VCU Reserves are the X-Factor in Rams’ Recent Surge

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 8th, 2015

The book on VCU’s style of play is fairly simple. Defensively, they want to press you full-court to create a bunch of turnovers and resulting easy baskets. Offensively, they shoot a high volume of three-pointers and rely on the quickness of their guards to break down a defense in the waning seconds of a shot clock. That’s pretty much their ethos. But as the program now enters its third season in the Atlantic 10, teams know what’s coming and have begun countering what VCU likes to do. What they are having trouble dealing with, however, isn’t a problem of strategy as much as personnel. VCU, currently riding a seven-game winning streak, boasts a much-improved second unit this season, led by the heralded freshman Terry Larrier. The bench’s production was on grand display in the Rams’ impressive victory over Davidson in Richmond on Wednesday night.

Terry Larrier is starting to show why he's Shaka Smart's highest-rated recruit (AP Photo)

Terry Larrier is starting to show why he’s Shaka Smart’s highest-rated recruit (AP Photo)

In those seven games, the Rams’ bench has outscored its opposition in all but one contest (a double-overtime victory over Northern Iowa). VCU’s second unit is comprised largely of young players, and they are starting to come around at just the right time. Freshmen Justin Tillman and Michael Gilmore have been doing a much better job on the boards in relief of Mo Alie-Cox inside and have looked more active offensively; classmate Jonathan Williams appears much more confident handling the ball when he spells Briante Weber and JeQuan Lewis at the point; and sophomore Doug Brooks has become a real spark with solid long-range shooting and a disruptive role in the chaos-inducing Havoc defense. Brooks was especially key in last night’s VCU victory with his contributions of eight points and two steals.

Then there is Larrier, the highest-rated recruit in Shaka Smart’s tenure as a head coach (#43 in the ESPN100). Typical of most freshmen, he went through some adjustments early. He wasn’t going to get heavy minutes until his defensive principles were adequate enough for Smart to trust him, and he wasn’t going to see a great number of shot opportunities with other high-volume shooters like Melvin Johnson and Treveon Graham on the floor. But in the first two games of Atlantic 10 play, Larrier has shown flashes of what made him such a ballyhooed acquisition. He had a solid eight points while starting in relief of an injured Jordan Burgess against Fordham and looked extremely confident in last night’s game as a reserve. The 6’8″ freshman possesses a skill set that is unique among the perimeter players on his team. While Melvin Johnson is almost exclusively a spot-up shooter and Graham is usually either bombing from outside or putting his head down in an effort to generate contact, Larrier already has a very polished offensive game. He showed off two beautiful spin moves that complement his ability to stretch a defense with outside shooting (17 made threes on the season), and although his contribution of 11 points in 17 minutes of action wasn’t eye-popping, his presence and confidence during his short stretches on the floor suggests how great he can eventually become.

VCU is now 12-3 overall and 2-0 in the Atlantic 10. Their opponents’ reserves have outscored them only five times in 15 games, but three of those occasions resulted in losses. Clearly the ability of Smart’s second unit — which receives 38 percent of available minutes — to provide ample production on the offensive end while maintaining his trademark defensive intensity is crucial to maintaining this team’s momentum and achieving its goal of capturing the conference title and making some noise in March. If they do so, Terry Larrier may soon become a household name, not only in A-10 circles, but nationally.

Lathan Wells (77 Posts)

A 30-year old unabashed college basketball fan, I currently reside in Richmond, Virginia. I especially enjoy following the ACC and the local teams, VCU and the University of Richmond. I hope to continue my journalistic pursuits in the sports arena full-time in the future, but in the meantime I am really enjoying covering the greatest sport there is for RTC. Follow me on Twitter @prohibitivefav.

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