VCU’s Versatility On Full Display Early in the SeasonPosted by Lathan Wells on November 17th, 2013
Lathan Wells is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between VCU and Winthrop in Richmond.
The VCU Rams have risen to prominence on the national scene over the last several years due largely to their suffocating, full-court defense and long-range shooting. This has proven to be a style that’s been immensely difficult for teams to prepare for, and most opponents don’t possess the stamina or depth to hang with the Rams for an entire game. But in the infant stages of the 2013-14 season, and following a solid 92-71 win over Winthrop Saturday night, VCU has also proven that it has the ability to win games in different fashions. It’s that versatility that makes this team particularly dangerous.
After the Rams capped off a rugged, grinding win in Charlottesville over in-state rival Virginia on Tuesday, it became apparent that taking the tempo away from this team would no longer guarantee success. The Rams fought off a night where they were whistled for 27 personal fouls and had several key players in early foul trouble with its consistent half-court defense. While they weren’t able to press the Cavaliers full-court due to the slow-it-down style Virginia prefers, Shaka Smart’s team’s perseverance on the road against an ACC foe in prime time showed that it has the makeup of a team that can handle in-game adversity. Avoiding the letdown that sometimes plagues teams playing as many youngsters as VCU was an important barometer early in the year, and the Rams were able to get back to pressing full-court and shooting well from downtown in pulling away against Winthrop.
The fact that Smart uses 10- and sometimes 11-man rotations is obviously out of necessity. With a team that full-court presses for 40 minutes and lives off fast breaks, there’s a great need for plenty of depth. The added benefit, however, is that freshmen are instantly thrown into the fire from the start and earn valuable minutes long before conference play begins. While the offense is fueled by the inside presence of Juvonte Reddic and the long-range shooting of players like Rob Brandenberg and Treveon Graham, the Rams are still able to turn to their bench even in crucial moments. Briante Webber, the starting point guard, rested for long stretches against Winthrop even when the game was close because of the emergence of freshman JeQuan Lewis. Smart has undying faith in his system and the players he’s brought in to run it, regardless of their class. If teams thought it was difficult to prepare for VCU before now, the myriad number of potent lineup options they can now offer will only make it more difficult. Consider that the team has had three different leading scorers in three games — there’s no single option an opponent can focus on stopping, the sign of a well-rounded team.
VCU will continue to test itself before entering Atlantic 10 play, with match-ups with Florida State and possibly Michigan on the horizon. At times, their relentless pressure and three-point shooting will overwhelm teams, true to the form that has made them a household name across the country. This was the case in the opener against Indiana State and game number three versus Winthrop. But teams can no longer be positive that slowing down the tempo or getting some of the Rams’ starters in early foul trouble will provide them an instant advantage, as proven by their impressive road win in Charlottesville. VCU has a well-rounded roster with offensive options everywhere, and their newcomers are getting valuable minutes in important situations early on. If VCU can’t be overwhelmed when their preferred tempo and style of play is taken away from them, there may not be a single game this year the Rams cannot win. And playing these differing types of contests early will have this team battle-tested as they attempt to make even more noise nationally.