Connect with us

Mens Basketball

The Day After: Welcome Back Atlantic 10 Play

The Day After: Welcome Back Atlantic 10 Play

VCU Men’s Basketball did exactly what they needed to do against Howard. The Rams grounded the Bison offensively and defensively while giving their reserves some much needed minutes as Atlantic 10 conference play draws near. A day after VCU ended non-conference play on a four-game winning streak, let’s analyze some things as we welcome back A-10 play.

(GAME RECAP: VCU Runs Up Howard & The Scoreboard)

A +34 Point Finale

The Bison were wounded upon entering the Siegel Center with a handful of injuries to play through their limited player rotation. VCU was able to feast on Howard while gaining some extra confidence as out-of-conference play came to an end with an 85-51 win in the Stu.

Nearly everything was working in favor of the Rams. HAVOC was extra stingy in the full court press and zone defense as VCU collected 12 steals and forced 21 turnovers. Offensively, the Rams turned those turnovers into 24 points while also shooting 52% from the field. Even without Hamdy playing and Mo Alie-Cox only having nine minutes of play, the Rams outscored Howard 36-26 in the paint.

Ball movement was a key to VCU’s offensive success. VCU recorded a season-high 22 assists against Howard; Jonathan Williams led the Rams with six assists while JeQuan Lewis dished out five. There were a few instances that showed an unnecessary VCU pass going into Howard’s hands on a fast break; however, for a majority of the game, the Rams valued the basketball while moving the rock around the hardwood.

Hard Work During The Holidays

In this contest, VCU executed as close to a complete game performance as a team this season thus far. VCU Men’s Basketball Head Coach Will Wade stated that his team followed the scouting report and prepared very well upon the tip-off.

While most VCU students are using winter break literally as a break, the Rams of VCU Men’s Basketball doubled down on their workload. Lewis explained that while it’s nice to not have classes currently, the team is spending more time in the practice facility working on the details in preparation.

Preparation led to meaningful minutes against Howard for VCU’s bench. The Rams bench averaged 20 minutes of gameplay against the Bison with Justin Tillman leading the charge; Fro was one rebound short of a double-double (12 PTS, 9 REBS).  Outscoring Howard’s bench 42-19, the Black & Gold reserves performed well in a real game scenario while also gaining confidence with A-10 play looming.

A-10 Ready

As Atlantic 10 conference play is set to begin, VCU is sitting pretty at 10-3 overall. Besides a few slip-ups versus Illinois and Georgia Tech, there has been good progress made by VCU since the early moments of this new college basketball season.

“We let a few slip away but overall I feel like it was a really good start for our season. We just hope to start our A-10 conference that way.” –JeQuan Lewis

At this point of the season last time out, VCU is floating in similar waters this year. Back in 2015, the Rams sat at 8-5 upon the start of conference play. Questions and concerns were amok with concern over could have, should have won kind of defeats against #9 Duke, Wisconsin, Florida State and #23 Cincinnati. However, the Rams turned the train around winning their last three non-conference games before launching a 12 game winning streak.

Here in the present day, VCU is 10-3 overall and finished non-conference play on a four-game winning streak. Questions and concerns rose over could have, should have wins turned losses against #20 Baylor, Illinois and Georgia Tech. We’ve seen this trend before. Of course, another massive collection of victories in A-10 play would be enough to satisfy us all right?

Everyone is starting to following suit with the program. VCU’s backcourt has started valuing the basketball while limiting turnovers and unnecessary highlight reel passes. Lewis and Williams now understand that they must set the pace as soon as the ball is tipped to give VCU a fighting chance.

The frontcourt continues evolving their paint presence. Mo Alie-Cox is already physically threatening enough but alongside Tillman in the trenches, VCU has a promising rim attack in the making. Add that with Jordan Burgess’ corner 3 Ball, a confident bench full of weapons and HAVOC on a good stretch of defending prowess has the Rams ready for the Atlantic 10.

Welcome Back To The Atlantic 10

It’s the most wonderful time of the season: Conference Play! Coach Wade thinks that the Atlantic 10 as a whole may have been slept on a little bit this season. Some feel that the A-10 has lost a small step and may not be as competitive as years past. Opportunity awaits VCU to seize quality wins with seven A-10 members currently in the top 80 RPI-wise nationally.

Atlantic 10 RPI (As Of December 27, 2016)

Davidson: 40

Rhode Island: 45

VCU: 52

Dayton: 54

Saint Joseph’s: 59

UMass: 77

La Salle: 80

One thing is near a guarantee for VCU: If the Rams take care of business in the Atlantic 10 then the Black & Gold will be dancing in March once more. In order to get there according to Coach Wade, VCU must put their best foot forward on the nightly basis come game time.

“We need our best effort of the year every game from here on out. We need to play really well. Complete Games. We can’t play for 10, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 25 minutes. We’re going (to need) to play complete games. That’s what it is going to take.” –Coach Wade

Winning is not easy; winning consistently is often twice as difficult. In order to call it a successful Atlantic 10 campaign, Coach Wade set the bar between 13 and 14 A-10 wins for VCU. That same bar remains unchanged from last season where VCU went 14-4 in conference play and finished as A-10 co-champions of the regular season along with Dayton and St. Bonaventure.

