A day after Black & Gold united all across the Steel City during the Atlantic 10 Tournament, VCU Men’s Basketball looks ahead to dancing one more time in the NCAA Tournament. Even though the Rams fell short in the A-10 Title Game, VCU’s total body of work during the season was rewarded with a trip to Salt Lake City.
A Crazy Couple Of Days
The Atlantic 10 Tournament went on the road from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and made way to Pittsburgh inside the PPG Paints Arena. 5 days of intense win or go home college basketball for a shot at the A-10 Title and a guaranteed ticket punched into March Madness.
There were buzz, emotion and various forms of pressure on some bubble teams knowing that they had to win in order to get in. Teams like VCU and Dayton already had done enough to claim their spot in the field of 68 while Richmond, Rhode Island and the rest of the A-10 field had work to do in Pittsburgh.
As the tournament began, teams rose to the occasion as the stakes got higher with every passing round. From Davidson knocking out top-seeded Dayton in a thrilling upset to George Mason clawing out of overtime over Fordham; March was here and putting on one hell of a show in PPG Paints Arena.
First Game Is Always The Hardest
VCU would end George Mason’s hopes in their first game of the tournament in the A-10 Quarterfinals. A 71-60 victory for the Black & Gold showcased Agent Zero aka De’Riante Jenkins igniting off the bench with 15 points. Jonathan Williams brought out the pure Glaze of his game and JeQuan Lewis put the finishing touches on points and assists.
The Patriots were not a VCU punching bag as Marquise Moore led Mason with 11 points and 17 rebounds versus the Rams. Mason just could not stop the Rams from marching inside as buckets continued to fall. In the end, VCU accomplished the 3-Peat over George Mason and moved on to face another familiar opposition.
A Sticky Semi-Final
Nothing like a rivalry game to decide who goes on to Championship Sunday. In order to make it to the A-10 Finals for the 5th consecutive time, VCU would have to beat Richmond for the 3rd time this season.
At first glance, the game was more De’Monte Buckingham vs. VCU. Buckingham was nearly perfect out the gates unlike his Richmond counterparts while the Rams worked on getting their paint presence kick started.
Once that happened, VCU struck gold at the rim. The trio of Mo, Fro & Hamdy were able to control the glass while getting key Spider T.J. Cline in foul trouble. VCU was going with the flow in the first half shooting 60% from the field.
Richmond found a way to get back into it as Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones finally woke up offensively. Back and forth the lead went that overtime was needed in order to decide the winner. There was too much Ram for the Spiders to handle as Tillman slammed home the dagger with an 87-77 win for the Black & Gold.
Ramin’ For A Title
A Battle of the Rams is one thing; putting the A-10 Title and a NCAA Tournament bid on the line just makes it a prize fight. Championship Sunday featured #2 VCU taking on #4 Rhode Island and this was physical from beginning to end.
Rhody came onto the court still with the hot hand from their shellacking of an A-10 Semi-Final vs. Davidson. E.C. Matthews lit up from three while Hassan Martin handled the paint; VCU was handling their own inside however the basket was not a fan as the ball was not too kind.
Things were scrappy on nearly every possession. Dog piles for jump balls, a technical foul on Coach Hurley, Mo Alie-Cox with a pick that knocked Jarvis Garrett out. Literally.
VCU fought valiantly, however, the deficit was too great as Rhode Island put the doubt of Last 4 In or Not to rest as they hoisted the Atlantic 10 Championship and a March Madness ticket.
Hard Work Gets Rewarded
Even though VCU fell short on Championship Sunday, the Rams got the news they wanted to hear and see. Hours later Selection Sunday was broadcasted as the field of 68 for the NCAA Tournament was revealed.
East Region…Midwest…South. No VCU in sight. JeQuan Lewis admitted that he was kind of nervous when 3 Regions were displayed and he didn’t see VCU on there yet. To the disappointment of Ram Fans, VCU could possibly be playing well away from Richmond yet again.
Or did somehow VCU get snubbed even with finishing the season 26-8? Various thoughts were racing through the minds as the West Region was released.
The top #1 seed is Gonzaga. Ok, Ok. 8 vs. 9…No VCU. 5 vs. 12? Nope. Surely 4 vs. 13? Negative. Finally, the Rams found what they were searching for.
#7 Saint Mary’s Gaels vs. #10 VCU Rams
Thursday, March 16th
Salt Lake City, Utah
7:20 PM, TBS
For the 7th consecutive year, VCU will indeed be dancing in the Big Dance. This will be the 16th time in school history for the Rams and the 6th time VCU earned an at-large selection. St. Mary’s and VCU will battle each other for the first time come Thursday evening.
Who Are The Gaels?
This was probably the most common question once the matchup was shown. Who is VCU facing? Never heard of them? Well here are the basics Ram fans.
Saint Mary’s comes out of the West Coast Conference; yes, the same conference where Gonzaga resides. The Gaels gave Gonzaga a run for their money as the WCC runner-up finishing conference play at 16-2 and just 1 game behind the Zags.
