Malik Bowden’s Men’s Basketball Blog
As we say goodbye to one year, and bring in another one we also say farewell to the strongest out of conference schedule VCU has played under Coach Smart’s tenure. VCU’s strength of schedule as of January 4th was ranked eighth in the country, and second among mid majors. Going into the season the Rams schedule was headlined by a neutral site game against Villanova, and a home rematch against Virginia. Along the way VCU faced some stiff competition, Toledo in their home opener, a double overtime thriller against Northern Iowa, and a closer than expected win over Illinois State.
The low point of the OOC schedule was the close lost to in state rival Old Dominion. The Rams met expectations in terms of wins, and growth. They finished non-conference play with a record of 10-3, and two of the losses for sure (Villanova, and UVA) won’t be frowned upon by the NCAA selection committee come March.
VCU also was able to get four of the five freshmen into the rotation at different times for them to be able to make mistakes, learn, and mature for when they’ll be called upon later on in the season. Freshman Terry Larrier saw the most playing time among the freshmen and showed glimpses of the prolific scorer he could become. Jonathan Williams struggled in the beginning of the season but has recently picked up his play and is learning from veteran guards Briante Weber, and Jequan Lewis. Justin Tillman appears to have become comfortable with his role quicker than all the freshmen. Every minute Tillman’s on the floor he brings energy to the game. He’s shown the ability to attack the glass on both ends of the floor, and does a tremendous job at running the lanes on fast breaks which has, and will continue to result in highlight fast break dunks. Michael Gilmore is also becoming accustomed to being a high energy guy at all times. Unfortunately redshirt freshmen Antravious Simmons felt it was best for him to transfer out and play closer to home at Florida Gulf Coast.
As far as the returning players are concerned Briante, and Jequan have shown improved point guard play. Melvin Johnson has been shooting lights out, and is better at making plays off the bounce. Jordan Burgess has been injury free so far, and is providing VCU with an added outside threat, and on ball defender. Mo is becoming a better rim protector by the game, and VCU should look to him more during conference play as a low post threat. Doug Brooks is becoming comfortable with his increase in minutes this year from his freshmen season. Jarred Guest is bringing senior leadership, and has been a model for what Michael Gilmore, and Justin Tillman can become. Another bright spot is that Torrey Burston was able to score his first points as a VCU ram against Belmont during the holiday break.
VCU is more than prepared to compete in the A-10, and win a conference championship. They’ll have to go through Dayton, George Washington, Davidson, and Rhode Island who all have competitive teams and on any night can beat VCU. For the Rams to succeed they’ll need to make sure they defend without fouling excessively, rebound on both ends of the floor, and find some type of low post presence when their outside shot isn’t falling. If VCU can do these things Ram Nation should expect an Automatic NCAA berth, and their first Atlantic 10 conference tournament championship.