No one wants to jinx anything over here, but…WE ARE DOING PRETTY DANG WELL IN THIS CONFERENCE.
VCU outpaced La Salle 88-70 Wednesday night in Philadelphia to win its 12th game in a row. Halfway through A-10 play, the Rams are almost unrecognizable compared to the non-conference schedule and now boast a perfect 9-0 record.
The Explorers beat VCU in the Siegel Center in 2013, lost to the Rams in double-overtime in 2014, and topped the Rams in double-overtime in the Siegel Center last season. Wednesday’s game lacked the competitiveness of battles past–VCU’s offense dominated.
Melvin Johnson finished with 30 points. At one point he was 8-of-10 from 3-point range before forcing three misses in the second half. He’s been simmering all season. Wednesday night was the incendiary performance he needed to elevate his name into the conference player of the year conversation.
La Salle’s star scorer was not as successful. Auburn transfer Jordan Price scored 34 points in the Siegel Center last season. He finished with 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting on Wednesday and it took more than 19 minutes for him to score his first points. Korey Billbury and Melvin Johnson defended him relentlessly and the Rams’ clearly chose to shut him down and force La Salle’s remaining players to make plays. La Salle’s unnamed roster did a good job answering the call, but the Explorers just didn’t have the firepower to stay competitive.
VCU’s winning streak has been powered by point guard JeQuan Lewis. Wednesday, he was limited throughout the game because of fouls. Sophomore point guard Jonathan Williams stepped up. He finished with a career-high 14 points (6-6 FG) and two assists.
The Rams’ defense had a mediocre night against La Salle’s pedestrian offense, but VCU did a great job turning turnovers into points and attacking the paint. VCU won the turnover battle 17-7, points off of turnovers 29-9, and points in the paint 38-24.
Wednesday night was far from the Rams’ toughest challenge of the season, but perfect is perfect. VCU owns the second longest winning streak in the country at 12 games and is a perfect 9-0 in conference play at the halfway mark.
Two Pony Race
The Atlantic 10 is quickly turning into a two team battle between VCU and #23 Dayton. There is a good chance that the conference will be decided when the Rams visit the Flyers for the final game of the season. It will be incredibly difficult to top #23 Dayton in Dayton, Ohio on senior day. Fortunately, VCU has a one-game lead and fewer top-tier games remaining:
- Dayton: @URI, @St. Joseph’s, vs. SBU, vs. URI, @URI, and vs. VCU.
- VCU: vs. GW, vs. URI, vs. Richmond, @GW, and @Dayton.
Every game the Rams win will be crucial to maintaining the #1 seed in Brooklyn and the first conference title for VCU since 2009.
VCU Top 5
VCU was propelled into first place by a dramatic turnaround after a lackluster nonconference schedule. Their success so far has been driven by an unbelievably balanced effort from Melvin Johnson heroics to the occasional Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed offensive burst and Korey Billbury rebound.
The Rams don’t have any one player that can do everything, but they have a bunch of players who can do one or two things exceptionally well. Here are five players who have stood out since the Rams kicked it into another gear.
JeQuan Lewis: As Lewis goes, VCU will go. He’s been sensational in conference play where he’s shooting .549 from 2, .483 from 3, and .909 from the charity stripe. All of this while playing good defense and distributing the ball with ease.
Melvin Johnson: He now has five more career 3-pointers than Troy Daniels. He’s the leader and best players on a team that is quickly turning into one of the nation’s best.
Doug Brooks: After a break-out performance in the 2015 NCAA Tournament against Ohio State, Brooks struggled mightily in the non-conference schedule. He’s clearly the most improved player since the fall. He is stealing the ball at a Briante Weber rate and his 3-point shot is finally starting to fall.
Justin Tillman: He leads the conference in offensive rating, offensive rebounding, turnover rate, and 2-point shooting. He’s a jaw-dropping 43-of-54 (.796) from the field in conference play and has scored in double-figures in four straight games.
Mo Alie-Cox: There have been fewer “Mo Says No”s this season, but the non-stat sheet part of Alie-Cox’s defense has improved dramatically. His ability to bang with centers down low, recover and seal off driving lanes, and defend the perimeter all while fouling only 2.4 times per 40 minutes in conference play is remarkable. Most teams would give up three guards for a player who can do two of those three things.
Oh, and he can score. Alie-Cox is shooting 35-of-52 (.615) in conference play. More importantly, he’s number one in the conference in free throw rate where he has turned into a dependable finisher (28-of-36).
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There’s still a ton of basketball left. VCU started the A-10 7-0 last season before falling to 12-6 and missing out on a Brooklyn bye1. But perfect is perfect, and the Rams can’t have been any better thus far. Hopefully they can keep pace and finish first place in conference play for the first time since Coach Anthony Grant prowled the sidelines.
- Much of that collapse happened after the Briante Weber injury. Fortunately, the Rams are incredibly balanced this season and are protected from an injury driven collapse. ↩