In the WCC Tournament, Saint Mary’s got the #2 seed and faced off against #1 Gonzaga in the Finals. The Zags did work on the Gaels in the 1st half as St. Mary’s was outscored 39-18. After some halftime adjustments, St. Mary’s had a better 2nd half shooting 51% from the field and going 6-of-10 from downtown.
Leading their offense was Calvin Hermanson with 14 points and Jock Landale was the other Gael in double figures with 10. However, Gonzaga showcased their dominance and why they were the #1 seed with a 74-56 win.
Saint Mary’s has an overall record of 28-4 and ranked #19 in the Top 25. The Gaels did face Atlantic 10 opposition in Dayton at UD Arena this season and won 61-57 back in November. As a team, SMC is 15th nationally in assists per game (16.8 APG) and 2nd in points allowed (56.5 PPG).
So…Does VCU Have A Shot?
Looking further into this matchup, it comes down to which VCU team shows up to Salt Lake in order to answer that question. SMC’s main offensive weapon is the forward-center combo of Hermanson and Landale.
Jock Landale in comparison to VCU is a mix of Mo Alie-Cox’s size and Justin Tillman’s shot and drive. Landale leads St. Mary’s with 16.8 PPG and averages 9.3 RPG; the next closest Gael in rebounding is Dane Pineau with 6.2 RPG.
Calvin Hermanson is the second part of the combo that can sting from downtown. Hermanson has netted 83 treys this season at around 44% from the three point spot. He’s lengthy and averages the 2nd best point average of 13.0 PPG behind Landale.
Basically, those two big men are on VCU’s radar as to whom to shut down just enough to grab a victory in the first round. Other Gaels can pop off the bench to provide support, however, this game will come down to how HAVOC can deal with Hermanson and Landale
When dealing with Rhode Island in the title game, VCU actually kept control of the glass against Rhody’s bigs. VCU was able to outrebound Rhody 47-36 and get Kuran Iverson and Hassan Martin in early foul trouble.
That is what VCU will have to do against Saint Mary’s. Justin Tillman can power his way to his 12th double-double of this season while Mo Alie-Cox and Ahmed Hamdy lay waste to any Gael going after a rebound or crashing the rim. Painting the glass Black & Gold will be very crucial in Vivint Smart Home Arena.
So You’re Saying There Is A Chance?
Besides the war on the glass upcoming, VCU offensively is another wild card. The Rams had good games and questionable games on offense this season; mistakes will happen but too many can force an early exit out of the NCAA Tournament.
VCU’s bread and butter lay within the paint and better be ready to run once the ball is tipped. From there, VCU’s backcourt needs to crash inside along with the frontcourt. This team can smash bodies & buckets in bunches as Coach Wade preaches his players to keep sprinting inside.
Mentally the Rams must remain calm and stay away from desperation 3 Ball mode. This doesn’t mean VCU needs to abandon the three-pointer altogether; VCU needs to stop getting in the habit of living and dying by the 3 when there are better options on the court. Against a stingy defense like SMC’s, there will be spots where VCU will have to rely on the three.
Key players like De’Riante Jenkins and Jonathan Williams will look to keep their game going in March. Jenkins turned heads versus George Mason from downtown and Williams turned into an NFL prospect just running inside and scoring against the odds. Don’t forget about Philly slasher Samir Doughty who’s looking to get down there as well.
After all the reading, watching and typing is completed, I honestly have a feeling of déjà vu. That feeling is coming from last season when VCU was paired up with #7 Oregon State in the Round of 64. A good team from a Power conference that had a main offensive weapon with decent support pieces.
Then what happened? Coach Wade looked into the details for the Beavers and VCU took care of business with a 75-67 win. A game that came down to the glass were VCU grabbed 40 rebounds and scored 40 points from inside the paint box.
Jumping back to present day to this season’s NCAA festivity and I can’t help but see some similarities except with a better team. Saint Mary’s is a good team with an experienced frontcourt. If HAVOC is able to slow down or terminate SMC’s frontcourt, there isn’t that much support left for the Gaels offensively.
Scoring against SMC’s defense is another tough challenge. The Gaels make teams play at their pace which leads to miscues and turnovers. If VCU sees daylight and bullies their way to the basket then the Rams can withstand the pressure from SMC. This will be anything but easy yet not impossible.
Here’s a stat for those Bracket Buster readers; The #7 seeds have won nearly 61% of meetings against #10 seeds. Also, the #7 has won 11 of 16 (68.8%) games since 2013. So those stats would be against the Rams in this scenario except VCU was a #10 Seed when they beat #7 Oregon State last year.
Plus, when looking at the calendar, it’s the 3rd Month. Anything is possible in March. Might be time to bust some perfect brackets come Thursday.
Ram Reminder: March Madness starts for VCU Men’s Basketball as #10 seed as the Rams battle #7 Saint Mary’s in Salt Lake City. Tip-Off is set for Thursday, March 16th inside Vivint Smart Home Arena at 7:20 PM on TBS.