Yes, VCU has a losing record in December.
Yes, the at-large opportunity seems to be bordering on slim-to-none territory.
Yes, VCU lost more than they won while in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving week.
But, VCU should feel nothing but optimistic following a strong showing against three Power 5 conference opponents.
The Rams left the Bahamas with a fourth-place finish in the Battle 4 Atlantis, having defeated Syracuse on Wednesday before losing a close game to the defending national champion Baylor Bears on Thanksgiving. An overtime loss to UConn and former Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley on Black Friday sealed VCU’s fourth-place finish.
The Rams impressed throughout the tournament, with national media members heaping praise on VCU for its tenacity on defense and on the acumen of head coach Mike Rhoades. Following VCU’s loss to Baylor on Friday, ESPN analyst and color commentator Jimmy Dykes praised VCU for playing hard against the defending champs.
No team plays harder than @VCU_Hoops
— Jimmy Dykes (@CoachJimmyDykes) November 27, 2021
With Atlantis in the rear-view, here is what you need to know about the tournament as VCU returns stateside to round out its nonconference schedule.
Wednesday: VCU 67, Syracuse 55
Thursday: #6 Baylor 69, VCU 61
Friday: #22 UConn 70, VCU 63 (OT)
VCU played three Power 5 teams, all of whom made the NCAA Tournament last season. In fact, heading into the Battle 4 Atlantis, the three teams VCU played were the three favorites to win the multi-team event.
Against tough competition, VCU’s total score differential was only -3. VCU’s eight-point margin against Baylor is the only time Baylor has failed to win by double-digits so far this season.
The margin was a result of the stellar defense VCU played throughout the tournament, which Rhoades was quick to praise upon returning to Broad Street this week.
"I was very proud of how hard we played, and our approach. I think we gained a lot more fans around college basketball by the way we played, and how hard we played. We still have some offensive woes that we have to keep getting better at and correct. …
— Wayne Epps Jr. (@wayneeppsjr) November 30, 2021
The VCU player that had the best trip to the Bahamas was fifth-year senior Levi Stockard III. Stockard tallied a team-high 15 points against Syracuse before following it up with a 13-point, six rebound afternoon against Baylor. Stockard closed his time in Atlantis with eight points in the overtime loss against UConn.
The star of the UConn game for VCU was freshman Jayden Nunn, who continued to show why Rhoades is trusting the true freshman with starting point guard duties. Nunn scored a career-high 21 points against UConn on 42.9% shooting. Nunn also led the Rams in rebounds and steals, tallying eight boards and four steals. It is safe to say that Nunn near single-handedly led the Rams to a major win against the Huskies.
An honorable mention goes to junior Marcus Tsohonis, who provided 12 points off the bench against Syracuse. The game was by far his best as a Ram and shows promise that the Washington transfer can fill the sixth man role.
Here are your VCU statistical leaders for the Battle 4 Atlantis:
Points: Jayden Nunn, 21 (vs UConn, 11/26)
Rebounds: Jayden Nunn, 8 (vs UConn, 11/26)
Assists: Vince Williams, 5 (vs Baylor, 11/25)
Steals: Jayden Nunn, 4 (vs UConn, 11/26)
Blocks: Hason Ward, 3 (vs Syracuse, 11/24); Mikeal Brown-Jones, 3 (vs UConn, 11/26)
VCU is in the middle of an eight-day layoff following the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Rams will resume the season on Dec. 4 at home against the Campbell Camels.
Here are the metrics to note, as of Dec. 2:
– VCU currently ranks 93rd in KenPom, ranking sixth among Atlantic 10 member schools. Prior to the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Rams had slipped out of the top 100 in that metric.
– Per KenPom, the Rams rank third in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, with 88.6 points allowed per 100 possessions. The Rams trail Houston, who went to the Final Four last season, and Michigan State, who finished runner-up in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
– Of schools ranked in the top 100 on KenPom, VCU is third in strength of schedule. While VCU’s 3-4 record is jarring to look at, it is important to realize that VCU has played multiple good programs and has secured two major Power 5 wins against Syracuse and Vanderbilt.
The metrics show that despite the record, the computers seem to like VCU. The Rams have shown their defense can compete with any school out there. The main concern for VCU at the moment is the lack of offensive production, with no player establishing themselves as the top scoring option so far. Senior KeShawn Curry has shown scoring flashes, while Williams seems the natural pick to lead the offense. Following his breakout against UConn, Nunn could end up being the top scoring option himself.
The Rams will look to begin adding to the win column at home on Dec. 4 against Campbell.
CORRECTION 12/12/2021: An earlier version of this article cited inaccurate NET ranking figures. At the time the article was written, the NET had not been updated for 2021-22 yet. The paragraph has been removed, and I apologize for the error.