Quality of Depth is Key to VCU Sustaining Its SuccessPosted by Lathan Wells on January 10th, 2014
Effective depth is at a premium in college basketball. VCU, predicating its success on a constant full-court game in a frenzied atmosphere, needs to not only have enough players to run at their opponents for 40 minutes, but talented ones as well. As evidenced by their first conference game on Thursday night, a 71-57 victory over in-state rival and A-10 newcomer, George Mason, the Rams have both the depth and the talent that will be required to make serious waves in the Atlantic 10 again this year.
There are obviously players on this squad that opposing teams can look to as the focal points. Juvonte Reddick, the team’s starting center and best pro prospect, mans the middle and is often the sole post presence for the team. His rebounding prowess (14 boards last night, along with nine points) is of the utmost importance to a team that wants to get out and run at every opportunity. Briante Weber, the point guard, is one of the nation’s foremost steals experts, a menace in both the press and in the half-court. Weber’s acumen at the free throw line and an improved tear-drop floater he has developed this season have helped mesh his offensive game with his prowess on the defensive end. Guard/forward Treveon Graham is the steadying force on this team, a player who can bide his time for a half before becoming the go-to threat the team finds late in close contests, as it did in the win over Mason (Graham has now put up double figures in 39 of the team’s last 43 contests).
But the starters have to take a breather, and the VCU bench is integral to a team built on breakneck speed and energy. At a point in the season when rotations are usually well-established, Shaka Smart gave 10 players between five and 32 minutes against the Patriots. Eschewing their usual three-guard, two-forward lineup, Jordan Burgess replaced Terrance Shannon in the starting lineup, acquiescing to the fact that George Mason could match them in size but not in quickness. While VCU sacrificed rebounding in this lineup, the Rams continued their amazing ability to generate turnovers. Causing a nation-high 20.5 turnovers per game on 28.5 percent of all opponents’ possessions, VCU generated 19 miscues in this one. JeQuan Lewis continued to be a frenetic but productive player off the bench in spurts replacing Weber, while Mo Alie-Cox and Jarred Guest acquitted themselves well in the paint as the officials let the players play. VCU was outrebounded by only two boards on the night, despite playing a smaller lineup for most of the game that helped aid their defensive pressure.
VCU’s success starts and ends with its defense. The three-point shot is their key offensive weapon, with long-range threats like Graham and Rob Brandenberg making teams pay for being short-handed on the break. But VCU wouldn’t be nearly as effective defensively if the learning curve for its youngsters was too long. Shaka Smart’s ability to get his reserves and newcomers (like Shannon, a transfer from Florida State) up and running as fast as he has speaks volumes about his ability to develop players and place them into his system. VCU’s opponents know what’s coming, but if they aren’t sure who will be the primary perpetrators, the Rams have gained an even more stark advantage in their quest for the Atlantic 10 title.