Balanced VCU will be tough to beat

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VCU pulled off a tough home win Wednesday against a surprisingly good Davidson squad (Wildcats picked to finish 12th in the preseason but have looked like a top-4 team in the conference) holding a Wildcats offense that ranks third nationally in points per contest to a season-low 65 points.

It wasn’t the prettiest home win for the black and gold. The Rams hit just seven of their 22 three-point attempts in the six-point win. VCU threatened to pull away at times, going up 13 with 8:15 to play before Davidson strung together a quick 10-2 run, then later going back up 12 with just over two minutes to play before once again Davidson made the big shots to at least make it appear close at the end, trimming the final margin to just six points. Yet somehow in what was a fairly close game all night, the outcome never felt in doubt.

VCU had an answer for every Davidson run and has shown the most balance between good offense and stout defense that any Shaka Smart-coached Ram squad has displayed over these past six seasons in Richmond.

This season’s squad checks in at 19th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency with a rating of 111.3. That’s their third best ever under Shaka Smart — their best offensive squad not surprisingly coming in the form of VCU’s 2011 Final 4 team that set an NCAA tournament record for made three-pointers.

This season the Rams also currently rank in the top-40 in adjusted defensive efficiency with a rating of 92.1 (36th nationally), tied for the second best defensive team Smart has had at VCU (statistically speaking).

Put those two together and you see what makes this VCU team so promising.

Never before has Smart had a team that ranked in the top-40 nationally in both adjusted offense and defense. His closest competition coming from Smart’s 2012-13 squad that ranked 21st in AOE and 45th in ADE. That team however went just seven deep while this season’s squad has little letup with a bench that consists of three top-100 players, a 6’8 senior version of one of those 2012-13 bench players and two promising young guards. Out of VCU’s 13 active roster members, 11 have an offensive rating of 100 or higher, the most Smart has ever had on any one roster (that 2012-13 squad had seven).

The Rams boast seven kenpom top-100 wins so far this season, their last three all over top-50 teams as a part of the Rams seven-game win streak they are currently riding. They totaled eight top-100 wins during the entirety of last year’s regular season, nine the previous season and just five during regular season play the year VCU marched to the Final 4.

Don’t get me wrong, this VCU team is far from invincible, we’ve seen that in the Rams double-digit losses to UVA and Villanova (both top-10 teams), as well as their road loss against a surprisingly good Old Dominion squad (now ranked No.25 in the latest AP Poll). But what we have here with this VCU team is quite possibly their toughest to beat under Shaka Smart, not because they have the shooters of the Final 4 squad or the defense of last year’s squad, but because statistically they have been some combo of both and have arguably the deepest bench of any VCU team in the history of their program. They can lock you down in a win on an off shooting night or still run you out of a gym while you’re team is hitting every shot.

This VCU team’s story is far from complete, quite the opposite really just two games into conference play. But if you’re a VCU fan, you really have to love the tea leaves.

Oh and lastly, whoever voted the Davidson Wildcats 12th or below in this year’s preseason poll are out of their damn minds.

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About Author

Mat Shelton-Eide has been involved in college athletics since 2007, starting as a co-founder of VCURamNation.com where he covered the Rams all the way to Houston as the one-time CAA darling shocked the hoops world with a historic run to the Final 4. He has worked within two Atlantic 10 athletic departments, first as a graduate assistant in the VCU Sports Information Department during the '09-'10 basketball season, then after receiving his M.Ed. from VCU's Center for Sport Leadership, as a ticketing and marketing intern in the University of Richmond's athletic department during the inaugural season of Richmond's Robins Stadium, months before the Spiders 2011 Sweet 16 run.

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