The road to 13 or 14 wins has a bumpy start. VCU opens up A-10 play at George Mason and plays four of their first six Atlantic 10 games on the road. As an extra bonus, the Patriots are also 10-3 overall and currently striving with nine straight victories.

A Familiar Green & Gold Foe

George Mason and VCU have a history. Former members of the CAA that have had some pretty intense games from Fairfax back down to RVA. Last season the Rams won their A-10 home opener against George Mason 71-47 but the Patriots had the last laugh up in EagleBank Arena with a 76-69 win over the Rams.

Taking a deeper dive into that road loss at George Mason, VCU did not play well in Fairfax. Korey Billbury and Melvin Johnson was the only productive offensive figures for the Rams while everyone else struggled. Mason shot an impressive 50% from the field in that contest and also outrebounded VCU 47-37. No Ram on this current roster had more than eight points besides Mo Alie-Cox and Jonathan Williams in that road game.

Fast forwarding to the showdown on Friday night, this George Mason team is fairly decent. The Patriots may have a low RPI rating but they have one outstanding player in senior Marquise Moore. Moore who has already won the Atlantic 10 Player of the Week honor twice this season is averaging 18.1 PPG and 11.1 RPG. You won’t see Moore shooting a lot from the three point spot but expect him to charge inside or unleash a shooting barrage from mid-range.

Adding Moore with point production from Jalen Jenkins and Otis Livingston equals a dangerous road game for VCU. History is in the Black & Gold’s favor as VCU is 4-0 in conference play openers since joining the Atlantic 10:

2012-13: vs. Dayton, 74-62 W

2013-14: vs. George Mason, 71-57 W

2014-15: at Fordham, 75-58 W

2015-16: vs. George Mason, 71-47 W

Beating any Division I team is no easy task. Regardless of opponent and skill comparison, the game still needs to be played to decide a victor. Coach Wade is already in preparation mode with a limited amount of time before making the trip up to EagleBank Arena. A win is always the best way to start your conference schedule however this is not a guaranteed victory for VCU. George Mason upset the Rams once, the Patriots are more than capable to do that again.

It’s Showtime

We’ve reached the portion of the season with all eyes fiercely gazing upon VCU. Conference play is the major bulk of any team and you want to perform at your best during this stretch. The Rams were a little funky out of the gates this season but as play continued VCU has stepped up together in unity and basketball IQ. Players are starting to understand what their role is on this VCU team and how to execute to the best of their abilities. There is still plenty of work left on the agenda to make the Black & Gold shine as a premier powerhouse.

Turning down the three point attempts is a steady work in progress. Turnovers have started to diminish once again under VCU’s magic number of 12 per game at maximum. Progression is on display on both sides of the basketball but Coach Wade knows that there is room for growth. As the Rams continue with A-10 preparation, Wade stated that there is only pressure on you if you aren’t prepared to play the game come show time.

Well VCU. It’s Show Time.

Let the Atlantic 10 Madness Commence.

Breakaway Takeaways

The Streak Is Over: Mo Alie-Cox’s impressive streak of six straight games with 3 blocks or more came to an end against Howard. The senior forward was unable to start a #MoSaysNo chant in Siegel Center on Tuesday night. Sad.

Hamdy Good-2-Go: Ahmed Hamdy did not dress up for the Howard game due to a Coach’s Decision. Coach Wade did make it clear that the big man will be suited up and ready to play in Fairfax Friday night.

One More Time: During that 40 minutes of college basketball, VCU and Howard was only tied at one point during play. That moment was when it was 2-2 on the scoreboard with 19:23 left in the 1st Half. The Bison also never lead VCU in the game.

Follow JeQuan’s Lead: JeQuan Lewis led VCU in scoring for the seventh time this season. Lewis is currently averaging 15.4 PPG on 46% shooting from the field, 44% from downtown and 80% from the free throw line. Lead the way JeQuan, lead the way.

Value The Rock: VCU is currently averaging 15.8 assists per game while limiting their opponents to 10.2. That one pass could be the difference from scoring and a turnover. Great to see the passing game getting a Black & Gold upgrade.

Ram Reminder: Atlantic 10 conference play begins for VCU Men’s Basketball on Friday, December 30th as the Rams head to EagleBank Arena to take on George Mason. Tip-off set for 8 PM on CBS Sports Network.


Mark graduated from VCU in 2014 with a major in Criminal Justice and a minor in Psychology. He started as a fan of the Black & Gold in the stands his freshman year. Mark was known as "Kazie" for his charismatic fandom with the VCU's student organization the Rowdy Rams. While at VCU he gained experience in sports media with WVCW on a sports radio show called Rowdy Radio. Following graduation, Mark continued crafting his social media skills with the Richmond Kickers while also handling VCU coverage. He is a true fan of the Rams and vocally passionate on and off camera. After the final whistle, you can probably find him at local RVA bar or brewery enjoying a drink and conversation.

More in Mens Basketball