VCU has look of contender at midseason
Rams’ defense has excelled, but offense needs improvement
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
VCU forward Marcus Santos-Silva, a key piece of the starting lineup, was a reserve last season who averaged just under 10 minutes.