With Atlantic 10 conference play making the rounds, VCU Men’s Basketball, fortunately, picked back up their winning ways after the holidays. Fordham did test the home team for 40 minutes yet VCU was able to get the result they and the Ram faithful wanted: A Win. Starting A-10 Play at 1-0 is fantastic however as Coach Mike Rhoades simply stated: There’s more work to be done in 2018.
(GAME RECAP: VCU Cooks Fordham in A-10 Opener)
The Boys Are Back In Town!
Inside the Siegel Center on a rather chilly Saturday afternoon, VCU chimed in a workload with a full working roster. Issac Vann was quite the surprise making his return after a 4 game hiatus with his ankle sprain and put in a 26-minute shift. The Vannimal appeared to not have missed a step with his speed, shot creation and passing performing at high levels.
Justin Tillman continued clicking on his floor production with his third consecutive double-double performance and number 5 in total for the year; 23 points including a pair of three-pointers and 14 rebounds. The Fro was in a trance and shined as bright as those Golden throwback uniforms that VCU was sporting on the occasion.
Malik Crowfield reappeared in the Starting Five for the first time since his ankle sprain. The beloved three ball was not too kind against Fordham but Crowfield made up for that from mid-range and on defense. The Ram out of the Bayou was a pest for Fordham with 3 steals and constantly kept the pressure on even in transition.
This was the first time since the early games of the season that VCU looked prime with 12 players producing minutes on the floor. Everyone was nearly in sync and was enjoying playing the game; even De’Riante Jenkins had that devilish smile playing defense and that was a sight with VCU communicating and implementing defensive awareness together.
An Eyebrow Raise Towards The Lane
With Tillman producing record-breaking numbers night in and night out, his paint partner Khris Lane appears to have hit a snag. Ever since Texas and #19 Seton Hall games, Lane has struggled in production with 19 total points and 15 total rebounds in 4 games.
Sometimes during the season, players go through the emotions of a cold run and Lane is doing just that. There is no lack of trying from the senior transfer as he is literally busting his ass towards the loose ball and battling for rebounds. Unfortunately, he’s just not producing the numbers fans have been accustomed to seeing.
His backup in Marcus Santos-Silva from the VCU bench is also having a rough time. With Santos-Silva, the point production is climbing while the rebounding game is either steady or falling from game to game. Fortunately for VCU, their guards are lending hands inside the paint for a good team rebounding presence while their bigs continue working on their game.
Motivation is coming from Justin Tillman’s work ethic. As he continues to grind in the gym, everyone else is working twice as hard. Friendly competition is a great motivator; just ask Malik Crowfield and De’Riante Jenkins about their three-point contest during the season.
What’s In The Reserve?
Coach Rhoades knows he has a deep reserve on his bench and that’s going to be a major key in conference play. Looking back at VCU versus Fordham, Fordham only played 7 players compared to VCU’s 12. You don’t need to be a math major to realize how huge of an advantage this is over time.
With reserves alongside Santos-Silva and Vann, there is plenty for the opposition to worry about on GAMEDAY. Mike’l Simms is forming into a respectable shooter with extra RESPEK on it. Tyler Maye is cashing in on more minutes and making them count on both ends of the court. Xavier Jackson and Sean Mobley may have had a quiet game against Fordham but if those two start to get running, look out.
Of course, the main focus on the Black & Gold bench thus far has been Issac Vann and Marcus Santos-Silva. With Vann, the game can instantly change in VCU favors just on his presence alone upon entering the game. Santos-Silva is improving his presence inside the paint and once that production starts to become a regular sighting, the Rams will have a more dominant paint game.
So when Coach Rhoades states that he has a bench that is prime and ready to produce when his starters aren’t, he is not lying. The “Next Man Up” mentality that this team has is not unnoticed along with their brotherhood of winning with togetherness.
There’s STILL Work To Be Done
As the lead improved to a 20-point advantage for VCU at halftime, there was a lingering thought in the back of my mind: “Keep The Foot On The Gas.”
For some reason, this VCU team has not wrapped their minds around this thought. Maybe it comes with more experience on the floor yet watching a double-digit lead quickly diminish into single digits is beyond frustrating.
When Will Tavares and Perris Hicks of Fordham starting knocking down threes consecutively, my blood started boiling and the heart began sinking further into my lungs. “Not Again…” with every three that tickled the twine for Fordham.
During that opening stretch of the 2nd half, there was a variety of things that VCU should never do in Atlantic 10 play. That tenacious defensive pressure must have still been in the locker room with Fordham having multiple uncontested three-point attempts.
Even when VCU started to awaken defensively, Fordham continued pounding at the door. Basketball is a game of emotion and scoring runs; when your opponent has both in their grasp it can get rather difficult to silence them. Fortunately, a 6+ minute cold streak came at a valuable time for Fordham so that VCU could put the visitors away permanently.
That being said, the Rams can not afford to let gigantic leads like that diminish quickly against the tougher A-10 opposition. If VCU is fortunate to go ahead of Rhode Island, Duquesne or even St. Bonaventure…the Rams must keep their feet grounded on their opponent into submission.
VCU vs. Atlantic 10
After Day 1 of Atlantic 10 conference play, VCU is right where they want to be and that’s on the winning side of the table. Looking at the results there was not any true surprise from my view except for Duquesne getting the job done against Dayton. And yes…I did call Richmond beating Davidson in their opener at the Robins Center.
On the winning side of the A-10 table are VCU, La Salle, Saint Bonaventure, Duquesne, Rhode Island, George Washington and Richmond. There is still plenty of games and opportunities for these teams to make a move towards the Atlantic 10 throne. Conference play is a marathon, not a sprint.
Early in A-10 play, the front-runner in my eyes is still Rhode Island. Rhody made quick work of George Mason and still look as good as the Rams were last season. Behind them is St. Bonaventure on the radar who was trailing UMass for a minute before the Bonnies awoken. Again we are just getting underway with this A-10 circus but at an early glance: VCU is capable of battling for the top spot.
Bring on 2018!
2017 has just a couple more hours until the page is turned towards 2018; VCU sits at 9-5 overall and most importantly 1-0 to start conference play. Justin Tillman continues running wild with Tillmania and his double-double performances that appear to be a regular thing to all of our likings.
Even with Lane going a tad cold, the Rams are still working on their craft towards improvements. VCU’s bench is stepping up the production and the team as a whole continue pushing the meter towards a new level of offense and defense.
Better team passing, shot selection, callouts on defense and rebounding does not go unnoticed. When all of that suddenly exits the court as the opponent gets back into the game is when dread and frustration mounts. In the overall picture, there is still work for VCU to do as Atlantic 10 play continues, however, the Rams are sitting in good position.
Hopefully, we see that hard work paying off while rolling into the New Year. Also, bring those Golden throwbacks into 2018; for work purposes of course. 😉
“With each other, we can do this. The League still runs through (VCU).”
Next up for VCU Men’s Basketball in 2018 is their first A-10 road game at Saint Joseph’s. That game begins at 7 PM on Wednesday, January 3rd and will be broadcast on MASN.