#16 Virginia Commonwealth University visits the unrecognizable Saint Louis Billikens on Friday.
- What: #16 VCU (15-3, 5-0) at Saint Louis (9-9, 1-4)
- Where: Chaifetz Arena
- When: Friday, January 23rd at 7:00 PM
- Watch: ESPN2
- Listen: Rams Radio
Over the past few seasons, VCU and SLU have built a history and familiarity that almost always guarantees emotional and entertaining basketball. Going back to 2010 when the Rams beat the Billikens in back-to-back games to win the CBI Tournament, the two teams have faced off six intense times and are tied at 3-3.
In VCU’s first two seasons in the Atlantic 10, they finished 12-4 and in second place to 13-3 SLU both times. The Billikens also beat VCU in the finals of the 2013 A-10 Tournament. So good were the battles between Coach Crews and Coach Smart, that the abandoned CAA history with Old Dominion and George Mason seemed a small sacrifice for such ESPN-worthy basketball.
But gone are the names Jett and Evans, McCall and Loe. Left in their stead are a couple of impressive banners and a young team of unrecognizable names trying to build an identity.
There were some returners. Grandy Glaze had the tools to average 12 points and eight rebounds per game but a dislocated shoulder derailed his season before it even started. Austin McBroom, a crucial scorer off of the bench last season made it to the court, but he has underwhelmed and has been limited the past few games. John Manning is currently the most successful returnee, and he’s averaging 2.7 PPG and 2.4 RPG.
It’s college basketball. Certain years in certain programs there’s a lot of change. We went through it after the 2011 season. We lost a lot of guys.Coach Smart
The reigning regular season and tournament champions Saint Louis (9-9, 1-4) and Saint Joseph’s (7-9, 1-4), respectively, are a constant reminder of how rare consistency is in college basketball.
Few programs have enjoyed the consistency of HAVOC! In his first five years, Coach Smart averaged 27.4 wins per season. Furthermore, in the shadow of the run to the Final Four, 2012 had the makings of the kind of season that turns coaches’ hair gray. Despite the graduation of Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, Ed Nixon, and Brandon Rozzell, Coach Smart set a school-record with 29 wins.
There are few greater feelings in sports than the belief that a team is always headed to a brighter future. Anything but faith in the future of VCU basketball has been noticeably absent over the past few seasons. Saint Louis is down. They’ll undoubtedly be back. On Friday, take a moment and appreciate how long it’s been since anyone has had to say that about VCU.
In his third season, Coach Crews is trying to build a team in the mold of so many teams led by his predecessor, Coach Rick Majerus: big, physical, and disciplined on defense. The progress has been slow coming. They rank dead-last in the A-10 in defensive efficiency and teams have been lighting them up from 3-point and 2-point range.
The Billikens have seen more progress on the offensive end. They are adept at getting to the free-throw line and their shooting numbers are improving after an abysmal start, but they struggle with turnovers and generating second-chance points.
Coach Crews has enough young talent that he can mold into a talented team in a few years, but the Billikens have plenty of work to do before they can contend again in the Atlantic 10.
THE STAR: #4 Milik Yarbrough
10.3 PPG (66-115 2PFG, 3-15 3PFG), 4.9 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.6 TOPG
At 6 foot 6, 230 pounds, he boasts a similar body to Dwayne Evans and is the Billikens’ leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. He dropped 26 points on George Washington and averaged 21 PPG through the first three games of Atlantic 10 play but has just 13 points in the last two games. Still, on a team without much established talent, he has solidified himself as what Coach Smart calls the “best freshman in the league thus far.”
#5 Davell Roby (G, Freshman) • Roby struggles with fouls and turnovers, but he’s developing into a scorer and a playmaker on a team that lacks and needs both.
#0 Marcus Bartley (G, Freshman) • He adds essential 3-point shooting (15-of-35), especially in the absence of McBroom.
#3 Achraf Yacoubou (G, Junior) • A Villanova transfer, he is the Billikens’ second-leading scorer and leading rebounder. He didn’t make many threes in non-conference play, but he’s 6-of-14 from range since the beginning of the A-10 season.
#54 John Manning (F, Senior) • The lone senior on the team, he’s an adept rim-protector, but he lacks the offensive skill to be much more than an allen wrench.
#2 Austin McBroom (G, Junior) • The undersized Central Michigan transfer hit 43 3-pointers last season for the Billikens. He’s 31-of-65 (.477) this season, but he’s only played 16 combined minutes in the last two games.
KenPom picks VCU to win 75-61 with a 92% chance of victory.
SAINT LOUIS PROFILE
- Location: Saint Louis, MO
- Enrollment: ~13,800
- Conference: A-10
- All-time Series Tied 3-3.
- Last Meeting 3/1/2014. VCU won 67-56.