The RVANews sports staff gets you ready to watch the VCU Rams kick it at this weekend’s tournament.
Look, we know most of you care about VCU and not the rest of the teams in the CAA, so we’re not going to waste many pixels about them. However, you do need to know who the Rams will be playing in Sunday and Monday of the tourney (Semis and Finals, respectively).
Arguably, #3 Northeastern should be the #1 seed in this year’s CAA Tournament, but a late-season melt-down left the Huskies with a slightly tougher road to the NCAA Tournament. Sitting two games up mid-way through conference play, the Huskies were top dog, besting both VCU and ODU on the road.
Then they lost 4 of the next 6, including 3-straight. Their nadir came at home, where Northeastern lost to lowly Georgia State (11-19) and sunk in the conference standings. They have shown an uncanny ability to go cold at the closing minutes of games. Maybe it’s the 17 straight years without an NCAA berth.
But Northeastern is poised for success in the CAA Tournament. The Huskies are an oversized team for CAA standards and should leverage their height. In a potential Championship Game matchup, they stack up well against the Rams, who don’t have the size or defense they’ve had in previous years. In their January 27th matchup, the Huskies, rained 3s and put the Rams in foul trouble throughout.
George Mason (#2) and Old Dominion (#4) will also be receiving byes in the CAA Tournament and could roadblock the Rams’ drive to the Big Dance. Old Dominion will be the semi-final matchup for VCU should the top seeds prevail. The teams split their regular season games, and ODU is a perennial thorn in VCU’s side.
Plus, those Monarch fans really show up to games. Home court advantage should be on VCU’s side without question, but it’s up to the fans to hand them the 6th man advantage. We’ll see you at Noon on Saturday.
Cons: We only have one, maaaaaaybe two key players.
Pros: His name is Eric Maynor.
Eric Maynor is reigning CAA Player of the Year, Bob Cousy award finalist, pre-season CAA player of the year, Wooden award pre-season finalist, all time points and assists leader at VCU, and is averaging 22.9 points a game this season. He is one of four players since 1999 to average 22 points and 6 assists for an entire season. He has had 39 career 20 point games, 7 career 30 point games, and ten 10 assist games. He leads the CAA in points per game and assists ranks 10th in the country in scoring and 14th in assists. AND, as shown by his buzzer beater to upset Duke, he has a propensity to take over games when he needs to. He is a projected late first round or early first round pick.
Not to be out done, Larry Sanders’s game has come alive down the stretch. Larry is averaging close to a double double for the season and is third in the CAA in rebounds and first in blocked shots (11th nationally). In his last 19 games, Sanders averaged 13 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.3 blocked shots per game. He has, as you might assume, several double doubles during that span – 7 to be exact.
Dont sleep on Joey Rodriguez who leads the CAA in 3 point % either.
When it gets to tournament time, everyone talks about the stars. But often, over the course of tournament weekend, success depends on the supporting cast. Such role players will be crucial for VCU this weekend.
Guards Brandon Rozzell and Joey Rodriguez are the sharpshooters. When defenses key on Maynor and collapse to stop his penetration, Rozzell and Rodriguez will have to knock down open shots. Another guard, Ed Nixon, brings defensive intensity off the bench, often keying VCU’s trapping press.
Bradford Burgess is perhaps the most flexible VCU role player because of his deft outside touch and his size allowing him to guard a variety of positions. He’s also shown a knack for hitting big shots (notably game winners or game deciders against University of Richmond, Hofstra, and JMU). Burgess has been coolly confident all season long, but he is just a freshman.
The real unanswered question for the Rams’ remains depth at forward; it has been the Rams’ downfall in several games (including losses at Delaware, Nevada). Can T.J. Gwynn–a good athlete who has shown flashes–or Terrance Saintil—perhaps the most impressive physical specimen on the team—deliver meaningful minutes in the tournament if the starters get in foul trouble?
But let’s be honest, the most important role player for the Rams in the tournament will be their most dependable sixth man all season long. I’m referring, of course, to the Rowdies. Home city (if not home court) advantage in a close tournament game, late in the second half is the ultimate unquantifiable intangible. In other words, get off your butts and go cheer on the Rams.
Crunching the numbers on VCU leads to one obvious conclusion: Whatever you do this weekend at the CAA tournament, Rams, don’t get called for too many fouls. Especially if your name is Larry Sanders.
When the opposing team shoots more than two foul shots for every five field goal attempts, VCU is 3-8. Otherwise, they’re 18-1. Though the intentional fouling that VCU would do in the closing minutes of games they’re losing is sure to influence this stat, the way referees are calling the game has to have an impact as well. VCU is 19th in the nation in steals given up, but picks their opponent’s pockets almost 8 times per game. A loosely called game favors the superior ball-handling skills of Maynor and Rodriguez.
But it’s the self-control of Larry Sanders that is even more important to the Rams’s success. When Sanders fouls out of the game, the Rams are 1-7 this year. When he limits himself to 4 fouls or fewer, VCU is 20-2. This weekend, it all may depend on how at home Larry feels in the cavernous Richmond Coliseum. Of the 8 games he fouled out of, 6 were away from Richmond.