#13 Villanova Wildcats (3-0) vs. #15 Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) Rams (3-0)
When: Monday, November 24, 2014, at 7 p.m.
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
Coverage: ESPN2, ESPN3, WatchESPN.com
VCU’s Previous Season Record: 26-9, Lost to Stephen F. Austin in second round of NCAA Tournament
Key Players for VCU: #21 Treveon Graham (6-6, 220) Sr., G/F; #2 Briante Weber (6-2, 165) Sr., G; #32 Melvin Johnson (6-3, 195) Jr., G
Scouting Report: When VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart first stepped onto the campus, he promised to “wreak havoc.” From the moment the ball goes up in the air for tip-off to when the final buzzer sounds, the Rams wreak havoc on the basketball court. While most great teams are known for their flashy offense, VCU has been known for their signature defense. The Rams cause problems for opposing teams with their aggressive, get-in-your-face defense. They consistently press and trap opposing offenses. The pressure and consistent harassment often result in turnovers, which become easy scoring opportunities for VCU. The only time opposing teams can catch their breath is the few seconds they have when the Rams miss a shot. Otherwise, if they make the shot, they can set up their defense. Last season, as a team, the Rams led the NCAA in steals per game with 11.3. VCU also has last season’s leader in steals. Briante Weber averaged 3.5 steals per game and is looking to do even better this season. He had a whopping eight steals in the Toledo game earlier this week. Weber provides a perfect model for Smart’s havoc wreaking defense. On offense, don’t count him out. Weber may not be the biggest or the strongest, but he possesses great athleticism and explosiveness. While opposing teams can sag off from him when he’s on the perimeter, they must be aware of his slashing and driving abilities. He’s also unselfish, acting as the facilitator on offense. In the last two games he has played in, Weber has dished out seven assists in each game. He’ll be looking to feed their top scorers, Melvin Johnson and Treveon Graham. Both Johnson and Graham have yet to not have a double-digit scoring performance. They play similarly to each other. They are both athletic, fast players on the court who can drive or spot up and shoot at the perimeter. Johnson scored 20+ points in the first two games this season. Graham is solid at crashing the boards and is the top rebounder for this team. Together they provide a lethal tandem on offense. Also keep an eye out for Jordan Burgess, Mo Alie-Cox, and Terry Larrier. Burgess and Alie-Cox return in their second year as a Ram. Burgess has been a great supporting player. He can do a little of everything. He’s not going to be the featured weapon on offense, nor is he racking up the statistics like Weber on defense, but he will do his job. Burgess can chip in a few points, grab a few boards, and play in Smart’s system. Alie-Cox may lack the height to be an imposing force down low, but he certainly has the size and heart to play inside. The sophomore forward averaged 1.4 blocks per game last season, and is able to keep up with opposing big men in the paint. He is a tough force inside, whose main role is to play defense than it is to score. Terry Larrier is coming off of a big game against Maryland Eastern Shore. He headlines VCU’s highest ranked recruiting class to ever set foot in a Rams jersey. Larrier struggled to find his shot against Tennessee and he had a hard time against Toledo, but really bounced back in the game against UMES. He had 21 points and six rebounds in the big blowout win.
Outlook: It’s games like these where you have to win early in the season in order to establish yourself in the rankings, as well as set the tone for the rest of the way. This may be Villanova’s lone ranked opponent for the year, they have to make this game count. They have a tall order ahead of them, VCU is not going to be an easy game. This havoc wreaking defense is legitimate. While Villanova’s press has been effective in the three games they’ve played so far, this is the original right here. The Wildcats will have to limit their turnovers and be more efficient in their shooting. They will have the size advantage down low, JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu should get more opportunities and touches inside. The Rams won’t make it easy for our guards on the perimeter. Every possession counts, they will have to score. Villanova barely escaped the games against Lehigh and Bucknell. The Rams are much more talented, quicker, and athletic. Villanova will have to play all 40 minutes because VCU will not let up for a second. They have good depth this year to help keep the press going. The Wildcats cannot afford any slow starts or long dry spells. While Villanova is ranked higher, I don’t see them being the favorite going into the game. The Lehigh and Bucknell games weren’t pretty, the Wildcats know that. We don’t know which Villanova will show up on Monday night. It could be the one that demolished Maryland Eastern Shore, or the one that went toe-to-toe with Bucknell.