“We came here to win a championship, and that’s just what we’re trying to do, bottom line.” – Bradford Burgess
I came into the game looking for a few things that could decide VCUs destiny in the CAA Tournament.
- How would the role players contribute?
- How aggressively will the refs call fouls?
- Will the poor shooting bug that has hampered other CAA teams inflict VCU?
- Will VCU’s press be effective
Role players stepped up
Bradford Burgess is known for his scrappy defensive play and occasional offense contributions; this time, was the star of the second half, going 4-4 during the period, 3 of which were treys. The freshman could have come out spooked in his first taste of post season play, but he rose to the occasion.
T.J Gwynn formally joined the rotation at forward and spelled Larry Sanders and Kirill Pishchalnikov effectively. Gwynn tapped previously unseen skills in the low post position and held his own. However, Gwynn’s 2 rebounds in 13 minutes showed that his athleticism couldn’t completely make up for his 6-4 stature. After losing a rebound and committing a foul 8 minutes into the 2nd half, Sanders was back in the game for good.
Brandon Rozzell was the first player off VCU’s bench, but had a cold start and appeared to injure his right thumb in the first half. He re-emerged in the 2nd half shaking off the injury with a pair of threes, 12 total points, and a pair of steals. Look for him to continue being a solid offensive and defensive contributor.
Referees understand tournament basketball
The refs did exactly what referees should do come tournament time. They swallowed their whistles. Play was aggressive, but the foul calls were not. This bodes well for VCU, and more specifically, Larry Sanders, later in this weekend.
Sanders did pick up 4 during the game, including a first half foul at the 12:22 mark, after which he was immediately benched by Coach Anthony Grant. VCU flirted with smaller lineups and rotated Rozzell, Gwynn, Ed Nixon, and Terrance Saintil effectively.
VCU broke the poor shooting trend
The Scott Pharr’s stat-of-the-day was the poor shooting percentages by CAA teams. Clearly, CAA teams looked pathetic, going a combined 38 percent on Friday. VCU turned that stat around, shooting 55 percent for the game. Georgia State couldn’t overcome the cold shooting virus in the Coliseum, shooting 35 percent.
The full court press was clicking
The press was ever-present for the Rams and wore down the Panthers offense. With about 5 minutes left in the first half, Georgia State started coming perilously close to 10 second violations each time down the court, and eventually started turning the ball over. In the 2nd half, Georgia State’s half-court offense was in shambles – VCU was consistently eating up 10-15 seconds of clock with the press before Georgia State could get set. If it weren’t for the numerous 35-second clock buzzer beaters, Georgia State would have been out of contention early.
The Rams fans put on the full court press as well. A sea of yellow overwhelmed the Coliseum, and a mere 17, yes, 17 Georgia State fans comprised their student section. The Coliseum’s enormous size buffered the noise, however, and the game did not have the buzz typical of post season basketball. In the Semis and Finals, Rams fans must bring a friend and a bullhorn to make sure they are heard.
VCU is clearly the team to beat
Not only was VCU dominating in their 61-52 win, but they showed they have all the pieces they need to win the CAA Tournament. If these four trends continue: role players stepping up, decent shooting percentage, no foul trouble, and effective full court press, the Rams can consider their ticket to the Big Dance punched.