Don’t look know but the two biggest road matchups of the season are up next for VCU… well I mean after they host St. Louis. The pesky Billikens stand in the way of the two game stretch fans have been speculating about since the A-10 schedule was announced. Before they can get to their epic road tests they need to take care of business in their penultimate home game of the season.
Fanning the Flames
This matchup is also Will Wade’s last/best opportunity to find ways to motivate his guys. “Sometimes there’s a brush fire and I like to start a forest fire.” Those were Wade’s words after the Richmond victory; referencing the critiques about his players’ performances the previous game against an over matched St. Joseph’s team. The coach intentionally oversold his team’s issues in order to quickly correct the minor problems that led to a lackluster performance. In his post Richmond press conference Wade seemed like he welcomed the SJU performance as a way to grab his players’ focus in the following practices. The idea I’m trying to get at here is don’t expect Wade to be thrilled with his group’s play against the 9-18 Billikens, he wants to sniff out any possible issues and fix them prior to their final road trip.
Potential Danger in the Paint
After his latest post-game press conference it’s now difficult to know when Coach Wade is legitimately concerned or just trying to start another “forest fire.” He did emphasize the dangers St. Louis poses to his guys, he made the point that George Mason is the team most similar to VCU in the A-10 (offensively) and SLU grabbed 2 of their 4 league wins over the Patriots. “St. Louis is made to beat us,” Wade said, citing SLU’s emphasis on defending the paint as a cause for concern. Is he actually concerned or is he just trying to find a way to prompt his squad to treat their next opponent like their Rhode Island or Dayton?
Billikens at the Bottom
The Billikens own the worst overall in the conference but sit in 11th, a game up on the 3 teams tied for last. Other than their eyebrow raising wins over GMU the other two schools they beat in the league are in a three way tie for last. Offensively SLU is the weakest among the A-10, ranking last in points per game and FG%. Their “strength” is three point shooting, this group has the 8th best 3PT% among conference teams. It’s not much but that’s all the best stat the Billikens can hang their hat their hat on.
Defend the Arc
St. Louis’ leading scorer Davell Doby, he averages 11.7 points per game. Doby holds the distinction of being the lowest scoring player of all the A-10 players who lead their team in scoring. He is the only player on his roster who ranks among the top 30 scorers in the A-10. Doby checks in at 30th. The Billikens are also one of only three league schools to place only one player among that top 30. The other two schools are UMASS and GW. Doby is a 6-4 junior guard who is one of the best three point shooters in the conference, he shoots nearly 40%. They have 4 other players whose 3PT% falls between 33%-36%. All 4 average between 5-8 points per game while playing around 24 minutes a night. SLU rings one player who is absolutely a threat to score from deep and four others a may be hot in any particular contest.
Early in the season SLU was getting great numbers from Jermaine Bishop, a 6-1 guard but he hasn’t played after mid-December. Bishop was scoring incrementally less than fellow guard Davell Doby and percentage wise (36.6%), was the second best shooter on the team. As it stands today, their three point barrage in underwhelming but whenever a team is willing to throw up those shots you need to defend them. Fordham is one of the worst shooting teams in the A-10 but they used the three point shot to great effect against VCU, back in January.
Battle of the Bigs
The Billikens have some productive big men in Reggie Agbeko and Elliot Welmer. Agbeko at 6-7 240 pounds averages 9 points and 7 rebounds. Welmer at 6-9 215 pounds averages 7 and 4. They are nice producers but nothing the best frontcourt in the A-10 shouldn’t be able to handle. VCU’s intimidating trio of Mo, Tillman and Hamdy experienced foul trouble and didn’t put up their usual collective numbers against Richmond. A date with St. Louis should get them back on track before they visit the only other front court in the conference who can compete VCU’s, that is of course Rhode Island’s front court.
First Place Finish on the Line
VCU plays the most challenging remaining schedule as they try to keep pace with Dayton for first place. Including last Friday’s contest at UR, VCU will play 4 of their final 5 games against teams currently ranked 2-5 in the A-10. They can’t afford to lose the last “easy” matchup on their conference schedule. A loss to these Billikens not only drops VCU out of first place it also adds another horrible to loss to a resume that is thin as it is. The Rams should find it easy to get up for this game when their two most important season goals (win the league, get an NCAA tournament bid) a riding on a victory over a St. Louis program that is still a year or two away from being a real threat in the A-10.