On Thursday VCU will welcome the University of Louisiana Monroe Warhawks to the Siegel Center. ULM owns a 5-6 record. They play out of the Sunbelt conference. An oddly configured one bid league, featuring teams from as far east as Myrtle beach South Carolina and, until recently as far west as Idaho. The conference ended their relationship with the University of Idaho and now is made up of teams from locations that fit slightly better into the “sunbelt” region of America.
ULM by the Numbers
ULM Head Coach Keith Richard is coaching his seventh season with the school. The previous two campaigns were 24 and 20 win seasons. The Warhawks won 10 straight conference games last season to get to 20 wins. They reached the CBI and CIT postseason tournaments. Including this year their non-conference record over the last three seasons is 16-18. ULM currently owns a sub 300 RPI, meaning losing to them doesn’t count as a bad loss, it counts as a disastrous loss.
VCU created a great deal of positive momentum after the victory over MTSU. Nothing would kill that momentum quite like losing to a team with one of the worst RPI’s in the country. The Rams will need to be cautious. Coach Will Wade warned, “Crazy stuff happens during this week.” Wade was referencing the time between finals week and the start of conference play. He would like to see his team take the positives from the MTSU win and make trends happen instead of reverting back to turning the ball over and digging themselves into early holes. This is the week to prove that the Rams turned a corner, as Wade put it, “The best teams get better this week.”
We’ve already seen significant contributions from the freshmen this season, particularly Samir Doughty and De’Riante Jenkins. Doughty had 14 points and 4 assists against the Blue Raiders and Jenkins added 9 points and 2 assists. Those two players seem to control the ceiling of this team. Without them, VCU can still compete with the top of the A-10. With continued progress in their games, VCU is capable of winning the league over preseason favorites Rhode Island and Dayton. If Jenkins and Doughty continue to improve this week then VCU can become the best group in the league.
Players to Watch
According to Wade, ULM is coming to town because they wanted to play close to the home of Nick Coppola, a senior guard from Richmond. Coppola is a catalyst for the Warhawks. The guard averages 5.4 assists to only 1.2 turnovers per game, while also adding over 10 points per game. Coppola is playing about 35 minutes per contest. Expect VCU to put his endurance and efficiency when distributing the ball to the test. Wade also mentioned Sam McDaniel as someone who could be a matchup issue for the Rams due to his versatility. McDaniel is a 6’6 junior guard/forward averaging over 12 points and 7 rebounds per game.
Sizing up the Competition
The Warhawks are missing the one feature the Rams are bothered by the most… size. ULM only gives significant minutes to two players who are taller than 6’6. Sam Alabakis a 6’11 freshman center who has recorded only 4 blocks on the season and averages 16 minutes per game. The other player is 6’8 Taylor Roderick. The sophomore forward averages 12 minutes with fewer than 2 points and rebounds per contest.
There just isn’t a whole lot about the Warhawks that should concern a team like VCU. The Rams most important opponents on Thursday will be themselves. If they can find motivation and play well together then they should run these guys out of what will probably be another sold out audience.