VCU has look of con­tender at mid­sea­son

Rams’ de­fense has ex­celled, but of­fense needs im­prove­ment

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - SPORTS - BY WAYNE EPPS JR.

VCU’s game at David­son on Satur­day pushed the Rams just past the half­way point of the reg­u­lar sea­son, with 16 games down and 15 to go. The story of this year’s team has been de­fense. It has helped to el­e­vate VCU back into a team that can con­tend for the At­lantic 10 ti­tle. But the Rams are still seek­ing higher lev­els of of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion on a more con­sis­tent ba­sis. VCU is 11-5 over­all and 2-1 to start A-10 play.

Here’s a look at the team’s mid­sea­son sta­tus and its top per­form­ers.

De­fense

The Rams stressed de­fense

through­out the off­sea­son and into the sea­son af­ter strug­gling in that area last year. It’s paid off in a ma­jor way for a team that has the depth to en­hance the de­fen­sive in­ten­sity.

VCU ranks third in the coun­try in field goal-per­cent­age de­fense, ac­cord­ing to KenPom.com, hold­ing teams to 42.3 per­cent from the

field. Ac­cord­ing to the site, the team is also fifth in the coun­try in 3-point field goal-per­cent­age de­fense (27.1) and sev­enth in ad­justed de­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency, al­low­ing 88.6 points per 100 pos­ses­sions.

“To be a cham­pi­onshiplevel team, you have to have cham­pi­onship-level de­fense,” coach Mike Rhoades said be­fore the sea­son.

The Rams are do­ing it with their half-court de­fense and their press. The av­er­age length of their de­fen­sive pos­ses­sions is among the long­est in the coun­try (18.4 sec­onds, 340th in the na­tion ac­cord­ing to KenPom.com). And they av­er­age 8.1 steals.

The de­fense has given VCU chances to win — even in games the Rams lost — and will con­tinue to be the team’s foun­da­tion.

Of­fense

VCU has tal­ented scor­ers, but the at­tack hasn’t al­ways come to­gether. There have been the out­bursts, such as when the team made a sea­son-high 14 3-point­ers against Rider. Or when it shot 66.7 per­cent over­all — its high­est shoot­ing per­cent­age since Jan­uary 2004 — against Ford­ham in the A-10 opener.

But there have been times when the Rams have strug­gled. They shot 27.3 per­cent over­all (and 0 for 9 from 3-point range) in the sec­ond half of the loss at Old Do­min­ion. They shot 23.5 per­cent in the sec­ond half of the loss at Vir­ginia. On Satur­day at David­son, the Rams missed their last 10 shots from the field and shot a sea­son-low 16.7 per­cent on 3-point­ers (4 of 24).

“We can still get bet­ter,” Rhoades said af­ter Satur­day’s game. “We can still log the game bet­ter and ex­e­cute down the stretch. And not have plays where, of­fen­sively, you’re trav­el­ing. Or, not tak­ing a bad shot. Or not ex­e­cut­ing what we need to do.”

Over­all, VCU comes in at No. 234 in KenPom.com’s ad­justed of­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency rank­ings, av­er­ag­ing 99.8 points per 100 pos­ses­sions. If the Rams can get the of­fen­sive out­put up on a more reg­u­lar ba­sis, it’ll go a long way as A-10 play con­tin­ues.

First-half MVP: Mar­cus Evans

En­ter­ing the sea­son, there was a ques­tion of when Evans would make

his de­but com­ing off the right Achilles in­jury he suf­fered in June. Rhoades said in De­cem­ber that he thought the U.Va. game would be Evans’ first.

But the ju­nior point guard has played in ev­ery game. He came off the bench for the first three games, but has started since.

Even while not quite 100 per­cent, Evans has led VCU with 13.5 points a game.

He also av­er­ages 1.8 steals and draws 6.6 fouls per 40 min­utes (55th in the coun­try ac­cord­ing to KenPom.com). He brings

a com­pet­i­tive edge to the lineup.

Most-im­proved player: Mar­cus San­tos-Silva

The sopho­more for­ward has made a big leap since last year. He’s gone from a re­serve av­er­ag­ing just un­der 10 min­utes to an im­por­tant piece of VCU’s start­ing lineup.

San­tos-Silva is fifth in the At­lantic 10 in re­bounds per game (7.1) and field goal per­cent­age (61.5). He’s also av­er­ag­ing 8.6 points. He’s an­other boost of en­ergy when he’s on the floor.

Best rookie: Vince Wil­liams

In De­cem­ber, Evans called Wil­liams an X-fac­tor for the Rams. Wil­liams can make plays all over the court. Some­times it’s just the lit­tle things. For in­stance, he’s draw­ing 5.5 fouls per 40 min­utes ac­cord­ing to KenPom.com, sec­ond only to Evans for the Rams.

Wil­liams is get­ting the most play­ing time of VCU’s three fresh­men (14.8 min­utes a game). He is av­er­ag­ing 4.9 points and 2.7 re­bounds.

“When he’s locked in, he changes the game for us and we’re a whole dif­fer­ent team,” Evans said of Wil­liams.

MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

VCU’s Mar­cus Evans (2) has led the Rams with a 13.5point scor­ing av­er­age. His come­back from a right Achilles in­jury he suf­fered in June has been faster than ex­pected.

DANIEL SANGJIB MIN/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

VCU’s Vince Wil­liams (left), shown in ac­tion against Hof­s­tra’s Eli Pem­ber­ton in Novem­ber, is get­ting the most play­ing time of the Rams’ three fresh­men at 14.8 min­utes a game.

JOE MA­HONEY/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

VCU for­ward Mar­cus San­tos-Silva, a key piece of the start­ing lineup, was a re­serve last sea­son who av­er­aged just un­der 10 min­utes.

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