the kid anything within the scheme. Then I watched the WKU game, and followed the 2nd WKU game, and most recently the two home games, and I realized ya know what, this is what this kid does. He gets after it, and he puts pressure on the opposing guards (usually the team’s best scorer) unlike anything I have ever seen from the standpoint of staying within a defensive system. What has he done this year? Well, he’s currently second in the country in steals per minutes played, a stat that could be even better had this team had any offensive presence early on in the season. He guarded Theodore from Seton Hall and held him to a rough shooting outing (Theo had all of his points from the foul line late). This kid took Releford completely out of the Alabama game, a major reason they stayed remotely close for the entire game. He guarded PG Blake Nash in the USF game, held him to 0 field goals, their offense never got on track and they scored 46 points. For those of you who fall in love with tough gritty players that actually like to defend in today’s game, enjoy watching Weber, this kid has what it takes. And that’s the difference. When you can slow down the spark that Anthony brings to the table, more than likely your chances of winning the ballgame become really good. I expect a bit of a chess match with Shaka early. I think he’s best to keep Weber on the bench until Anthony enters, but I’d be OK with both starting. They should find themselves on each other early and often, and it should be the key matchup in how this one turns out. Outside of the matchups, VCU has a nice sold out home court advantage here. Along with that, they have the familiarity of what they’ll want to do tonight and should have the upper hand against a team that really hasn’t seen any pressure and is going on the road for the fifth straight game with darling Iona on deck.
2* Virginia Commonwealth ML -150