Under-appreciated history, the importance of Treveon Graham, and flipping the switch.
- What: #VCU (18-5, 8-2) vs. La Salle (13-10, 5-5)
- Where: Stuart C. Siegel Center
- When: Wednesday, February 8, 2015
- Watch: CBS Sports Network
- Listen: Rams Radio
Blurb: Under-appreciated history, the importance of Treveon Graham, and flipping the switch.
After losing two of its last three games, #20 Virginia Commonwealth University returns home to try and right the HAVOC! ship while hosting La Salle.
In the eyes of VCU fans, La Salle often lives in the the shadows of teams like Saint Louis and Richmond, but VCU-La Salle has given fans of the Atlantic 10 Conference two of the best games of the last three seasons.
The first came in 2012-13 when the Explorers topped VCU 69-61 in the Stuart C. Siegel Center. The Rams are an impressive 18-2 at home during their stint in the Atlantic 10, and La Salle was the only team to win a conference game on Broad Street until two weeks ago when Richmond topped VCU 64-55.
The second game was a double-overtime thriller last season in Tom Gola Arena. After leading 29-18 in the first half, VCU fell behind 69-59 in the second half before ultimately forcing overtime twice and triumphing behind 61 points and 27 rebounds from Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic.
Wednesday promises to be another classic. Like Richmond and St. Bonaventure, the last two teams to beat VCU, La Salle is a talented but underperforming squad. Meanwhile, VCU has struggled since losing Briante Weber for the season and Treveon Graham for an uncertain amount of time. Plenty can be said about the promise, talent, and spirit of the Rams, but VCU simply has more weaknesses that can be exposed, like rebounding, defending, and forcing turnovers without its two best players.
It’s VCU. It’s HAVOC!. It’s Coach Smart. There is a 95% chance the switch will flip for the Rams this season. It’s only a question of when. With each passing game, the urgency increases as VCU’s NCAA Tournament seed, Atlantic 10 Tournament seed, and Conference Title hopes are now more contested than ever.
While the Explorers of seasons past were led by dominant guards like Tyreek Duren, Tyrone Garland, and Ramon Galloway, 2015 La Salle boasts one of the best and most consistent front-courts in the conference. Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright simultaneously present matchup opportunities and nightmares.
Last season VCU took advantage of opportunities and ran more than a dozen isolation plays for Treveon Graham that exposed the much slower 6-foot-11 Steve Zack. If the Rams are without Graham, VCU will be forced to go guard or forward at the four spot instead of using the incomparable hybrid game of the Freight Train. That will mean sacrificing defense or offense depending upon strategy.
Defensively, Zack’s long frame is complemented by Jerrell Wright, who’s 6-foot-8 and 255 pounds of craft and guts. Without Treveon Graham, St. Bonaventure forwards Dion Wright and Denzell Gregg combined for 29 points (12-of-16 shooting) and 11 rebounds. Being forced to choose between Jordan Burgess or Jarred Guest as complements to Mo Alie-Cox will make Wednesday’s matchup significantly more challenging.
All-in-all, La Salle’s offense is a far cry from 2013, but they have several guys, including Jordan Price, who can heat up and put the team on their back. Defensively, this is Dr. John Giannini’s best team in his eleven season tenure in Philadelphia. VCU needs to hope for the best and prepare for the worst with Treveon Graham while approaching Wednesday with that Aggressive, Confident, and Loose demeanor that has enabled HAVOC! to triumph over adversity so many times before.
THE STAR: #21 Jordan Price
16.6 PPG (82-184 2PFG, 41-125 3PFG), 3.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 3.3 TOPG
A sophomore transfer from Auburn, Jordan Price is a 6-foot-5 physical guard who thrives as a volume shooter–usually. He has games of 31, 30, 30, 28, 26, 24, and 21 points this season. He’s most effective inside the 3-point arc, and he’s occasionally prone to the demon of variance.
He has five single-digit performances including six points against Saint Joseph’s, four points on 2-of-13 shooting against Rhode Island, and two points on 1-of-11 shooting against George Mason. Price is capable of willing his team past superior opponents but he’s also capable of sinking the Explorers. Limiting him is a good start to beating La Salle.
#2 Amar Stukes (G, Freshman) • Freshman point guard! The Explorers have enough guards to keep up with HAVOC!, but it’s always a challenge visiting the Siegel Center as a rookie.
#3 Cleon Roberts (G, Sophomore) • He’s an invaluable shooter on a team without much 3-point punch. He transferred in from Georgia Southern and is 38-of-93 from 3-point range.
#25 Jerrell Wright (F, Junior) • VCU’s defensive rebounding has left a lot to be desired recently. Wright could go off for 10+ points on the offensive glass alone.
#0 Steve Zack (C, Junior) He’s probably the best defensive rebounder in the Atlantic 10, and he’s also an effective shot-blocker. Creating mismatches with him should be important on offense.
#23 Khalid Lewis (G, Junior) He’s a do-a-little-bit-of-everything guard, but the Explorers need more from him on offense.
KenPom picks VCU to win 71-61 with an 85% chance of victory.
LA SALLE PROFILE
- Location: Philadelphia, PA
- Enrollment: ~6,500
- Conference: A-10
- All-time Series: VCU leads 4-1.
- Last Meeting: 1/25/2014. VCU won 97-89 in double overtime.