Can VCU Bust Some Brackets Again This Season?
Watching the finale of VCU's regular-season game against Georgia State was like watching the end of a Rocky movie.
The triumphant Rams claimed their third consecutive CAA regular season title and their 21st win of the season at the Siegel Center this weekend.
The festivities and fanfare concluded with a championship belt for senior captain and floor general Eric Maynor who became the all-time leading scorer in school history.
Maynor, as you may recall, burst on the national scene by hitting the game-winning basket in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament against the Duke Blue Devils.
Well since then, VCU has continued to play well. Last year they appeared on their way to a return trip to the Big Dance until they were undone in the CAA championship by the other Cinderella story in their conference, George Mason.
This year the race for the CAA crown has been a three-way melee between the Patriots, the Rams and Northeastern. All three are legitimate contenders to take home the postseason berth this upcoming weekend at the Richmond Coliseum.
The Rams defeated George Mason earlier this season 76-71 only to drop their next game, a home contest against Northeastern, 68-63.
All the way, the Rams have been led by Maynor who saw his number retired before the Georiga State game.
Maynor is averaging 22.4 PPG and has dished out an impressive 187 assists so far this season. The second highest total of assists on the team is Joey Rodriguez with 79!
Maynor may be the catalyst, but the Rams have proven to be more than a one-man show. Larry Sanders is an improved big man whose 77 blocks and 8 RPG make him a formidable force inside. He is averaging over 11 PPG and give the Rams a big inside-out combination.
The results speak for themselves.
VCU may not get the mid-major love reserved for others, but the Rams are a staggering 73-24 since Anthony Grant arrived to Richmond.
Even though the CAA may not be a power conference, it is undeniable given the success of George Mason and VCU in the tournament as well as some of the bigger non-conference wins in the past few years that this conference has improved more than maybe any other in the past three years.
Maybe Grant inherited a great team from Oklahoma's current coach Jeff Capel, but he has had still guided them to unparalleled success in the school's history. Their victory over Duke gave the inner-city school the same name recognition reserved for other Cinderellas, resulting in a noticeable spike in both applicants and interest from basketball names.
As a result, Grant, the long time assistant at Florida, has become one of the hottest names out there throughout the country. It originally appeared he would be the replacement for Gator coach Billy Donovan until Donovan left the Magic job hours after accepting it.
Florida's Athletic Director was flying up to see Grant and many speculated the offer was on the table until Donovan's change of heart.
Then, last year, Grant was once again mentioned in the coaching carousel. If VCU continues to succeed, you can expect the offers to only increase after the end of this season.
Will Grant follow in the footsteps of his predecessor who is on the precipice of a potential number one seed?
Well before that happens, VCU has to win its conference tournament. Despite a 21-9 record, VCU does not want to leave their fate to the selection committee in a few weeks.
Fortunately, the tournament will be virtually a home game for the Rams who campus is just a few miles from the Coliseum. The Rams are 13-1 at home this season and they can expect large crowds in their favor as they try to make the NCAA tournament for the second time in the past three years.
If they accomplish their goal the Rams pose a dangerous threat in the NCAA tournament because of their experienced backcourt.
Maynor proved he can take over a game, even on the biggest of stages before and you know he is ready to end his career at VCU on a high.
The Rams are also a good free-throw shooting team and have a potent offensive attack.
The Rams have the best offense in their conference, scoring over 72 PPG and featuring a potent three-point barrage.
VCU not only can score to keep up with some of the best in the country, they also don't give the ball up. VCU has the second best assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference and their defense generates momentum shifting plays like blocks and steals more than most teams.
The Rams are virtually guaranteed to cause turnovers on the defensive end and those easy points go a long way in the tournament.
However, even though Maynor may be experienced, most of his colleagues are not. Maynor is the lone senior on the team and nine of the players on the roster are either freshman or sophomores who were in high school when VCU was notching their big first round win.
In VCU's last four losses there are some disturbing patterns.
1. In the four losses, VCU has had nine more turnovers than assists.
While the Rams pose a great defense that has generated plenty of steals they cannot afford to give the ball up in the NCAA tournament if they want to keep the score down.
2. VCU plays better when Maynor's numbers are down.
Much like the early Kobe Bryant, when Maynor scores over 25 points VCU it not usually a good sign because it means the others on his team have typically let him down. Sanders, for example, is 6-of-23 in the Rams last two losses.
When VCU becomes too dependent on its backcourt, they become vulnerable.
As you may expect, the fate of the VCU Rams will ultimately depend on its supporting cast.
If Joey Rodriquez can continue to shoot over 41% from behind the arc, if Sanders can keep VCU at least competitive on the boards and provide a low-post threat than VCU will make noise.
VCU has only met expectations so far this season, the bar has been raised and now the Rams reach the point that will make or break their season.
If they fail, the Rams will wonder what could have been.
If they succeed, well I sure wouldn't want to be in their bracket.
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